Dave Grohl: Honor Society
Originally printed in Guitar World Magazine, September 2005
After a two-year binge of side projects and guest performances, Dave Grohl returns to the Foo Fighters fold for the double album In Your Honor
It’s easy to get the impression that Dave Grohl lost interest in his group Foo Fighters shortly after the band released One By One in late 2002. Even before the album was completed, the former Nirvana drummer was on the road, pounding the skins for Queens of the Stone Age.
He returned in time to strap on his guitar and tour behind One by One, but soon Grohl’s name began to appear on album credits as frequently as Lindsay Lohan photos appear in the tabloids. He played on records by David Bowie, Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails and Garbage, as well as on albums by several other bands. When Grohl released his 2004 Probot side project, which featured collaborations with several metal icons, it seemed as if he’d hammered the final nail in Foo Fighters’ coffin.
But in the middle of 2004, word leaked out that Grohl and his Foo Fighters bandmates—guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins—were building their own recording studio in Northridge, California, and working with producer Nick Raskulinecz on a new Foo Fighters album. By February 2005, the band had completed enough material for two full albums. The final product, In Your Honor(RCA), is a double album, but unlike most dual discs, it’s not an epic, sprawling and scattered effort, thanks in large part to its sonic design: one of the discs is an aggressive electric rock record, while the other is a gentle and reflective acoustic record.
“When I tell people that this is a double album, they immediately think that it’s some pretentious conceptual nightmare, like a Pink Floyd–inspired rock opera,” says Grohl. “But this isn’t that kind of album. One of the discs sounds like an overview of the band’s history, while the other gives you an idea of what we’re capable of doing in the future.”
From the anthem-like strains of the title track, “In Your Honor,” to the hard-hitting pop of “End Over End,” the electric record is a furious, no-holds-barred effort that shows just how hard Foo Fighters can rock as a band. But it’s the acoustic record, with its surprisingly diverse and nuanced songs, that expands the band’s horizons. The acoustic disc is also notable for featuring several guest collaborators, including Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who played piano on “Miracle” and mandolin on “Another Round,” and Norah Jones, who plays piano and sings a bossa nova–style duet with Grohl on “Virginia Moon.” Wallflowers’ keyboardist Rami Jaffee plays on several tracks, and Grohl’sbuddy Josh Homme, from Queens of the Stone Age, adds a fuguelike second guitar part to the Celtic-sounding “Razor.”
Grohl never truly lost interest in Foo Fighters, which he formed in late 1994 after Kurt Cobain’s suicide put an end to Nirvana. But from the beginning, he has wondered constantly how long the group could last. In Your Honor, he says, puts those doubts to rest for good: “With this album I realized that we’ve blown some doors wide open and have made it possible to make music and continue changing for years to come.”
GUITAR WORLD Before you started making this album, you said that you didn’t know if you had another Foo Fighters record in you. How did you go from making that statement to making a double album?
DAVE GROHL I always imagine every album we make will be our last. The first record was such a happy accident: it was a demo tape that turned into an album that turned into a band. I didn’t have any long-term ambition to form a band, but that record’s success changed my perspective on everything. The second album was made to keep the first album from becoming a one-off side project. I thought I should try to make something out of it, and the second record seemed like the perfect way to send it off. I felt so fortunate to be involved in more than one band that has been successful and special, but I wasn’t sure it was going to last.
When we go in the studio to make an album, I try to have the attitude that we’re a brand-new band making its first album, which is also the last record we’ll ever make. A lot of that fatalistic “lastalbum” attitude came from the rigidity of what we’ve done for the last 10 years. We’ve moved in directions here and there that branch out and touch new dynamics, but traveling down the verse/chorus/verse aggressive power-rock road eventually seemed like it was going to reach a dead end. When we finished touring for the last album, I felt we needed to do something really special. We couldn’t just make another album with 12 or 13 songs, play some festivals, make some videos and relive that same cycle we’ve been in for the past 10 years.
GW Now it seems like you’re setting up your career for the next 10 years.
GROHL I think so, too. It’s like starting back at square one again. When I listen to the record, I feel like we’re a brand-new band, because we’ve freed ourselves from all these things that caged us before—like four-minute-and-10-second rock singles. I’m at the point where that’s just not enough any more.
GW How did this album end up with an electric half and an acoustic half?
CHRIS SHIFLETT That was actually the plan when we first discussed making this record, although Dave initially wrote a lot of the acoustic material with the intention of a film score, which shows on that half of the record. The songs are very cinematic.
GROHL I thought it would be cool to include both records in the same package to show the band’s dynamic range. If we were to release these records separately, that concept might get lost.
GW A lot of the material is very unexpected, especially the bossa nova song, “Virginia Moon.” At the same time, the electric side is much more aggressive. Did you write any songs
could have been performed either way?
GROHL The song “Hell” was written as a rock song. After writing the lyrics and melody, I thought it might be cool to treat it like an acoustic track that could have been on Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade. It had a driving rock feel but also sounded great played on 12-string acoustic. But I also loved the Sham 69/Who aspect of the rock version, so I decided to keep that.
“Resolve” also could have gone either way, but I liked the Neil Young & Crazy Horse vibe of the rock version. We haven’t had a song like that since “Exhausted,” which was on the first album. But generally everything was polarized; the whole album was born out of the specific concept of having separate rock and acoustic records. Some of the acoustic songs were written as an experiment, but once I realized that this could be the most beautiful thing we’ve ever done, I thought we should do it as a band. Then it started getting bigger and bigger.
SHIFLETT A good song should hold up no matter how you choose to perform it. Usually we write songs on acoustic guitars anyway. We don’t sit around and play through Marshalls.
GROHL Acoustic guitar is not a stranger to the band. We’ve just never gotten into it before as much as we did on this record.
GW You’ve discussed plans to do acoustic shows and electric shows. I think you would need to perform some songs at both shows to please the fans.
GROHL It’s interesting to think about set lists for an acoustic show. There are a lot of rock songs on our previous albums that would translate, like “Walking After You,” “Ain’t It the Life” or “Tired of You.” I really look forward to doing the acoustic shows because, as much as we’ve grown to love watching thousands of people beat the shit out of each other in front of the stage, I’d really love to play a show where people sit and listen. That seems like the ideal gig.
SHIFLETT It would be fun to feel nervous again. You know we’d be shitting ourselves.
GROHL There’s something about playing an acoustic guitar by yourself in front of a lot of people. When you break things down to a whisper, that silence can be as powerful as a stadium P.A. and stacks of amps. That pin-drop silence can move people more than a wall of Marshall amps.