The Best of Foo

Foo Fighters have spent the last 25 years becoming America's most reliable rock band. Ahead of their new 10th studio album, the group reflects on their highs, lows, whoas — and how they'd like to go out.

From the ashes of Nirvana he rose like a very shaggy phoenix; and so a new rock era was born. But Dave Grohl could hardly have dreamed that Foo Fighters would go on to become perhaps the last great guitar heroes, releasing a string of gold and platinum albums — their latest, Medicine at Midnight, is out Feb. 5 — and reigniting the flickering torch of rock & roll on endless globe-trotting tours. Now ready to celebrate their 25th anniversary after the pandemic derailed last year's kick-out-the-jams plans, the Foos' six current members look back with EW at the wild moments that made (and sometimes nearly unmade) the band.

COME AS YOU ARE

DAVE GROHL (lead vocals and guitar, 1995-now): I'd always recorded things by myself in a basement studio in my house, but I kept all of those songs secret because I was terribly insecure about my voice and my lyrics and my songwriting. It was more just a creative outlet for me.

I do remember by the end of 1994, I decided that I wanted to continue playing music after a really tough year [following Kurt Cobain's suicide]. But I didn't want to just jump back on a drum set because it brought up very conflicting emotions.

PAT SMEAR (GUITARIST, 1995-97, 2010-NOW): When we were still in Nirvana, I remember on at least one occasion leaning into Dave's car and listening to what he was doing, and I liked it a lot. I said, "Wow, you should bring those songs to the band."

GROHL: I gave Pat a cassette because I loved and trusted him. I wouldn't give it to my mother, I wouldn't give it to my sister. And the fact that he considered it poppy really blew me away. I just thought it was melodic.

When I was recording those things I never imagined that it would turn into a band, much less one that would last 25 f---ing years. I just thought it was a fun project outside of being in Nirvana. The concept was inspired by Stewart Copeland from the Police who made records under the name Klark Kent, but he never credited himself on the records. It was this anonymous side project that he did and I thought that was so cool, because he was in the biggest band in the world but he could write and perform all of these songs by himself in a studio.

"When I was recording those things I never imagined that it would turn into a band, much less one that would last 25 f---ing years," says Grohl
| Credit: Tony Woolliscroft

NATE MENDEL (bassist, 1995-now): I was in a band called Sunny Day Real Estate in Seattle in the early '90s, we were in the process of disintegrating, and Dave came to a couple of those last shows in Seattle. We had some mutual friends, and as I was kind of wondering what to do next Dave was wondering what to do with this demo that he'd made, which eventually turned into our first record.

So I just called him out of the blue having met him a couple times, like, "There's a rhythm section floating around and you may need one," because Sunny Day Real Estate's drummer William [Goldsmith] became Foo Fighters' first drummer as well.  So I went over to his house and I'll always remember this, he had a little amp for himself and I played through a karaoke machine.

SMEAR: Some time after Dave got Nate and William up in Seattle together he called me in L.A. and said "Hey do you really want to do this thing?" I said "Yeah!" And I remember driving to the airport and stopping at Black Market Music, which was this cool used musical-instrument store that was on the way. I bought an amp pad there and carried it on the plane and then showed up at rehearsal.

GROHL: When Pat joined Nirvana, he brought in this breath of fresh air to the band. We had been through a lot in the few years before he joined, and if you've ever spent time with Pat, he's just this shining supernova of life and love. He really is. It's funny, considering he was in one of the most dangerous punk rock bands in the history of music [The Germs]. But he is one of the most gentle, loving, brilliant people you've ever met in your entire life.

Soon, with the self-titled album Grohl had recorded, the newly assembled band was ready to make their live debut.

MENDEL: We played a friend's warehouse space in Seattle just to some friends. And then an all-ages venue called the Velvet Elvis, an avant-garde theater that people could also put shows on in. Then Satyricon down in Portland.

GROHL: Nobody had even heard the record yet I don't think, and we had the Presidents of the United States of America open for us. At the time, they had huge hits on the radio with the songs "Lump" and "Peaches." They were Seattle's darling, a three-piece and they were amazing — super fun, lighthearted, singalong. They opened for us and blew us away. They just wiped the f---ing stage with us. I remember walking on like, "F---, we have to follow that?" I thought, this is going to be a hard road, man.

