Dave Grohl: My whole life is like an out-of-body experience

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Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl says he cried after hearing Abba's new songs

When Dave Grohl wrote a memoir, his publishers suggested he should promote it with a couple of speaking engagements.

It was a simple idea: read a chapter or two, play an acoustic Foo Fighters song, take some questions from fans, then sell a skip-load of books.

Right? Wrong.

"I've turned it into an entire production," says Grohl on the night of the first show - a little sheepishly, but with a side order of pride.

"I just wrote [the show] five days ago. And basically I show people how I learned to play music over the years."

The show starts with him sitting on the floor of his bedroom, bashing pillows and tapping out rhythms on his teeth, just like he used to in the days before he'd saved enough money to buy his own drums.

Later he demonstrates how he'd record primitive songs on his old ghetto blaster, before wheeling out a proper drum kit and thrashing out Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.

The impromptu show is a demonstration of Grohl's infectious enthusiasm - not just for music, but for life.

At 52 he is the proverbial cat who got the cream (as well as a festival-headlining rock band), and it's something he can never quite wrap his head around.

"In the book, I'm basically writing from the perspective of someone that feels like they're having an out-of-body experience," he says.

"I can't believe this has happened to me - whether it's getting to jam with one of my all-time heroes, or just being able to jump on a plane, have a drink and fly to the next town to play to thousands of people.

"Every day I have these moments where I think 'Oh, this is what I'm going to see just before I die.'"

Taking a pause before the opening night of his speaking tour, the star sat down to reflect on his new book, The Storyteller; the 30th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind; and why he's over the moon about the Abba reunion.

Dave Grohl
The star has played drums for Nirvana, Tom Petty, Scream, Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age

How did you start writing a book? Was it a lockdown thing?

Yes, it actually started from an Instagram page. When I realised that I was going to be at home for months, I thought "I need some sort of creative outlet", so I set up this page called Dave's True Stories and I started writing these short stories [about my life]. Both of my parents were brilliant writers so I kind of had the knack for it, and after writing four or five I thought, "Maybe I should start writing a book."

How did you unlock those memories? Did you sift through old photograph albums and diaries?

Well, I have my own sort of filing cabinet in my mind. Everything's sorted in musical increments. So if you play me a song from the '70s, I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard it; and if you play me a Nirvana record, I can tell you what I was wearing when I recorded that song.

Can I test that? What are you wearing when you recorded In Bloom?

I had yellow shorts, and this weird sort of blue-and-white tie-dyed shirt. But that's easy to remember because I think I only had one thing to wear when we were recording Nevermind. It was not the most glamorous scene.

Dave Grohl
The star says forming Foo Fighters was a lifeline after Kurt Cobain's death

One sentence in the book really stood out to me: "I never fully embraced stadium rock until I stood on the lip of the stage." What happened?

It's the best seat in the house, you know? When you play a song that everybody knows and you get everyone to sing along, it's a magical feeling. It really is a celebration of that sort of communal, tangible live experience that I think, as human beings, we really need.

When you were a punk in the '80s, you would have looked down on somebody in your position. How did you reconcile that?

Well, it's funny. As a child I had posters on my walls of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, AC/DC and these huge stadium rock bands. To me, that was like this incredible fantasy. They seemed almost not human.

Then the first time I saw a live band was a punk rock band in this tiny club in Washington. There were only 50 or 60 people there, and the songs were only a few minutes long. That was my introduction to live rock and roll - and there was something about the raw simplicity of it that made me think, "Oh, this is real." So I forgot about all of that stadium stuff.

But if you wind up in a place, like Nirvana did, where your music is then appreciated by so many people that the audience grows, it's kind of rocky terrain. You end up in this sort of conflicted ethical crisis.

But I'm one of those people that just wants to share everything with everybody, whether it's pain or joy, a song or a drink. So I think I finally got to the point where I came to terms with it and got really into it.

You've been called the "nicest man in rock" - and that's something I've seen in action at a recording of Jools Holland's TV show. The studio was tense and nervous, but you made a point of going round and greeting each and every musician - and the atmosphere completely lifted.

I'm just being polite, come on!

But where does that side of your personality come from?

Probably from my mother. I grew up in Virginia, just south of Washington DC. It's not really considered the South, but the people do sort of present themselves with a southern grace.

