Published Mar 28, 2011He's become one of the biggest figures in contemporary music, a celebrated and sought-after singer, songwriter, guitarist, and drummer who is widely known as one of the nicest guys in rock. Dave Grohl, a hyperactive and heavy-handed drummer from Virginia via Ohio, rose to prominence in the early '90s when Nirvana's Nevermind exploded from the fertile Seattle punk and indie scene to become, however reluctantly, not only the biggest record of its time, but a catalyst and signifier of the emergence of the underground into the mainstream. When Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life in 1994, Grohl briefly retreated, not sure if he would continue to make music. But he barely had a choice: almost immediately, offers from the likes of Tom Petty and Mike Watt started pouring in, but Grohl wasn't sure his destiny was behind a drum kit and he tried fronting a band instead. Sixteen years later, he's made the Foo Fighters a stadium-sized modern rock act, collaborating with countless peers and heroes along the way and, years past the hurt of his past, returning to work with his Nevermind producer and bass player on the Foo Fighters' mighty new album, Wasting Light.
1969 to 1981
On January 14, 1969, David Eric Grohl is born in Warren, Ohio to parents Jim and Virginia. The couple, already parents to three-year-old Lisa, are both Ohio natives and meet through the community theatre scene. Jim, described by Dave as a conservative, is a classically trained flautist and unofficial jazz aficionado who works as a politics journalist for the Washington-based news service Scripps Howard. He would later become a primary speech writer for the Republic National Convention. Virginia, a liberal, is a gifted singer who works as a high school English teacher.
Three years after Dave is born, the family relocates to Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington DC, just as Watergate starts to unravel. Proximity to the nation's political hub would not only be instrumental to Grohl senior's career, but its early '80s hardcore scene would later prove an essential part of Dave's formation. When Grohl is six years old, his parents divorce; it's a rather ineffectual event for Grohl, and he and his sister continue living with their mother, who would throughout the Grohl children's younger years bring home the school's record player so they could listen to music.
Dave inherits his parents' love of performing and as a child acts in theatre groups. By the time he's ten, he starts making songs on a one-stringed guitar, accompanied by a friend banging on cookware. At 12, Grohl gets his first electric guitar and is enrolled in lessons, but boredom quickly sets in and he quits. He continues to learn by ear, figuring out popular songs with his friends. He starts writing his own songs, too, and records them on his cassette player. By 1981, Grohl and his friends are playing in cover bands around town.
1982 to 1986
As they do every summer, in 1982, Grohl and his sister travel to Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to stay with their relatives for a few weeks. As they arrive and their aunt greets them at the door, their teenage cousin Tracy follows shortly behind, coming from the upstairs of the home. Her new appearance — edgy with a near-shaved head and chains — immediately leaves an impression on the Grohls. During their stay, Tracy takes them to numerous punk shows, including one by Chicago punk favourites Naked Raygun at a club called the Cubby Bear. It leaves a mark on Grohl, the intimacy and energy of it informing his perception of rock music. Of this summer, Dave will years later tell Michael Azerrad in the book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, "From then on we were totally punk. We went home and bought [now-legendary San Francisco-based punk fanzine] Maximumrocknroll and tried to figure it all out."
Now in his first year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia, Grohl, liked in all social circles, is elected vice president of his class. He is also now fully immersed in punk. He does the morning announcements and sneaks snippets of songs by Bad Brains, one of his new favourites, over the school's PA system, broadcasting to his peers. He tries to give himself a tattoo — his first — of the iconic four-bar Black Flag logo with a needle and pen ink, but stops at three bars. Grohl comes to learn that the scene in which he's finding an identity has its roots in his own backyard and becomes all the more obsessed; he sets out to become part of it, frequenting shows in DC. In 1983, Grohl attends a show by touchstone hardcore band Scream. He finds out they're from his hometown and instantly considers them heroes.