SMEAR: The first show I remember, we opened for a Beatles cover band at some little bar in Arcata, California. We went to the local thrift store and bought a bunch of t-shirts, like Michelob Light or whatever, and spray-painted a Foo Fighters stencil over them for a dollar each. And sold out! [Laughs] Sold 'em all.

Shiflett and Hawkins backstage, 2000
| Credit: Tony Woolliscroft

TAYLOR HAWKINS (drummer, 1997-now): Here's what happened. I had met Dave and Nate and Pat and William, the original drummer, on the road with Alanis Morissette, because that's who I was playing with when the first Foo Fighters record came out. And I loved that record. I still love it! Probably because I was still just a fan, you know what I mean? I'm not part of the machine.

So I didn't really ever think there was going to be an opening. Never. Nor did I necessarily think I was the right drummer. But I did love the music so much. And at that time, I knew Alanis was probably thinking about going in a slightly less aggressive direction, especially the way we were playing live. Because if you saw us, it was Alanis singing with like, Jane's Addiction playing her songs. Which really worked great; we were great! But I heard that the Foo Fighters' drummer had quit and they're looking, so I called a friend who knew Dave; this was before cell phones. I got ahold of his number and I said, "Hey, I heard you guys are out of a drummer right now." And Dave said, "Yeah. Do you have any good recommendations?" And I was like, "Well how about me you asshole?" [Laughs]

GROHL: I thought he would never leave Alanis's band. At the time, they were packing stadiums around the world. And what, he's going to jump in our red Dodge van and play the f---ing Viper Room again? But within the community of musicians, especially in Los Angeles, there's a Rolodex that goes around. Drummers know drummers, and drummers are always looking for a gig. Drummers are like landscapers — you need your f---ing yard cut, they will come over. It's true. And drummers are also like sharks. If they stop moving, they'll f---ing die.

HAWKINS: My first hurdle was the same one that the first drummer never made it over — which was, "How do you be a drummer in one the greatest rock & roll drummers of all time's band?" Do you try to be like Dave, or do you try to be less like Dave, or do you try and find the middle ground? It took me a while before I could find my own zone, so to speak.

GROHL: I sent Taylor a tape of one of the new songs. I think it was "Monkey Wrench." I went over to his little house in Topanga Canyon, he sat down and played for three seconds, and the first time he hit a snare drum, I knew it. I swear to God. I was like, "That's all I need to f---ing hear. I love you as a person. You've just given me hearing damage for the rest of my life in three seconds. You have to be in the band."

HAWKINS: To be honest, it's a lot more strenuous than Alanis. [Laughs]

At separate points, both Mendel and Smear left the band.

MENDEL: Sunny Day Real Estate was getting back together and it became apparent pretty quickly that I couldn't do both bands, so I called Dave to tell him I was quitting. But right away I got this gnawing feeling in my stomach.

GROHL: Oh, I was f---ing pissed. Like, "Dude, we made a pact!" I was in Virginia at my mother's house, and my friend Jimmy and I went to our favorite bar, this s---y barbecue restaurant called Ribsters. I remember getting so drunk that we drove home and turfed every front lawn in the neighborhood. Kids, stay in school, don't do drugs! But then about 8 a.m., my mother walks into my bedroom and hands me this huge Flavor Flav-sized cordless from 1995 or whatever, and it was Nate saying, "Man, I'm really sorry. I changed my mind." We told each other we loved each other. I cried and hung up and went back to sleep and threw up, I think.

SMEAR: On one hand I think it was a really good thing that we started so soon after Kurt's passing, but on the other hand, it maybe was a little soon for me. I was still pretty traumatized by the whole ordeal. But Dave would always play me the next album and the next one, and that's what would pull me back in.

Pat Smear, playing with Foo Fighters in 2018
| Credit: Tony Woolliscroft

With the addition of two more members, the lineup was set.

