Last year, DRUM! magazine placed a call to Dave Grohl’s to about doing a cover-story interview.

We felt that his story had a certain irony which drummers might find to be particularly profound. After all, Grohl had played drums with Nirvana during the band’s remarkable ascent to superstardom, and ultimate implosion with the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain, the band’s troubled lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter.

In the aftermath of Cobain’s death, it was understandably unclear what Grohl would do next. He was seen backing up Tom Petty on Saturday Night Live after longtime Heartbreakers’ drummer Stan Lynch left the band. Reportedly, Grohl had been offered the job full-time, and considered taking it, but declined in the end. And when Dave Abbruzzese got his walking papers from Pearl Jam, some speculated that the job might go to Grohl—a moot point, since the gig was taken by former Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons.

Then Grohl did something unpredictable. He released a self-titled album by an outfit called Foo Fighters on his own label. However, he wrote all of the material, played an of the instruments and sang all of the vocals. Foo Fighters introduced 12 songs of high-energy pop, with solid hooks and aggressive performances that were ready-made for ’90s alternative fans. When he hit the road, he surprised everyone again by singing and playing guitar out front, backed up by former Sunny Day Real Estate drummer William Goldsmith. He proved that Foo Fighters was the real deal by exhaustively touring throughout 1995, and the group shows no sign of slowing down.

Sounds like a good cover story, doesn’t it? That’s why we were calling Grohl’s publicist. We didn’t make it past the receptionist, who told us, “Dave Grohl is not doing any interviews at this time.”

We asked, “Do you have any idea when Dave might be available for an interview?”

“No, we’re sorry, but he’s not doing any interviews with any magazines,” she replied.

“Uh, okay.”

It just seemed too weird, so we tried calling Grohl’s manager, and got the same response, only this time it came from a different receptionist. We were prepared to give up entirely when—what’s this?—Grohl appears on the October 5th cover of Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone?!! Wait a minute! He wasn’t supposed to be doing any interviews! Rolling Stone?!! What does Rolling Stone have that DRUM! magazine doesn’t have, barring a few hundred thousand more readers and several billion spare dollars? Rolling Stone?!!

Slowly I turn.

Step by step.

Inch by inch.

Our mission had become clear. We were determined to interview Dave Grohl at any cost, or go down in flames trying. That’s why DRUM! published an open letter to Grohl in the December 195 issue, where we begged, pleaded and even taunted him to call us directly so that we could do an interview. To add some incongruous drama, we even mentioned his name in every single article in that same issue. As soon as we received copies back from our printer, we sent an issue to Grohl’s management company that was personally addressed to him, and waited for the phone to ring.

Then one morning, when we were checking our messages, a tentative sounding voice came through the tinny answering machine speaker, “You might not believe this, but this is Dave Grohl…” He left his number, so we gave him a call. “We had been on tour for seven months and we usually only get maybe two weeks off at a time between tours,” Grohl says. “So when I came home there was a shopping cart full of mail. I saw this package from our management, opened it up and it had your magazine in it. I’d actually seen your magazine before at some drum stores up here in Seattle.

“There was a little Post-It note attached to one of the pages that said, ‘Check it out,’ and I opened it up and saw the letter to me, and I thought it was really hilarious. And I felt sort of bad because I never got your request for an interview. Later on that night I couldn’t sleep, so I sat on the couch and checked to see if you actually put my name in all of the articles. First l was kind of amazed, but then I was really worried, thinking, ‘Man, I wonder if they really want to talk to me or if they think that I’m just a total jerk.’ It was definitely one of the most bizarre things that’s ever happened to me.”

Of course, we later realized how fantastically lucky we were that Grohl, his management and publicists have a sense of humor, since they could probably crush us like ants—albeit really determined little suckers.

Okay, was it really worth the trouble after all that? Why don’t you decide for yourself? The point is, we did the interview, and here it is.

Foo Fighters in San Francisco in June 1996

DRUM: What kind of guitar strings do you use?

Dave Grohl: I don’t even know! I don’t know anything about guitar, really. I started playing guitar when I was ten, and started fooling around with drums when I was 11. I joined a punk rock band when l was about 14 called Freak Baby, and I played guitar. Within about six months, one of the band members left. The drummer in the band also played the bass, so I switched to drums and he switched to the bass.

When I was a kid I had a cousin in Miami who had a drum set, and when I was there I played the theme to “George of the Jungle” over and over and over and over. Then I started kind of learning how to play drums on my bed by listening to old punk rock records. I knew what the configuration of a drum set was, and I would set up pillows to be the ride cymbal, rack toms and my floor tom. I didn’t have drumsticks, but my friend had these enormously fat marching sticks that I used. They might’ve been joke sticks because they were so fat, so I learned to play really, really fast with these really, really fat sticks. And since I learned on pillows, still to this day, I don’t really know how to bounce my sticks, so if l have to do a really fast drum roll, I have to do single strokes.

