|June 16, 2002 - MTV News: Dave Grohl: Rock Royal
by Jon Wiederhorn and Kurt Loder
The house lights at New York's Bowery Ballroom dim, and four figures shuffle onto the stage. Feedback pierces the smoky air, followed by a trenchant monochromatic riff. Queens of the Stone Age are about to burst into another galvanized set of dizzying guitar rock. But this time something's different.
The bare-chested figure wearing black fingerless gloves and wielding drum sticks with enough force to crack the floorboards looks familiar. As he pummels his kit, he makes dramatic faces, chewing emphatically one minute, snarling like an angered ape the next. And when he launches into an upbeat passage, he forcefully flails his head, looking a lot like Dave Grohl when he drummed for Nirvana ... Wait a minute, it is Dave Grohl.
For much of the past year, Grohl has put his platinum-selling group Foo Fighters on hold to record and tour with the more underground Queens of the Stone Age, an incendiary hard rock outfit that has never had a gold record and is still playing the club circuit.
It might seem strange that the superstar drummer from the most celebrated rock band of the '90s would join Queens — especially since Grohl made a concerted effort to break out of his drummer role to play guitar and sing with Foo Fighters.
"I can play the drums and I can also play the guitar and sing in Foo Fighters, and I want to be able to do both," Grohl explained. "Just to be able to exercise that option and say, 'I think I'm gonna go play drums for a while in this kick-ass band that everyone thinks is awesome, and then I'll go back and headline the Reading Festival [with Foo Fighters].' That's so great, man. Who wouldn't wanna do that?"
Dressed casually in a T-shirt, Grohl was slightly scruffy, with tribal tattoos running down his arms, and hair that looked like it was in that awkward growing-out phase, neither long nor short. He carried himself with boyish charm, laughing at quirky jokes and gesturing enthusiastically.
"[Queens of the Stone Age have] got a new-wavey Devo stiffness with tuned-down metal riffs and heavy grooves, and I was a huge fan," he recalled. "They're hilarious and so fun, and they're amazing players. They've got a cool thing about their band where it's really just Josh and Nick and then there's this revolving cast of people from bunches of different bands. So [when their last drummer left], they asked me to play drums on their new record, and I said, 'Sure.' I think it's the best rock record I've heard in like 10 years. It's nuts."
Grohl played drums on all but one song on the upcoming third Queens album, Songs for the Deaf, which comes out August 20. While he loved stepping back into the drum seat after years as a singer and guitarist ("It's nice to be in the back again. The front is tiring"), and he enjoyed the band's spacious, aggressive music, he was equally thrilled by the chemistry of the group, which also now features A Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan.
"Being in a band is like being in a relationship," Grohl explained. "Whether it's a love relationship or just a friend [thing], there's people that you just connect with for no real reason at all, but you feel the same [about a lot of things]. With Queens of the Stone Age, all of us are connected by this thing, and whether it's the mutual love of Black Flag when we were kids, or [that] we can all imitate anything, I don't know. But we all are just on the same wavelength. That's a really special thing and a rare thing. It's like the best feeling in the world for a musician."
When Grohl announced he was taking a break from Foo Fighters to work with Queens, rumors abounded that the real reason for the hiatus was that Foo drummer Taylor Hawkins was in rehab. Hawkins was hospitalized in the U.K. last August for a drug overdose, and many industry folk simply assumed he had relapsed. Grohl flagrantly denied the accusations, insisting that his desire to play with the Queens was the only factor that put the Foos on hold.
"Taylor just made a stupid mistake [last year]," Grohl said. "He's not a junkie. That's why it was so surprising to me that it happened in the first place. All it takes is one stupid mistake. He got really close [to dying]. But he's fine now. He's like, 'F--- it.' His party tickets have been cashed in. It's time to get on, which is good because Taylor's my best friend in the world, so to see something like that happen, you're like, 'Oh, man.'"
When Hawkins overdosed, it was hard not to wonder if Grohl was reliving his memories of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who had OD'd on numerous occasions, and whose heroin addiction played a factor in his untimely demise. But Grohl said his relationship with Cobain was entirely different than his friendship with Hawkins, and that there was always a wall of separation between the Nirvana singer and the rest of the band.