CHRIS SHIFLETT (guitarist, 1999-now): I was playing in a band called No Use For A Name and then Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, which was sort of a collective side project. It was a strange time because we had just made a new No Use For A Name record, and I was out in New York visiting some friends when I got a phone call from Foo Fighters' tour manager, Gus, about coming in to audition for the band.

This was summer of '99, so they sent out cassette tapes to everybody who was auditioning. I got those four songs and I sat there in my bedroom at home in San Francisco and played along with them and learned them as best I could, and then I went down to L.A. and I remember I got there a little early and I could hear them inside, so I knew that I was listening to somebody else's audition. So I sat there for what felt like an eternity, but it was probably about 15 minutes, just psyching myself out going "Oh, f---. They're in there just vibing with whoever's in there that totally just killed it. That guy's for sure getting it." And then the door opened and the guy walked out, and I went in there to do my audition and Dave just said, "Oh my God Chris, you saved us! That guy wouldn't leave."

RAMI JAFFEE (touring and session keyboardist, 2005-2017; full member 2017-now): I was in the Wallflowers from 1989 until kind of recently; that's another tumultuous story. Me and Jakob [Dylan, the Wallflowers' frontman], we weren't seeing eye to eye. Once Dave and the guys finished the regular touring on In Your Honor around 2004, he called and said, "Hey, why don't you come and play some keyboards and we'll do an acoustic tour of theaters, sitting down and all that?"

He inquired about the Wallflowers' schedule, if there was time. And there I was with Foo Fighters, doing an acoustic tour all over the world. And then on the next record, Echoes, Dave calls and is like, "Hey, why don't you come and play on a couple songs, maybe some organ or something?" So I played on a couple songs and those became singles. And he's like, "You know what? If you don't have too much work with the Wallflowers, why don't you come on tour?"

But as far as becoming an official member, that just literally accidentally fell into place on our last record, Concrete and Gold. Every time there was a photo shoot in the last 15 years, you'd see me, like, meandering on the side. Dave I guess finally had a meeting with the other guys and said, "Let's just put him in the damn band already." [Laughs]

GROHL: The most important thing in the Foo Fighters world isn't that you fit in musically, it's more that you fit in personally or emotionally. If you're in the Foo Fighters, it's not because of the way you play your instrument. It's because of who you are. We have more emotional prerequisites than we do musical prerequisites.

Taylor fits into it because of his love of Queen and Genesis and Yes and Rush. Pat fits in because of his love of early punk rock music and Mariah Carey, which I don't know if you talked about, but that is his number-one artist of all time. Nate and I come from the same musical background. We were raised by Devo and the B-52s and Oingo Boingo, and then we discovered hardcore punk rock music and fell in love with the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains and Black Flag. We jumped in vans as teenagers, slept on floors, played squats. So he and I shared a very similar experience — which is important because A, you have the survival skill set, how to make it through Europe on seven dollars a day, but B, you also use those early experiences as reference or foundation so that once you get a van with air conditioning, you're like, "This has power windows? Holy f---ing s--t! That's amazing."

Chris is, without a doubt, the most accomplished musician in the band. I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't joined…. And Rami is such a free-floating peace and love wacky f---ing wanderer. It's like, sarongs and headwraps. And he became part of it too. He just fit.

VIDEO THRILLED THE RADIO STAR

The band's irreverent music videos quickly became MTV staples.

GROHL: "Learn to Fly"  and "Big Me,"  those were directed by our friend Jesse Peretz who was also a musician, he played bass in the Lemonheads. And whether I was being a flight attendant or an airline pilot or making fun of a candy commercial, I just wanted him to laugh.

HAWKINS: "Learn To Fly" was just me and Dave spitballing ideas. Some of them came from true-life psychedelic experiences, and some just out of wanting to be funny. Me playing a girl, I don't know — I guess I could do it when we were young and cute? [Laughs] I confused a lot of men. A lot of guys came up to me after and said, "I thought you were kind of hot in that."

MENDEL: I love "White Limo" because it was done by us all with a little Super 8 camera in just an afternoon. There was a really specific vision for it to be sort of a flip-side punk-rock hardcore video from the '80s, like something Suicidal Tendencies would have done. And I think we kind of nailed that look. [Legendary Motorhead frontman] Lemmy [Kilmister] is in it doing a really awesome cameo and I got to ride roller blades and it's supposed to be funny and it is.

