On January 8, 1995, Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder broadcast two songs, one a cover of an Angry Samoans track, from a demo tape by a new Seattle-based rock band, on his Self Pollution Radio show. “I’m just going to let these songs fly,” said Vedder. “They’re really good.” This was the world’s first exposure to the Foo Fighters, a new group led by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.
In truth, at the point at which these songs were recorded, just three months earlier, there was no band, for Grohl had played every riff, pounded every beat and sang every note on his new project’s demo tape himself.
On February 19, 1995, the Foo Fighters – now featuring ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear, who’d joined Nirvana for their truncated In Utero tour, plus Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith, rhythm section of the recently defunct Seattle emo group Sunny Day Real Estate – took their first faltering steps in (semi) public, performing at a keg party for friends above a boating store on Seattle’s Mercer Street. It was weeks before Dave Grohl got around to listening to a recording of his new band’s first show.
“I was fucking mortified!” he told Rolling Stone magazine, 20 years on. “I thought we sounded great… [then] I heard the recording. [I was] like, ‘Oh… that’s the Foo Fighters? We’ve got to practice!’”
Once dismissed as ‘The Grunge Ringo’ by a caustic UK music press, Grohl can afford to laugh. In 2021, his band exist as one of the most successful rock acts in the world, but their path to the top has not been without turbulence. The easy-going and charmingly charismatic Virginia-born musician has been unafraid to take bold and unpopular managerial decisions in pursuit of his dreams, but his band have retained credibility even as their commercial appeal soared.
After Nirvana’s abrupt demise, Grohl was offered a position playing drums with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers: onstage, he shares some of the late singer-songwriter’s everyman charm, helping his group secure a position in the heart of mainstream American rock. Their journey is far from over.
“I remember there were people that really resented me for having the audacity or gall to fucking keep playing music after Nirvana,” Grohl said in 2009. “It was the most ridiculous thing. I was fucking, what, 25-years-old? I was a kid. I’m sure that the thing I was supposed to do was become this brooding, reclusive dropout of society and that’s it.
"Nirvana’s done, I’m done, that’s the end of my life. Fuck that… When Nirvana ended, I wasn’t finished. I’m still not fucking finished."
Chronicling what Dave Grohl only half-jokingly called his “winter of discontent”, The Colour And The Shape was not an easy album to make. By the time it was completed, both guitarist Pat Smear and drummer William Goldsmith had tendered their resignations, and Grohl had been served divorce papers by his first wife.
A survivor’s manual penned by a young man watching his world crumble beneath his feet, it’s the story of a soul in limbo, and it’s not hard to understand why Grohl briefly considered using a photo of a therapist’s couch on the album cover.
“My life was fucking going down the toilet,” he recalled, but, as ever, music would be his guide out of the darkness. Everlong, Monkey Wrench and My Hero are the big hitters here, but this is the Foo Fighters’ most complete and cohesive artistic statement, and undoubtedly their finest hour.
There were times, in the wake of his friend Kurt Cobain’s suicide, when Dave Grohl thought he might never play music again. Music had always offered the livewire Virginian escapism, now it seemed pregnant with tar-black memories. “And then I realised that music was the one thing that was gonna help me out of that place,” Grohl admitted.
Between October 17 and 22, 1994, in the company of his longtime friend and former room-mate Barrett Jones, Grohl laid down 15 songs at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, playing every note himself, save for some guitar fuzz supplied by Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli. The result was the most electrifying and uplifting album of 1995, with I’ll Stick Around, Big Me, Alone + Easy Target and This Is A Call bursting with energy and positivity. A new dawn rising.
Having ascended to rock’s top table with The Colour And The Shape, Dave Grohl was in bullish mood as Foo Fighters prepped their third studio album: “It’s time for our version of The Beatles’ White Album,” he boldly declared. Firing his old pal Franz Stahl, the guitarist who’d taken him under his wing in Scream, was very much not part of the masterplan, and when bassist Nate Mendel (briefly) handed in his resignation, Grohl might well have wished he’d taken up that offer from Tom Petty after all.
But back in Virginia, working as a trio in the basement of his new home, the album sessions began to coalesce. While not wholly devoid of raucous riff-rock (the roaring Stacked Actors), the set largely drew influence from mid ’70s soft rock - Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Wings, Supertramp – with songs such the country-tinged Ain’t It The Life and the wistful Aurora conjuring visions of fireside summer camp bonding sessions.
“It was the most relaxed and simple and perfect recording session I’ve ever been in in my life,” Grohl later claimed. “I honestly think it’s my favourite Foo Fighters record… it’s such a relaxed, honest, organic and real album.”
The fact that FF album seven was recorded to analogue tape in the garage of Dave Grohl's LA home by Butch Vig, and featured a guest spot from Krist Novoselic (on the mournful I Should Have Known), meant that it reunited three of the four men responsible for Nirvana’s phenomenal breakthrough album Nevermind.
