Even though she’s a good few years away from taking stubby pencil to paper herself, Dave Grohl’s baby daughter Violet gets full credit for influencing her daddy’s writing style. For the Foo Fighters’ founder and frontman, the 2006 birth of his first child added a personal, often confessional tone to his lyrics.
“Having a child made me feel like a superman in a way because I had to be,” says Grohl, who turns 39 this month. “Just as I can’t be afraid to ride the Spiderman roller coaster at Magic Mountain when it’s time, I can’t be scared of writing things that I really feel. There are a lot of things that I kept myself from saying over the years.”
Indeed, the Foo Fighters’ current album, “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” includes some of Grohl’s most revealing, introspective lyrics such as on “Stranger Things Have Happened,” an intimate look at marriage.
It’s clear both fans and critics are responding to “Echoes.” The album has sold more than 530,000 copies in the U.S. since its September release and received five Grammy nominations including a coveted album of the year nod. The first single, “The Pretender,” took up residence atop Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, spending a record 17 weeks at No. 1. The group will play the song at the 50th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10.
“Echoes” is the group’s sixth studio album, and is the follow-up to 2006’s live acoustic CD “Skin and Bones.” As drummer Taylor Hawkins explains, the album “covers everything we’ve ever done in a weird way, sometimes in one song.” The tunes on “Echoes” range from the hard rock of “The Pretender” to the pop sheen of the second single “Long Road to Ruin.”
However, the CD also takes the band in new musical directions, in addition to the added lyrical depth. Grohl’s wife gave him a piano for his birthday a few years ago, which spurred him to write the mid-tempo, Beatles-esque “Statues.” He also takes on bluegrass-tinged country with “The Beaconsfield Miners.”
Grohl, the Foos’ primary songwriter, wrote the song as a tribute to two trapped miners in Australia who requested Foo Fighters’ music delivered to them on an iPod. It wasn’t until that incident that he realized the impact the Foos’ music could have.
“For years, I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘That album helped me through a really difficult time’ or say ‘This song was the first dance at our wedding,’ but something like the Beaconsfield incident, that was so much heavier. It was about survival,” he says.
It’s an idea he still has difficulty getting used to.
“The music that changed my life was made by people that I consider heroes,” he says. “So it’s hard for me to think the same of myself because that would be a little weird, wouldn’t it?”
“Echoes” was recorded with Gil Norton, the producer of 1997’s “The Colour and the Shape.” The Brit is best known for his work with the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World.
Norton says Grohl was looking to continue the acoustic direction the band had ventured into in recent years.
“One of the things Dave really wanted to do was to combine the acoustic album that he’d done coming off the acoustic tour – the bigger band, string players – and build things from acoustic songs into rock songs. That’s the sort of dynamic he wanted,” he says.
But Hawkins admits that he worried whether Norton could bring the right dynamic to the Foos, which also includes guitarist Chris Shiflett and bassist Nate Mendel.
“The first record he did with the band, the drummer quit,” Hawkins says, referring to William Goldsmith. “I heard he was a complete work horse and a tyrant and nothing’s good enough (but) he was a hard-working guy and he did work us hard.”
Norton wasn’t the only hard-worker – he calls Grohl “possibly the hardest-working man in rock. I swear to God, he never stops. He is so driven.”
Grohl doesn’t deny he’s a grateful workaholic: “I’m a high school drop-out; I was working odd jobs in a furniture warehouse and (stuff) like that. To be lucky enough to have the greatest job in the world, why wouldn’t you want to do it every day?”
And now, as the band prepares to hit the road Jan. 16 for a nationwide tour, Grohl is ready to be on stage, a sensation he compares to being “a ringleader of this circus.” Still, he says he has tempered his work habits since Violet entered the picture.
“”I used to be able to say there’s nothing I’d rather do than (play), but finally there’s something I’d rather be doing,” he says.
Grohl set a two-week limit on time away from his family. After being separated for 14 days, “I said I can’t take any more than that. That’s too much; so it’s just a whole new way of life for me.”
The same goes for Hawkins, who has a new baby boy. “You just make concessions,” he says of balancing career and home life. “But let’s face it, we’re all so blessed in the position we’re in, getting to make music every day and paid way too much for what we do, but there’s little prices to pay.”
Grohl has developed a reputation as the most genial of rockers, and after enough drama as Nirvana’s drummer to last a life time, he prides himself on being Mr. Dependable.
“Our band is seen as one of those bands that you know is going to show up and do the gig and I don’t have a problem with that, I swear to God. I can understand the allure of the (screwed)-up, unpredictable nightmare musician, but it’s a lot easier to go make a record and play gigs and, you know, be a dude.”
And to continue to play with his band mates in what once seemed to be a finite future.
“I never imagined the Foo Fighters lasting more than a few albums and now I can’t imagine it ending,” Grohl says. “I really always thought there was going to be this clear line that the band would end and I would start doing all the things that I wanted to do, like have children or stay at home and be a father, but I’m starting to realize that they can co-exist.”