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After 19 years Foo Fighters are set to perform in South Africa. The great Dave Grohl granted two interviews to SA media. One of them was with Tonight.
DAMN that DJ Fresh, damn him. These are my thoughts as I pace my hotel room on Durban’s beachfront, totally ignoring the magnificent sunrise over the Indian Ocean.
Big Concerts’ PR has just phoned to tell me that the interview with Dave Grohl and DJ Fresh is running late. How dare this DJ who specialises in that house music stuff take my time with Dave Grohl. He is my Dave Grohl. After all, I am one of the original grunge rockers.
We head-banged to Nevermind and Bleach in glee when they were first released because we had never heard music or lyrics like that before. We cried when Kurt Cobain shot-gunned his head off.
Then a year later we rejoiced when Dave Grohl gave us something completely new. In the beginning we were a tad dubious – a drummer moving to a frontman after our hero had died. No one can top Cobain. Well he did, and so much more.
Dave Grohl –the drummer from Nirvana, the frontman for Foo Fighters, two of the greatest rock acts in the history of the planet.
Over the past three decades Grohl has lived by that real rock ’n’ roll ethos to always be true to your art, always say what you really think.
He did not choose the Bono or Sting sanctimonious routes as he has aged. Foo Fighters’ live shows are legendary for their powerhouse adrenaline. Since the days of Nirvana he has let his humour shine through, which has endeared him to his fans. He really is gen- uinely funny which I discover when he finally phones me. It was as if he was alwayspart of my rock crowd.
A few days later, I am with Fresh in Umlazi for the South Africa Music Conference. “You stole some of my Dave Grohl time,” I growl at him. Fresh opens his eyes wide and replies: “Dude, it wasn’t my fault. He wouldn’t stop talking. We even got cut off and he phoned me back!”
True, that. I asked Grohl just one question and that was it – “where are you at the moment?”
“I’m in Washington DC. I have an office here and I am working on my second doccie which I have for the past two years. My last one, Sound City, was such a great experience.”
It certainly was. Sound City told the tale of a sound desk in a down and out studio called Sound City where Nirvana recorded the album Nevermind.
The sound desk has a rich history of rock artists recording on it including Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young. The documentary includes interviews with all the greats who have recorded in it. When the studio went belly up, Grohl bought the desk and invited those artists to record songs with him.
There are people such as Butch Vig, Queens of the Stone Age, Trent Reznor and Paul McCartney recording. It is such a beautiful journey and emotional idea, but most of all it reflected the depth of soul that Grohl has. The irony is that it was not his intention. He was just doing it for the love of music. It went on to win a few awards. Now he has embarked on an even bigger project.
The band visited eight cities rooted in US music where Grohl interviewed some of the musicians who shaped those sounds and then wrote songs inspired by that experience for Foo Fighters’ next album. It is going to be turned into an HBO series. The album is set for release in late November.
The band will then tour the US before leaving for South Africa for two tour dates on December 10 and 13 in Cape Town and Joburg respectively. South Africa is the only territory outside the US they will play to promote the album this year. They will embark on the rest of their world tour in February. So, outside of the US, we get first dibs on the band.
In the meantime, Grohl continues with his story: “For this documentary which is yet to be named, I didn’t want to just record a documentary. So we recorded in eight musical cities from Nashville, New Orleans, Chicago and LA and I let each city tell a story. We got deeper with the interviews and each song is about an episode. It’s been an incredible and huge challenge. The project is overwhelming.”
So how did he get into making documentaries?
“I don’t have any formal training on the drums or guitar. I dropped out of high school. My parents were classically trained musicians. My father was a studied flautist and my mother had a beautiful voice. I was surrounded by music growing up. She taught me how to harmonise. I loved finding harmonies with her. It was beautiful. I had a Beatles songbook.
“I listen to music and it becomes shapes in my head whether it be Brian Eno, Bob Marley, Public Enemy or Pantera. I love music. I shouldn’t love it because it’s a guilty pleasure. F**k it, it’s just a pleasure.”
He recently participated in The Beatles’ 50th celebration and it is clear he loves their music. Most hard rockers prefer the Rolling Stones while The Beatles are considered the fathers of pop.
