A dozen years ago, Foo Fighters scored their highest album debut to date when the double-disc In Your Honor bowed in at the number two spot. Coldplay bested them for the pole position, but the band at least finished ahead of the Backstreet Boys. Among the notable singles, the album featured “Best of You,” which still stands as the band’s highest-charting single. During the week after the album release, the entire band—Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Taylor Hawkins and Chris Shiflett for the following hilarious interview.
In Your Honor is a double album divided between rock and acoustic songs, but wasn’t the original intention just to release an acoustic album?
Dave: I thought it would be fun to do a movie score or something that didn’t sound like Foo Fighters' music. I wanted to fulfill that little fantasy and do something we don’t necessarily do much in this band. After recording some demos and thinking about the songs, they sounded like they could actually be Foo Fighters material. It’s not too far from the acoustic music we’ve made before. I thought we did that material well, so why not go a little further with it? Plus, if I did a solo album, it would have been a lonely promo tour.
Will there be an acoustic radio single?
Chris: I don’t know. It probably depends on how well things go. I’m sure we’ll do a few rock singles and then go from there.
Taylor: By the time it comes out, no one will care anyways. It’ll be the fifth single, and one station in Florida will play it.
Chris: Most people don’t care about your second single, let alone your fifth single.
Taylor: We’ve never had a good strong second single.
Chris: You’re killing me, Larry!
Taylor: The only strong second single we had was “Everlong,” and that still was a grower. It did well in the long run, but it didn’t take off right away.
Chris: That was during one of those “rock is dead” phases.
Taylor: Yeah, back when Bono was into dance music.
Nate: No, the “rock is dead” phase was during the third album.
Taylor: No, I remember the European press asking us questions like, “Why even bother to have a drummer anymore?” I do remember U2 came out with that disco dancing song, and Bono was dressing like a raver. Now they’re trying to be classic rock again. Bono is an idiot. Good politics, great singer, good songs nowadays, great songs back in the day.
Chris: An idiot? Based on what? Being able to keep a band together for 30 years?
Nate: Don’t double-cross Bono. We’ll get run out of this game.
Taylor: I love U2. I think they write a couple good songs here and there now, which is great for a band that’s been around for that long. Their first album came out 25 years ago, and “Vertigo” was an awesome song.
Did the press really ask why bother having a drummer?
Chris: I swear to God. Around that time, we were being asked what the relevance was of having a natural drummer. In France, they’re still asking it. “Why is Taylor there?” I’m sure we had some serious answer at the time, like, “You’ll never be able to replace that feel of a live drummer.”
Taylor: Still, a lot of the drumming you hear on the radio these days is so computerized and ProTool-ed out that it might as well be a drum machine. Even with the Nine Inch Nails’ record, they basically take the hits and quantize them to sound like a drum machine. I mean, if there is any drummer out there that doesn’t need that, it’s Dave. He has great feel and perfect time.
Taylor: There is a lot of false rock ‘n’ roll out there. Yes, I know, I sound like the old man.
Chris: Don’t get him started on Metallica.
Taylor: You know, I’m not really into Coldplay. My chick is, so I can’t be. Still, my girl had the record on yesterday, and while I’m not crazy about their Chariots of Fire soundtrack with vocals, it’s cool that they made a really loose record. The drums feel human. It’s very human sounding. Kudos to them. Kudos for being sloppy.
Do you think, as a reaction to all the drum machine stuff, that Foo Fighters tries to be organic?
Taylor: I really don’t think that we consciously sit down and say, “People are doing this, so we should do that.” That would be so freakin’ contrived.
Chris: Dave just has a certain thing that he wants to hear out of this band, and that’s what we do. It’s never in step with what the current musical trends are. Obviously that’s the key to our longevity.
Do you feel like a fish out of water?
Taylor: I do now more than ever.
Even more so than during the boy band craze?
Chris: Well, we were battling the Backstreet Boys all week for the number two position.
Taylor: We beat your ass Backstreet Boys! You can print that!
Chris: Yeah, because we’ll never see them at a festival.
Taylor: They are probably all a bunch of meatheads.
Chris: For sure! They dance!
Taylor: What’s his name? Carter. He’s big, that guy.
Chris: He is big. He’d probably kill us putting Taylor and I in a headlock.
What’s better, landing your highest chart debut ever or topping the Backstreet Boys?
Dave: When you get to do both at the same time, it’s a really great two-fer.
The band also survived the nü-metal onslaught of the late ʼ90s.
Taylor: It’s funny because Korn and Limp Bizkit were the bands of the day, and we came out with a Peter Frampton record. Not the whole thing, but there is a decidedly laid-back mellow vibe to that record. That’s one of the reasons it will always be one of my favorite records, our little chill out record.
Dave: At that time, popular music was becoming less melodic and more about heavy dynamics. When nü-metal music started blowing up, it seemed that people forgot about melody. That was a drag because we like music you can sing to. I remember being really bummed. We all grew up on the Beatles and Tom Petty, and music in which songs were just songs. They didn't have to rely on caveman dynamics. It's a good thing because the band's been together for 10 years. That time branded us the survivors. That's the plotline. We are the survivors! We lived through it.