In 1984, Grohl joins a punk band called Freak Baby after meeting its other members at a Void show in DC and finding out they need a guitarist. The band plays some local shows and then, in the fall, heads into Laundry Room Studio to record a demo with Barret Jones. The original Laundry Room Studio was, fittingly, located in the laundry room of the basement of Jones's Arlington, Virginia home. Freak Baby would sell cassettes at shows and at a local record store. This would be Grohl's first recording in a four-track studio and the first of many sessions he'd commit to tape with Jones.
Grohl had been teaching himself to play drums along to his favourite records by Rush (2112 was given to him by another cousin), Minor Threat, NoMeansNo, Bad Brains, and Scream at home on a makeshift kit; a pillow between his knees as a snare, his bed as toms and cymbals, a chair as a hi-hat. Freak Baby kick out their bassist, and Grohl asks if he can take over on drums, at the same time, shifting their less-than-stellar drummer to bass. With the line-up changes, the band's name changes to Mission Impossible, their sound gets harder and faster, and Grohl gets a chance to hone his skills on a real drum kit for the first time.
Mission Impossible play more shows and go back to Laundry Room Studio to demo with Jones again. After doing a few more tracks, the band would record a split seven-inch with beloved local band Lunch Meat (three of whose members would later form post-hardcore group Girls Against Boys). The EP, originally titled Thanks, gets an initial pressing of 500 copies, and for its second run of 1,000 copies would be retitled Getting Shit for Growing Up Different. Though issued through Sammich Records, seminal DC punk label Dischord Records would also release the EP in 1986, after the band had parted ways. It is the first officially released recording featuring Dave Grohl.
By now, Grohl is attending Bishop Ireton High School, a Catholic school in Alexandria, Virginia, after his mom expresses concern about the amount of pot her son is smoking and the effect it's had on his usually good grades. He's now a devout Led Zeppelin fan, in awe of — and influenced heavily by — drummer John Bonham. In December 1986, from the ashes of Mission Impossible (who had changed names to Fast) rise Dain Bramage. Grohl, still behind the drums, brings former Freak Baby bassist David Smith and another local band dude Reuben Radding into his living room to smoke a lot of pot and write a lot of songs. Tastes within the band are diverse and this opens Grohl up to closer examination of and practice with song structures and writing. Dain Bramage release two demo cassettes and a full-length called I Scream Not Coming Down.
1987 to 1990
In early 1987, Grohl, on a routine visit to a music store to buy drum sticks, sees a drummer-for-hire flyer. One of his favourite bands, Scream, is looking to replace Kent Stax, who has left the band for personal reasons. Initially, carefree 17-year-old Grohl just sees it as a way to meet and jam with his heroes. He calls the number and tries to convince guitarist Franz Stahl to let him audition; he's a huge fan, has played in a lots of local bands, and he lies, he is old enough at 20 years old. They hang up and Stahl doesn't call back. Grohl tries him again a short time later and this time, schedules an audition.
Grohl shows up and suggests they try some Scream songs instead of covers. His bedroom drum lessons pay off and he impresses with his spot-on knowledge and heavy hitting. A few practices later, the band want Grohl to join, a possibility he'd never actually considered. Torn between a dream opportunity and sticking with his best friends in Dain Bramage, Grohl breaks it to Stahl that he isn't ready to abandon his band, and apologetically turns down the offer. A few weeks later, as he has so many times, he attends a Scream show. It changes his mind.
In the spring, 18-year-old Grohl has his mother's support and leaves high school bands and obligations behind, entering the studio with one of DC's most revered punk bands. Though no longer releasing records through Dischord, the band is working with Ras Records, a reggae label looking to expand into the rock market, and are put up in a full 24-track studio. The band record their fourth LP, No More Censorship.
By fall, Scream is heading out on a U.S. tour. Teenaged Grohl, having now also ditched plans to earn his diploma through night school, is already infatuated with the day-to-day, low-budget lifestyle as a touring punk drummer. On a whim at a tour stop in Memphis, Grohl sends an Elvis postcard to a band he'd come to love while seeing shows in DC, the Melvins. He asks them to come to Scream's San Francisco show, only to find out that the bands would be sharing the bill anyway. They meet and become fast friends, staying in touch.