Some of it's also about growing up in the Washington DC underground music scene. It wasn't a big scene, maybe a couple of hundred people, and if someone needed an amplifier you gave them your amp. And I still consider all musicians to be a part of a community.

It doesn't matter if it's Rihanna or Sting - I'll walk backstage at a festival and go banging on doors with a bottle of whiskey in my hand, just so I can say hello to everyone.

Nirvana
Nirvana at the height of their fame (L-R): Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl

Last week was the 30th anniversary of Nevermind. Do you remember what you were doing on the day it was released?

I think we played a show in Toronto. When that album first came out the expectations weren't that high, so we were playing venues that held maybe 100, 200 people. But once the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit was released, maybe a week later, things started to explode.

By the time we finished that tour there were, like, riots and we'd have to run out of places. It got pretty crazy.

How did you find your footing within that craziness?

We were kids. I was 22, Kurt might have been 23 or 24. I think each of us processed it in our different ways. Whenever I felt overwhelmed I would just go back to Virginia, where I grew up, and I'd have barbecues with friends and reconnect with my mother. That always seemed to ground me.

But it's a lot for anyone to handle. Still to this day when I see a new artist that's becoming popular, my initial reaction is concern. It's not an easy thing to find your way through that unscathed.

Universal Studios
Hundreds of original recordings were lost in a blaze at Universal Studios in 2008

About two years ago, it emerged that the master tapes were Nevermind had maybe been destroyed in a fire at Universal Studios. Has there been any update on that?

I don't know, to be honest. But there's usually back-ups of those tapes so hopefully the music will stick around forever.

So there's a copy somewhere - even it's not the very first one?

I've got one in my mom's house if you'd like.

Really?

It's a cassette but, I mean, what are you going to do?

So any future re-releases will have the added authenticity of tape hiss…

Well, I'm so deaf now that I would never know.

Do you get tinnitus?

Oh my god, for the last 30 years. When I turn off the lights at night it's like, "Eeeeeeeeeeee".

Does it keep you awake?

No, I've been so used to it for so long. My left ear's pretty much almost gone from the snare drums and the monitors. So if I'm at home with my kids, and they're running around making noise, I just take naps with my good ear on the pillow.

As they get older they're going to take advantage of that. They'll be asking, "Can I borrow the car, Dad?" into your deaf ear.

But you can play it the other way too. "Sorry I didn't hear. What did you say?"

Nirvana
Nirvana only released three studio albums but their impact on music was immeasurable

After Nirvana, you said you formed Foo Fighters as a "representation of the continuation of life".

Yes.

That's a powerful statement.

Well, when Kurt died, it turned our world upside down. It's hard to imagine life going on.

Someone actually sent me this card after he died that said, "I know you don't feel like playing music now. But you will. And it'll save your life."

And although it didn't click at the time, I finally came to this realisation that I was fortunate to be alive, so I should probably take advantage of that by doing the one thing that I love to do - playing music. And it saved me.

So yeah, Foo Fighters has always represented life to me. It really helped me through a lot of heavy stuff.

Foo Fighters are named after a military term for UFOs. What did you think of the supposed UFO images that the US government released this summer?

Oh, I'm a total UFO nerd and I have been for decades. So I've been following it - but what's happening now, I don't think is new.

I'm of the belief that that we are not alone, and I'm totally okay with that, you know? It doesn't really change my day too much. But I'm the romantic type. When I look up at the stars I think, "God, I hope we're not alone." What a drag that would be.

So if a spaceship descended over a Foo Fighters gig, and the beam came out to the stage, would you go up and see what was there?

Well, we've been working on that stage show for a long time! But I wouldn't want to leave this behind - so maybe I'd invite them over to my place.

For a barbecue.

Why not? Throw a barbecue for some aliens.

And finally, I know you're a huge Abba fan. What did you think of their comeback?

Oh my god, I'm such a big Abba fan. When I saw that they were coming back and they had a record, I shot that link to 100 people I knew, then listened to the new song and wept like a baby. I cried like a baby. Oh man!

What about it moved you?

It almost sounded like time hadn't passed. Plus it was such a beautiful, romantic, melancholy, bitter-sweet retrospective. Ugh, it's amazing. Abba can do no wrong.

If they'd asked you to play drums…

Listen, I will get up and play drums at the opening of an envelope. Show me a drum set and I will sit down to it. So yes, I would play with Abba.

Dave Grohl's memoir, The Storyteller, is out on 5 October.

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