Dave Grohl spoke to Steve Lamacq’s BBC Radio 6 Music show this evening ahead of the release of Foo Fighters’ new album, Medicine at Midnight.
Dave Grohl: It’s been a busy few months for the band because we finally decided it was time to release the record. Right now, we can’t just run around the planet doing interviews and playing shows and things like that […] so I wake up every day, I talk to people about music, I take a shower, I go to the studio, we film ourselves playing live in there, we send that out to people. It’s been a busy few months and happily so.
Steve Lamacq: So the album – you’d finished the album, just before everything starts to shut down, is that right?
Dave Grohl: That’s right. So, we started writing this record maybe in 2018, but I started doing demos for the album in early summer 2019. I had rented this house, where I built a little studio in the house, just so that I can demo. So, when I demo stuff by myself, I don’t even want an engineer there. I like the total isolation. I like to be by myself. I set up all the instruments, I’ve got the recording equipment and I just started writing and recording and banking all these ideas. While I was banking these ideas, I was sending these demos to our producer Greg Kurstin, who is a dear friend of ours, and at one point he said ‘Where are you recording this? These drums sound great’ and I said ‘Oh, it’s this weird funky house that I actually lived in 10 years ago. It’s this funky old house.’ He goes ‘Man we should just do the record there’ and I thought ‘Of course, yes’. I’m all about the experience of making a record, right. So, we started officially recording I think in September 2019 and by January, early February we were done and we were ecstatic. We thought ‘Alright, let’s go take over the world – it’s our 25th anniversary, it’s our 10th album, all the stadiums are booked.’ Then of course, someone hit the lights and the world turned off. So, yes, we were totally ready to go and the album was done a year ago.
Dave Grohl: We only do what feels right at the time. We don’t have anyone else making decisions for us […] we follow our gut. So, knowing that this year was our 25th anniversary and this was to be our 10th record, I did sort of take stock. I looked back at what we had done and the different types of music we made and the range of the dynamic and I realised the one thing we hadn’t really done was make this groove orientated, kind of really up, almost danceable record. We hadn’t done that before. If you look back to Little Richard, Elvis Presley, if you go back that far, those songs were meant to make you move, they were meant to make you dance. [Led] Zeppelin songs, Sly and the Family Stone songs, Rolling Stones songs, Beatles songs, David Bowie songs. And so, I thought, ok, well, maybe we should try doing something like that. Now as a drummer, I’m always interested in and appreciate a good beat, a good groove. So, that was kind of the intention […] I talked to Omar Hakim, the drummer who played drums on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and I would sort of ask him about it like ‘How did you guys do that, like, how did that work?’ He’s like ‘Well, we sat in a room and we played the song and we hit record’ and that’s David Bowie. And I’m like ‘Oh God, I wish we could do that’ But, I did think ‘Ok, well, because this is something we’ve never done, that’s why we should do it and we should do it now.’ Not only to just explore, but also to find some new – to surprise ourselves, or to find some new reward.
The first song we recorded was the song Making a Fire, which is actually the first song on the record. We felt like that was the perfect place to start […] I mean the groove in that song, it’s almost like a DJ sort of breakbeat […] We had touched on something we hadn’t necessarily done before. So then there were other songs that sounded, I thought, too familiar. They sounded too much like the Foo Fighters, so we through them away and we kept moving and it was really exciting, I mean, we would sit down and record something, have no idea what we were going to end up with and at the end of the day we would look at each other and just smile, or laugh and we had surprised ourselves. So that was the intention. I told everybody ‘Listen, before we go in there, let yourself go. Let’s just think about the album or the song or the music.’ There are 45 people in the Foo Fighters at this point – if the song doesn’t need you, you don’t need to be on the song, right? If it doesn’t need 17 guitars then it doesn’t need that. And everybody agreed […]. Now Greg Kurstin, Greg’s a genius producer, I can honestly say he’s the most brilliant musician / producer that I’ve ever met in my entire life, so when you’re working with Greg, you can do anything. So if you have an idea, even if it’s just conceptual, not even a specific riff and you say ‘I’d like to try this’, you can try it. Of course, he’s famous for making records with Sia and Adele and Beyoncé and Pink and Kelly Clarkson and things like that, but he’s a jazz musician that grew up loving punk rock. So if you throw him a bone, he’ll run away with it you know.
Dave Grohl on Nirvana: There are times where I’ll be in the car and a Nirvana song will come on and I’ll not just think of the music but think of the time and place where it was recorded. It’s funny, my connection to Nirvana is different than most people, in that it was a very personal experience and it was a very emotional experience. I look back on that music almost like someone would look back in an old photo album. I remember everything. I do, I remember everything from the last 32 years. So whenever I think of that time, I usually am reminded of the place I was in emotionally. So when we came down to record the record Nevermind. We were kids man. I think I was 21 or maybe 22 years old […] We were excited and there was some sense of mystery of adventure to it. We knew what we were there to do but I think we felt really fortunate that we were given that opportunity […] someone paid for us to go into the studio in Los Angeles and make an album. There was an innocence and we were a bit naïve. Nobody expected what happened was going to happen. Over time, when Nirvana first started getting popular, there were some really good times and I look back on those like ‘I bought a motorcycle’. That kind of thing, like, ‘I met a beautiful girl’, like, ‘I took my mother out to dinner, I bought my mother a car’, things like that […] At that age too, it’s a formative age. I have a lot of great memories. And of course you know , a lot of really traumatic heart-breaking memories as well. But it’s almost like those memories, in sequence, they become all of these stepping stones, this trail of breadcrumbs that you sort of lay, that you can look back on.