Scream continue with their packed touring schedule, heading to Europe in early 1988, back through the U.S., then back to Europe for a short run in the spring of 1990. Throughout, they swell into a renowned hardcore act and record the live albums Live at Van Hall in Amsterdam in 1988, and Your Choice Live Series Vol. 10 at a show in Germany in May 1990. They also record Scream's last album, Fumble, in December 1989. It features the Grohl-penned and performed "God Looks Down." Fumble isn't released until much later, once again by Dischord, in 1993.
Between Scream tours, Grohl stops in to see his old friend Barret Jones at his studio in Virginia, helping Jones out with some recordings while taking advantage of his eight-track, figuring out how to assemble full-band tracks of the songs he'd written (drums first, everything else after).
In the summer of 1990, Scream return home from Europe and rush back out across the U.S., fleeing the responsibilities of employment and rent. It would be their last tour. Halfway through, in L.A., bassist Skeeter Thompson disappears, supposedly due to relationship troubles. The band decide to delay the inevitable and stays with the Stahls' sister while they hunt for a new bassist to finish the tour. In September, Grohl calls his friend, Melvins frontman Buzz Osbourne, who doesn't know of any available bass players. He does have a couple of friends in Aberdeen, Washington who recently saw a Scream show in San Francisco and are big fans of Grohl's. Their band, Nirvana, have gone through a cast of drummers and is again looking for a new one. Buzz gives Nirvana's bassist's number to Grohl; he'd already heard their debut Bleach while in Europe with Scream. They reminded him of the Melvins. Grohl calls Krist Novoselic, who says they're now working with Mudhoney's drummer Dan Peters, but calls back later that day asking if Grohl would fly to Seattle. Scream had been the most important thing in Grohl's life so far, making it no easy choice to put his clothes in a bag and the pieces of his drum kit into a cardboard box and board a plane to Seattle.
1990 to 1993
Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain meet Dave Grohl at the Seattle Sea-Tac airport. It wasn't the first time they'd met, however; there'd been unknown encounters before. Once, backstage at a San Francisco Melvins show, and once at a party the Scream guys attended after a show in Olympia. As an icebreaker on the phone with Cobain just prior to meeting in Seattle, Grohl recalls a girl hijacking that party with her annoying singer/songwriter performance. It was Cobain's girlfriend, Tobi Vail (who would soon form Bikini Kill). Cobain remembers the party too and thought Grohl and his bandmates were obnoxious.
The next day Nirvana play their one and only live show with Dan Peters on drums and Grohl, shocked that 1,500 kids have come to see a band he thought were unknowns, gets his first glimpse of the buzz that's been simmering around the band, fuelled by their Sub Pop release Bleach; years later he would tell Rolling Stone that he had spent their set standing outside talking to a friend.
Days after arriving in Seattle, Grohl auditions for and officially joins Nirvana, with no hard feelings between the band and Peters. Grohl lives with Novoselic and his girlfriend for the first month until moving into Cobain's small, dirty Olympia apartment. Developing nocturnal sleep schedules and hardly leaving for lack of money and options, the two of them — Cobain a loner and Grohl adjusting to his new life — are not extremely close. The trio quickly immerse themselves in rehearsals in their Tacoma rehearsal space (a renovated barn), and a few weeks later, in October, Grohl plays his first show with Nirvana at the North Shore Surf Club in Olympia. The last-minute show sells out. Grohl is shocked. The European tour that follows sees them playing to ecstatic thousand-people venues every night. The Washington shows aren't a fluke.
And the buzz isn't just in the clubs. Cobain and Novoselic had already recorded demos in April with respected producer Butch Vig for their follow-up to Bleach. Amidst rumours of Sub Pop mingling with major labels, they decide to play the game their way and gauge interest at other labels, of which there is a lot. Nirvana are flown to meetings and subject to the royal schmoozing treatment; the three young and restless musicians barely take it seriously, but at the time there's a burgeoning shift in popular music as a rash of underground bands are being courted by majors and they do recognize the capital potential. Their management, Gold Mountain, and good friends Sonic Youth, who'd had a positive experience with their debut for the label, urge them to go with Geffen. They do. They buy out their Sub Pop contract, which helped keep the label afloat for a few years, but the band remains poor and bored as they await their advances and their return to the studio. In November, Grohl learns for the first time via a phone call with Novoselic that Kurt had used heroin, claiming he had only tried it and wouldn't do it again. The band officially sign with Geffen in April and in May, head to Los Angeles to record their sophomore album with their first choice of producer, Butch Vig. Grohl tells Exclaim!, 20 years after the fact, why it was a good partnership. "Butch is really good at doing this thing where he takes a band and he strips away all the bullshit and finds their core element. Like, the reason — the core energy of the band — and he just blows that up and makes it sound huge. He did [that] with Nirvana."