"When Kurt was into doing drugs, Krist [Novoselic] and I didn't do that stuff, and Kurt and Courtney [Love] did, so there was just this line drawn," Grohl said. "It was us and them — people who do drugs and people who don't. And we would hear about it the next day. Like when we played at Roseland at the New Music Seminar [in New York], Kurt died the night before [and had to be resuscitated], and I didn't find out about that until after the show. So I was totally oblivious to what was going on."
When it comes to drugs these days, Grohl just says no ("I just go into full panic mode [when I do drugs]. I can't breathe, [I think that] nobody likes me, I'm stupid, I'm ugly, I don't have a chin. I just totally lose my mind, so I stopped"). That might seem strange for a guy who now moonlights in Queens of the Stone Age, who have lovingly been called "drug-rock" or "stoner-metal."
"Contrary to what most people think, what I do as a musician is work," Grohl pointed out. "You really have to keep it together and drugs don't necessarily always help that."
Grohl doesn't use chemicals to reach the expansive state of mind that great space music — from Pink Floyd to Spacemen 3 to High on Fire — engenders. His natural feel for the cosmic — not to mention eccentric (see Foo videos for "Big Me" and "Learn to Fly," and Tenacious D's clip for "Tribute," in which Grohl plays Satan) — work just fine to take him where most of us have never gone before. Just ask about his fascination with extraterrestrials.
"I used to have freaky dreams about UFOs," he explained. "When I was a kid I really wanted to see one, so I would just lie in my front yard and go, 'Take me, I'm here. Can you hear me?' In 5th or 6th grade I found out about Project Blue Book [the U.S. Air Force's official UFO study program in the early 1950s], so I got really into being an investigative UFO expert. I'd go around to friends' houses and see dead grass be like, 'See, that's definitely an indication of some sort of life form landing in your backyard.'
"I have seen some weird stuff, actually," he continued. "On a Foo Fighters tour when we were driving through Arizona we saw what looked like weird little explosions going in a circle moving through the sky."
For those who fear that the rest of Grohl's bandmembers have been abducted by aliens and are now being experimented on in another galaxy, the drummer insisted the Foo Fighters are alive and well and will return to action after he finishes touring with Queens. While Grohl said the next Foo record is almost done (the band is just completing guitar overdubs), the recording process was so draining that after one set of sessions in a Los Angeles studio he decided to distance himself from the project and start again later.
"We spent like four months on it laboring over it to make sure it was good. We got a Grammy for the last [album], and I need another door stop," he said, referring to the award that's currently being used on his bedroom door. "When we first started working on it we were definitely going for the 'big songs.' It's awesome being in an arena full of fans, so we wanted to start writing these big songs."
But the Foo Fighters were also writing stuff that was stranger and heavier than anything they had done previously, and their manager became convinced that the stranger stuff was their most promising.
"He said, 'Half of it's really good because it sounds like nothing you've ever done before, and half of it just sounds like singles to me,'" Grohl said. "He was like, 'You guys should get weird.' So we thought, 'Oh, OK,' and we went back to [the studio in] Virginia to get weird."
The band started experimenting with a few songs and were thrilled with the results, so the guys decided to re-record all their songs with that new, spontaneous spirit.
"We did it all in 12 days," Grohl said. "It's great, because if you only have 12 days to make a record then you're playing like you're hanging from a cliff. If you've got four months, then you do a guitar track and then you're like, 'What time does the sushi place close?' It's not reality."
Grohl described the new Foo songs as "faster" and "more aggressive," but added that there's an intriguing blend of melody and dissonance throughout the disc.
"We figured we're gonna get mean, we're gonna get ugly. And then I end up putting this four-part harmony on it, and all of sudden it's beautiful," he said. "Like wait a second, it was supposed to be gross, and now it's gorgeous."
When Grohl joined Nirvana in 1990, few people would have predicted that 12 years later he would be the brightest burning ember from the grunge rock era. In an environment that consisted of powerhouse rockers including Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney, Grohl probably would have been the last person to foresee his future preeminence. And his current status is something he doesn't take for granted.
"I really feel like one of the luckiest people in the world," he concluded, clasping his hands and leaning forward. "We should never complain about anything. I swear to God, I think we have the best jobs in the world — besides porn star guys."