2017 No. 1s: Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters on Coming Back With Their 'Heaviest' Song Yet

Koury Angelo
From left: Guitarist Chris Shiflett, RCA senior vp promotion Dennis Blair, RCA executive vp John Fleckenstein, bassist Nate Mendel, singer-guitarist Dave Grohl, keyboardist Rami Jaffee, drummer Taylor Hawkins and guitarist Pat Smear photographed on Dec. 1, 2017 at Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys, Calif.  

CONCRETE AND GOLD
Billboard 200, Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums (one week each); Hard Rock Albums (two weeks)

“RUN”
Mainstream Rock (four weeks), Hard Rock Digital Song Sales (two weeks)

“THE SKY IS A NEIGHBORHOOD”
Mainstream Rock (four weeks), Rock Airplay (one week)

A few months after breaking his leg on tour in mid-2015, Dave Grohl announced that the Foo Fighters were going on indefinite hiatus. Halfway through the following year, the 48-year-old frontman realized he couldn't keep his word. “When you’re in the middle of touring, you start to blame the music for a lot of your problems,” he says. “But the music helps you heal.” To shake things up, after 2014’s Sonic Highways -- recorded in eight different cities and released with an HBO docuseries -- Grohl decided to record at a proper commercial studio for the first time since 2002, working down the hall from Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga. He also reached out to an unlikely collaborator: producer Greg Kurstin, the pop mastermind behind hits for Sia and Adele, who, says Grohl, lent some of the tracks a smoother, “Motörhead meets Pink Floyd” sound. Stalwart fans eager for a Foos comeback snapped up the resulting collection of raucous-yet-melodic anthems, Concrete and Gold, which became the second Foos album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Prior to release, rock radio embraced thrashing first single “Run,” which dropped without warning last June -- proving the Foos are still plenty capable of surprises and garnering them a best rock performance Grammy nod.

John Fleckenstein, RCA executive vp: I think fans wanted the Foos to come back and recenter themselves around that classic Foos sound, but in a more updated way.

Dave Grohl: I thought maybe the strangest thing we could do is go make a record like most bands do [in a commercial studio]. It’s exciting when you’re in a hive of activity where everybody is inspiring each other. That’s the first time that has happened since the fucking ’90s.

Dennis Blair, RCA senior vp promotion: Dave was sitting in my office explaining the record to me as Sgt. Pepper meets Slayer. Like, what? I couldn’t fathom it. When you listen, you totally get it, but that was a challenge for radio. They hadn’t heard that aggressiveness in a Foo Fighters song in a long time.

Grohl: I couldn’t even walk when I wrote “Run.” There’s some catharsis there, that I get to scream my brains out. I’m a huge fan of old-school thrash metal, so I was really excited, 22 years into being the Foo Fighters, to have a song that’s probably the heaviest thing we’ve ever recorded.

Nate Mendel: I knew that’s how a year-and-a-half of shows were going to open -- with that riff. The funny thing about “Run” is, it’s got a reggaetón beat and we didn’t really realize it.

Grohl: I said, “What the fuck is a reggaetón beat?” And Greg played six songs on the radio right now by Justin Bieber and everyone else.

Billboard Year in Music 2017

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 30 issue of Billboard.