Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters, and the new LP: What's their secret approach?

answering machine

Welcome to Answering Machine, a new weekly column where Editor-in-Chief @michaelroffman will voice his opinion on the latest top headlines, which might include new music, various controversies, and publicized conflicts. He’s likened this to a Town Hall discussion of sorts, so please feel free to voice your own two cents below.

“We don’t have any shows after this. This is it, man. Honestly, I don’t know when we’re gonna do it again… and this is the perfect place to do it,” Dave Grohl announced to smudged eyes and shattered hearts at New York’s Global Citizen Festival last September. Whether fans were legitimately concerned that Grohl was closing the garage door on America’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll band, the Foo Fighters, or they bemoaned the band’s much-deserved hiatus — the masses reacted. Enough that Grohl had to release a statement days later in which he pledged his allegiance to the Foo (“I can’t give up this band. And I never will. Because it’s not just a band to me. It’s my life. It’s my family. It’s my world.”) and admitted he needed a break (“I’m not sure when the Foo Fighters are going to play again. It feels strange to say that, but it’s a good thing for all of us to go away for a while.”). In hindsight, it wasn’t that big of a deal, considering he does this after every album cycle’s complete, and, well, he didn’t exactly leave the spotlight either.

foofighters-heatherkaplanNo, really: There was Sirvana at 12-12-12 and SNL, Sound City: The Movie, Sound City: The Album, Sound City: The Performance, his gig with Ghost, his gig with Queens of the Stone Age, Sirvana Revisited, and somehow he hosted Chelsea Lately a number of times, appeared on Maron, and covered various classic rock songs at random intervals. Don’t forget that as early as January he tossed a bucket of ice water on the Foo’s supposed “hiatus” by not only revealing he was excited for the follow-up to 2011’s Top Star-earning Wasting Light but had the music ready and a plan in action. Cut to seven months later and the hype machine’s already back on with plans of a new album as early as next year. They’re even “going to make this album in a way that no-one’s ever done before,” as Grohl teased with his trademark hyperbole last week. What does that mean exactly?

Well, guitarist Chris Shifflett extrapolated a little, adding: “I can’t go into too much detail, but . . . I’m excited about it. Dave’s got a bunch of new songs and the way that we’re gonna make the new record — like, the approach for it — is gonna be pretty fucking fun. And different. I feel like Dave’s always looking for ways . . . to keep things exciting and keep things inspired and fun. I think he’s got some good ideas for this next one.”

So, what does that mean?

A bunch of things. Given Grohl’s documented purchase of the notorious Sound City soundboard, the obvious (and very educated) guess is that they’ll just record the next Foo album at home again in the same studio that laid down “Cut Me Some Slack” and “Mantra”. But, that wouldn’t really be different per se, or at least warrant the whole “no-one’s ever done before” tag — especially since one viewing of Sound City demystifies that approach altogether. Methinks it’s more than just a rare producer or a certain studio or a litany of guests. As Shifflett said, it’s all about…

The Approach:

Three ways that “no-one’s ever done before”:

Record the album in outer space: All it would take is one call to Mr. Virgin himself, Richard Branson. This choice, though pricey and incredibly unrealistic and unnecessary, would be uncanny.

Record the album underwater: See above, swap Branson with James Cameron, and include some trippy sea creatures.

Record the album via Skype: All five members in five different countries and five landmark recording studios playing together over Skype or something similar. Why? #TheFuture

Three approaches that wouldn’t exactly be unprecedented, but pretty cool nonetheless:

– Record the album live: Not a live album, but an album recorded onstage, altogether, and in front of fans. Everything’s mic’d, the crowd will be non-existent on the actual album, but the energy will be there. No overdubs, no cutting, and minimal retakes. Hey, it worked for Jane’s Addiction.

-  Record the album in different cities: Each track recorded in a different venue across the country. Same rules and logic as previously stated above, but with a new producer signature of that city. Chaotic, sure, but the thing about chaos…

Record the album on a four-track: Self-explanatory. Not new at all. Incredibly minimalistic. Carnal even.

Odds are The Approach will consist of a simple idea with just enough of an edge or story to make fans nod, pull at their chin, and murmur, “Interrreesssting.” Since 2005’s In Your Honor, the band’s placed a greater focus on the literal conception of their records, with maybe the exception of 2007’s (mildly forgettable) Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Whether it’s focusing on acoustics, rekindling the past with familiar faces, or attempting to keep things as analog as possible, the context separates one record from the next. And while the music hardly changes, said conception matures the band in a weird way. Honor taught the boys to strip things down to the heart, Echoes had them reaching for the last row in the arenas, and Light recharged their batteries in ways few rock acts have discovered on record seven. In other words, whatever happens for Album Numero Eight should be bold enough to take the guys, and not necessarily the music, to a worthy new state of mind.


But hey now, what about the music? The biggest takeaway from Grohl & Co. seven albums later is that they a.) love rock ‘n’ roll and b.) know how to write it well. Nobody needs for them to reinvent the wheel; they just need to keep said wheel turning and in a way that plows rather than creaks. Think about it: Dave Grohl turns 45 next January, Taylor Hawkins blows 42 candles out the month after, and Pat Smear will nab two 5s! This isn’t a young act anymore; they’re veterans who’ve managed to keep on truckin’ with nary a pit stop. And they’ve done that by keeping to their wits without leveraging their honesty.

That argument is something I sort of brushed upon in my recent review of Filligar’s new album, Hexagon, a band that, similar to Foo Fighters, never really evolves their sound but expands on it — and yes, there’s a difference. It’s difficult to evolve one’s sound, and very few have successfully (e.g. Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, and… you fill the rest), especially in something as constrictive and fragile as rock ‘n’ roll. But expansion? One only needs time, connections, and shared creativity, all of which Grohl’s proved worthy of possessing 1,000 times over. Having said that, here’s hoping we’ll be disappointed by another looming hiatus in a couple of years after one more successful album, tour, and experience.

Consider me intrigued, 2014.

Photography by Heather Kaplan and Ted Maider.


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