You can’t do a pressed roll?

No way! I just can’t do it.

So guitar actually came first?

Yeah, guitar was first. There was always a guitar around our house. I think my mother gave it to my father for Christmas one year. It was a nylon string Spanish classical guitar. I would just fool around on that. I think I was driving my mother insane and she finally said, “Look, why don’t you go take some lessons and learn how to play something instead of just banging on it all the time?” So I took lessons for a year, and I just wanted to learn how to play chords so I could figure out these songs that I really loved. They were trying to teach me how to read music and I just wasn’t patient enough for that, so I stopped taking lessons and just started figuring it out by myself.

“When I started learning how to play drums, I would sort of practice with my teeth.”

Do you write on acoustic guitar?

Yeah. Well, it’s strange because usually it just starts in my head. I’ll think of a melody and then I’ll try to think of a guitar part that’ll go with the melody. Usually while I play guitar l click my teeth together to write drum parts in my head while I’m playing the guitar.

You click your teeth?

Yeah. When I was a kid I used to do this thing with my teeth that would sound like horses galloping and my friends and I thought it was really funny. Then when I started learning how to play drums, I would sort of practice with my teeth. So, if l needed to figure something out, I could just do it in my head. It’s really cool, but then I went to the dentist and they said, “You’ve got to stop chewing ice so much.”

When did you begin writing material for Foo Fighters?

I have a friend who actually worked on the record named Barrett Jones. He’s from Virginia, where I grew up, and he was the first person I ever recorded with; I think when I was 14 or 15, with Freak Baby. He had a four-track studio in his parent’s laundry room and it was called Laundry Room Studios. He recorded most of the local Arlington, Virginia, punk-rock bands.

So we became friends, and by the time I was in Scream when I was about 18 or 19 years old, he had upgraded to an eight-track. He was recording things by himself, sort of like a solo project, and asked me to come in and play drums. So then I asked if l could experiment with something one day. I had these riffs in my head, and in a couple minutes I put them down on his eight-track and it sounded really good. So that’s when I first thought, “I’m going to start writing some music and recording it by myself,” which was probably like 1988 or 1989.

“Going out and playing drums for someone else would’ve been easy and predictable. It would’ve been ‘what l was supposed to do.'”

What made you decide to do your own solo project rather than joining another band?

Because I’m only 26 years old and I didn’t want to become a drummer for hire. l didn’t want to become a studio musician or the person that you see playing with a different band every time you turn on Saturday Night Live. I just wanted to try something different while I still have the time and freedom. I’d never done anything like this before, and when I recorded the album I never intended anything like this to happen. I was just going to release it on my own label on vinyl, maybe take ten- or twenty-thousand of them, and I wasn’t going to put my name on it. That’s one of the reasons why I picked the name Foo Fighters because it sounds like four people. And then when Sunny Day Real Estate disbanded, I started playing with Nate [Mendel, bassist] and William. We were messing around with these songs and that’s when I realized that it might be really fun to actually stand in front of a microphone with a guitar strapped around my shoulders. So it was incredibly scary, but I’m glad that I did it just because it feels like the first band I’ve ever been in, really. It’s turned everything upside-down. All the confidence l had and all the insecurities that I’d overcome after playing drums for ten years just got flushed right down the toilet. I had to try it, because going out and playing drums for someone else would’ve been easy and predictable. It would’ve been “what l was supposed to do.” So this just is definitely “what I was not supposed to do.”

Do you think there are many drummers out there like you who can write perfectly good songs but never get the chance to hear them performed because of the “dumb drummer” stereotype?

Probably, yeah. See, l just think the whole dumb drummer thing is hilarious, because now l can make those jokes to my drummer. I remember once I was doing an interview and we started talking about the Gulf War, this was at that time. After about ten minutes, this woman who was interviewing me says, “Wait a minute. I thought you were the drummer.” She was serious. I said, “Well, I am.” Then she goes, “Wow! You’re really smart.” And I cracked up. l almost hung up on her, but it was just so funny. But yeah, before you call yourself a drummer you should first call yourself a musician, because it’s all just music.

“Being in Nirvana, when you’re in a band with someone like Kurt, who’s an amazing songwriter, I didn’t want to contribute because I didn’t want to pollute anything.”

But in the past, have you ever played drums in a where you say, “Hey, I have a tune, can we try it?,” and everybody looks at you like you’re crazy?

Kind of, but I sort of gave up on the idea of contributing. When I was in Dain Bramage or Mission lmpossible or Freak Baby or Scream, I contributed a lot. There were some songs that I wrote lyrics or music for, and it wasn’t too much of a departure because everybody in the band shared a similar taste in music. But being in Nirvana, when you’re in a band with someone like Kurt, who’s an amazing songwriter, I didn’t want to contribute because I didn’t want to pollute anything. I was totally happy playing drums to those songs because they were great songs, and they were really fun to try to write drum parts to.