SMEAR: I really liked making "Big Me," which was our Mentos video. But in general they're not the most fun to make. I mean c'mon, "Run"? Amazing outcome, love it so much! But four hours in the makeup chair to put it on and three hours to take it off is pretty gnarly.

SHIFLETT: My first video I walk onto set, and they've got director's chairs for everyone in the band with their name on the back. I'll never forget,  I walked up to mine and it said "Shizlett." Yeah, that's the new guy's chair right there. [Laughs]

JAFFEE: All these years, I'm like, "God, just put me in a video. I want to be funny already!" But being kind of the extra side-member guy, I wasn't in any of them in the last 15 years. And then the first one is the "Run" video where we have to look like old men. I'm like, "Godammit. Really? I have to start with this one?" But the special effects were pretty awesome.

GROHL: Still to this day, I love the process, I love being involved. "Oh, wait, someone's giving us money to make a f---ing Charlie Chaplin short film?" It's just weird and rad.

YOU'VE GOT THE LOOK

Rock stardom wrought certain wardrobe challenges, and regrets.

GROHL: If I put on a suit, I look like a stoner in court for a misdemeanor pot charge, so trying to get dressed up for a camera to me has always been such an uncomfortable experience. If you could find this one promo shot, oh my gosh — I'm wearing a blue turtleneck for skiing, and I have on motocross pants and Doc Martens. It's just so f---ing embarrassing. But really I've always been like that Don Cheadle character from Boogie Nights, the one who keeps changing his image: "How does this look? I think this really works for me." [Laughs] Eventually I just gave up the fight.

MENDEL: My favorite embarrassment is in I think 1998, the band got invited to play with David Bowie for his 50th birthday at Madison Square Garden. The dude from the Cure is there and Billy Corgan and Sonic Youth, just mindblowing.  We take a group shot after rehearsal, everybody's looking cool and rock & roll in dark tight-fitting clothes, they've got hair that's where it's supposed to be, and I get put right behind Bowie. I've got a bowl haircut and the biggest white short sleeve shirt you can possibly imagine. I look like a bowl of porridge. I recovered though, I figured out how to get a haircut! But not in time for that photo.

HAWKINS: I used to dye my hair white and my eyebrows and goatee black. I have no idea why, but I guess it was a good idea in the '90s. You'd go to Urban Outfitters and buy your outfit, put a bunch of that... what was that s--t called, Bed Head? That just made your hair a helmet. Whenever I see pictures of me and Dave, especially back then, I can smell the Bed Head.

JAFFEE: No matter how hard you try, a wardrobe fail is inevitable.  I am not going through that whole "I just got this really cool shirt at Fred Segal!" or "The hot tattooed wardrobe girl told me to wear this tie" again. My uniform is basically what I wore for 10,000 hours since fifth grade. You just have to live and die by it at this point, regret it or not.

THE FALL GUY

GROHL: When someone asks me, "What's your favorite show you've every played?" I'll say, "The one where I broke my f---ing leg."

HAWKINS: Oh yeah, Sweden. I had no idea what happened. I just noticed that the sound got a little thinner. And then Nate came up and he goes, "Dude, Dave fell off the stage. Stop playing." 

JAFFEE: He just... I saw him fly down. It looked like he would land on his head, the way he was already tilting. It was such a long way down, maybe that actually saved his life. Maybe he's like a cat. But I was like, "Oh my God. That's our guy, flying."

SHIFLETT: It was really kind of an abnormally tall stage.  

SMEAR: I saw him on the ground so I jumped down, and that was a hard fall too. He was just laying there doing the motion of a hand across his throat like, cut.

