Foo Fighters: The Billboard Cover Story
Someone asked Dave Grohl if rock'n'roll is dead.
It probably wasn't the wisest question to pose to a die-hard rocker like Grohl, who leads the Foo Fighters, and is considered by many to be the greatest rock drummer alive.
"I said, 'Dude, ask the 130,000 people who are coming to see us at England's Milton Keynes Bowl in July. Ask the 2,000 people who were drinking and having the night of their life at South by Southwest," says Grohl, who in late March visited the conference for the premiere of the Foo Fighters' revealing new James Moll-directed documentary "Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" and played a packed gig at local staple Stubb's.
"So far, the buzz for "Wasting Light" is strong -- especially online, where in addition to gritty videos for the punky song "White Limo" (featuring an appearance by Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister) and sinewy first single "Rope," numerous websites and blogs posted quotes from Grohl siding with Kings of Leon and Slash in slamming "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy for his negative comments about being declined permission to use certain songs on Fox's show. (The Foo Fighters share Sony Music Entertainment as a parent company with "Glee," which releases its albums through Columbia.) "You shouldn't have to do fucking 'Glee,' " Grohl told the Hollywood Reporter.
Granted, album sales continue to decline in all musical genres. But, for instance, in the 15 weeks following the release of My Chemical Romance's "The Black Parade" (2006), the set had sold 889,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In the same time period in 2010, follow-up "Danger Days" shifted 238,000 units. The trend is similar for the other aforementioned releases. The Foo Fighters' best-selling album, "The Colour and the Shape" (1997), has sold 2.3 million copies, while 2007's "Echoes" has moved nearly 900,000.
But the downturn certainly hasn't dampened the band's spirit, especially since it still does well on the road. In 2008, the Foo Fighters grossed $19.4 million from 42 arena concerts that drew more than 431,000 fans, according to Billboard Boxscore.
And thanks to a hefty album promotion campaign spearheaded by Silva Artist Management (the Foo Fighters are managed by John Silva) and RCA, fans will have plenty of reasons to purchase "Wasting Light." One reason in particular: A limited number of physical copies will include a piece of the master tape used to make the recording, according to RCA Records senior VP of artist development Aaron Borns.
Also: They're embracing digital practices to build awareness for "Wasting Light," which began late last year with Grohl using Twitter to tease fans with photos and news updates about the recording of the album. "That's certainly something we haven't had in the past," Borns says, adding that other early digital strategies included offering brief song clips on the band's website as well as a free ringtone of "Bridge Burning." "The band wanted to be more engaged with the fans earlier this time."
In addition to a TV partnership starting in April with ESPN to feature Foos tracks "I Should Have Known," "These Days," "Rope" and "Walk," the group has synch placements in the works for a couple of upcoming films, though Borns declined to reveal specifics. But in an effort to further engage the band's younger demographic, it partnered with Fuse for a contest that allows fans to submit their own videos for each of the 11 songs on "Wasting Light." In the week following the album's release, a special program will air on Fuse to debut the self-made clips.
Grohl acknowledges that the Foo Fighters' fans have changed during the band's 16-year career, and that younger, more tech-savvy listeners are coming onboard each day.
"Our relationship with our fans is different now than it was 15 years ago, because the range in age is really wide," he says. "I'll look down and see kids that are 8 years old with Foo Fighters shirts on singing every word, and then I'll see their 65-year-old mustached dad with a beer sitting a couple seats above them."
Grohl adds that "Wasting Light" is the last Foo Fighters album owed to RCA under the band's contract, though the label declined to comment on its contractual status with its artists. "Our deal is up," Grohl says, noting that the band technically makes albums under Roswell ("Which I'm the fucking president of," he says) and hasn't yet discussed where its next album will be released. "We haven't seriously talked about it. But they're great people that I loved working with for a long time."
For now, Grohl isn't worried about the business side of his music, he's relishing every moment at the forefront of what some believe is a dying genre. "To me, rock'n'roll is analog. Rock'n'roll is imperfection," he says. "Rock'n'roll is musicians onstage who aren't pretty and don't sing perfectly. They get a little drunk and don't sound like the record. And they don't have computers behind them fucking playing things for them. To me, rock'n'roll is fucking real. It's alive and well."