Dan Mangan Remembers the Time Dave Grohl Offered to Play Drums for Him — and He Said No

"It did feel like we'd landed in a place that made sense creatively — but I'm still an idiot"

BY Alex HudsonPublished Aug 28, 2023

It's any songwriter's fantasy: you're hanging out at Dave Grohl's house and he offers to play drums on your new single. Dan Mangan's real-life version of this fantasy has a unexpected twist, however: the Vancouver songwriter turned Grohl down.

The moment happened a decade ago, when Mangan was working on the score for the 2014 Simon Pegg dramedy Hector and the Search for Happiness, featuring his single "Vessel." The director, Peter Chelsom, was friends with Grohl, and he set up the fateful meeting at the Foo Fighters frontman's house in Los Angeles.

Despite Mangan's rejection, Grohl did end up performing on the track: he sings backup and plays some background guitar. It would be easy to miss his presence, since he's not listed as a featured guest and his contributions are mixed fairly low. When Mangan and his band Blacksmith released the song on their 2015 album Club Meds, their promotional campaign made no mention of Grohl.

Exclaim! caught up with Mangan to discuss his experience visiting Grohl's house, why he turned him down, and why he regrets it to this day. Mangan also said that he's "been writing and recording lots of material" lately, and has plans to release some of it this year — although, sadly, none of it will feature Grohl, despite Mangan's continued attempts to reconnect with the rock star over text message.

How did you meet Dave Grohl and end up visiting his house?

I was scoring a film called Hector and the Search for Happiness. The director, Peter Chelsom, was pals with Dave. Their kids were all buddies and went to school together in Los Angeles. 

At some point in the process, I played Peter a rough demo of the song "Vessel" and he really wanted it in the film. Jesse Zubot and I recorded a lengthy extended "acoustic" version of the song that would play over the final scene of the film and then the "rock" version would drop right as the credits hit. The chorus of the song has this countermelody yelling bit and I thought Dave's rawk voice would be perfect. Peter had me come to L.A. so we could go to Dave's house, show him the film, and see if perhaps he'd be game to get involved somehow.

What was it like going to Dave's house?

Dave's house was big and beautiful but unpretentious — a blend of modern and classic So-Cal Hacienda vibes. Dave answered the door wearing cargo shorts and a ripped Sears T-shirt. He was halfway through a microwave burrito. We chatted for a bit in the kitchen before moving to the TV room where we watched an early rough cut of the film. 

Then we wandered to his home studio and he asked how he could help. I played him the demo of "Vessel" and we explained how it would close out the movie. The first words out of his mouth were, "Well, ya gotta let me play drums?!"

Why did you say no to his offer of playing drums?

This was 2013, and the band that I'd been playing with since 2008 was coalescing into the era of "Dan Mangan + Blacksmith." Not anticipating at all that Dave would jump in so wholeheartedly, we'd already just recorded the bed tracks for "Vessel," and I was honestly worried about hurting our drummer Kenton's feelings. In that moment, it felt like bringing in a Hollywood ringer would be a betrayal to what we'd built together. 

Looking back now, it just seems completely ridiculous to say no to Dave Grohl wanting to play drums on a song I wrote. Maybe I was under the mythical spell of youth — clutching desperately to a perceived artistic integrity. Any sane person would have jumped at this opportunity. 

If I'd agreed, I would have set up a day of recording with Dave. We probably would have gone for lunch and cracked jokes. We'd probably be buds today, to some extent. I don't know...

But the look on Peter's face witnessing this interaction is burned into my brain whenever I ruminate on the short-comings of my career. Self-sabotage. I don't think Peter ever looked at me quite the same afterward. If any young musicians are reading this — please just say "yes" when life gets interesting.

Have you had any contact with him since?

So in the end, Dave did record a bunch of stuff for this song. He screamed the "Stop! Wait! Unhand me!" chorus bits, and did a million layers of chunky Marshall-stack-American-rock guitar. He also did some noisy heavily affected slide guitar in the quieter bits. He recorded it all remotely in L.A. to the bed track that I'd made with the Blacksmith guys. We didn't use the chunky guitar, but we did use the more ambient stuff, and you can definitely hear his signature Grohl scream him in the choruses.

I remember having a phone call with him afterward — telling him what we were using and not using, and he honestly was so cool about it all. He was excited about the song and the film and didn't really have any ego about any of it. I genuinely appreciated him and in the moment, it did feel like we'd landed in a place that made sense creatively — but I'm still an idiot.

I've texted him periodically when I'm in L.A. just on the off chance he'd be up to hang. He mostly doesn't respond, but he did once send me this picture of him at a Katy Perry concert.

What are you working on at the moment?

I've been doing a lot of prep and planning with the band for our big fall tour. We've got a billion ideas on how to make this the most special run yet. I've also been writing and recording lots of material. It's not really for an album necessarily, but I think I'll be releasing loads of songs here and there over the next year.

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