"When someone asks me, 'What's your favorite show you've every played?' I'll say, 'The one where I broke my f---ing leg,' says Grohl of a 2015 gig in Sweden. He finished the rest of the tour in a cast. | Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

GROHL: I put weight on my right ankle, and it's just not there. It was dislocated, I'd torn all the tendons. I snapped the bone in my leg. Immediately I thought, there's no way we're not finishing this show. There are 50,000 people here who paid a lot of money to see this band, and we're two songs into a three-hour set. Like, there's no way. So, they picked me up, and they put me on a gurney to the side of the stage as I'm looking at Taylor like, "Just keep playing. Just keep playing." 

HAWKINS: Luckily I had this cover band, Chevy Metal, which we had started to integrate a little bit into the shows. So we had a little set of covers that we could play while Dave had some Nordic beast try and put his leg together. And after three or four of these wedding songs, Dave was carried out and propped up and some dude held his leg while we continued to play a three-hour show.

GROHL: This guy looks at me and he goes, "Your ankle's dislocated. We have to put it back in right now." I looked at my tour manager of 25 years, and I go, "Dude, get me a case of Crown Royal." And I f---ing took a hit of the Crown Royal, put my wife's leather jacket in my mouth, took a bite as they put it back in. That was it.

SMEAR: My heart was breaking for him, I just wanted someone to take care of him. But f---, the show must go on. And he's totally that guy.

GROHL: We play another two-and-a-half hours, I go get surgery, and we decide to stay on the road for another 60 shows. That to me was the best thing that had ever happened to the band.

THERE GOES MY HERO

As the band's profile climbed, so did the opportunies to turn fan-boy fantasies into real life — including the chance to meet and collaborate with some of their biggest idols.

GROHL: My favorite moment? It changes every year, honestly. Doing SNL with Dave Chappelle a few months ago on the day they called the election, that might be my new one.

HAWKINS: Playing Wembley with Led Zeppelin was pretty nuts. Paul McCartney coming into the studio and playing drums on a song that I got to sing. And every time I get to play with Roger Taylor or Brian May [of Queen], that's really special. It's just all so surreal. Being Mick Jagger's backing band on Saturday Night Live, too.

SHIFLETT: The Stones are my favorite band ever in the history of ever, and I'd never so much as met Mick Jagger or been in the same room with him. So we were there rehearsing with him and it was the greatest thing. He was like this English gentleman, king of rock & roll, and he was so nice and charming and everything that you would sort of want him to be. But he would come in and go, "Oh, my voice is a little rough today. I'm just going to kind of take it easy." And we'd click off the song, and he would just be bouncing off the f---ing walls. He couldn't not be Mick Jagger.

Maybe he’s amazed: Grohl and Paul McCartney on stage in Los Angeles, 2012
| Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

MENDEL: Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, those are more like cartoon characters for me than idols. I mean that with respect, in that it's more like a surreal thing, meeting them. For me, when we dressed up as the Hives on Halloween and had Fred Schneider come out and sing with us, that's way more of a big deal to me because I f---ing loved the B-52's when I was a kid.

But one of my favorite memories is really early on we're playing a club in Japan, I think it was Tokyo, and Huey Lewis was touring with his band over there. He was super cool and came backstage and hung out and Dave's like, "Hey, you should come and jam with us!" His harmonica player was like, "I don't have a harmonica on me." So we send a runner, and he comes back with a toy harmonica. He's like, "Uh, music stores were closed, toy shop was open." And it worked! Those kind of things, you just can't make it up. It's too good.

SMEAR: Some of them were my real heroes, like the guys from Queen and Alice Cooper. But the one that made me the most nervous and the most excited by far was Steve Jones, the guitar player from the Sex Pistols. Even now it's making me nervous just talking and thinking about it. I was like some dumb teenager with a girl he's in love with. I stuttered and said everything wrong and just embarrassed myself the whole time. I think Dave even said to me, "Wow, this is the most nervous I've seen you around somebody." Thanks for letting me know that it showed! [Laughs]

JAFFEE: Okay, so it was Dave's birthday about six years ago, and he wanted to have a friends and family party at the Forum here in L.A. And I guess Paul Stanley [of Kiss] has his kids in the same school drop-off, so then he's coming. Then Dave's like, "You know what? David Lee Roth is coming. Let's do a couple of Van Halen songs. And then Slash is coming, and then Tenacious D is coming, and Lemmy is going to do a song. I mean...

