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Members include David Grohl (born c. 1969, Washington, DC; married Jennifer Youngblood, c. 1994; divorced, 1997), guitar, vocals; Taylor Hawkins (born in Laguna Beach, CA; joined band in early 1997), drums; Nate Mendel, bass; Pat Smear (born Georg Ruthenberg c.1960, Los Angeles, CA; father was an inventor/photographer and mother was a teacher/opera singer; companion of Jena), guitar. Former members include William Goldsmith (left band, 1997), drums. Addresses: Record company--Roswell/Capitol Records, 810 Seventh Avenue, 4th floor, New York, NY 10019.
Although the Foo Fighters came out of the ashes of the same fire that incinerated the grunge rock scene, their sound more closely resembles popular, less hard-hitting rock groups. Led by Dave Grohl, the former drummer from Nirvana, the Foo Fighters rely on simple, energetic pop-rock tunes, as well as the occasional feather boa sported on stage by guitarist Pat Smear, to get their point across.
Grohl grew up in Washington, DC, the son of a single working mother. Too poor to buy a record player, Grohl listened to his Minor Threat and Bad Brains albums on a record player borrowed from the public school where his mother taught English. Moreover, he did not even possess his own drum kit when he started playing with DC hardcore bands like Dain Bramage, Freakbaby, and Mission Impossible. By the time he was seventeen, Grohl had joined a lauded punk ensemble called Scream, leaving high school before completing his senior year when the opportunity to tour Europe arose.
After Scream disbanded in 1990, a friend (Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins) put Grohl in touch with an up-and-coming Seattle band in need of a drummer. Grohl joined Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in Nirvana in the fall of 1990, and a year later he was part of one of the biggest phenomenons in rock history. With a slew of successful releases and album sales in the tens of millions, Nirvana built a bridge between punk and rock. That winning streak ended in April of 1994 when Cobain committed suicide, a subject Grohl has been obviously reluctant to discuss. He does confess to still being haunted by his friend's death. "It's hard not to think about something that everybody wants to talk about all the time," he told Mike Rubin in Spin.
After the dissolution of Nirvana, Grohl toyed with the idea of joining Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and toured with them for a time. But instead, Grohl went into a recording studio by himself and began setting to tape a couple dozen of the songs he had written over several years. His only help came from his friend Barrett Jones, who produced the album, and Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, who played guitar on one song. The result was 1995's Foo Fighters, which was also the name of Grohl's memberless band. The name came from an archaic 1940s-era slang term for flying saucers, and the debut was released on Roswell Records, a label on which Capitol Records had set Grohl up, named after the famed New Mexico site that some believe extraterrestrials to have crash-landed in 1947.
Grohl assembled a band in order to go out on the road in support of the record, which was receiving a healthy advance buzz. His first pick was Pat Smear, a beloved eccentric who had been a founding member of the Germs, the first Los Angeles punk band to record an entire album. Smear, facing hard times financially, had made ends meet by playing punk rocker roles on television during the 1980s, as well as adding some verve to the last days of Nirvana. Joining Smear and Grohl in the Foo Fighters line-up included two members of a much-lauded and recently disbanded Seattle act, Sunny Day Real Estate. Drummer William Goldsmith and bass player Nate Mendel found themselves adrift after Sunny Day Real Estate's lead singer had become a fervent born-again Christian.
The Foo Fighters toured as an opening act for Mike Watt in the spring of 1995. However, the band was headlining after only a few months as record sales took off. Critics often made much of the odd, abstruse lyrics in songs like "Big Me" and "This Is a Call." Given Grohl's ties to Nirvana, reviewers looked for hidden meanings everywhere, but he later admitted they were purposefully nonsensical. "It was for fear of writing something that might reveal too much," Grohl told Rubin in Spin in 1997, "or actually reveal something at all.... I don't want to let everyone else in on my problems or my personal crisis or my misery. They're mine." He also pointed out that many of the songs had been written long before Nirvana became famous.
The Foo Fighters also exhibit a decidedly non-grunge demeanor on stage, in their playing, and in interviews. They shot a video for "Big Me" that spoofed the inane Mentos commercials and then were pelted by the candies at shows for months. As the Foo Fighters record issued one well-charting single after another, and they toured for over a year-and-a-half, the band grew increasingly reticent about the fame that came with their success. "There does come a point where it's totally out of your control," Grohl told Rolling Stone's Chris Mundy, "but I learned a lot of lessons from Nirvana. We don't want to spend too much time whoring ourselves around because not only does it make everyone else sick of you, eventually you get sick of yourself."
