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FOO FIGHTERS: David Grohl spent three-and-a-half years as the drummer for Nirvana. Unknown to most of Nirvana's fanbase, Grohl gradually wrote a stockpile of songs that he largely held back from the band for fear of ruining their chemistry. (Grohl has noted in several interviews that he was well aware of the infamous drummer joke: "Q: What did the drummer say just before he got fired? A: Hey, guys, let's try one of my songs!") Instead, Grohl occasionally booked studio time to record demos, and even issued a cassette of some of those songs called Pocketwatch under the pseudonym "Late!" in 1992.
Six months after Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, Grohl entered Robert Lang's Studio in Seattle with friend/producer Barrett Jones. With the exception of a guitar part on "X-Static" by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, Grohl played every instrument and sang every vocal on the tracks. Lured to Capitol Records by former Nirvana A&R (and then-Capitol president) Gary Gersh, Grohl had the demo recordings professionally mixed, with the results eventually becoming the Foo Fighters' self-titled debut album.
Grohl did not want the Foo Fighters to be a one-man studio project, so he worked to form a band to support the album. Initially, former bandmate Krist Novoselic was a main candidate for the band, but both became concerned that it might portray Foo Fighters as a reincarnation of Nirvana. Having heard through the grapevine about the disbanding of Seattle-based emocore band Sunny Day Real Estate, Grohl drafted SDRE's bass player, Nate Mendel, and drummer, William Goldsmith. Pat Smear, who was an "unofficial member" of Nirvana after the release of In Utero, was added as a second guitarist, completing the band. The Foo Fighters undertook their first major tour in the spring of 1995, opening for Mike Watt.
The band's first single "This Is a Call" was released in June 1995, and the group's self-titled debut album was released the next month. "I'll Stick Around", "For All The Cows" and "Big Me" were released as subsequent singles. The band spent the months following the album's release on tour, including their first appearance at the Reading Festival in England in August. A later UK tour included a pair of nights at Brixton Academy, which were taped and compiled for an MTV special.
After touring through the spring of 1996, the now full-band Foo Fighters entered a Seattle studio with producer Gil Norton to record the band's second album. With the sessions nearly complete, Grohl took the rough mixes with him on a trip home to Virginia. While there, Grohl realized that he wasn't happy with how the mixes were turning out and began demoing newer songs by himself at a studio in DC. The band, minus Goldsmith, regrouped in Los Angeles and almost completely re-recorded the album with Grohl on drums. Goldsmith decided to leave the band soon thereafter. The album, The Colour and the Shape, was released on May 20, 1997.
In need of a drummer, Grohl contacted Alanis Morissette's touring drummer Taylor Hawkins to see if he could recommend anybody. Grohl was surprised when Hawkins volunteered himself. Hawkins made his Foo debut in time for the album's release. The album, widely considered among the band's best, spawned the singles "Monkey Wrench", "My Hero", and "Everlong".
In September of 1997, in front of a crowded street outside the MTV Video Music Awards, Pat Smear simultaneously announced his departure from the band and introduced his replacement, Grohl's former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl. Prior to the recording of the band's third album, Stahl departed the band, citing creative differences.
The three-piece subsequently retreated to Grohl's home state of Virginia, and spent the next several months working on the band's third album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose. The album spawned several singles, including "Learn to Fly", the band's first single to reach the US Hot 100.
Before the release of the album, Capitol president Gary Gersh was forced out of the label. Given Grohl's history with Gersh, the Foo Fighters' contract had included a "key man clause" that allowed them to leave the label upon Gersh's departure. They subsequently left Capitol and signed to RCA, who later acquired the rights to the band's Capitol albums. (Gersh eventually joined forces with former Nirvana manager John Silva to form GAS Entertainment, a company that manages the Foo Fighters and other artists such as Jimmy Eat World, Beck, and the Beastie Boys.)
After recording was completed, the band auditioned a number of potential guitarists, and eventually settled on Chris Shiflett, who previously performed with No Use for a Name and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Shiflett initially joined the band as touring guitarist, but achieved full-time status prior to the recording of the group's fourth album.
In February 2000, American late-night talk show host David Letterman invited the Foo Fighters to perform on his first show after undergoing heart bypass surgery. Letterman introduced them by proclaiming, "My favorite band, playing my favorite song," leading into a performance of "Everlong".
That same year, the Foo Fighters established a relationship with rock band Queen. Guitarist Brian May added a guitar track to the Foo Fighters' second cover of Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar", which appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Mission Impossible 2. When Queen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001, Grohl and Hawkins were invited to perform with the band on "Tie Your Mother Down", with Grohl filling in on vocals for the late Freddie Mercury. In 2002, guitarist May contributed guitar work to "Tired of You" and an outtake called "Knucklehead". The bands have performed together on several occasions since, including VH1 Rock Honors and the Foo Fighters' headlining concert in Hyde Park.
In 2000, the band generated controversy through their public support of Alive & Well, an organization that denies the link between HIV and AIDS, questions the validity of HIV tests, and advises against taking medication to counter the disease. Foo Fighter bassist Nate Mendel learned of Alive & Well through What If Everything You Thought You Knew about AIDS Was Wrong?, a self-published book written by Christine Maggiore, the organization's founder. Mendel passed the book around to the rest of the band, who supported his advocacy.