Didn’t the band face some of its toughest times trying to make One By One?
Dave: We weren’t ready to go in and make that record. We had a lot of jams we worked on in my basement, and they seemed like demos, but only maybe two made it to the record. “All My Life” is one of them for sure. I just don’t think we were ready to make a record, and we almost went in to make a record just for the sake of making a record. Plus, it was just a weird time for the band.
Dave: There were lots of things going on that not everyone wants to talk about.
Taylor: I had some problems, some well-documented problems. I think maybe on a subconscious level, Dave maybe missed playing drums.
Dave: I made that Queens [of the Stone Age] record before I went in to make our record. It was really simple and easy. Then when it came time to make a record of my own, I realized that singing and playing guitar is not as easy as laying drums. It wasn’t torture, but it was a four-month process of convincing ourselves, “Yeah, yeah” to “Maybe not yeah.” That’s when we took a break. We just weren’t ready to make the record.
The band recently did 24 hours on MTV2. How did you stay awake?
Taylor: Drugs! Just kidding.
Chris: Yeah, if we had an eight ball, we would have been much more entertaining. We played a gig the day before in the Bay Area and then flew a redeye out there so everyone slept maybe a couple hours on the plane. By the time we got there, we’d pretty much been up for the previous 24 hours. By eight hours into it, I said, “I physically can’t do this,” and we hadn’t even played yet.
Did you watch it later?
Taylor: Didn’t you TiVo all 24 hours of it?
Chris: It didn’t tape, nor did it tape Letterman. I like to tape everything and dump it onto a VHS tape. I set my TiVo so that it will tape whatever comes up with the word Foo Fighters in it.
Taylor: You self-centered asshole.
Chris: I want to make sure I keep that shit for future generations of Shiftletts. Anyways, my first time playing Saturday Night Live with the band replayed the other day on E!. It’s awful. It’s that trip where Taylor and I got the bad haircuts. I got my frosted Vanilla Ice look, and Taylor had the fashion boy thing going. Dave is in this crazy orange shirt with an army medal that a guy from REM bought him, and he’s wearing these funny glasses. Nate is the only one who came out unscathed.
Nate: Wasn’t I wearing the ironic rock t-shirt or something?
Chris: Yeah. I watched it with my wife last night, and it scared her. It was not a good time. It’s amazing how dated you can look from just a few years ago. This was 1999. We did “Learn To Fly.”
For the new album, you had a contest in which fans went to Roswell for a private concert. Why Roswell?
Nate: Dave is a huge UFO fan. It’s a little fad. It was a Real Networks event that they set up. They originally set up the show to happen in New York, but then there were some problems logistically so then somebody came up with the idea of doing it in Roswell.
Chris: That was the weirdest show. Even the location itself, I was expecting this teeny airport strip and a hanger. We get there, and it’s this massive airport, like an airplane graveyard. From the distance it looked bigger than LAX, then we get there and there are all these planes that are missing engines.
Taylor: It was a fun, kitschy idea like KISS playing at a make-up factory.
Chris: I loved your quote, though: “We engineered a flop.” We played this big enormous airport hangar that could have fit at least 10,000 people, and only 500 people were charted in. You know what happens. It looks like we didn’t sell the place out at all! For some reason, they didn’t give the crowd booze either. They gave them a bunch of barbeque, no booze, and then an hour and a half later the band comes on.”
Is it tougher playing to a sober crowd?
Taylor: It’s all work behind the drums so I don’t pay attention to whether the crowd likes it or not. I’ve had the worse shows and the best audience response and the best shows with the most lackluster audience response. I’ll come back and say, “That was great,” and the rest of the guys will be like, “What are you talking about? It was awful.” That’s what’s great about being the bricklayer in the back.
Nate: The bricklayer?
Taylor: It’s true, man. I’m just sitting back there playing away, and I don’t have time to worry about whether Nancy Fuckin’ Hansen at the left corner of the crowd is having a good time tonight.
Since you’re in the back, can you tell me who in the band dances the worst on stage?
Taylor: Oh, Dave for sure! You mean on stage or on the dance floor?
Chris: It’s me. I don’t have any rock moves so I just stand there.
Nate: Dave is the weirdest rock star there is. He has this ʼ80s, Molly Ringwald dance, but he does it damn good.
Dave: Taylor is a better dancer than me. I’ve been to weddings with him before, and it’s like “The Thriller” video with Taylor. But I got the ʼ80s dances, and I can spin. I dance to the lyrics. I interpret the lyrics through dance.
Last question. Dave, what do you think of the recent Nirvana box set?
Dave: I think it’s great. It really takes a linear took at how the band went from doing Led Zeppelin songs to Kurt writing these really brilliant, simple pop songs. I didn’t play on half the songs so I was like, “Wow, I’ve never heard that before.” I thought it was great.