VIDEO: Foo Fighters Sound Off on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nomination and the Person They Might Want to Induct Them
Dave Grohl-fronted rock legends perform “All My Life,” a Leslie West cover, and a track off their new album “Medicine at Midnight”February 10, 2021
Foo Fighters returned to the Stern Show to promote their new album “Medicine at Midnight” with an epic three-song concert and a wide-ranging interview for the ages. In addition to performing a fresh single, a greatest hit, and a timely cover, Dave Grohl and his bandmates opened up about everything from secret Nirvana reunions and jamming with Jagger, Petty, and McCartney to the time drummer Taylor Hawkins got slapped in the face by an heir to Britain’s throne. But first Howard wanted Dave, Taylor, guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel, and keyboardist Rami Jaffee to weigh in on an exciting bit of breaking news: minutes earlier, the Foo Fighters had scored a first-ballot nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Does that turn you guys on or does it just really not matter?” Howard asked Wednesday morning.
“It’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Nate said. “It’s not bullshit at all … It’s an honor, of course. I mean, that sounds like the political answer, but it’s just the answer.”
Considering they’re one of the most critically and commercially successful rock acts of their generation, Howard skipped right over the question of if they’d get in and instead inquired about how the band envisioned the ceremony would unfold when they did. “Who would you want to induct you?” he asked.
The band hadn’t discussed it yet but after hearing the question Grohl wondered if Howard—who previously inducted Bon Jovi—had just volunteered to do the honors himself.
“No I did not. Stop it,” Howard laughed.
After giving it some serious thought, Dave said one person who came to mind was Stewart Copeland of the Police. “To be honest, this band started with this demo tape that I did ages ago, 25 years ago,” he explained. “I went in the studio for five days. I played all the instruments. I recorded 13 or 14 songs just for fun, I made cassettes, and I called it Foo Fighters because I didn’t really want everyone to know it was me. I thought maybe if I give someone a cassette and they think it’s a band they’ll be surprised when they find out that it’s just one person and that it was me.”
“One of the reasons why I did that is because when I was young someone gave me a record by an artist named Klark Kent,” Dave continued. “It sounded a lot like the Police. It sounded a lot like the Police because it was actually Stewart Copeland. The drummer of the Police made this record under the name Klark Kent. He didn’t put his name on the record.”
“That’s really the thing that inspired me to start the band Foo Fighters, and call it Foo Fighters, and do the whole thing. So, I gotta be honest, I think Stew would be a great guy to induct the band,” Grohl said, adding, “This is unofficial, by the way. This is like coming out of my mouth, it’s fucking six in the morning.”
Smear, meanwhile, suggested a different candidate. “Dave’s mom,” he said, and Howard immediately agreed.
“All right, I’ll ask,” Dave joked. “Pat’s always right.”
Bridgers Over Troubled Waters
As both a likely shoo-in for the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and repeat “Saturday Night Live” performers, Howard thought the Foos were uniquely qualified to weigh in on another bit of music news: the feud which erupted between Grammy-nominated indie rocker Phoebe Bridgers and rock legend David Crosby after the latter chastised the former for smashing her guitar at the end of a recent “SNL” performance.
As it turned out, Dave’s mother scored a mention in that answer, too. “I saw that performance man, I actually talked to my mom about it,” Grohl said. “‘Did you see “Saturday Night Live”?’ [she asked.] I said, ‘Yeah!’ She goes, ‘What did you think of that girl Phoebe?’ I said, ‘She’s got a beautiful voice, she can really sing.’ And my mother’s like, ‘I loved it. I thought she was really great.’”
Dave felt the controversy was part of a bigger discussion regarding the state of rock and roll. “For the last 10 years, every interview I do people say, ‘Is rock and roll dead?’” he said. “Well, I don’t think so. I stand at the lip of the stage and there’s like 50,000 people freaking out. Don’t ask me, I don’t think so, I think it’s fucking great!”
“People stopped using guitars, but in the last year there’s been this return to guitar rock music in popular music,” he continued, citing not only Bridgers as an example but also December Stern Show guest Miley Cyrus who he said was “becoming Joan Jett” right before the world’s eyes.
Smashing guitars on stage is a rock tradition with which the frontman and former Nirvana drummer is well acquainted. “In Nirvana, it was like every fucking night. My drums had holes in them from Kurt [Cobain] fucking chopping at my drums,” he said. “But let me tell you: it feels fucking good when you do it.”
