It would have been a glorious year and a half of touring for Foo Fighters, as the band marks its 25th anniversary and a 10th record, with which it explores musical territory it has never ventured into before. Alas, COVID-19 has scuttled these plans – for now, at least. Founder and lead singer Dave Grohl has, however, been keeping himself busy with myriad other projects, and brought his infectious energy to various platforms, such as filmmaking.
What a strange time it is to be celebrating 25 years of Foo Fighters. I mean, COVID-19 literally ruined the party.
Yeah. We started planning 2020 about a year and a half ago. We knew that we were going to start making a record, and that we were going to celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary, which would have us going on tour for a year and a half. We had everything planned, from the artwork to the tour, to the album’s release date. Then everything just kind of stopped in March. In a way it was good for us, because we hadn’t stopped working in 10 years, you know? This was really the first time we’ve settled down and come back home in a long time. So, we took all the pieces apart and put them back together again, and finally decided: the most important thing is that the people get to hear the music. All the other fun plans that we had can wait.
Is it going to be a virtual anniversary dinner then? Will you all be sitting in different bars having a beer while talking on Zoom?
(chuckles) Well, when everyone started doing Zoom calls, I thought, “No, man, this isn’t Rock and Roll, or what a live performance should be.” So I decided to wait, at least until things were back to normal. Over time, however, we started to realise that it could take a long time, and we started thinking of other ways to connect with the audience. We filmed a live performance at The Troubadour with just our road crew, and I remember thinking how it’d feel hollow and strange. But once we were on stage, it felt so good just to be with the band, even with just 10 people there. It felt good to perform with our instruments again.
It’s the same for many people now, but we’re lucky that we’ve always found other ways to do whatever it is we do, whether it’s making documentaries and films, or doing live performances in odd places. We’ve really had to think of creative ways to connect with our audience other than just playing live shows. It’s just a matter of challenging yourself and adapting to what’s going on, you know?
I hear you’re also working on documentaries, a second book, and recently something with [AC/DC’s lead singer] Brian Johnson for television?
Yeah. The Brian Johnson thing was funny, because I’d been making a movie – which we’ve finally finished – called What Drives Us. It was originally about bands touring in vans, because that was the only option when you were starting out. But as I started interviewing different musicians, I realised that everyone shared the same experience, whether it’s the guys from Metallica or Guns N’ Roses or the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers. So, the movie shifted to explore why people throw their lives away to live in a shitty old van and share their music with the world.
I did an interview with Brian Johnson for my movie, and he did a separate interview with me for a project he was doing. And it’s funny, because I grew up worshiping him as a hero, but when two musicians sit down and really start talking about their lives and their careers, they usually turn out to be the same, you know? You fall in love with Rock and Roll, so you learn an instrument, start a band with friends, move on to playing in a pub, and eventually get in a van to go to the next place. All that aside, it’s been fun to be able to stretch out and do other projects that we never really had the time for.
The new album must be old news for you in many ways, since it was finished in February 2020.
Our drummer Taylor Hawkins calls it our old new record. We started recording about a year ago, but I was already writing material and recording demos around six months before that. It’s funny, because we finished it but stepped away from it when everything stopped, then got back together in the last few months for rehearsals and kind of fell in love with them again. The lyrics were written long before any pandemic outbreak or changes in the political climate, but when I listen to the record now, they still apply, and maybe even more so.
It’s a danceable record in a way, and maybe the most pop-y one the Foo Fighters have ever made, isn´t it?
Yeah, no question. We’ve had a wide range of sounds and feels over the years, from the acoustic stuff to the noisy stuff, and there’s still this really wide range of references to fall back on – if we want to. But we’ve never made the “party record”, and some of my favourite albums from the 1980s were by rock bands that were making danceable songs, whether it was The Power Station, David Bowie or even The Rolling Stones. As a drummer, it’s important for me to push in different rhythm directions, too. So instead of just retiring into the sunset with a nice sleepy acoustic album, I thought we should make something that people will really bounce around to.
I mean, it kind of disturbs me to say that the Foo Fighters have made a dance record. Because you immediately imagine this nightmarish scenario, which I really shudder to think about. It’s still a Rock and Roll record, and it’s still recognisable as a Foo Fighters record, but then it’s got these grooves and tempos that you’ve probably never heard the band do before.
Did you feature musical guest stars on this record? It was Justin Timberlake the previous time, and you made such a secret out of it.
(laughs) No. I mean, well… there’s one very important element in this record that goes by the name of Omar Hakim. He’s one of the world’s greatest drummers, and he’s played with everyone from Sting to David Bowie. In fact, he played drums on [David Bowie’s record] Let’s Dance. We got him to come in to play percussion on many of the songs, and he definitely helped to influence their grooves.
I mean, when I first decided that we should move in this direction, he was one of the first people I thought to call, because I had to ask him questions like how he approached Let’s Dance. Other than that, it’s really the band and our producer, Greg Kurstin, who is just an absolute genius at putting these songs together.
So what’s the plan for the band now? Are you sticking it out until you can hit the road again?
No. I mean, we’re going to start getting out there soon in ways that other people might not be doing. We’ll return to the stadiums, the arenas and the festivals sometime in the future, but until then we’ll be releasing music and popping up here and there to do some special things that we’ve never done before. We’re trying to stay safe and be considerate of other people, and doing our best to keep it alive.
Last question for today: what are four songs you wish you had written, and why?
I wish that I had written ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. I wish I had written ‘Highway To Hell’ by AC/DC. I wish I had written ‘Rock For Light’ by the Bad Brains. And I wish I had written ‘Happy Birthday’, because I’d be making so much more money right now. [laughs].
Interview: Peter Reynolds/The Interview People
Editing: Jamie Tan
Photos: Getty Images