After recording for the album was finished, Grohl goes back to DC to spend some time near home and while there, books time in local WGNS Studio with his old standby Barrett Jones (who would soon become Grohl's drum tech) to lay down some of the handfuls of songs he'd written over the past few months in Aberdeen. A friend of Grohl's, Jenny Tooney, releases the recordings on her Virginia-based punk label Simple Machines. Grohl, acting as a one-man band, was nervous about people hearing him sing, so the Pocketwatch cassette is released under the pseudonym Late! It is only ever officially released on cassette on a per-order basis from the label, though it is heavily bootlegged on CD. Some of the songs would be re-recorded and used for future Nirvana and Grohl projects.
Around the end of 1990, Grohl would also collaborate with old friends Buzz Melvin and Barrett Jones on Buzz's King Buzzo EP. Grohl would use the fake name Dale Nixon, a nod to the pseudonym Black Flag's Greg Ginn used to play bass alongside his usual guitar on his band's second album My War.
Nevermind is released September 24, 1991. Despite all of the label interest and growing crowds, its success was still of an unpredictable size and reach. In October, on the strength of its first single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the album is certified gold. The band leaves for a European tour in November, and the album hits the Billboard Top 40. By January 1992, they appear on Saturday Night Live and Nevermind usurps Michael Jackson as the number one album in the U.S., selling approximately 300,000 copies a week. They perform on the MTV Video Music Awards and in a move indicative of their attitudes and symbolic of their impact, would get in a near fight with Guns n' Roses frontman Axl Rose, Grohl even taking to the mic to taunt him live on stage. Nevermind not only thrusts the young trio into a new reality but underground, "alternative" music as a whole. Nirvana would be credited for changing modern rock forever.
As the Nevermind rush is peaking, Grohl and Novoselic notice Cobain's blooming drug problem, not a one-time thing as he'd promised. More touring and endless press take the band into spring, when Cobain, constantly and chronically riddled with severe, indeterminable stomach pain, marries his girlfriend Courtney Love, a friend of Grohl's ex-girlfriend. The band, exhausted and strained, take some time off through the end of 1992. Grohl spends time in Virginia. Cobain isolates himself with his new wife and their brand new daughter, writing. In December, Geffen releases the compilation album Incesticide in lieu of the new album they'd hoped would be ready.
Recording of In Utero starts with producer Steve Albini in Minnesota in February 1993 and only takes two weeks. The album's raw abrasiveness — the goal of working with Albini — isn't easily digested by the powers that be, but it debuts at number one when it's released in September. The duties of being the hottest rock band in the world call, and in October, Nirvana heads back out on a U.S. tour, adding Pat Smear of influential L.A. punk band the Germs as a touring guitarist. In November, they film an MTV Unplugged performance in New York City; it won't be released as an album for another year. In 1993 Grohl, the developing collaborator, would also take time to drum with the Backbeat Band on the soundtrack for 1994 film Backbeat, chronicling the Beatles' early days. The band is a supergroup also consisting of Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Don Fleming (Gumball), and Mike Mills (R.E.M.).
In early 1994, Nirvana are ready to start another European tour, but not before booking some demo time in Robert Lang Studios in Seattle. For two days at the end of January, Grohl and Novoselic fill Cobain's absenteeism by working on songs of their own. Grohl completes a few of his solo songs before Cobain shows up on the third scheduled day and they record a new song titled "You Know You're Right." It's the last day of studio time before tour, and the last time the band would record together.
