At 9:30 on a Wednesday night in October, Dave Grohl is standing outside his house, phone to his ear, looking through the window at a baby monitor. On it, a bright green light glows expectantly, poised and ready to explode across the unit's VU meter should it sense any disturbance in the room of his eight-week old daughter, Ophelia. Tonight, the 45-year-old creative force behind the Foo Fighters is looking after his three children while his wife of 11 years, Jordyn, enjoys a night out. The evening has not passed without incident. After taking an hour to get Ophelia in bed and settled, Grohl read his other daughters, eight year old Violet and five year old Harper, their bedtime stories, after which he gave them their baths. "You guys," he whispered at one point, "be quiet. You can't wake the baby. I have to do an interview tonight."
With Violet bathed and on her to way to bed, Grohl placed Harper in the water, only to recoil in horror as his eldest daughter started yelling. "I hear Violet screaming, 'Daddy! There's a scorpion!'," he cackles. "There was a fucking scorpion in my hallway! So I run out of the bathroom and fucking catch it in a bowl and put it outside." He sighs, equal parts exhausted, disbelieving and amused. "I finally got everyone down. This is my life."
There is, of course, more to Dave Grohl's life than a testing bedtime episode, but the melodrama of the past hour is a fitting metaphor for the chaos that has defined his schedule for some years now. Seemingly unable to take a holiday – "If Dave had time off he'd still fill it with work," is Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear's assessment a day earlier; bassist Nate Mendel says "he's got to be constantly in motion, like a shark" – Grohl bounces from project to project like an ADD-afflicted child on a trampoline.
In between Foo Fighters commitments, he has indulged in side projects (2004's Probot, 2009's Them Crooked Vultures); movie ventures (2013's Sound City, which documented the studio in which Nirvana recorded Nevermind and Grohl's purchasing of its Neve console, which he used to make an all-star LP); production work (releases by the Zac Brown Band, Ghost, New Jersey rockers Rye Coalition); speaking engagements (he delivered a stirring keynote address at this year's South By Southwest); a Nirvana reunion of sorts for this year's Hall Of Fame induction; and he's performed on albums by Queens of the Stone Age, Slash, Nine Inch Nails, Tenacious D, Killing Joke, the Prodigy and more.
A few years ago, however, buoyed by the success of the Back and Forth film – which documented the history of the Foo Fighters and the recording of their seventh studio LP, 2011's Wasting Light – and emboldened by the reception afforded Sound City, he came up with arguably his most ambitious idea to date.
"Towards the end of Sound City," starts Grohl, "my two producers, Jim Rota and John Ramsay, gave me a gift. It was a journal with a pen. I opened it up and it said, 'Congratulations on Sound City. Now get to work.' I thought, 'Oh my God, am I gonna do this again? Holy fucking shit!' I knew that I wanted to do another documentary film, I knew I needed to make another Foo Fighters record, but we'd already made Back and Forth and I'd already made Sound City, so I thought that the next step was to bridge those two concepts together and do something new. And rather than just making a film, make a series. And rather than go to one studio, go to eight studios and take that idea of challenging the band even further."
And thus the idea behind Sonic Highways was born – an eight-song album recorded in eight different cities across America, accompanied by an eight-part documentary series (currently screening in Australia on Go!) focusing not just on the immediate task of making a Foo Fighters record but, says Grohl, asking the questions: "How does the environment influence the music that comes from each city? What is it about New Orleans that made it famous for jazz? What is it about Chicago that made it famous for the blues? Or Nashville that made it the country capital?"
The full version of this article features in issue #757 (December, 2014), available now.
Topics: Foo Fighters