Sixteen incredible years, one epic new album - the full story of ‘Wasting Light’
Foo Fighters really, really should've become shitty by now, or at least faded into a relic of a past decade. But they keep getting bigger and, more to the point, better: new album 'Wasting Light' is as strong, invigorating and just plain exciting as any album that'll be released this year, let alone a band's seventh album. They're a band's band because everyone who's ever spent any time in a van appreciates the sheer graft Grohl puts in; they're a fans' band because you feel like you can just nip backstage and clink a beer with them to say well done for headlining Wembley Stadium; they're a commercial band because they know the untouchable glory of letting gruff power chords ring out over the heads of 50,000 people; they're a proper rock band because, well, they know how to write a rock song that sounds good whether on daytime radio or at a club at 3am.
In the new issue of Rock Sound - onsale right bloody now from WHSmith, all good newsagents and online direct to your door from this link right here - we talk to Grohl about everything from the early days to the new future forged by 'Wasting Light'. In this extract he talks about how in order to write perhaps his best songs yet he went back to his earliest inspirations.
Speaking to Grohl, who is pretty much breathless in detailing the ins and outs, and moreover the benefits of recording at home, to the analogue warmth of reel-to-reel two-inch tape, it’s impossible not to get the sense that this is another stage in the Foo Fighters’ evolution, albeit one where they’ve gone back to the essentials, the beginning. After all, the garage is the very first place most bands play their first songs together. This album’s writing and recording process should be taught in music production academia as adolescent classicism, only instead of a Tascam four-track and a borrowed condenser microphone the Foo Fighters have Butch Vig (who last worked with Grohl on Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’) producing it with some über-lush studio gear to capture every take, every breath and every nuance of every song. Seriously, this album sounds incredible, with no digital edits choking the performances of their personality.
“A lot of people still record to tape to get that natural tape compression and then they’ll download what they have on tape onto a computer,” says Grohl. “To me, the restriction of only having 24 tracks to record to, the limitations of doing something in a garage, would somehow affect the song, to strip it down to its basic core. We’ve been guilty in the past of loading 20 to 30 fucking guitars to make it bigger whereas this time we’re just relying on the song.”
And this is where Grohl evangelises his faith in the album: the songs. But not because they take the Foos somewhere new; they’ve tossed the dice before, with ‘In Your Honor’’s bi-polar two-discs, offering one all turbo alt-rock anthems and the other down-tempo, predominantly acoustic arrangements: no, Grohl insists these songs could have been culled from any stage in his musical career, and it’s seeing his own thumbprint on their verse chorus that lets him know he is being honest with himself and the listener.
“When I listen to a song off this record, like ‘Dear Rosemary’ or ‘Rope’, or ‘I Should Have Known’ – those songs could’ve been Dain Bramage songs, the band I was in when I was fucking 17! I listen to those songs like me and Dave [Smith] and Reuben [Radding] would’ve been doing it in 1986, and in that way, I guess that’s what makes me really believe in it because it’s just me. I think that’s what people see in us; it’s not just pretension, and I don’t know… it’s beautiful imperfection. I’ve always felt like when it’s time to go into the studio we want to make a record like it’s the first one we’ve ever made, so with any one of our albums I’ve looked at it as if it was our debut album, and if we were worthy of the kind of attention that we’re getting at the time then it’s cool.”
That even Bob Dylan lost his shit for ‘Everlong’ is arguably the sort of commendation that endorses Grohl as a songwriter so proven and celebrated that he could be considered one of America’s greats – à la Springsteen, Petty, Young et al – but for Dave it’s more than just good hooks and the simple osmosis of letting your personality colour a song.
“Someone like Neil Young is such an iconic hero to me not only because what he’s accomplished musically but also as a human being,” he says. “Or Ian MacKaye from Fugazi / Minor Threat, same thing, he has made musical history but I almost respect him as a person more, and consider him a hero more because of how he is. I think it’s important that people recognise you as a human being, that you’re a good person, that music is only part of it. It really is overwhelming when people scream the name of a song that you wrote on a napkin 18 years ago in 25 minutes when we go to play it live.”
To read the rest of the article, buy Rock Sound 146 - onsale now.