When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong
Exciting though wild stage antics may be, they can also lead to injuries. Howard asked Dave about Nirvana’s infamous MTV Video Music Awards performance in 1992 when bassist Krist Novoselic threw his instrument into the air only to have it come back down and whack him.
“He throws [his 75-pound bass] up in the air and it gets lost in the stage lights and he can’t see it,” Grohl recalled. “And it just goes ‘Bah!’ and hits him on the head. Kurt and I have no idea … and so he crawls off and disappears.”
“We open up a dressing room door and guess what he was doing? Drinking champagne with Brian May backstage with a huge fucking welt on his forehead,” Dave laughed. “He was fine.”
Dave has sustained some performance injuries of his own over the years, too. In 2015, he broke his leg falling off the stage in Sweden. “More than anything it was just embarrassing,” he told Howard on Wednesday. “What a fucking dumbass. I just ate shit in front of 60,000 Swedish people and … my ankle was dislocated and I broke the bone and all the fucking ligaments.”
Not even a severe injury could stop the show, however. Dave asked Taylor to keep the crowd entertained with a few covers while getting attended to backstage, and then he came back out and finished the set from a chair while someone held his ankle in place.
“People always ask me my favorite show I ever played and it was that fucking show because, to me, it was funny in a way,” he said, adding he had surgery afterward and then they all kept touring for another 65 shows.
While recovering from the surgery, Dave was visited by famous faces like Coldplay drummer Will Champion and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, a.k.a. the sixth in line for the British throne. “[Prince Harry] came over to hang out and he was so chill,” Dave said, explaining the world-famous prince was so low-key the rocker’s nanny and kids didn’t recognize him. “He brought me this thing to hold my iPad so I could just watch movies and shit. It was great. He was cool,” Dave added.
Not every Prince Harry story the Foo Fighters shared Wednesday morning saw him acting so graciously, however. “He smacked Taylor in the face one time,” Dave said. “How hard was that smack in the face?”
“It pissed me off, actually,” Taylor said, explaining it happened before a gig in England when the band was jet-lagged from the long trip they took to get there. “He walked in and goes, ‘How are you doing?’ I said, ‘I can’t wake up. I’m so tired.’ He just goes bam and I went, ‘You motherfucker.’”
“He was like, ‘Are you awake now?’” he continued. “I mean, I got slapped in the face by the Prince. That’s okay, really, when you think about it.”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreaking Job Opportunity
It’s hard to imagine a world without Foo Fighters, but when Nirvana ended it wasn’t always a foregone conclusion Grohl would form his own band. Howard asked about long-standing rumors he had been offered full-time drumming gigs with Pearl Jam and Tom Petty after Kurt Cobain died.
Dave revealed one of the rumors was true. “Petty yes, Pearl Jam no,” he said.
“I did ‘Saturday Night Live’ with Tom Petty. We had so much fun and got along so well,” he said. “It’s funny, I was in the studio recording what became the first Foo Fighters record when I got the call to play with Petty.”
“I was like, ‘Yeah, wait, why me? He could get like a world-class drummer.’ But then I came down and jammed … he was very cool.”
Howard was curious why he turned down the late rock icon’s offer to play with him permanently.
“I just felt weird about just going right back to the drums because it would’ve just reminded me of being in Nirvana,” Dave recalled. “It would’ve been sad for me, personally … to be behind the drum set every night and not have Kurt there, so I was like ‘Nah, fuck it. I want to try this other thing.’”
Smells Like Pre-Teen Spirit
Howard wondered if Pat—who played alongside Dave, Cobain, and Krist in Nirvana for years—ever wondered what his life would be like if the band had managed to stay together.
“Every once in a while, me and Krist and Dave get together and we do play as if we’re Nirvana, so I don’t have to miss it—we do it,” Pat said. “Last time, we did it at the house where we recorded the [new Foo Fighters] album.”
“We actually recorded some stuff,” Dave said.
“Do you ever go back and listen to the Nirvana albums? Do you go back and say, ‘I just want to go live that over again?’” Howard asked.
“No,” they both replied.
“Is it too painful?” Howard asked.
“Yes,” they both said. “It just makes me sad,” Pat added.
