Dave Grohl is a man we all may feel we know and have a connection with. From his days drumming in Nirvana to starting and fronting Foo Fighters and side projects like Probot and Them Crooked Vultures to working with everyone from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Queens of the Stone Age, Norah Jones, Paul McCartney, Deadmau5, Bob Mould and countless others. But, did you know that Grohl was a high school drop out? Or that Ian MacKaye wanted him to drum in Fugazi? Or how he actually got into Nirvana? All of these questions and many more fascinating stories about the man who has single handedly brought rock and roll back to being one of our greatest forms of music are told in the best selling book This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl by music journalist Paul Brannigan. Brannigan released the book in late 2011 and inside interviews everyone from MacKaye to Grohl's childhood friends, to the members of his original bands Drain Brain and Scream, to Butch Vig and members of Foo Fighters and of course, Grohl himself. If there is anything you ever wanted to know about Mr. Dave Grohl, this book answers it all and is one of the greatest rock and roll biographies and history lessons on the DC hardcore scene and DIY punk you may ever read. We had the chance to interview Brannigan about putting the book together and his take on Grohl, take a look at our interview below:
Of all the people you have written about and interviewed, why was it Dave Grohl that made you stop a write a book?
You know that F. Scott Fitzgerald quote 'There are no second acts in American lives'? Well Dave Grohl's career proves otherwise, and I think his story is a particularly inspirational one. I've always liked the idea that a kid with a guitar and a dream can change not only his or her own life but also the lives of millions of other kids worldwide, and Dave's story shows what can be achieved with self-belief, hunger, hard work, drive and a genuine, all-consuming love of music. On a more personal level, I grew up being inspired by the same bands as Dave, and so to some extent This Is A Call is a salute to the punk, hardcore and metal scenes which inspired and empowered Dave, myself and most of the people each of us would call friends.
With all of the research and interviews you conducted in writing, “This is a Call,” how long did this take you to write and formulate?
The book took around 18 months to write and research, but I've been writing about rock music for around 18 years, and so that background was invaluable too when tracing the development of the punk and metal scenes which to me was an integral part of the book.
What was the most interesting thing that you discovered about Grohl while researching and writing, “This is a Call?”
Well, I've been following Dave's career both as a fan and on a professional level for 20 years, so I felt I already knew much of his story even before taking on the book. But I think I hadn't really understood just how close he'd come to walking out on Nirvana or indeed how close he came to calling time on the Foo Fighters around the time of the One By One album. Dave is very good at greeting the world with a smile so the tensions and dramas going on in his life at any given time aren't always evident to even those closest to him.
Out of all the bands he has been apart of, which has been your favorite and why?
It's hard for me to choose really: I love Nirvana, but I've so many happy memories connected with Foo Fighters. So I'm going to swerve the question slightly and say that the album I've listened to most is Foo Fighters' The Colour And The Shape. I'm not saying that it's a better album than Nevermind, but it's the one album of Dave's that I keep coming back to most regularly.
Being a music writer that is based in the England , what was the impact Grohl had on UK music?
I think the impact of Dave's music on the UK scene has yet to be fully realised. While Nirvana were an inspirational band, the overwhelming media coverage which accompanied their phenomenal success actually turned a lot of British kids off, so that their principal impact on the UK music scene was to provoke a generation of British musicians to turn their back on American rock 'n' roll and to exhume The Beatles, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Jam etc,. as the cornerstones of a new scene which became Britpop. But now, with the emergence of bands such as Biffy Clyro, Twin Atlantic and Arcane Roots you can hear the influence of Foo Fighters and I think that influence will grow stronger as more young bands emerge from garages nationwide.
While doing your research and seeing how Grohl got into playing with the bands that he did in the beginning, do you believe that things happen for a reason?
The thing that shines through from Dave's early musical adventures is just how pure, spontaneous, innocent and instinctive those bands were: the notion of making a career out of music was completely alien to teenagers in the Washington DC punk scene. But where many of his peers got derailed by college or girlfriends or the simple realities of work and family life, Dave kept moving forward. From his very first band practise sessions it was obvious to everyone who knew him that Dave was a talented musician, but I think it was the simple fact that he didn't ever stop that eventually propelled him into a successful career.