A fitful start to the tour — including Cobain overdosing in a Rome hotel, checking into a California rehab, escaping the facility and flying home to Seattle — would be the last mysterious days of Cobain's life. His body was found by an electrician in his home on April 8, 1994, dead by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Nirvana is instantly a mythical part of music history, Grohl included. Looking back now on the whirlwind few years, he doesn't understate its personal effect. "[Now], when Krist and I see each other, or when Butch and I see each other, we're bound by that Nevermind thing. That changed our lives forever, in a way that is just hard to explain. When Kurt died, that changed our lives in ways that's even more difficult to explain. And so when we see each other, it's like with the blink of an eye, you feel all of that. There's just so much between the three of us that we don't have to talk about."
Grohl retreats from music for a while, not sure if he would be able to return to it again. Seattle band 7 Year Bitch reach out to Grohl, relating to his pain and musical uncertainty as they'd experienced the same when they lost their guitarist Stefanie Sargent to drugs in 1992. The weeks following Cobain's death would quickly prove to be the only lull in Grohl's soon-to-be-prolific career.
He gets back to work, playing drums and some lap steel on punk lifer ex-Minutemen bassist Mike Watt's solo album Ball-Hog or Tugboat? Grohl and Novoselic would also appear on the Stinky Puffs' (the group of Jad Fair's stepson and Lee Rinaldo's son) 1995 EP, notably their first live performance together since Cobain's death. Soon after, Tom Petty asks Grohl to sit in on drums for his November 1994 Saturday Night Live performance; Grohl immediately feels welcomed but turns down an offer to join full time as he considers his other evolving post-Nirvana possibilities outside of being a permanent session drummer.
At the end of October, he spends another week back at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle — nine months after last being there with Nirvana — once again with Barrett Jones, recording all of the parts (except one guitar part by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs). He completes an album's worth of material and makes some cassettes that he shares with friends. Grohl clearly has a knack for melody and he'd been sitting on a gem of a rock voice. Soon Grohl's answering machine is loaded with interested labels, most no doubt aware of the lure the project would have.
Grohl decides to release the recording on his own terms. He forms a record label, Roswell Records, and licenses it to Capitol Records where Nirvana's old A&R rep Gary Gersh has lured him. He gives the project a band's name, Foo Fighters, to prevent perception of a solo album. (The label and album name are influenced by books Grohl's been reading on UFO sightings.) He plans some live dates. He assembles a band.
Grohl's first wife (they would divorce in 1997) passes the cassette onto a friend, who in turn gets it to William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel, drummer and bassist for recently defunct Seattle emo progenitors Sunny Day Real Estate. Mutual fandom and successful jam sessions secure them as the rhythm section for the Foo Fighters. Grohl knows he wants Pat Smear to fill the role of guitarist after his stint in Nirvana revitalized the band. Nervous, he calls Smear to see what he thought of the cassette he'd sent a few weeks prior. Smear is already learning the songs; he has been waiting for the call.
1995 to 1998
Following a short tour of the U.S., Foo Fighters is released on July 4, 1995. The rest of the year is spent on the road, securing an MTV hit in "I'll Stick Around," and wraps up in December with a performance on Saturday Night Live. In February 1996, Foo Fighters lose a Best Alternative Album Grammy nomination to Nirvana's posthumous MTV Unplugged in New York. But the Foo Fighters had already planted themselves firmly in the forefront of the still-rolling alternative rock explosion that Grohl had, however inadvertently, helped create. Grieving and focusing on moving forward, it takes him years to feel comfortable discussing his previous band with the press, something he is certainly more candid about now.
"My whole life is defined by pre-and-post Nirvana. That's just my life. It's something that I just think about every day. Every time I wake up and drive my kids to school and every time I hear it on the radio and every time someone takes their picture with me, it's me. A long time ago I stopped being afraid of those sort of things," Grohl explains. "I can't say I was never in the band, and I can't say I don't miss it."
