Dave Grohl became world famous in the 1990s as the drummer for Nirvana and has remained stellar ever since. He’s the lead singer of Foo Fighters (eight albums, 11 million copies sold, tons of awards and huge world tours) and has worked on musical projects with David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age, among others. Last year he produced his first film, Sound City, a documentary about the titular Los Angeles music studio.
Now he’s driving Sonic Highways, an ambitious project merging the latest Foo Fighters album, out in November, with an eight-part TV series in which Grohl shows the band recording the album in studios across America and interviews artists associated with those studios, including Dolly Parton, Joe Walsh, Chuck D, Willie Nelson and Rick Rubin. There’s also a sit-down with Barack Obama. When he met The Red Bulletin recently, the 45-year-old swapped the questioning in favor of giving answers.
THE RED BULLETIN: How many security people were behind the camera when you interviewed the President of the United States of America?
DAVE GROHL: Here’s the thing: The White House is a really relaxed and comfortable place, because you can’t get in there unless they know that you’re cool. So once you’re in, you’re in and it’s relaxed and not creepy or scary. The president had some really great things to say about our country and about specific musicians. I wanted to talk to him about not only the history of music in America but America as a country where there’s the opportunity to do great things. I mean, I’m well aware that there are a lot of things going terribly wrong, but America still holds the freedom where you can be someone like Buddy Guy.
Guy carved out a career in music despite having no education and no money. Echoes of the Dave Grohl story?
Buddy’s the greatest ever as far as I’m concerned. He made his first guitar from wires in his screen porch and wood. I’m a high school dropout from Springfield, Virginia. I never graduated school and I never had enough money for college. I worked manual jobs and played noisy punk rock music. Now I’m in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I get to sit and talk to the president about music. I’m not saying what a great guy I am, but I want everyone to imagine that same opportunity is possible.
So what does it take to make it big in America, if not the world?
I believe that if you’re focused and driven and passionate enough about something that you can do it. Don’t screw everybody else’s expectation, just do it the way you do it. Why do it like somebody else?
Has that actually worked for you?
Sure. For example, I haven’t got a clue how to direct movies and TV, I just do it the way I see fit. That’s the same way I play the drums and write songs. I’m sure that by some other people’s standards, what I do is complete garbage, but screw them. It leads to great things. It’s the only way.
Did you pass that piece of advice on to President Obama?
I think he’s got the worst job in the world. The day I interviewed him, he gave a press conference and announced he would be sending more troops to Iraq. Then he gave the Congressional Medal of Honor to a solider who was badly injured saving another soldier. He’s got the economy, he’s got international conflict and then he sits down with me to talk about Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones.
So President Grohl is out of the question?
[Laughs.] I could never get past the first step of becoming a politician. I’ve done so much stupid stuff in my life. Who would vote for me?
But the glasses you’ve started wearing recently make you look very serious.
Oh yeah, well—age. I am deaf, dumb and blind.
So the White House is temporary but you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year as part of Nirvana. Why did you have only female singers for your performance at the ceremony?
Because Kurt [Cobain] was a feminist. And someone suggested Joan Jett. I mean, Joan Jett, she’s the first lady of rock ’n’ roll. She’s the one. Then it was like: “What about Kim Gordon?” She and Kurt were great friends, they loved each other and Sonic Youth were our heroes. “Yeah, let’s get Kim.”
And you had Lorde from New Zealand.
She was my idea. Her song “Royals” is its own little revolution in the sea of bullshit.
Is that sea what you referred to recently as “stripper pop”?
Pop music in America right now is so superficial. It’s fun to listen to, to turn up in your car when you’re in traffic, but there’s no substance at all. It’s devoid of any meaning. I’m not just saying that as a 45-year-old rock musician, I’m saying that as a human being. If the number one song is about your butt, that’s a problem. So when I heard “Royals” in the middle of all of these other songs, I thought, “Thank God! Someone’s singing something that actually has a little bit of something.”
As an old-school rock band, do Foo Fighters struggle in a digitized world?
Sad but true. People have forgotten what it’s like to really rock out because they spend all day in front of a freakin’ computer, which they hail as the new god. And they seriously think technology can make them rich, if they stumble on something new. But I’m telling you: technology might make you rich, yet it will never make you happy.
Isn’t it easier to be happy if you’re rich?
They’re two different things. Light years apart. Happiness or luck or a good feeling—whatever you want to call it—is based on interaction amongst humans, on making other people happy, giving them something dear to their heart. Music is a perfect medium for that. What could be more human than writing a song with bass, drums and guitars? That’s as feel-based as it gets.
What do you do with all your money?
It goes straight into my bank account, where it turns all moldy and smelly.
No investments, nothing like that?
I don’t waste my time thinking about how I could make more when I already got enough. I’m not a banker, I’m a musician. However, at the same time it buys me freedom, of course. It allows me to do what I want to do and not have to worry about anything at all.
No houses, no big fat cars?
I drive a family car—not a monster SUV but a family car that fits five people. I’ve got a house that is just big enough, too. My only status symbol would be 606, my studio in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. I’ve invested a fortune to make it look exactly like ABBA’s legendary Atlantis studio. I’m not kidding: That’s what I was after and it cost me a lot to have that dream come alive.
Courtney Love wants to make a Nirvana biopic. Who should play Dave Grohl?
I guess Robert Rodriguez would be my favorite, just because he’s so cool, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen.
Is making music the analog way becoming a lost art?
I hope I don’t sound like a boring old fart here, but let’s be honest: It never hurt nobody to practice your instrument, to develop an ear for rhythm and melody.
So what do you think of EDM?
What the heck are you talking about? Don’t speak in riddles, man!
Electronic dance music. Skrillex, Deadmau5, etc.
That’s what that is called? It’s simply not my kind of music. What’s more, it’s nothing new. Artists like Suicide or Atari Teenage Riot have been doing it for decades and are still doing it way better.
What do your kids listen to? [Grohl has three daughters, aged 8, 5 and 3 months.]
I’m damned lucky on that front. The worst thing they impose on me is Katy Perry’s latest album.
Katy doesn’t make you happy?
No, not at all. Her music is a real test in terms of loyalty toward your kids. But at the same time I can still make them listen to good stuff. I got my eldest two, Harper and Violet, a turntable and The Beatles box set. So they listen to Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album. Give a 6-year- old a turntable and all of the Beatles records and I guarantee that within one hour they will be doing what you did when you were 6 years old, too. Records on the floor, dancing, singing—it’s great.
What kind of relationship do you have with social networking?
Honestly, I haven’t got a clue. I’m not on Facebook or on Instagram and it’s because I don’t care. If I want to talk to people, I just call them up or text them. Yet, for my 75-year-old mother, it makes perfect sense, simply because she doesn’t have too many people to talk to anymore, she hardly leaves the house and she is lonely. She’s like, “You’re living in the past, dear. Let me show you how to Twitter.” Maybe if I reach her age then I’ll launch my first personal website, by Dave Grohl, retired rock star.