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Foo Fighters' big fan

Dave Grohl leads a popular band with a sure-to-sell album, so where's the pop-star ego? He just loves rock.

September 24, 2007|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

The ink stain on his wrist is faded now. Dave Grohl put it there when he was 12, digging a needle soaked with ink into his skin to brand himself with the distinctive four-bar insignia of the punk band Black Flag. It was his first tattoo.

"It hurt so bad, I never finished it," he says with a grin, rubbing a thumb across the mark. "There's only three bars!"

Now 38 and bearded, he's added others since then: tribal designs on his shoulders, the three-ring symbol for Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham on his arms and the initials of his own Foo Fighters etched onto the back of his neck. They are the marks of a true, obsessive rock fan, a onetime suburban Virginia kid who grew up on the Beatles, hard-core punk and underground metal and who is genuinely thrilled to have scored tickets to November's Zeppelin reunion in London.

His devotion to pop melody and noise, to harmony and loudness, can be heard in equal measure on the new Foo Fighters album, "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace," set for release Tuesday.

Recorded in the band's Northridge studio with producer Gil Norton, the album opens with two explosive, melodic rockers, including "The Pretender," already a fast-rising presence on modern-rock radio. It's a sound fans have come to know since the Foos' 1995 debut, but the band explores a range of new territory on "Echoes," balancing volume and throat-ripping vocals with texture and restraint.

There is "Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners," an anxious instrumental played by Grohl on acoustic guitar, while the lush, sad pop of "Statues" suggests the vulnerability and musicality of classic Paul McCartney, a sound that surprised even Grohl and his bandmates: drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Chris Shiflett and bassist Nate Mendel.

"It wasn't until we did the demo that Taylor said, 'Whoa, dude, that sounds like something Wings would have done!' Which made me blush," says Grohl. "Wings? That's awesome.

"I had been trapped into thinking the Foo Fighters should sound a certain way for so long, and this album was breaking out of that. Even after recording both of those songs, I thought, 'Should those go on the record?' They're so far away from anything we've ever done. Our bass player, Nate, who is the moral, ethical barometer of the band, says, 'That's exactly why we should put them on the record.' And I realized he was right."

The Foos had already begun to step outside their comfort zone on 2005's "In Your Honor," a double album split into rock and acoustic halves. But Grohl says the new album's range owes something to the presence of Norton, producer of 1997's multiplatinum "The Colour and the Shape," still the group's top-selling album and just reissued for its 10th anniversary.

Norton was a meticulous, hands-on presence, says Shiflett in a separate interview. "I've never seen Dave defer judgment and control with anybody the same way he did with Gil. It just changed the dynamic."

Adds Hawkins, with a laugh, "And it wasn't all hugs and kisses all the time. . . . There were moments of definite tension. It was all fine in the end."

Helping to expand Grohl's repertoire as a songwriter was the new piano his wife gave him for a birthday present as he learned to play his first new instrument since he was a teenager. "It opened up this whole new plane," Grohl says. "I was blown away and completely reinvigorated."

Grohl also credits the birth of his first child 17 months ago -- a daughter -- to a growing willingness to reveal uncharted areas of emotion and vulnerability in his songs.

"There was something keeping me from doing that before, and I think it was some lack of confidence or insecurity," Grohl says. "In having a child, all of that's been redirected, or it's just gone away. When I sit down to write a lyric with this newfound sense of emotional capacity, I'm not afraid of what comes out."

As Grohl talks, he is sitting with a cigarette on the floor of his dressing room at the Home Depot Center in Carson, where in a few hours the Foos would be performing at KROQ's L.A. Invasion concert. Late in the set, Grohl will wade through the crowd on the shoulders of a roadie, stretching out "Best of You" on guitar for thousands of ecstatic rock fans.

He's been hugely successful in this world, first as the drummer for Nirvana and then as leader of his own band, whose every album is certified platinum (sales of more than 1 million). The Foos are about to release what may be the best album of the group's career and celebrate it with a special performance tonight at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater.

And yet Grohl remains the self-effacing fan, calling his success a "fluke," an "accident," a case of simply being lucky.

"Honestly, it should humble you," he explains. "You can't walk in thinking you're the god of rock 'n' roll. It's like a Rubik's Cube. It's still a puzzle. I think we've done some great things, but I've never considered us to be the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. And I like it that way."

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Foo Fighters

Where: Henry Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 9 tonight

Price: $20

Contact: (323) 464-0808

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