A accumulation of almanac aggregation executives, sitting bottomward to account the absolute bedrock star, may able-bodied appear up with addition a little like Dave Grohl. He has the look—long, blubbery atramentous hair; he has the talent—he plays the drums, guitar and piano, he sings and he writes his own songs; and, aloft all, he has both full-blooded and credibility.
In the aboriginal 1990s, as bagman with seminal grunge bandage Nirvana, Grohl helped change the face of accepted music. Today, as beforehand accompanist with stadium-filling bedrock giants Foo Fighters, he is a multi-millionaire who has awash added than 15 actor albums worldwide, won six Grammy awards and is admiral of his own almanac label. Alongside Foo Fighters he has a cardinal of ancillary projects (including supergroup Them Agee Vultures, with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones); a documentary about his bandage attempt by Oscar-winning administrator James Moll was appear aftermost ages and his seventh album, Wasting Light, is out on Monday. Now 42, Grohl—and his cast of bedrock ‘n’ roll—has developed up, had kids and acclimatized down.
How did a man who was aloof a bagman and who never advised to achieve money from music end up as one of the better and wealthiest bedrock stars of the decade, afterwards in the face of a almanac industry in crisis?
We accommodated at Flat 606, the 8,000 sq ft recording amplitude he congenital in 2005 in the Northridge breadth of Los Angeles. Outside, the Californian bounce sunshine throws abrupt caliginosity beyond a neighbourhood that acreage agents would call euphemistically as “mixed”; from central this ample commonsensical building, with its brave windows, the dejected sky looks about overcast.
Grohl, who is tall, angular and has developed into his hardly cool looks, sets bottomward the keys to his absolutely un-rock ‘n’ cycle blah BMW estate, tucks his shoulder-length beard abaft his ear and flips the lid on his laptop. “Sorry,” he beams. “I’ve aloof got to analysis my e-mail. I appetite to see if my babe got into clandestine school.” Grohl affiliated Jordyn Blum in 2003, and they accept two daughters, Violet Maye, age-old four, and Harper Willow, one.
The admiral lounge looks like a available pad: there’s a fridge, jukebox and widescreen TV with an all-embracing addition of boxsets: The Office, ACDC and Bon Jovi gigs, and a bandage of the Make-up and Effects barter appearance 1997. Scattered beyond the amethyst daybed are cushions covered with old bandage T-shirts (Slayer, The Police, Atramentous Sabbath, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin) fabricated by Grohl’s mother. “She alleged up and said ‘David, what do you appetite me to do with those T-shirts in the attic?’,” says Grohl in a falsetto.
Downstairs, a all-inclusive recording flat complete with Persian rugs and a admirable piano in the bend leads on to a barn abounding with anxiously labelled guitar cases, drums and different equipment. Among the platinum records, affected posters and photographs blind in the aisle alfresco the soundproofed ascendancy allowance area we curb to allocution is the iconic awning of Nirvana’s 1991 anthology Nevermind, which celebrates its 20th ceremony in September.
Nevermind (and Nirvana) is both a allowance and a anathema to Grohl now. “For 16 years I’ve had to antithesis these two things: my adulation and account of Nirvana and my adulation and account of the Foo Fighters.” He lifts aboriginal his appropriate duke again his larboard and balances the two, the ample accoutrement tattooed on both forearms acclaim ascent and falling. “I wouldn’t be actuality if it wasn’t for Nirvana, there’s no question. But I don’t apperceive if I’d be animate if it wasn’t for the Foo Fighters. I try to accumulate them at a antithesis that is actual admiring of ceremony other.”
Despite Grohl’s admiration to move on, the bequest of Nirvana’s groundbreaking anthology still haunts him, and for acceptable reason. Nevermind afflicted accepted culture. Until the absolution of that anthology in 1991, music was bedeviled by pop giants such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. The addition music arena was aloof that: lo-fi, raw-sounding and based on a jailbait DIY appearance that came to be accepted as grunge.
“Grunge emerged from the Pacific north-west,” explains the biographer Mark Yarm, whose book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge will be appear in September to accompany with Nevermind’s anniversary. “It’s cryptic who coined the term, but it came to beggarly guitar bands who had a assertive bedraggled appearance and usually came from Seattle. It was a movement that was consistently declared to transcend the cash. Success was beheld actual warily. Bodies like Nirvana’s beforehand accompanist Kurt Cobain were aggressive to success, yet actual abundant approved it at the aforementioned time.”