In January 2000, the band played a benefit concert for the organization, which Mendel helped to organize. The band also contributed songs to The Other Side of AIDS, a controversial documentary film by Maggiore's husband Robin Scovill, which questions whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. The band's position caused alarm in the medical community, as Alive & Well's advice ran contrary to established medical wisdom about HIV and AIDS. In a 2000 interview, Mendel spoke of using the Foo Fighters' popularity to help spread the group's message and of holding more benefits for the organization. However, no further benefits have taken place, and the band has since removed the organization from its list of supported causes.
Near the end of 2001, the band reconvened to record their fourth album. After spending four months in a Los Angeles studio completing the album, Grohl spent some time helping Queens of the Stone Age complete their 2002 album Songs for the Deaf. Once the Queens of the Stone Age album was finished, Grohl, inspired by the sessions, decided to reconvene the Foo Fighters to rework a few songs on their album. Instead, they re-recorded nearly all of the album (save "Tired of You") in a ten-day stretch at Grohl's studio in Virginia. The final album was released in October of 2002 under the title One by One. (Hawkins jokingly refers to the first version of the album as the "Million Dollar Demos".) Singles from the album included "All My Life", "Times Like These", "Low", and "Have It All".
For most of its history, the band chose to stay away from the political realm. However, in 2004, upon learning that George W. Bush's presidential campaign was using "Times Like These" at rallies, Grohl decided to lend his public support to John Kerry's campaign. Grohl attended several Kerry rallies and occasionally performed solo acoustic sets. The entire band eventually joined Grohl for a performance in Arizona coinciding with one of the presidential debates.
The band's next studio album was a double CD, In Your Honor, released on June 14, 2005. To record the album, the band shifted to Los Angeles and built a recording studio, dubbed Studio 606 West. Grohl said that the two-disc release – one full of rock songs, the other featuring acoustic tracks – was a perfect memorial for the band's 10th anniversary. Grohl hinted about the release in an interview with NME magazine: "It's really amazing. The good thing about doing it is that you split it up so that there's no middle ground. So the rock stuff is the most rocking stuff we've ever worked on, ever." The album's singles included "Best of You", "DOA", "Resolve", "No Way Back", and "Miracle".
Of note on the acoustic part of the set is a song called "Friend of a Friend", which has a long history. Grohl wrote the song in 1990, basing it on his initial impressions of Cobain and Novoselic after joining Nirvana. He recorded the song in 1990, and included it on an informal collection of songs (called Pocketwatch) released on cassette in 1992 under the pseudonym "Late!". The version on In Your Honor is very similar to the original recording (albeit more polished), with Grohl simply accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar.
During promotion of In Your Honor, Grohl had the chance to feed his fascination with UFOs when the Foo Fighters performed a show in a hangar at the Roswell Industrial Air Center in Roswell, New Mexico. The Roswell Industrial Air Center is the site of the former Roswell Army Air Field where the fragments of the supposed alien crash landing in 1947 were stored. (Grohl named his label Roswell Records for the incident.) Grohl commented after the show that he wished he had had a chance to examine what was being stored inside the hangar.
On June 17, 2006, the Foo Fighters performed their largest non-festival headlining concert to date at London's Hyde Park. The band was supported by Juliette and the Licks, Angels & Airwaves, Queens of the Stone Age, and Motörhead. Motörhead's Lemmy joined the band on stage to sing "Shake Your Blood" from Dave Grohl's Probot album. Also, as a surprise performance, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen jammed with the Foo Fighters, playing part of "We Will Rock You" as a lead into "Tie Your Mother Down".
In further support of In Your Honor, the band decided to organize a short acoustic tour for the summer of 2006. The tour included former member Pat Smear, who rejoined the band as an extra guitarist, Petra Haden on violin, Drew Hester on percussion, and Rami Jaffee of The Wallflowers on keyboards/piano. While much of the setlist focused on In Your Honor's acoustic half, the band also used the opportunity to play lesser-known songs such as "Ain't It The Life", "Floaty", and "See You". The band also performed "Marigold", a Pocketwatch-era song that was best-known as a Nirvana B-side.
In November 2006, the band released their first ever live CD, Skin and Bones, featuring fifteen performances captured over a three-night stand in Los Angeles. An accompanying DVD was released on November 28, 2006, and featured tracks not available on the CD.
For the followup to In Your Honor, the band decided to call in The Colour and the Shape producer Gil Norton. In an interview with XFM, Grohl noted that the band was eager to expand on their signature sound: "So the album that we're making sounds like a Foo Fighters album, but it's definitely moving in a few different directions. It's cool man, I love it." The new album, titled Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, was released September 25, 2007. The album's first single, "The Pretender", was issued to radio in early August. The second single, "Long Road to Ruin", was released on December 3, 2007. The music video was directed by longtime collaborator Jesse Peretz.
Not long after completing the recording sessions for the album, the band participated in Live Earth at Wembley Stadium in London, England, performing the penultimate set of the night. Later that summer, the band headlined V Festival 2007, including a surprise acoustic set on the Channel 4 stage under the name 606.
SEE ALSO NIRVANA, KURT COBAIN