“At school I was friends with jocks, stoners and nerds. I was the skinny, weird dude and it’s the same with music. For me there is no Beatles or Stones and no Lennon or McCartney. I am neither. I can listen to Reign in Blood and Band on the Run.” (That’s Slayer and Paul McCartney and the Wings respectively).
“The first time I spoke to Kurt was over the phone when he was interviewing me for Nirvana. He asked me what I liked and I replied Neil Young, Celtic Flowers and Abba and he replied ‘me too’. We both loved Abba.”
Abba! Abba? Woah, dude, you’re destroying the myth right there. Stop saying “Abba”.
Grohl starts laughing: “Everyone thought Nirvana was a younger extension of Black Flag, but Kurt loved both NWA and Abba. Ab-sa-f***ing-lutely.”
How does he come to hit his drums so hard?
“I didn’t have drums when I first started. I used pillows as a drum kit. I would practice to Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys and I had these huge, fat drum sticks. The music made me play really hard and fast. I would beat the f***ing s**t out of them.
“Before I joined Nirvana I was in a band called Scream. We travelled around in a van touring, but we had no monitors and my drums were not hooked into the PA so I had to play really hard. Then, when I joined Nirvana, we had all those things and I thought to myself, ‘now, I am really gonna beat the crap out of them!’”
And finally – South Africa?
“I don’t know a lot, but we almost went there last year. It is one of the few places we have never been and I am itching to go somewhere I have never been.”
Dave Grohl is one of the most influential musicians of our time. Therese Owen spoke to some of our top South African artists to get their opinion of the great musician.
• Martin Schofield: guitarist for Wonderboom and frontman for Martin Rocka and the Sick Shop: as a rock star, what more do you want than to be David Grohl? First, you were in one of the best bands ever. Nirvana was a band that changed music from Spandex-wearing, Maltese-haired rock guys into cool kids again. You have written some of the best songs ever and that was just the first trip around the merry-go-round.
The second trip takes you much further than Nirvana, not only in its music, but in its integrity. The music is heavy, but there is still that cool pop factor. He has everything – he can play, he can rock a stadium and he has enough cred that Slayer fans will love him, but so, too, will grannies in Bloemfontein.
• Arno Carstens: I know a couple of people who have met him over the years and he seems like the nicest and funniest guy.
One my favourite albums of all time is School for the Dead by Queens of the Stone Age and he plays drums on it. Then, of course, there is Nirvana, which changed everything. Basically, he is the rock ’n’ roll king of the world.
• Dan Patlansky: what I love about him is that he says it like it is, that is the most inspiring thing about him. He doesn’t give a f***. He says what he thinks and he plays what he wants to play.
• Isaac Klawansky: Shadowclub drummer: he is like the messiah of rock ’n’ roll. He has been in two of the biggest bands of our time. He always has something amazing to say. He is full of good advice.
I watched Foo Fighters perform in New York and it was the best show I have seen in my life. They were so easy-going, but they were also so tight. I think he is brilliant, fantastic. I heard that he is a control freak and I love that about him because it is not possible to make such amazing music and brilliant recordings and not be a control freak. At the same time, he is such a normal guy, like you could easily have a four-hour conversation with him.
• Josh Klynsmith: Gangs of Ballet drummer: Dave Grohl is a phenomenal musician. As a band we have been influenced by Foo Fighters for ever. I grew up learning to play drums to Foo Fighters. He is an unbelievable frontman. I saw a speech where he said that musicians need to be musicians again, to take it back to where it came from.
I can’t believe they are coming here. It’s a bucket list for us. There are about 10 of us doing a road trip from Durban for the concert.
• Brendan Jury: award-winning musician and composer: Dave Grohl is going into this entire recording method of being absolutely true to the 2inch tape that created great rock. He has this real crusade to recapture the real spirit of rock. He is into the soul of the sound.
• Kahn Morbee: The Parlotones: he seems to be the most super-awesome guy. He is a rock star, but he is also one of those guys you can hang out and have a beer with at a bar. He is an average dude who happens to front one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
• Ross Learmoth: Prime Circle: they always said Jesus would return and he did – in the form of Dave Grohl. I am one of his biggest fans. But on a serious note, he has kept the flag flying, unapologetically playing rock.