Grohl, who never absurd himself acceptable a doctor, advocate or writer, recorded his aboriginal anthology at 15 in a flat a his parents’ abode in Springfield, Virginia—a suburb of Washington, DC. “The ambition wasn’t to become U2, it was to amuse that allegation to achieve commodity alfresco of the boilerplate system,” he says.
That aboriginal anti-commercial absorbed symised the appearance of the addition music scene. In 1990, Grohl became the bagman for Seattle-based bandage Nirvana, which had been formed by accompanist Kurt Cobain and bass amateur Krist Novoselic in 1987. Nirvana had already appear a admission album, Bleach (1989), and the three-piece—Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl—toured babyish venues in a tiny van. It was a adulation of music that fuelled them, not the admiration to become rich, acclaimed bedrock stars.
All that afflicted aback they teamed up with ambassador Butch Vig on their additional anthology Nevermind. Area Bleach was a bona fide indie anthology appear on the tiny Seattle-based Sub Pop characterization to which the bandage active for an antecedent $600 advance, Nevermind was appear by Geffen, a characterization endemic by the Universal Music Accumulation that was additionally home to the band’s idols Sonic Youth.
“Sonic Youth’s above characterization admission came out in 1990 and awash about 200,000 copies, which was advised a huge cardinal in indie-rock circles aback then,” explains Yarm. “It was aloof extraordinary that addition ‘weird’, underground bandage like Nirvana, who absolutely looked up to Sonic Youth, could advertise millions and millions of albums.” Yet Nevermind, which was accepted to advertise about 200,000 copies, exploded.
“Many bodies point to the anniversary in January 1992 aback Nirvana agape Michael Jackson—the King of Pop—off the top of the American archive as the moment addition music absolutely went mainstream,” says Yarm. To date, Nevermind has awash added than 26 actor copies worldwide.
The anthology apparent a sea-change in accepted culture: it was the bearing of a sound, a appearance and a affairs that was as big as jailbait or the accepted 60s afore it. In the aforementioned year as Nevermind was released, Douglas Coupland appear his acclaimed atypical Bearing X and the affair tune for this new bearing was Nirvana’s advance distinct “Smells Like Teen Spirit”—a raw, affronted ambulatory cry that affected a assumption about the world.
Yet, for Grohl—at atomic initially—little changed. “It was aloof as abundant a shock to us as it was to everybody else. I anticipate we were the aftermost ones to accept it. Our apple wasn’t alteration aural all of that. We had a gold almanac and we were still touring in a van. And again it went platinum—we awash a actor records—and we were still touring in a van; I was still administration a allowance with Kurt aback we had a platinum record. Even afterwards we awash 10 actor albums I was still active in a aback allowance at my friend’s abode with a daybed and a lamp.” He does bethink actuality beatific his aboriginal acclaim agenda though. Never a big spender, he anon rushed to his bounded Benihana, the alternation of Japanese restaurants.
Thanks to Nirvana’s success, almanac companies descended on Seattle, snapping up any bandage they could find. “It was a agriculture frenzy,” says Yarm. “One authoritative told me that all the flights from LA to Seattle were consistently booked. If one of those planes had gone down, it would accept destroyed the music industry.”
After the boundless success of Nevermind, Nirvana appear aloof one added flat album, 1993’s In Utero, and toured to breaking point. In 1994, beforehand accompanist Kurt Cobain, disturbing with the pressure, was aureate home to the US from Rome afterwards demography an balance during the European leg of the band’s tour. On April 8 1994, Cobain was activate asleep at the abode in Seattle he aggregate with his wife Courtney Adulation and their babe Frances Bean. He had taken a heroin balance and attempt himself. His suicide befuddled the music apple to its core, fabricated all-around account and, in the eyes of abounding devastated fans, accustomed Cobain as a tragic-romantic bulk in the mould of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix. He was 27 years old.
In the months afterwards Cobain’s death, Grohl couldn’t accompany himself to comedy music. “After Nirvana concluded in April 1994, I didn’t absolutely do abundant that year,” explains Grohl. It wasn’t until October 1994 that he acquainted accessible to go aback into the studio. “I didn’t accept a plan or any above career aspiration,” he says. “I aloof acquainted like I bare to do something.”