What I found most interesting and shocking was Grohl’s relationship with Ian MacKaye and how much of an impact MacKaye had on him. So much so that Grohl sat in on early Fugazi sessions, do you know if the two still keep in contact today?
The fact that they're both incredibly busy family men living on opposite sides of America means that Dave and Ian don't see each other very often these days, but that can happen to even the closest friends. I know they've not seen one another for a while, but whenever I mention one of them to the other they always say to pass on their regards and when they next see one another it'll be as if not a day has passed.It's funny to think how different Dave's life might have been had he joined Fugazi instead of Scream...
The book discusses how many bands from the 80’s that were massive in the underground and signed to major labels were labeled as “sell-outs.” Do you consider Grohl a sell-out?
No I don't. There's a section of the book which addresses Dave's own take on the notion of selling out, and I tend to agree with his views on the subject. Dave has always followed his heart and followed music. At one point Scream made a conscious decision to make a more 'mainstream' record and I think everyone involved regretted that, and I don't think Dave has ever been involved in a nakedly commercial musical venture in the years since. Obviously Nirvana and Foo Fighters went on to huge commercial success, but both bands play from the heart.
After the death of Kurt Cobain, Grohl had a hard time with the music press and being compared to his former bandleader. Are you surprised that right after he was able to break away from Nirvana and make Foo Fighters stand on their own?
Dave's 'crime' in the early days of Foo Fighters was simply that he wasn't Kurt Cobain, and for that he drew a certain amount of abuse from egotistical journalists who seemed to regard themselves as being more integral to Nirvana's success than that band's own rhythm section. I think he was very smart in how he handled things: for the first year of the Foo Fighters Dave gave very, very few interviews and concentrated instead on being part of a working rock band again and that decision was absolutely crucial to his new band's eventual success. Nirvana became overwhelmed by their own success: if you compare the number of gigs they played from the release of Nevermind through to Kurt's suicide and then look at how many gigs Fugazi played in that same period of time, the difference is pretty embarrassing. With Foo Fighters, Dave went back to basics and built things from the ground up again, which was an entirely logical move for a guy with his roots in DIY punk rock.
Because of those comparisons to Kurt and Nirvana and Scream, do you think all of that made Grohl work harder to make it on his own?
I'm not sure that Dave is driven by such motivations. Dave worked hard from day one: music was never a diversion to him, it was always his life. So I don't think that such comparisons have ever driven his work ethic or his ambitions.
Given that he loves so many different bands and genre’s of rock and roll, while doing his thing with Foo Fighters, he went and did passion projects on the side. Metal with Probot, drumming for Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. Do you think Grohl would ever return to making hardcore?
It's possible, given that his love for the genre has never waned, but he's so busy already that he might struggle to find the time! I know he'd like to do a second Them Crooked Vultures album so that's probably his next priority when the Foos come off the road again. And the Probot record was such a pure project that the idea of revisiting hardcore in the same manner might seem a little contrived, so I suspect Dave's next project will be another curveball.
Do you know if Dave has read the book?
I don't, and I'm not sure that he ever will read it: I imagine it'd be slightly weird to read your own life story but through someone else's eyes. I think Dave will do his own book some day, but only when he feels his career is over, and I can't see that happening any time soon.
Of all the interviews you have conducted with Grohl, which one sticks out to you the most?
Probably the one I did with him for a Mojo magazine career retrospective feature in 2009. The piece was broadly intended to coincide with the release of the Foo Fighters' greatest hits collection, but when the nice lady from management came in to check on our progress after four hours of non-stop conversation we had only just started discussing the making of the Foo's debut album. It's rare these days to be afforded such time with an artist for interviews, and that kind of access means you get insights that you'd never normally be privy to.
What is the next project you are working on; will we be seeing more biographies down the line?
Truthfully I don't know, I'm weighing up some different options. But I really enjoyed the process of putting together This Is A Call, and it was really interesting trying to meld 60 or 70 different voices into one streamlined narrative, so I sincerely hope I'll have the opportunity to write more biographies in future.