Foo Fighters agreed that “we’re not sure we like movies at all,” according to Dave Grohl. “The commitment of having to sit there for an hour and 45 minutes and have your emotions manipulated… I dunno,” Pat Smear tells Billboard.com.
But they were happy to have a movie made about them.
Sitting together Wednesday at the bucolic Zilker Club House in Austin, away from the hubbub of South By Southwest where the James Moll-directed documentary “Back and Forth” had its world premiere the evening prior – followed by a rocking surprise concert at Stubb’s – the Foo Fighters had nothing but praise for the way the project turned out.
“Personally, I thought it would be a good idea to now tell the story of the last 16 years, so it would make more sense to watch us make a record in a garage,” explains Grohl, referencing the Foos’ forthcoming “Wasting Light” album, which was indeed recorded in the garage of his “mansion” in Encino, Calif. “After selling out f***ing stadiums and becoming this big rock band, why would you make a garage record? To me the first hour and 20 minutes of the movie is leading up to that moment, where we go from the stadium to the garage… To me that’s the message of the movie.”
Moll, previously known for his historical documentaries – and who had once interviewed to direct “The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing” – was tapped for “Back and Forth” by Nigel Sinclair of Spitfire Picture. “I’ve been wanting to make a rock documentary for years,” says Moll, who also plays piano. “And I love the Foo Fighters. It was perfect.”
With a relatively fast production schedule, Moll assembled 1,000 hours of historical and new footage, including shots of Foo Fighters recording “Wasting Light” with producer Butch Vig. The film is marked by frank interviews, including Grohl and Smear speaking as openly as they ever have about Nirvana, as well as chats with former Foo Fighters William Goldsmith and Franz Stahl and discussions about the band’s darker periods as well as its successes.
“I think in the interview process (Moll) wasn’t concerned with music. He wanted to know about heavy s**t,” Grohl says. “He wanted to know about now how we did something, but why we did something and the relationship between us as people and how that’s managed to survive for the last 16 years. The interviews he did with us were long and they were really deep and we said things we wouldn’t necessarily say about each other.”
“It was like ‘Frost/Nixon,’ basically,” drummer Taylor Hawkins chimed in. “We had our own little ‘Frost/Nixon.’ James seems like this nice, little, quiet, shy guy, but he’s actually a pushy little bastard…”
Moll says the band members were definitely up for the interrogations and generous with their thoughts – and with their willingness to give him ultimate control over the film. “They wanted me to make the film I wanted to make,” Moll says. “Dave even said that to me; ‘Yeah, this may be our story, but this is your film.’ I asked him if he wanted to see a cut at one point in the middle of the process…He said, ‘Nah, I’ll just wait ’til it’s finished.’ And he did. They waited ’til it was done. I showed it to the whole band; there was a little bit of squirming in their seats, I think…and they said, ‘There are moments that made us uncomfortable, but it’s real. That’s really the way it happened. Don’t change a thing.’ “
After the South By Southwest run, which includes another screening of the film on Friday, “Back and Forth” – named after one of the songs on “Wasting Light” – will have a limited theatrical showing on April 5 and premiere April 8 on VH1, VH1 Classic and Palladia. Spitfire and the band are hoping for a more traditional theatrical run, and a DVD with extras is also likely at some point.
Foo Fighters, meanwhile, are gearing up for the album’s release and the tour to support it, which starts May 17 in Tulsa, Okla. “We have a way of doing this that we’ve always done,” Grohl says. “We try to keep things very simple. We try to do it as much as we can without burning it out. It’s disturbing to look at a schedule that’s two years long. I’ve looked at January 2012 and it kind of scares me. It’s overwhelming, but we’ll get there. I can’t wait to just go play shows.”
And after playing “Wasting Light” in its entirety in Austin, he promises that fans can expect to hear plenty of the new album at Foo Fighters shows. “I love that we can play this new stuff and people enjoy it and they’ve never even heard it before,” Grohl notes. “It’s nice to make people listen for once.”