Wasting Light is no Nevermind, nor was it ever intended to be, but it shares with Nirvana’s major label debut an unselfconscious love of volume, noise and melody, and can be considered Grohl's 'thank you' letter to the artists who scored his adolescence, from Motörhead to Hüsker Dü, with Bob Mould guesting on the passionate Dear Rosemary.
“What we're doing here is in some ways making sense of everything the Foo Fighters have done for the last 15 years,” Grohl stated, but lyrics such as “I’m dancing on my grave, I’m running through the fire” (from Walk) served as proof that, rather than being preoccupied with ghosts of the past, he was looking with no little excitement to the road ahead.
Ahead of convening with Adele/Sia producer Greg Kurstin at Hollywood’s EastWest studio, Dave Grohl set out a mission statement for how he wanted the songs on his band’s ninth studio album to take shape: “Let’s make them long, let’s make them noisy, let’s make them weird,” he told his loyal lieutenants. The results, Grohl later likened, variously, to “Motörhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper” and “Slayer making Pet Sounds.”
Concrete And Gold is no such thing, obviously, but it’s undeniably a collection ambitious in scale and rich in invention, from the stacked choral vocals adding echoes of Queen to the Sabbath/Floyd melding title track, to the sweet psychedelia of Sunday Rain, via widescreen anthems Run and The Sky Is A Neighborhood.
It’s a set which was never likely to imperil the Foo’s stadium rock status, but one which detonated nagging criticisms that Grohl’s unit are risk-averse and complacent.
So dysfunctional were the original sessions for the Foo Fighters’ fourth long-player, that Dave Grohl threatened to break up the band in the middle of conducting a UK magazine cover story interview to promote the then-still-unfinished album.
Famously, One By One was only salvaged after Grohl binned the ‘Million Dollar Demos’ his band recorded at LA’s plush Conway Studios, and started over with Taylor Hawkins back home in Virginia. Grohl has since stated that the album has just four good songs – presumably singles All My Life, Times Like These, Low and Have It All – but time has been kind to this set, and the understated Tired Of You (featuring tasteful guitar shading from Queen’s Brian May) and gnarly closer Come Back are much better than you (or indeed Grohl himself) might remember.
Having racked up an impressive 892,000 sales to date, One By One now stands as the band’s biggest-selling studio album in the UK.
Originally scheduled for release in 2020 as part of the Foo Fighters’ 25th anniversary celebrations, MAM is worth the wait. Ever keen to offer a snappy soundbite, Dave Grohl has sought to draw comparisons with David Bowie’s 1983 set Let’s Dance, but the title track’s smooth funk-rock grooves owe more to The Power Station, and Cloudspotter is more Foghat than China Girl.
Pre-release singles Shame Shame (moody), No Son Of Mine (snarly) and Waiting On A War (reflective) make a solid case for the album’s range, but it’s the hazy, largely unheralded Chasing Birds, one of the loveliest songs Grohl has ever penned, which leaves the heaviest footprint. A consolidation rather than a revolution.
The grand statement. Given Dave Grohl’s knowledge of, and respect for, rock history, it was, perhaps, inevitable that, at some point in the Foo’s lifetime, they would seek to lay down their magnum opus, an epic, panoramic double album. A decade into the band’s career, it was time, Grohl felt, for “something special.”
Recorded at his own Studio 606 complex, and featuring cameos from Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Queens Of The Stone Age head honcho Josh Homme and, more surprisingly, Norah Jones, IYH was split evenly between thunderous hard rock and intimate, acoustic tracks, 20 songs in total.
Inevitably, this grand design sagged somewhat, but with Best Of You, The Last Song and the title track as stadium slayers, and the tender Cold Day In The Sun and Friend Of A Friend – written about the time Grohl shared an Olympia, Washington apartment with Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain – showing the group’s more vulnerable side, IYH is a triumph. It ended up being the second best-selling album of the year, trumped only by Coldplay’s X&Y.
As the Foo Fighters entered the second decade of their career, there was, from an outsider perspective at least, little left for the Californian-based band to conquer.
To their credit, the Foos attempted to push beyond their comfort zone with ESP&G, to the extent of re-hiring The Colour And The Shape producer Gil Norton to bust their balls once more as they attempted to integrate all the dynamics of In Your Honor on a single disc, but following the adrenaline jolt of The Pretender, the most thrilling Foo‘s album opener since This Is A Call on their self-titled debut, the album never really catches fire as one might hope.
That said, with their sixth studio set, they walked away with the Grammy for Best Rock Album, which indicates just how high they’d previously set the bar.
Sonic Highways is much easier to admire than adore. A companion piece to the HBO TV series of the same name, Grohl’s ‘love letter to the history of American music’, the album was compromised due to the concept attached to its creation, namely that each of its eight tracks would be written and recorded in a different US city, inspired by the history and musical heritage of its birthplace.
A brilliant idea for a documentary, one beautifully executed, on record the reverential, respectful nature of the songs is undeniably heartfelt, but – whisper it – all a bit earnest and dull.