After you’d written the songs for the Foo Fighters album, did you actually practice the drum parts on your own?

No, I usually just came up with it in my head, playing it with my teeth. Most of the arrangements are pretty basic rock anyway, just sort of verse-chorus-verse. So, as we were rewinding the tape and getting ready to record, I’d go over each song in my head and tap it out on my knees for a few minutes, and then go in and record it, and try not to spend too much time on it. I’d also just see what would happen when I was in there. When I was laying down the drums, which are always first, if I changed the arrangement while I was recording it, I would sometimes think that was better, because it felt right. A lot of the time I wouldn’t have an ending for the song and I would just do it as I was recording it. I’d be playing and then I’d think, Wow, this is way longer than four and a half minutes. I’ve got to stop this now. And I’d come up with little fill or something just to stop it, and pray that remember it when I have to put the guitar parts over it.

Did you lay down all the drum tracks in one continuous session or did you take one song at a time and layer all the instruments?

Well, Barrett and I always recorded the drums first. Then I’d come back in, listen to it, make sure the arrangement is okay. Then I’d sit down on the couch in front of the board and put a couple guitar tracks and a bass track down, and then go in and do the next song. I always save the vocals for last. This time we had one week in the studio. So the first day we loaded in at about 11 in the morning, and we had all the sounds down before 6. We started recording that night and by the third day we were finished with 15 songs, without the vocals. It turned into a little contest to see how fast we could do it, because Barrett and I had recorded with each other so many times before. We even recorded the album in sequence. So we were getting a song done about every 45 minutes. It was really fun. We were drinking so much coffee and running from instrument to instrument and not really even listening to the playback.

What was it like laying down guitar parts and vocals to your own drum tracks? Do you feel like it was easier to groove with yourself?

I think sometimes it is easier to groove with yourself because you can keep up with your own tempo changes. You’re just in time with yourself, whether it’s when you’re playing guitar on your own at home, or going into the studio and recording guitar parts to your own drum tracks. So a lot of the times I think it is easier, but sometimes it’s not as much fun, because it’s always fun to groove with another drummer. I’m learning that it’s a lot more fun, actually, to play with William, our drummer.

Were you ever entertaining the thought of putting together a band before meeting William and Nate, and if you were, what qualities were you looking for in the drummer?

Well, I wasn’t really sure what to do. I had played with a few other people before, playing guitar. It was fun and everything, but it didn’t really seem like there was any magic happening until I started playing with Nate and William. One of the main reasons is that William is such a powerful drummer. I felt confident just being in front of him. It was just William’s energy that is so hard to find in a drummer. I mean, someone who comes down on both crash cymbals at once as hard as they can, someone who’s constantly breaking things and kick drum pedals snapped in half. That’s when I knew that, “Okay well, as long as I have these guys behind me, then everyone won’t be staring at me all the time.” When I gave Nate and William the tape I told them, “Look, if you want to get together and jam you don’t have to do everything exactly as it is on the tape.” I wanted them to feel comfortable within the arrangements of the songs and do whatever they want.

“I don’t know how to read music and I totally rely on my ear for everything.”

The other day you said that you didn’t consider yourself to be a very technical drummer. Is that how you feel about your guitar playing, too?

Kind of. I don’t know how to read music and I totally rely on my ear for everything. I think that it’s nice that I never took drum lessons and never really took guitar lessons. I encourage people not to take lessons except to learn how to hold a guitar and how to place your fingers on the fretboard. From there on, let your ear do everything else. Listen to records and create your own interpretation of whatever you hear.

When was the last time you played the drums?

The last show that we did. I usually sneak up there during soundcheck and just mess around. My latest thing is trying to figure out this drum fill that John Bonham did on “Achilles Last Stand,” from Presence [Led Zeppelin]. It’s this totally amazing snare fill that’s so fast and crazy that it’s become my latest obstacle to overcome.

So you actually practice a little bit and try different things?

Yeah, just mess around. Sometimes Nate and I will play together. Sometimes, soundcheck is a free-for-all. So if William and Pat are out, then Jennifer, my wife, will get on the drums and I’ll play guitar and Nate will play bass.

Your wife plays drums?

Yeah, she’s learning. She’s really good, too. I only gave her one lesson and she could already sort of like, rock the beat, man. I’m getting her a drum set for Christmas. She used to come see us play and she’d watch me. I’d look over at the wings of the stage and I could see her smiling and oh, it was so great. Now she just watches William because she’s trying to figure out all the drum parts.

Don’t take it personally.

[whimpering] I’m trying not to.