Over the advance of bristles days, he recorded 13-14 of his songs in a babyish flat a his house, arena all the instruments and singing every song. Grohl broadcast 100 copies of the recording to accompany and music industry assembly and, bashful to footfall into the accent so anon afterwards Nirvana, he alleged the activity Foo Fighters, the additional apple war appellation for an anonymous aerial object, as it “sounded added like a band”. Those recordings, which bulk Grohl about $5,000, became Foo Fighters’ self-titled admission album. Appear in 1995, it accustomed Grohl as one of the better bedrock musicians in the world.
It’s about exceptional of for a bagman to achieve it as a beforehand singer—perhaps the alone added acclaimed archetype is Phil Collins, who artificial a abandoned career afterwards his time in Genesis. Yet Collins is not arena amphitheater gigs 20 years on. Aback about every added bandage of his bearing has collapsed by the wayside, what is it about Grohl and Foo Fighters that still resonates?
“Their music is no nonsense, blue-collar everyman music,” explains Butch Vig, who has produced the band’s new anthology Wasting Light. “I anticipate that bodies feel like they apperceive the band. They can chronicle to their songs, but they can additionally chronicle to them as individuals.” Today, afterwards some cadre changes over the years, Foo Fighters abide of bagman Taylor Hawkins, guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, bass amateur Nate Mendel and Grohl. They are a friendly, close five-piece, who allotment jokes ceaseless and badinage about moments on tour. Over the advance of 16 years and seven flat albums, the bandage has acid a accurate cast of emotionally answerable bedrock that has transcended their aboriginal grunge influences. Grohl writes melodies with the activity of jailbait bedrock that anatomy an enviable greatest hits amalgamation affirmed to ample any amphitheater in the apple (in June 2008 the bandage played two afterwards shows at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium).
The band’s new anthology is in some means a acknowledgment to the complete and access of their aboriginal records. “There’s no catechism that history is a big allotment of this record,” admits Grohl. Admitting his shiny, well-equipped studio, he absitively to almanac Wasting Light in his barn at home, and in a nod to his lo-fi, DIY roots, recorded to bandage rather than digitally on a computer. Like Nevermind, Wasting Light is commodity of an antitoxin to the overproduced boilerplate pop that currently fills the charts. It’s not the alone affair that sets the bandage apart.
The music industry has afflicted aback Foo Fighters appear their aboriginal anthology in 1995. “Historically almanac sales accounted for the majority of bandage revenues,” explains Chris Carey, chief economist at PRS for Music, a not-for-profit organisation which collects and distributes accessible achievement royalties for composers, songwriters and music publishers. “As almanac sales accept suffered in contempo years the industry has looked to added areas for revenue. Synchronisations [music acclimated in computer amateur and TV programmes] and commodity sales accept become added important, and the bang in alive music is able-bodied reported. It acclimated to be that bands would bout at a accident to advertise CDs. Nowadays music is generally accustomed abroad in adjustment to accomplish fizz and advance alive events.”
How does this seismic about-face in the almanac industry affect a bandage such as the Foo Fighters? “They’ve got an accustomed fan abject and a acceptable clue record, they’re an act advancing to the top of the market,” says Carey. “Their revenues won’t be adumbrative of what a bandage advancing into the bazaar now would experience. That absolute fan base, I’d imagine, will still buy concrete albums and, I would expect, accept a acceptable bulk of money to absorb on concert tickets so what you can allegation for a Foo Fighters gig is added than you could for a newer band. As a aftereffect their earning contour will be absolutely healthy: a acceptable mix of alive and recorded.”
Today, acknowledgment to industry pressures, abounding popstars generally accept to booty the money wherever they can get it, whether it’s accumulated gigs, advocacy deals or artefact adjustment in music videos. In the anniversary I met Foo Fighters, the Libyan anarchy was erupting and Beyoncé, Nelly Furtado and Usher had donated to alms their million-dollar fees becoming arena for the Gaddafi family. “We’ve done accumulated gigs to pay for touring,” says Foo Fighters bagman Taylor Hawkins, “but we’ve never played for the Gaddafis! There’s annihilation amiss with accepting paid to comedy music as continued as it’s in the realms of whatever moral standards you accept … “
Despite the about-face in the music industry, Foo Fighters, with a defended fan abject and abiding assets accept been able to aces and accept what they do. “I anticipate at this point we’ve exceeded any of the expectations we had for this band—musically or financially,” explains Grohl. “The best important affair is that we do what we do with the aforementioned candor we had aback we started 16 years ago. We’re not a financially aggressive band—we’re accomplishing aloof fine. It comes bottomward to how abundant do you absolutely need?”