Nirvana’s final studio album landed in 1993, but in some ways the band seems as culturally relevant as ever. “There are times where you’re driving in a car and a song will come on,” Dave said. “Last night, my daughter Harper, she’s 11, she says, ‘Dad, can we just go drive around?’
“We just drove around, drove around in Hollywood, and ‘Come As You Are’ came on the radio and she started singing. She sang every word,” he continued. “I never played that record. We don’t talk about Nirvana and stuff, and she’s singing every word of the song. That, to me, that feels good.”
Howard wondered if she ever asked him about his time in Nirvana.
“She actually did for the first time ever last night,” Dave said. “She wanted to know if Kurt was shy, I think. I said, ‘Yeah, he kind of was,’”
“It was great,” he added.
Jamming With Legends
Foo Fighters shared the stage with their fair share of rock greats over the years, like Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2012. The mythical frontman had apparently rolled into Studio 8H without the rest of the Stones, so the show’s head honcho Lorne Michaels asked the Foo Fighters if they’d consider being his backing band.
“I was like oh fucking absolutely,” Dave said, but then he realized he had a show that same night in New Jersey. “I was like we had a show that night, but I’ll get rid of it.”
As his manager quickly informed him, however, the Garden State gig could not be canceled.
Even so, wild horses couldn’t drag Dave away from taking the “SNL” stage with Mick. “We sound checked, jumped on a helicopter, flew, did the gig for two-and-a-half-hours in Jersey, helicoptered back to the city [with] police escort to 30 Rock, go upstairs and jam with Mick, and then afterwards play the season finale party,” he said. “He actually jumped on stage with us and did cover songs. It was amazing. It was great.”
“He comes in and [says] ‘I didn’t really sleep much so I’m just going to sing, I’m not gonna do much,’” Hawkins added. “Then we start playing ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ or whatever we’re playing and we might as well have been at Madison Square Garden, dude. He’s literally running back and forth being Mick Jagger. There’s like two camera guys and our road crew and it’s 11 o’clock in the morning.”
In another story, Grohl recalled hanging out with Taylor Swift at Paul McCartney’s house. After Sir Paul played for everyone on the piano, partygoers turned to Dave expecting him to follow suit. The only problem was he was stoned and didn’t play the piano. “It was like one of those nightmares where you’re naked and running backwards in school,” he said.
“So, Taylor is like, ‘I’ll do a song.’ She gets up on the piano and she starts doing this thing,” he recalled. “I smoked a little pot … and I was just like, ‘What’s this fucking song? I feel like I know this song.’ She was doing ‘Best of You’ by Foo Fighters.”
“I was just stoned to the bone, man, and I was like, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’” Dave continued, saying he finally started singing along with her. “It was like so fucking weird.”
All-Time Greatest Drummer and Guitar Riffs
Howard wondered if Taylor ever felt intimidated playing with Dave, considering he was a star drummer with Nirvana before founding Foo Fighters.
“The only time I get really nervous or antsy is when we’re recording new music because, you know, he’s such a great drummer he can obviously do it himself, so I have to sit in there with the headphones and make him happy,” Taylor said. “He’s never a dick about it, but it’s intimidating, there’s no question.”
“When I joined the band I was super intimidated because, you know, I met [Guns N’ Roses frontman] Axl Rose for the first time and he said, ‘What’s it like being the drummer for the greatest drummer of the ‘90s?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, hard,” Taylor continued.
Howard was curious to hear Hawkins’ take on the greatest drummer who ever lived.
“I’ll tell you exactly who it is, [jazz drummer] Buddy Rich … [but for] rock and roll drummers, probably John Bonham,” Taylor said.
“[Bonham] could play as heavy as anyone, but he could probably play on a Steely Dan record at the same time. He was that good,” he said of the Led Zeppelin icon before demonstrating a few of his signature beats from “When the Levee Breaks” on his own kit.
Later, Chris also demonstrated some of his favorite guitar riffs for Howard, including Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” and Van Halen’s “Panama.”
“Medicine at Midnight”
Dave records demos for most Foo Fighters material before bringing it to the rest of the band who then elaborate on his ideas. He told Howard he could be precious about his material in the past, but in recent years he’s become much more hands-off.