Dave Grohl on the song Waiting on a War: I was taking her [my daughter] to school one day […] and she said ‘Dad, is there going to be a war?’ and I said ‘What makes you say that?’ I think she’d seen something on the news […] What immediately struck me was that she was now feeling the same anxiety that I felt, growing up outside of Washington D.C. in the early 80s. The early 80s, with the Reagan administration, there was all this tension and conflict with the Soviet Union and there was a lot of focus on the arms race, nuclear weapons and nuclear war and I was definitely afraid of that. I would have these dreams where there were missiles in the sky and soldiers in my back yard. There was a part of me that thought ‘Well I’ll never live to be 16 years old. I’ll never live to drive a car. I’ll never live to be 18 years old. I’ll never live to have a drink.’ Seeing my own daughter feel the same as I did at her age, generations later, 40 years later, God, it broke my heart, because I thought ‘There must be more to life than just living this hopeless existence, where you have nothing to look forward to’. And at that age, that’s a really a inspired, imaginative, formative time in your life where you should be excited about becoming the person that you’re going to become, but to have it snuffed out by this anxiety. So I dropped her off at school and I wrote that song that day.
Dave Grohl on his lyrics: I think in order to demonstrate hope, you have to be able to acknowledge the dark side of yourself, or fear, or anxiety, whatever it is. Its funny, it’s like the juxtaposition of those two things, sometimes work. So that you don’t really know how dark it is until someone shines a light. It works that way in songs. It really just depends, sometimes its unintentional. I don’t walk around with a leather-bound journal, writing poetry in the park. That’s not how I work […].sometimes, when it comes to writing lyrics, sometimes, that balance of the dark and the light work.
Steve Lamacq: The house – you mentioned the house where you went and did the demos and then recorded. I read somewhere that the house is haunted.
Dave Grohl: I’m not a ghost hunter. I’m not one of those paranormal experience chasers […] I did live in a house in Seattle that was a little off and I lived there for a few years and I truly believe that I wasn’t the only person living there. I honestly do and I’m not that type of person. I don’t run around looking for paranormal conspiracies, it’s like, honestly, it was weird. I wasn’t the only one to feel it. From Nate our bass player to my friends. So sometimes it’s that intuition where you just kind of feel it, or you kind of know. Did I see ghosts of Civil War soldiers in the living room while we were tracking the drums? No. But did some really strange things happen? I mean, the thing is I actually lived in this house 10 years ago when I was remodelling the house that I live in. My daughters, when they were kids, they saw things and they felt strange. I didn’t, but for some reason they did and I just thought ‘Ah, that’s just their imagination.’ This time around it was definitely weird. We made the record and we kind got the hell out of there. But at the same time you know, we weren’t trembling in fear as we were tracking Love Dies Young […]
Dave Grohl on listening back to an album after its been released: I appreciate albums as these moments in time. So when you’re finished with it and you release it, it is what it is. So you can look back on it in regret and think ‘God, I could have done better’ but until the moment its released, I am hovering over that album. Every corner of every song. Every microphone on every instrument […] I don’t find too many surprises down the line. If its on there, it’s on there because we put it on there and we know it’s there.
Steve Lamacq: It’s been a year since this one was finished - have you written another one?
Dave Grohl: No – I’ve actually been writing words. I started this Instagram page called Dave’s True Stories, right when everything shut down because I thought ‘Ok, I don’t want to make any more music, I just finished an album, but what can I do to create?’ So I started writing those stories for that Instagram page just to, you know, make someone smile or make someone laugh and shine a little light on the absurdity of my life as a little kid rock and roll fan that gets to jam with Prince or gets to jam with Bowie […] so I found it really rewarding.
Dave Grohl on the return of live music after the pandemic: Usually every few weeks my manager calls and says ‘Hey, we got an offer to play in blah blah blah, you want to do it?’ and I say ‘Yes’ and then I say ‘Is it actually going to happen?” and my manager says ‘I hope so’. So basically, anyone that says ‘Dave, would you like to play a show?’ I say ‘’Yes’. Unfortunately, no one is really in control of this situation. We can do our best to be diligent, responsible, compassionate, co-operative, look out for your fellow man. We can do all of those things, but until we get there, we have to get there. I feel like every day we are one day closer to it happening and I’m a hopeful person. I really am. When I hear like ‘Oh god, did you hear that they postponed Glastonbury?’ I say ‘Well, yeah, that makes sense’. It doesn’t mean it’s going to disappear. How could that be possible? To me that’s an impossibility. Rather than think that live music will forever be impossible, I think it’s impossible that we will never have it again. Send me a plane ticket when it’s time and we’re all safe and good to go, I mean, I’ll be the first one there, because I miss it just as much as you.