Dave Grohl on His 'Sonic Highways' Emmy Nom & Directing Style: 'I Don't Know What I'm Doing'

Andrew Stuart
Dave Grohl in "Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways."

Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl is used to getting nominated for Grammys, VMAs and other music-related honors. But when he found out that the band's 8-part HBO musical travelogue, Sonic Highways, had received four Emmy nods, Grohl says he was “blown away.” “The Emmy world is something I never considered. I still don't know how to process it. It's so foreign to me.”

The series, which featured Grohl and band plunking down in a city, examining that town's musical history and then writing a song about it -- all in one week -- earned sound editing and sound mixing nods, as well as an outstanding directing for nonfiction program nomination for Grohl, and a tip for outstanding informational series or special. The Emmys air live Sept. 20 on Fox, and the band conveniently has that night off from their tour, which will resume Sept. 21 at The Forum in Los Angeles.

Dave Grohl Says His Leg Injury Has Made Foo Fighters Stronger

Grohl continues to recover from the broken leg he got after a stage fall in Sweden in June. While he says he's progressing well, he's in a quandary about whether he abdicates the throne he's used on stage since his injury. "It's become the star of the show,” he says. “Do I stop using it when I can just stand there? Or do I stop using it when I can jump and run around like I used to or do I keep it for fucking ever? It has a drink holder."

How did you hear about the nominations?

The first person to even say the word Emmy to me was Nina [Rosenstein, sr. vp at HBO]. She said, “You're going to get an Emmy for this.” I said, “That's crazy. Aren't those for real TV shows?” I was in New York when the nominations came out. I woke up and I had about 58 text messages and I just immediately assumed something was wrong. I started reading through all the texts and I was just kind of blown away.

In outstanding informational series or special, you're up against Neil deGrasse Tyson, James Lipton and Anthony Bourdain. How do you get your head around that?

I'm fans of all of those people. Neil is my hero. In another life, I hope that I was an astrophysicist. I spend most of my time online in the science section of Google news. It's what I do all day long. I'm a UFO fanatic. And Anthony, that guy should be in a rock band if he hasn't already been. I can't even fathom being nominated in a category with such heavyweights. When we made this show, we just assumed that hard core music nerds would love it. The reach of the series went way farther than I imagined it would go. I think I just put [so] much love into this show and the result was something better than I ever imagined.

Describe your directing style.

As a drummer and a musician, timing is everything, The composition of a song is not unlike the composition of one of those episodes. We looked at each one in three acts. There was the hook, the pre-chorus, and there was the chorus. And then the chorus becomes the theme of the entire show, so that's basically how I looked at each one of these episodes. But you have to realize that I don't know what I'm doing.

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In the Seattle episode, which is up for two awards, you call Seattle your “phantom limb.” Was that one painful for you?

Oh yeah. You know, there's a lot of ghosts in Seattle. Whenever I go back to Seattle I feel the good and I feel the bad and it's one of the most beautiful places on earth. When we were deciding on cities to focus on, one of the big criteria was to find cities that we had a personal connection to. Sometimes those cities were the most difficult to direct or to edit because it was hard to take myself out of the middle of it…. You also have to decide how much you want to open up to the viewer and in Seattle I opened up a lot. Seattle's story is just so amazing anyway and a perfect example of the concept of the entire series. What is it about the city that makes for the type of music that comes from there? In Seattle, it rains nine months of the year, so what do you think you're going to get? You're going to get the fucking Melvins and Nirvana.

What can you reveal about the next season?

The great thing about the concept of the show is that it can be done everywhere because everywhere has a musical history. It doesn't matter if it's Lawrence, Kansas or Jakarta or Reykjavik, Iceland or Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It doesn't necessarily have to be the Foo Fighters, it could be musicians from each one of those cities, it could be someone from another country coming to that country to discover the music from there. The thing that made it different from just a documentary about each one of those cities was mixing [in] the creative process [of writing a song.]

When will season two start? 

I don't know. We've got into the production logistics of doing another season and the people of HBO have basically said, just do whatever you want to do. The people at HBO have been so fucking cool that it wouldn't be difficult to figure out another season. It would be really easy, for sure.