While Grohl appreciates his privacy, Smear appears well-suited for the limelight. The guitarist, who loves to wear dresses and often outfits himself in outlandish stage gear, began appearing on MTV's House of Style. "That's the difference between being famous and not being famous," Smear explained to Spin. "Now people yell 'Pat!' out the window, where they used to yell out 'Fag!' and it doesn't even sound that much different." Despite the band's success and popularity, Goldsmith left the Foo Fighters' vaulted orbit after a falling-out with Grohl. In recording their second album, Grohl expressed dissatisfaction with Goldsmith and re-recorded the drum parts himself. He was replaced by Californian Taylor Hawkins, the former drummer for Alanis Morissette's world tour, after the Foo Fighters record was completed in early 1997.
The Colour and the Shape was recorded in both Los Angeles and Seattle with Gil Norton as producer. Released in May of 1997 on Roswell, it took a slightly different path away from the light power-pop mood of Grohl's first record. This was a concept album, and its subject was the death of a relationship. Not surprisingly, Grohl's marriage to his high-school sweetheart dissolved around the time of the record's release. The songs sounded the same, but the lyrics were suddenly trenchant--a marked contrast to the tracks on their debut. The Foo Fighters' development as a band, wrote Entertainment Weekly's David Browne, "is clearly evident throughout The Colour and the Shape, but it isn't always a pretty sight or sound."
Though its subject matter was definitely more weighty, Grohl's penchant for building songs along the soft-verse/rocking-chorus structure hadn't changed on cuts like the first single, "Monkey Wrench." Chuck Crisafulli of Request noted that "Grohl is turning out to be something of a master builder when it comes to constructing pop hooks," and the musician admitted to loving pure pop music like Abba, as well as punk rock bands. As Spin's Rubin pointed out, "Foo tunes are more hummers than bummers." Christina Kelly, reviewing The Colour and the Shape for Rolling Stone, asserted the record "has a big, radio-ready, modern-rock sound." In the New York Times, Jon Pareles opined that "timing, ingenuity, and conviction can be all it takes to make rock's common materials ring with passion. That's what happens on The Colour and the Shape, as Grohl balances power and tenderness, whipsaw riffing and wistful tunes."
The Foo Fighters embarked on another lengthy tour for The Colour and the Shape, and Grohl directed his first video for the "Monkey Wrench" single, an assignment that grew out of his penchant for amateur film making. Grohl remains the definitive anti-grunge poster boy. "I've covered a lot of ground, but I still feel like a pathetic 17-year-old dropout," Grohl told Spin. "My spirit is still young."
by Carol Brennan
Foo Fighters's Career
Band emerged with Grohl (former member of Nirvana, Scream, Dain Bramage, Freakbaby, and Mission Impossible) recording his songs in the studio, playing all instruments; released Foo Fighters on Roswell/Capitol, 1995; Grohl then recruited band members for a 1995 tour; Smear was a founding member of the Germs; Goldsmith and Mendel were former members of Sunny Day Real Estate, and Mendel was earlier a founder of Product of Rape and Christ on a Crutch; Hawkins spent 1995 and 1996 touring as Alanis Morissette's drummer.
- Selective Works
- Foo Fighters, Roswell/Capitol, 1995.
- The Colour and the Shape, Roswell/Capitol, 1997.
February 8, 2004: Foo Fighters won the Grammy Award for best rock album, for One by One. Source: 46th Grammy Awards, grammys.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx, February 8, 2004.
April 15, 2006: Dave Grohl and wife, Jordyn Blum, welcomed the birth of their first child, a daughter, Violet Maye. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, April 21, 2006.
- Alternative Press, June 1997.
- Billboard, May 3, 1997; May 17, 1997.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 9, 1997; May 23, 1997.
- Guitar World, July 1997.
- New York Times, May 18, 1997.
- Request, July 1997.
- Rolling Stone, October 5, 1995; March 21, 1996; May 29, 1997.
- Spin, July 1997.
- Us, July 1997.
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