Another live Nirvana album is released in October 1996. From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, compiled by Novoselic (who also wrote the liner notes), features a selection of raucous cuts, serving as an unofficial companion piece to MTV Unplugged. In 1996, Grohl is tapped to score the Paul Schrader film Touch. He once again performs everything on the mostly instrumental rock numbers, save for some vocals from Veruca Salt's Louise Post and X's John Doe. The movie and soundtrack are released in 1997.
Grohl is now ready to focus on the new Foos record. As easily as the first album came together, the second would be fraught with problems. The Colour and the Shape is the first album by the Foo Fighters as a band; in October 1996 they head into a Washington studio with producer Gil Norton, known best for his work with the Pixies. After weeks of work, the band takes a break and, listening back, Grohl decides he doesn't like the work Goldsmith is doing. He takes the band, minus Goldsmith, to California to re-record much of the album, including doing all but minor drum parts himself. This causes Goldsmith to leave the band. With the record done, the band needs a new drummer. In a conversation with Taylor Hawkins, Alanis Morissette's drummer, Hawkins offers his services. He auditions and joins the band. The album is released in May and shortly after, Smear would also leave, making the announcement in September at the MTV VMAs while simultaneously introducing new guitarist, Grohl's old Scream band mate Franz Stahl. The Colour and the Shape — Colour using the British spelling in honour of producer Norton, who is British — spawns numerous hits for the band, retaining the energy of the first album on songs like "Monkey Wrench," while exploring a more complex and dynamic side on standout track "Everlong."
Grohl is going through a divorce and staying with Pete Stahl. It's rumoured that Nate Mendel is also considering leaving to rejoin a reformed Sunny Day Real Estate, but it never happens. In 1997, Grohl also works with Novoselic and Love to form a company, Nirvana LLC, to oversee future Nirvana releases, specifically the box set Grohl and Novoselic want to release for the approaching ten-year Nevermind anniversary. Tumult aside, The Colour and the Shape would go on to sell around two million copies in the U.S. alone.
We worked really hard on The Colour and the Shape with Gil Norton, who is famous for just cracking the whip in the studio. He's just an incredible producer, but he works you really hard. And he likes things to be perfect," Grohl tells Exclaim! "I think because [Colour and the Shape] has been around so long and had some of our biggest songs on it, people just sort of consider that to be our real milestone, best album." To mark its tenth anniversary, the album will be re-released in July 2007 with six previously released B-sides and four covers.
1999 to 2000
Grohl continues his relentless pace by starting on next album There is Nothing Left to Lose in the spring of 1999. A reckless year and a half living in Los Angeles gave way to Grohl purchasing a house in his hometown Virginia and building a studio in the basement. Stahl had left the band due to ineffective creative dynamics, and the trio of Grohl, Hawkins, and Mendel settle in to make the album. "[That] was such a great moment for the band. At the time, we weren't under contract to any record company [Gersh had been fired from Capitol and the band left too, later signing with RCA]," Grohl explains. He goes on to detail why it would be his favourite recording experience up until then. "We had just come off of our second album that was really successful. We built a studio in my basement in Virginia. We had no fucking clue what we were doing. We bought a nice vintage mixing deck and a 24-track tape machine. We only had maybe 13 microphones and a couple amps, it was really, really simple. That sort of relaxed environment helped us make my favourite Foo Fighters record. When I listen to that record it's just so completely relaxed. There's no stress and there's no…the band didn't feel like we needed to do anything but be ourselves. It was a great time for us."
Released in November 1999, it wins the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. Chris Shifflett (Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, No Use for A Name) joins after the album's release to round out the live line-up; he'll be made a permanent member for the recording of the next album.
Grohl continues his solo studio work as well, channelling his perpetual fan-first mentality into creating metal instrumentals with the dream of having his favourite vocalists from his adolescence sing on them. Lemmy from Motörhead, Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity, and Snake from Voivod are just a few of the dream collaborations that Grohl — as charmed as ever — lands. The few years of sporadic ongoing work is complete and released under the name Probot in 2004 to good reviews.
2001 to 2003
Following the pattern of the first two records, though the band's previous studio experience was one of their best, the sessions for One by One would prove some of the most difficult. After four months of unsatisfying work, Grohl is asked to join Queens of the Stone Age in the studio for the recording of their breakout album Songs for the Deaf. Grohl puts his own band on temporary hiatus to make the album and to tour.
