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Members include William Goldsmith (left group, March, 1997), drums; Dave Grohl (born on January 14, 1969, in Warren, OH; married Jennifer Youngblood, c. 1994 [divorced, 1997]; married Jordyn Blum, 2003; children: Violet Maye), guitar, vocals; Taylor Hawkins (born on February 17, 1972, in Laguna Beach, CA; joined group, 1997), drums; Nate Mendel (born on December 2, 1968; children: one son), bass; Chris Shiflett (born on May 6, 1971, in Santa Barbara, CA; married; children: Liam; joined group, 1999), guitar; Pat Smear (born Georg Ruthenberg on August 5, 1959, in Los Angeles, CA; left group, 1997), guitar; Franz Stahl (group member, 1997-99), guitar. Addresses: Record company--Roswell/RCA, 810 Seventh Ave., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10019. Website--Foo Fighters Official Website: http://www.foofighters.com.
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 to get their point across. Although there was a lot of turnover in the band initially, the band finally formed a cohesive group after a few album releases.
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 own a 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.
A Solid Line-Up
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 were 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 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 appeared 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/Capitol, 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. Christina Kelly, reviewing The Colour and the Shape for Rolling Stone, asserted the record "has a big, radio-ready, modern-rock sound."
New Members, New Label
At an awards show in September, Smear announced that he was leaving the group and that guitarist Franz Stahl (formerly of Scream) would replace him. The Foo Fighters tried to regroup with Stahl, but he left the band before they could record their next album. The band decided to record their next album as a three piece, and after major changes at their label Capitol, the band signed with RCA to release their 1999 album There is Nothing Left to Lose. They then hired former No Use For A Name guitarist Chris Shiflett to even out their live sound.
The Foo Fighters began 2001 by winning two Grammy Awards for There is Nothing Left To Lose. That summer, the four-piece began a tour in the United Kingdom, which was quickly cancelled when Hawkins became hospitalized for a drug overdose--he had a history of drug addiction. The band decided then and there that it was a good time to take a break from being in the Foo Fighters. In the fall, Grohl began to work on new songs for an upcoming album in October, but as he told Billboard, after a few months, he dissatisfied with the results. "...I realized it didn't sound familiar," he said. "It didn't sound like the band does live; it didn't feel right. With our band, the most important thing is that he songs feel right and the recordings feel good. It's more about the feel than anything. We were so focused on production because out intent was to make this big rock record. But your energy tends to wane after three months. Spontaneity and energy have a lot to do with rock, and rock records shouldn't take long to make."
Grohl took some time off, stepped away from the songs, and decided to go on tour with rock group Queens of the Stone Age in the summer. The tour was in support of the Queens' new album, Songs for the Deaf, on which Grohl played drums. The other members of the Foo Fighters kept busy with their own musical projects. "It just made sense," Grohl continued to Billboard. "We'd never taken a substantial break. We've never been away from the band. It only made sense that after seven or eight years we do that--to step back and look at the big picture, especially when you're lost in the process of making a new album that seems like it's going nowhere."
After he scrapped L.A. recordings, Grohl went to work at his home studio in Virginia to strip down the new songs. He and Hawkins spent two weeks recording an entire new album. They laid down all the basic tracks and then called Shiflett and Mendel in to lay down their parts. In October of 2002, RCA released the new Foo Fighters album, One By One, which Billboard called "straightforward and relentless."
One By One was jettisoned by the throttling single "All My Life." The record as a whole was top notch. "... It's all about arena-sized hooks, whispering-to-a-scream song structures and the unmistakable feeling that Grohl rocks out because, well, it's still fun," wrote E! Online. At the start of 2003, the band took home yet another Grammy, this time, "All My Life" won Best Hard Rock Single.
After exhaustive tours with the Foo Fighters, Grohl recorded drum parts on a few albums released in early 2003, including the self-titled Kill Joke reunion album and Cat Power's You Are Free, as well as Nine Inch Nail's 2004 album. Grohl extended his musical arms at the end of the 2003 to produce an album for the band Rye Coalition. He also started a metal side project called Probot and released an album in February of 2004. The album was a tribute to his favorite metal icons from the '80s, many of whom sang on the album.
A Strong Return
In September, the Foo Fighters began work on new songs at their new L.A. studio. The recording sessions resulted in the double album, In Your Honor. Released in June of 2005, In Your Honor contained one CD of hard rock songs and one of acoustic pop tracks. On the band's website, Grohl explained the reason for two albums. "I thought since I'd just been all around the world for a year and a half screaming my ass off, I'd make a solo acoustic record but disguise it as movie score. We've always had acoustic songs. Most of our rock songs were written on acoustic guitar ... I had this little studio up at my house and started recording all this music.....it was really beautiful, really coming out well then I listened to it and I was like 'Wait a second: It sounds like the Foo Fighters. It sounds like the band.'" Grohl said he felt that the band had more to offer than just loud songs and contemplated releasing an entirely acoustic Foo Fighters record. He realized though that probably wouldn't work. "This band has to make some rock music so I thought, 'OK, why don't we do this? Why don't we make a double album?'" Eye Weekly wrote that the first half of the record, pumped up by the radio single "Best of You," "does indeed deliver the most intense, dynamic jolt of Foo Fighters material to date."
Conceived as two separate listening experiences, One By One was an entirely new recording experience for the band. This time around, plenty of special guests showed up to record including Norah Jones, Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Petra Haden, and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. On their website, the band members agree that One By One is one of their best albums. "In 20 years, when some kid asks his dad, 'You ever hear of Foo Fighters? Which record should I get?,'" Grohl said. "They should say In Your Honor. Like if you wanna hear some Led Zeppelin? Get Physical Graffiti. That's exactly what I want to happen with this record. I want people to say, 'Wow, that's the album they'll be remembered for.'"
by Carol Brennan and Shannon McCarthy
Foo Fighters's Career
Group formed in 1995; previously, Grohl was a member of the bands Nirvana, Scream, Dain Bramage, Freakbaby, and Mission Impossible; as a solo artist he recorded an album, playing all instruments; released Foo Fighters on Roswell/Capitol, 1995; Grohl recruited band members for a tour, 1995; 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; Shiflett was a member of No Use For A Name and Me First & the Gimmie Gimmies; recorded first album as a group, The Colour and the Shape, 1997; released There Is Nothing Left To Lose, 1999; toured with Red Hot Chili Peppers, 2000; released One By One, 2002; toured worldwide, 2002-03; released In Your Honor, 2005; toured United States and Europe, 2005-06.
Foo Fighters's Awards
MTV Video Music Award, Best Group Video for "Big Me," 1996; Grammy Award, Best Short Form Music Video for "Learn To Fly," 2001; Grammy Award, Best Rock Album for There Is Nothing Left To Lose, 2001; Grammy Award, Best Hard Rock Performance for "All My Life," 2003; Grammy Award, Best Rock Album for One By One, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Foo Fighters Roswell/Capitol, 1995.
- The Colour and the Shape Roswell/Capitol, 1997.
- There Is Nothing Left to Loose Roswell/RCA, 1999.
- One By One Roswell/RCA, 2002.
- In Your Honor Roswell/RCA, 2005.
- Alternative Press, June 1997.
- Billboard, May 3, 1997; May 17, 1997; October 19, 2002.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 9, 1997; May 23, 1997.
- Eye Weekly, June 16, 2005.
- 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.
- E! Online, http://www.eonline.com (February 26, 2006).
- "Foo Fighters," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 26, 2006).
- Foo Fighters Official Website, http://www.foofighters.com/bio.html (February 26, 2006).
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