Do you think you’ll ever play drums on another Foo Fighters album?

Not on another Foo Fighters album because the band is here and no one’s going anywhere. We have a band member policy that if anyone decides to split, then the band’s just over. We used the album as an excuse to start a band, and it was never considered a solo project, although I went into the studio and I recorded all this stuff and wrote the songs. We function as a band and we will from here on out. So no, I don’t think I’ll be playing any more drums. I mean, I might record stuff by myself someday, but it won’t be called Foo Fighters.

Would you like to do sessions playing drums with other bands?

Yeah, well, there’s a lot of stuff that I’d like to do. I’d like to go in and record some stuff on my own again, just some things that I’ve come up with. I’d save all of the songs that I really like for Foo Fighters and then record all of the other things by myself. Me and a friend were talking about recording an EP in French and just selling it in France, and call it a whole different thing altogether. And, I don’t know, I’d like to score a movie. I mean, who knows? There’s a million things that I’d love to do.

Have any of your drumming fans expressed disappointment with the fact that you’re playing guitar these days?

Yeah. People come up and say, “God, why did you stop playing the drums?” I didn’t stop playing the drums, I’m just trying this for a while, you know? I love playing the drums, and a lot of the times I really miss it. There are drummers I’ve known since I was a teenager and I’ll see them now and say, “You still playing drums?” “No, I quit.” It’s like, “How can you quit? You can’t just quit!” Once you’ve learned how to do it, once you’ve learned how to play the drums then you’ll always play the drums. But it’s nice to try something else. I just figured, hey, this could be a good time. If it sucks, yeah, I’ll go back and play the drums. And when I feel as comfortable playing guitar as I do playing drums, then maybe I’ll move on to something like the trumpet.

William Goldsmith on Slamming The Groove with The Foo Fighters

It’s Christmas Eve, and William Goldsmith is talking to us on his cellular phone while driving home from some unspecified location. The Foo Fighters’ 23-year-­old drummer was born and raised in Seattle, and will be home for only a matter of days before the band jets off to Asia.

Last year was a big one for Goldsmith, who, even at so young an age, has seen his share of ups and downs. In late 1994, his former band, Sunny Day Real Estate, was in its death throes. They decided to do one final tour opening for Shudder To Think, and played their last two shows in Seattle. Dave Grohl showed up both nights. “I was nervous,” Goldsmith admits. “I was a huge fan [of Grohl’s]. He was one of my favorite drummers. He’d known Nate [Mendel], our bass player. They’d gone bowling together.”

Not long after, Goldsmith found himself in Washington D.C., where he was surprised lo get a call from Grohl, who was visiting his family in Virginia. Goldsmith remembers, “Dave said, ‘Well, do you want lo join a band?’ And I said, ‘What would I do?’ And he said, ‘Play drums!’ I was like, ‘Uh, yeah. That would be really cool.”‘ The two met at a Washington D.C. dub called the Black Cat and discussed the idea, agreeing to meet back in Seattle.

In early ’95, Grohl, Goldsmith and Mendel began jamming in Grohl’s basement, learning songs from the unreleased Foo Fighters album. During rehearsals, Grohl encouraged Goldsmith lo experiment with the arrangements however he wished. “I don’t play anything verbatim from the album,” he says. “I added my own feel and interpretation to everything. But at the same lime, the parts that were there were so appropriate and well­written, I thought they were great as they were, and stuck with those grooves for the most part.”

Due to Grohl’s experience as a drummer, Goldsmith especially likes playing along with Grohl’s rhythm guitar parts. “He plays guitar like he plays drums,” Goldsmith says. “He’s got a great sense of rhythm on the guitar, plus he’s very physical. You can see his whole body moving with the rhythm of the song. He does this foot­stomping thing, and it comes down on the kick drum. It’s really fun.”

Goldsmith spent the majority of the last year on the road, and while the schedule was physically grueling, he learned a few valuable lessons about his drumming style. “I found that I can play harder if I start out relaxed and just sort of let my sticks float in my hands,” he says. “I don’t hurt myself as much. I used to hold the sticks really tight and hit like I was trying to crack the Earth in half. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I can actually swing more when I allow myself to relax. I’m also working on breathing while I play. I didn’t used to do that. I used to hold my breath and hyperventilate.”

Though he couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out, Goldsmith admits that he felt rather gun shy when he first began playing with Foo Fighters. “My self­-esteem wasn’t exactly the greatest at that particular point,” he says. “It was kind of hard because the band I was in before got so dysfunctional and so messed up. But Dave just gave me a whole new fresh outlook. It’s nice to be in a band where everyone communicates openly and everyone is looking out for each other.” —Francis Martin

Drum Magazine march 1996 cover with dave grohl

This article originally appeared in the March 1996 issue of Drum! magazine.