Between Grohl's previous band's fame and the Foo Fighters' consistent output and touring, they are now a band of stadium-sized popularity. Grohl has also developed a reputation as a skilled and likeable collaborator. Though he'd known Homme since 1992, many others start seeking his studio and live services, including David Bowie, Cat Power, Killing Joke, Tenacious D and Nine Inch Nails, to name just a few of the upwards of 30 other collaborations Grohl has participated in.
Meanwhile, the Foo Fighters hiatus is causing break-up anxiety among the band. But Grohl returns re-energized to finish the album. It is released in October 2002 and with another string of hits sells over a million copies. But even after their additional studio work, the band would go on to call One by One their least favourite, Grohl saying that they rushed it. Still, it includes a guest appearance by Queen guitarist Brian May, a huge deal to Grohl and Hawkins, and wins the Foos another Best Rock Album Grammy.
The ten-year anniversary of Nevermind comes and goes and still no Nirvana box set. Grohl and Novoselic wanted to mark the occasion by releasing the last song they'd recorded with their friend and band-mate Kurt, "You Know You're Right," but Love argued the song would make much more money as a featured track on a single-disc compilation, not buried in a box set. The three settle, and the best-of disc Nirvana is released a week after the new Foo Fighters album in October 2002. A more comprehensive box set than initially planned will see the light of day eventually, too; With the Lights Out will be released in November 2004.
On November 23, 2002, Foo Fighters' "All My Life" replaces Nirvana's "You Know You're Right" at the top of Billboard's Modern Rock Chart. Just over two months later, in early February 2003, Queens of the Stone Ages' "No One Knows," on which Grohl plays drums, edges up on the Foos but by just one week and one other band's number one song (Saliva), Dave Grohl would miss out on double-ousting himself at the top of the charts.
As time went by, the [Nirvana] questions got less and less," Grohl remembers. "And then for a while, there were no Nirvana questions. And people would come up and say 'oh, you're the guy from the Foo Fighters, how did you guys get together?' And I'd tell them the whole story and they'd say 'wait, you were in fucking Nirvana?' And they wouldn't know. Foo Fighters were becoming a band. People were starting to think about what we've done."
2004 to 2009
In 2004, Grohl steps out as a supporter of the democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, attending and performing at several rallies around the country. Grohl and the Foo Fighters find themselves as a stable quartet, a first since their 1995 inception. Grohl's Virginia home studio, now dubbed Studio 606 West, is moved to a new, state-of-the-art studio in Los Angeles, along with Grohl and his second wife. Their fifth studio album In Your Honor is made. It evolves into a double-disc outing with complimentary electric and acoustic albums. Grohl says the title was in part influenced by the people he'd met during his time on Kerry's campaign. For the acoustic tour in summer 2006, Smear rejoins the Foos as a second guitarist. Also in 2006, a mine collapses in Beaconsfield, Australia, and weeks later, when the miners are still meters away from the surface, they request iPods with music by Foo Fighters. Grohl hears about the miners and sends a note promising them tickets to any Foo Fighters show and a couple of beers when they're rescued. In October, one of the freed miners takes him up on the offer, joining the band at their acoustic Opera House show in Sydney. The incident inspired "Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners," an instrumental that will appear on the band's next album.
Gil Norton is at the boards again for 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. The Grammy-award winning album is Grohl's first as a father, having become a dad to daughter Violet. It precedes 2009's Greatest Hits compilation, on which the band records two new songs with Butch Vig, the first time he and Grohl had been in the studio together since making Nevermind in 1990.
Taking time away from the Foo Fighters again, Grohl recruits Josh Homme to work with Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones as hard rock trio Them Crooked Vultures. Grohl practically wishes it into being by starting to talk about it in the press in 2005. The band's self-titled album is released in November 2009 and, perhaps no surprise, is well received. Also well received is a YouTube video of the band in the studio; called "Fresh Pots," it shows a naturally animated Grohl consuming pot after pot of coffee and nearly short-circuiting. The video is funny, and is made even funnier by the news that the video isn't a promotional stunt — Grohl was indeed taken to hospital for chest pains during the making of the album. He'd been trying to stay energized for double band duty and caring for a newborn, his second daughter, at home. The condition isn't serious.
