After 17 years spent lurking on the fringes of rock superstardom, Foo Fighters now find themselves, in many ways, leading the charge for a resurgent modern rock scene. 2011 was reaffirming year for the Foos on many fronts, driven by the success of the band’s critically-lauded seventh studio album, “Wasting Light” — and the blowout global tour and six Grammy noms, including Album of the Year, that followed.
As he reflects on what he calls “the best year of his life,” the Foos’ Dave Grohl weighs in with Billboard on the health of rock’n’roll, what’s wrong with the music business, and why these “five dorks” might just actually represent something bigger than just a simple band.
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Congrats on a hell of a year.
Grohl: It’s been a good one, 2011 was very good to me. I was at a New Year’s Eve party and someone asked me how was my year, and I said I honestly think 2011 was the best year of my entire life, and I actually meant it.
You and the Foos were in the thick of it all year, so what’s your take on the health of rock?
There’s always gonna be rock’n’roll bands, there’s always gonna be kids that love rock’n’roll records, and there will always be rock’n’roll. I travel all over the world and play music, and it’s easy to think rock’n’roll has gone away when you’re in a country like America. We just got back from a trip Down Under, we did a tour of Australia and New Zealand where we were pulling 40,000-50,000 people a night, selling out stadiums. To me, that means rock’n’roll is alive and well. The thing that will never go away is that connection you make with a band or a song where you’re moved by the fact that it’s real people making music. You make that human connection with a song like “Let It Be” or “Long and Winding Road” or a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Roxanne,” any of those songs. They sound like people making music.
In America, rock’n’roll isn’t in the forefront of the mainstream as it is the rest of the world. England is another country where rock bands are hugely successful: You hear them on the radio, they have hits and play stadiums, and it’s almost like it’s bigger than it’s ever been. But for whatever reason, here in America there’s not as much focus on rock’n’roll bands. I don’t know what it is, but it’s one of the few countries in the world where rock’n’roll is not huge.
Is this discussion something you’ve had with the band and your team?
No. One of the reasons why we’re still a band and we still make albums and we’re still successful is we don’t pay attention to any of that. We have our own studio, our own label, and we do everything on our own terms. To us the most important thing is we’re satisfied within the band, and once we finish making a record we give it to the rest of the world. But we’ve always lived within this beautiful bubble that is the Foo Fighters. You can’t pop it, you can’t change what we do, because we try to keep it entirely real and pure. We’ve seen lots of trends come and go — nu metal, skinny ties — and we just kept our heads down and done our thing for so long that none of that really matters, and ultimately what happens is we end up making albums people connect to because they’re real records.
But no, it’s never been an issue. For years, usually about once a year, you have a rock band that comes out and says, “We’re gonna save rock’n’roll,” and then you’ll read an article asking, “Is Rock Dead?” It’s never gone away in my world. Ask the guys in AC/DC whether they think rock’n’roll is dead.
Because you have things like “American Idol” and you’ve got radio stations that play music made entirely by computers, it’s easy to forget there are bands with actual people playing actual instruments that rock. For the fans, I don’t think it’s gone away at all. I don’t know too many people that give up listening to rock’n’roll. It’s seems to be fucking alive and well.
When you come out of your “bubble” and deliver these massive hits, does it surprise you that radio gets behind it and people respond the way they do?
You have to understand, we’re a really simple band. We think we suck and we try really hard to make good records and we practice. We don’t feel like the biggest, best band in the world. We just feel like the same five dorks that were touring in a van 17 years ago, that hasn’t changed. But there was a time about 10 years ago when we would get asked to come play an awards show or a radio festival or something like that and we’d show up and be the only rock band. Here we’re on a bill with pop artists like Pussycat Dolls or some new rapper and then we get up and beat the shit out of our instruments. And I started wondering, “Why are we even here?” I wondered if they just needed a “rock band” — “Who’s a rock band? Call the Foo Fighters.” Then I started thinking maybe we actually represent something to people, maybe when they hear the name “Foo Fighters” they just think rock’n’roll, and I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.” Then over the years playing shows I’d look out at the audience and see kids with Nirvana shirts and their parents with Foo Fighters shirts — which seems upside down — and I’d see moustaches and kids at their first rock concert. Our audience became so diverse I thought, “Man, they just want to see a rock show.” Go see Bruce Springsteen. Go see Tom Petty, AC/DC, Roger Waters, any of these people. Go see Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. I went to see Soungarden four or five months ago; I didn’t stand in the VIP section, I ran down and got crushed in front of the stage and danced around sweaty with a bunch of people I didn’t know for an hour and 45 minutes.
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I don’t think there’s anything wrong with rock at all. It’s overlooked. And right now, the current musical climate is not unlike it was back in 1991, right before Nirvana [Grohl’s former band] got popular. The late ’80s was full of over-produced pop that kids had nothing to grab hold of — they had no way of connecting to this hair metal band singing about fucking strippers in a limousine on Sunset Boulevard. Who can relate to that? Then you had a bunch of formulaic pop songstress bullshit, and music was boring. And then a bunch of bands with dirty kids got on MTV and rock’n’roll became huge again. And I feel like that’s about to happen. Something’s got to give. It can’t be song contests on television for the rest of our lives. It can’t be the same playlists on every radio station for the rest of our lives. It can’t be music made entirely by computers with people talking over it the rest of our lives. It can’t go that way, it just won’t.
I feel like as a musician and a part of this rock’n’roll scene, I have a responsibility to make shit real, to not think about all of that other bullshit, not think about making music for money or promoting music for fashion, the contests. My responsibility is to make shit that’s real. Once you start doing the right thing, it will get better.
Someone asked me recently, “What do you think the problem with the music industry is?” I said, take the Adele record, for example. It’s an amazing record and everybody’s so shocked that it’s such a phenomenon. I’m not. You know why that record’s huge? Because it’s fucking good and it’s real. When you have an artist singing about something real and she’s incredibly talented, it deserves all the rewards it gets, it’s a great record. Now imagine if all records were that good. Do you think only one of them would sell? Fuck no! All of them would. If all records were that good the music business would be on fire, but they’re not. A lot of people are promoting records that are just throw-it-against-the-wall-see-if-it-sticks meaningless bullshit. Everybody has the responsibility to do the right thing and promote artists that mean something.