“This album in particular I was like, ‘I’m walking out of the room. I’m the one thing getting in the way of a good Foo Fighters record,’” he said, adding, “I’m probably the band’s biggest problem I should just get the fuck out of the room and let the band come in and do what it does.”
Instead of recording “Medicine at Midnight” in a conventional studio, the band laid down the tracks for its ninth studio album at a “funky old house” some of the guys believed was haunted.
“It’s the weird feeling of intuition where you always feel like someone is behind you all the time,” Dave said, explaining he’d lived in the house a decade before they recorded the album and he recalled his kids seeing weird things at night.
Zoom! Shake-Shake-Shake the Room
As excited as Foo Fighters were to put on a digital concert for Howard and the Stern Show listeners, they were sad COVID-19 has kept them from playing in front of live audiences. In the early days of the pandemic, the band resisted the call of Zoom concerts, but Dave— who penned an Atlantic article last May arguing humans needed tangible experiences to feel less alone—said they didn’t hold out for long.
“I remember when people first got on Zoom … I was just like, ‘What is this? The camera is too close to your face and everybody is flat,” he recalled thinking. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to wait until people can start coming to shows.’ I was like, ‘Fuck that Zoom shit,” he recalled thinking, “After six months, I was like, ‘Okay, maybe we should start hitting that Zoom.’”
“To me, I love making the records, I love doing [intimate shows], but the stage and the big shows, that’s where we shine, that’s where we do our thing,” he continued.
Speaking of big shows, Foo Fighters were reportedly supposed to play the Super Bowl Halftime Show a few years back, but the gig somehow fell apart. “What happened?” Howard asked.
“I don’t know,” Dave said. “They were like, ‘Hey, this year we want a rock band.’ I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ They said, ‘We need for you to entertain a stadium.’ ‘Alright, cool.’” But then nothing came of it. “They never wanted us to do it,” he surmised.
Foo Fighters’ first performance of the morning was of “Medicine at Midnight’s” debut single “Shame, Shame,” a song which Dave said was first inspired by a simple drum pattern in his head but grew more complex when the band recorded it from the top of a stairwell, much like Led Zeppelin famously did on “When the Levee Breaks.”
“We put a kick-drum and snare on top of a stairwell because the reverb was cool,” he said before the band played the song live on the air. “There were wood floors, and then it sounded like meth-head tap dancing over a drumbeat.”
Next, the band performed a cover they’d selected specifically in Howard’s honor: Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen,” written by recently departed rocker and Stern Show regular Leslie West. It’s a tune Dave and Foo Fighters producer Greg Kurstin covered back in December for their popular online concert series “The Hanukkah Sessions.”
“The day after [we do it] we get a call from Leslie’s manager. He said, ‘Leslie saw it. He thought it was fucking great. Here’s his phone number. You should call him,’” Dave said.
Unfortunately, West died before Grohl and Kurstin ever did call him. “We should’ve called him the day we got the phone number,” Dave lamented. “We waited four fucking days—whatever it was—and he passed away.”
“This one is for Leslie and you,” Dave told Howard before Foo Fighters performed their hard-rocking cover.
“Fantastic,” Howard said after hearing their rendition. “It just gave me the chills. I feel it in my bones Leslie was with us. He must be smiling right now.”
“All My Life”
Foo Fighters finished their Stern Show set with an energetic rendition of “All My Life,” their 2002 single which had served as a set opener for quite some time. As Howard noted, it was also the first song the band played on SiriusXM Foo Fighters Radio (channel 105). He wondered what made it such a great opening song.
“It’s like the theme from ‘Jaws,’” Grohl said before the band kicked it into high gear. “If you start doing that in front of a big arena, it’s this suspenseful build up into this thing that just [explodes] … I fucking love playing it every single time we play it because of that.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Howard said after enjoying their performance. “I’m telling you, that is magnificent.”
Before saying goodbye, Dave took a minute to credit both Howard and late-night host David Letterman for the parts each broadcaster played in helping Foo Fighters stay successful for so long. “You have a lot to do with why we’re still here. Remember that time we came on your show and I played ‘Everlong’ the acoustic version? That’s not something I had ever done, and when we sat down and did that for you that gave us another 20 years in the band. Honestly,” he said.
“You and David Letterman have made us a big band in America,” Taylor added.
“You’ve been two of our biggest supporters for the last 25 years,” Grohl finished.