Grohl is given the key to the city of his hometown, Warren, Ohio, in the summer of 2009. Local artists in the town also contributed murals to a road in the downtown that has been renamed "Dave Grohl Alley."
Grohl ascends to the level of celebrity who gets invited to perform for the likes of Paul McCartney and President Obama. He contributes percussion to the posthumous Michael Jackson album, though it had been recorded years earlier. And, the real crowning achievement, it's announced that Grohl will appear in the Jason Segal-written Muppets movie, his first feature acting stint since portraying the devil in Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny in 2006.
In August 2010, the Foo Fighters start recording seventh album Wasting Light. As bits of news about the album start to leak, it's clear this is an intriguing Foos project. Grohl has brought Vig back to record and produce the whole thing on analog equipment in the garage of Grohl's L.A. home. As the recording process continues it's announced that former guitarist Pat Smear is officially back as a core member and that Novoselic will guest on the album as well. Grohl says this is his favourite Foo Fighters album.
"I just emailed Krist and said, 'you want to come down and record some stuff?' And he immediately shot back, 'of course.' I didn't really know if I had a song. And I don't even think Krist cared what it was. I didn't either. To me it was more about taking this opportunity to have that type of reunion, which is a trip.
I've made demos in my garage before," Grohl says about the stripped-down process. "I mean it's literally a fucking garage that you can fit one mini van in, and a couple kids' bicycles, and a refrigerator. I backed up a mini van and put a drum set in there and we just started going.
Grohl acknowledges that recording with his Nevermind cohorts and releasing the album in the year of life-changing album's 20th anniversary could open this album up to a lot more Nirvana talk, but frankly, he doesn't care.
"When we sit down to make music, we just kind of laugh, and do it, and have fun. I know that there's a real heavy weight to it all, but to me it's, you know, it's something a lot more personal. It really became something bigger than making an album. It was huge. I'm surrounded by my band, who are like my brothers, and I'm doing this at home, so my children are running around my feet, and I have Krist Novoselic from Nirvana come down and play on a song… there are all these things that are more than musical that made for a really special experience."
The band also makes a documentary during the Wasting Light process. The career-spanning doc is set to premiere at South By Southwest this year and receive a theatrical release sometime after. Directed by Academy Award-winner James Moll, Grohl says watching the film is one of the rare opportunities he's taken to really survey what he's done.
"After I had seen the first cut of the movie, I looked at the lyrics and looked at what we had done, and I thought 'I think I just wrote an album about the last 20 years of my life.'" There was so much emphasis on survival and starting over. We've been through a lot, we've done a lot, and we've been pretty private about a lot of things. To sit down and look at the last 20 years, is just a fucking trip."
Essential Dave Grohl
Nirvana Nevermind (DGC, 1991)
A no-brainer in essential Dave Grohl listening, Nevermind is the album that not only launched Nirvana into a lifelong role as the pantheon of alternative rock, it gave Grohl a sturdy platform for his own future projects. Twenty years on, it sounds dated but still transferable and remains a landmark.
Foo Fighters (Roswell/Capitol, 1995)
This first Foo Fighters album was essentially a solo effort and its punk-infused radio rock had strong pop sensibilities not unlike Nirvana's. Though Grohl would spend years avoiding talking about that band to prevent a total life eclipse, the skill and charisma that made this record would also make Grohl into an unmistakable frontman. It launched Grohl's unstoppable mix of nonchalance and drive deep into the modern rock landscape.
Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf (Interscope, 2002)
Grohl's stint with Queens of the Stone Age would mark his return to the drums, and would no doubt contribute to the album and band's breakthrough commercial success. It would also mark a spurt in Grohl's contributions to other projects, least of all his own (Probot, Them Crooked Vultures). It was a vacation from the Foos and an important indulgence in Grohl's formative metal inclinations on the skins.