Nate Mendel, the band’s bassist and longest-serving affiliate afterwards Grohl himself, agrees: “All these means you can accomplishment your bandage commercially, we’ve done a lot of it, but compared to a bandage agnate to us, we’ve captivated back. We capital to be in a bandage that didn’t accept to do that. It’s alone our bearing that’s anytime had a botheration with it. Prior to and afterwards 80s jailbait bedrock and the addition music of the 90s cipher cared. It’s alone our bearing that was alert about base their music.”
“Punk-rock guilt,” action Hawkins. “I’m aerial in this clandestine jet and bistro lobster thermidor—but I’m not giving a song to Honda!”
As internet piracy has taken its assessment on the almanac industry, acquirement from alive gigs and commodity has become anytime added important. “If you’re not authoritative money from annal you accept to achieve it about else,” says Carey. “Merchandise was up added than 20 per cent in 2009 growing at a acceptable amount and in 2008 alive music was up about 13-14 per cent which is bang growth.”
Piracy and the abatement in almanac sales won’t accept hit the Foo Fighters as adamantine as abounding added newer bands—which may explain why Grohl, who is admiral of his own label, Roswell Records, is aloof about book sharing. Aback he was growing up Grohl and his accompany would bandy tapes of their favourite bands admitting campaigns admonishing that “home taping is killing the almanac industry”. Today, the internet has absolutely put a cavity in the music business, Grohl acknowledges, but for him book administration is artlessly an addendum of those home-made mix-tapes. “To me, the best important affair is that bodies appear and sing forth aback we cull into boondocks on tour,” he says. “Sharing music is not a crime. It shouldn’t be. There should be a added acceptation to authoritative music than aloof affairs downloads.”
Grohl’s acquaintance with Nirvana has coloured the way he now runs Foo Fighters. “I learnt a lot of acquaint from actuality in Nirvana. A lot of admirable things and a lot of …” he pauses, “lessons of what not to do. I’m not a businessman, but aback it comes to authoritative music I’ve affectionate of ample out a way of accomplishing it after anyone accepting hurt.” He drums his fingers, assuming a abbreviate paradiddle adjoin the arm of the covering sofa.
After his death, Cobain’s acreage anesthetized to his wife, the accompanist Courtney Love, who in 1997, with Cobain’s bandmates, formed Nirvana LLC, a bound accountability aggregation to baby-sit their interests. The three accept at times fought over Nirvana’s legacy, about activity to cloister in 2002 (a adjustment was accomplished the day afore affairs were due to begin) and in 2009 auctioning over the use of Cobain’s affinity in computer d Guitar Hero 5. In April 2006, Adulation awash 25 per cent of her allotment in Nirvana’s archive to Primary Wave Music for a appear $50m.
When he formed Foo Fighters, Grohl set up Roswell Annal as a captivation aggregation for the band’s absolute music catalogue, which is again accountant to a almanac aggregation for a six- to seven-year aeon at a time. “Unfortunately, a lot of musicians assurance abroad their freedoms aback they access into these big business contracts. It’s an age-old story. It’s still happening. I don’t anticipate there’s a abode for that affectionate of alfresco ascendancy aback it comes to actuality creative.”
Are you a ascendancy freak? I ask. “Absolutely. No question. I am a authoritative freak. I’m not a ascendancy freak, I’m a authoritative freak. This is our baby. Aback it comes to authoritative music, we accept our own process, we accept our own agee capitalism …”
Democracy? Or is it a amiable dictatorship? “Well, yeah. Appearance me a bandage of bristles bodies area there’s no baton … I aloof don’t anticipate it could happen. At the end of the day, it’s my name at the basal of the cheque.”
Foo Fighters are now embarking on addition stadium-filling apple tour. As Grohl, the absolute bedrock star, headed off, I couldn’t advice cerebration of the two affluence accolade I’d spotted beforehand affianced to his fridge. “An absorbing agreeable befalling is in your a future,” apprehend one. The added said simply: “Study and adapt yourself and one day, your day will come.”
This commodity originally appeared in Financial Times. Click actuality to apprehend added advantage from the Weekend FT.
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