Dave Grohl could be the world’s most zealous rock star. He never gives up, even after breaking his leg on stage. The Foo Fighter explains how he keeps the passion for his life’s work burning bright.
In 1986, 17-year-old Dave Grohl quit school to tour Europe with punk band Scream. Since then, he has rarely been off the stage, first as the drummer of grunge icons Nirvana and since 1994 as frontman of his own band, Foo Fighters. Over the last 30 years, Grohl has sold more than 50 million albums and played thousands of shows. And don’t expect that pace to slow anytime soon. He talked to The Red Bulletin about what a 48-year-old father of three is doing still obsessing over music like a teenager.
The Red Bulletin: You broke a leg during a concert in Gothenburg in the summer of 2015…
Dave Grohl: I was so euphoric I lost my balance on the edge of the stage and fell into the photographers’ pit. It’s a miracle I survived the fall, actually. I could have just as easily broken my neck.
And yet after a short break you got on with the concert, sitting down with your leg in a cast. Why didn’t you just call it off?
Because I can’t.
What do you mean?
It’s down to my punk-rock past. In the old days, musicians were constantly breaking their nose on stage, getting electric shocks or falling flat on their face when they stage-dived. No one would have dreamed of canceling a gig because of it. You just rocked on! I internalized that philosophy—you just grit your teeth and get on with it.
OK … but doing a whole European tour with a broken leg?
It soon became clear after the accident that I wasn’t going to be able to stand at the mic or sit in a wheelchair with a guitar for two hours. So a technician and I designed a throne that was also a guitar stand and a smoke machine. It meant I was able to do the remaining 50 concerts of the tour. Later, Axl Rose had a similar accident, and he asked me if he could borrow the throne for some Guns N’ Roses shows.
Have you patented the throne?
People really did ask me if I wanted to do that, but it would be absurd for someone who had broken their leg to have to ask my permission in order to continue their tour.
That kind of attitude will never make a good businessman of you. Hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z or P Diddy would monetize it …
Like everything they touch, because that’s their main motivation. And that’s OK because they come from a world where it’s about survival. And you only survive if you earn money. The more the better.
What’s wrong with having some healthy business acumen?
Nothing, but it’s never been my approach. I may not come from a rich family but I’ve never had to worry about survival. In that sense, fun has always been the priority for me, along with things that help me move forward as a person and as a musician. I don’t need even more money, cars and gold chains—they don’t make you happy. And I’d rather be happy than stinking rich. OK, I might be rich, but I don’t stink.
You wanted to reward yourself with a longer break after the tour. How come you’re now releasing a new album much earlier than planned?
At first I was really enjoying the time off, but then my daughters said, “Dad, why are you hanging around the house the whole time?” They didn’t like the idea of me always wanting to do stuff with them. So I started writing new songs. In six months I had enough material, and I didn’t want to hang around for ages, so I rounded up the band. Most of the guys were still on vacation. They were pretty surprised.
So even after 30 years in the music business, you still can’t just switch off for long?
I think that’s why I’ve made it as far as I have: because I’m crazy about music— in a good way. After all this time, I still can’t get enough of it. If I just sat around at home pursuing odd hobbies, Foo Fighters wouldn’t be on album number nine, and we certainly wouldn’t be playing such big venues. You only get out of life what you’ve invested in it.
Where would you draw the line between having a positive obsession with music and being a workaholic?
Before my music career, I did all sorts of crap jobs. It was music that gave me prospects and made a better life possible. Music is the love of my life; if I’m not doing something with music for a couple of days, I immediately get a negative conscience. In my first few months off, I was flirting with the idea of directing a film. But it felt weird right from the get-go, because I couldn’t be as enthusiastic about any film project as I am about Foo Fighters. It felt so much more like work, and that’s never been the case with music. I never have to look for inspiration with music—it’s just there.
How do you maintain that passion for work? Do you have any tips?
The key is to do something fulfilling, for which you get respect. If you don’t find that in your day job, you need to look for another outlet. That could be theater, dance, sport, some nerdy hobby, whatever. Do what’s fun, and enjoy life—that’s all I’m doing. I play music with my friends and that gives me the energy to drive the kids to school, go grocery shopping and pick up the dog crap in my garden.
Your 8-year-old daughter, Harper, went on stage with you recently as your drummer. Would you say she’s following in your footsteps?
Harper did great, didn’t she? Especially as she’d only been playing for two weeks by that point. She said to me, “Dad, can you give me drumming lessons?” I put on an AC/DC record and showed her a simple rock rhythm. She had to struggle through that before I taught her “We Will Rock You” by Queen, and she got that. When she came to see me at the Foo Fighters concert in Iceland, I asked her if we should do it on stage and she said yes straight away. It was magnificent!
Can we expect to see a family band soon—The Grohls?
I hope my three daughters will play together someday. But for now they’re more into arguing with each other—and it’s constant.
Would you like a son?
I’m not sure about that. The thing is, would he be like me? That could be quite a nightmare—a rebellious, uncontrollable child? No thanks.
Foo Fighter’s new album, ‘Concrete and Gold’, is out now. See an animated short film, ‘The Making of Concrete and Gold’, a short animated film about the making of the album on foofighters.com.
Check out the full interview with Dave Grohl, The Show Must Go On, in The Red Bulletin’s Nov. issue, on newsstands on Oct. 17.