SHIFLETT: I am a looney-tunes Kiss fan, so to get to play "Detroit Rock City" with Paul Stanley at the f---ing Forum where they recorded Kiss: Alive II was mental. For real. But the greatest moment in that whole thing was when we soundchecked with him at the Forum. It's this cavernous empty room. And we go into one of the songs, and even for the soundcheck, he was doing his crowd banter. "Alright, Los Angeles! Let me hear you screeeam!" And there's no one there. Amazing. I was like, that mother---er is a pro.

The air up there: Dave Grohl tests his vertical in 2003 | Credit: Tony Woolliscroft

LAST BAND STANDING

GROHL: Here's the thing: We've always been blissfully removed from any sort of trends. First of all, the band, we're on our own label, Roswell Records. We record the records with friends by ourselves. We book the tours ourselves. We make the videos ourselves. We basically do all of this within our own little perfect bubble.

So over the years there have been trends in music that we have not fit into, like the New York post-punk skinny-tie early 2000s or late 1990s nu-metal rap or whatever it is. We basically stay in our basement and make records as these things are happening without feeling any obligation to be a part of them. We're like, "Well, let's just do what we do, because it's kind of all we can do."

HAWKINS: Dave's always been the decision maker on everything — I'm not saying it's like a dictatorship, but just as far as what our band does. Period. So we've never had to sign a 360 deal like these poor kids have to do these days and give away half their publishing to the record company because they're claiming they're not making any money, although they're making money off of streaming.

But as far as carrying the torch for rock music, I don't think we ever set out to do that. There was a time in the '90s when people said rock was "dead" and we were like, "Not where we live. Not in our continent, it's not." Because you could say the same thing for Queens of the Stone Age, you could say the same thing about Green Day or Pearl Jam, the Chili Peppers — there's a handful of us that are able to headline festivals and stuff. But you're right, it's a small group.

GROHL: I remember there was a point where I realized that we represent something, which was funny, because I never thought that we did. I thought, "Oh, we're a band that you can drink beer and bounce around to." But at this MTV Awards in Spain in 2002 or 2003, Puff Daddy, f---ing Diddy, was hosting — it was us and Coldplay and Kylie Minogue and a lot of other R&B and pop artists. We were the only hard rock band there. It was at that moment I realized, oh wait, we're that band now where someone says, "We need a rock band. Does anybody have a rock band? Oh, Foo Fighters? Yeah, just put Foo Fighters on there." That was what I imagined was happening.

Shiflett, Grohl, and Smear accepting the Grammy award for Best Rock Album, 2008
| Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

MENDEL: That's a thing that people sometimes misunderstand about Foo Fighters. We've never had a hit record. Some of our records have sold a million copies, which is not a small number, of course, but it's also not 3 or 7 million, which rock bands were selling at the time in the '90s. Even "Everlong" was not one of those songs. The video was played on MTV a lot, but it didn't propel us into immediately being an arena band. That took a few more years.

SHIFLETT: There's never been a moment where we had one of those hits that's at the level that just permeates culture and takes over the world. It's been a slow burn the whole time.

SMEAR: I do think the slow climb saved us. I wasn't in Nirvana when that [first burst of success] happened, but I did see the repercussions of it when I came in. I mean, how do you come back from Nevermind? It's brutal, you know?

GROHL: As the years went on, I would see the audiences become more and more diverse, so that now you have dudes with mustaches. Now you have dudes with mustaches with their kids who have mustaches. It's not just the Amoeba Records crowd anymore, it's become something a bit broader or more general. I think over time as rock bands started fading in the grand scheme of popular music, we were just always there. We were always on the f---ing road.

HAWKINS: We are the Grateful Dead of post-grunge. [Laughs]

GROHL: There was a moment where people started focusing on perfection. Rock bands were going on stage with backing tracks and click tracks and these machines that were linked up to the lighting rig. It was like a spectacle. It was a show. To be honest, we never participated in that, because we didn't think we'd be able to pull it off. So we were like, "Let's just try to be as good as we can be." And it's raw, it's imperfect. We make mistakes. We stop songs when we f--- them up. It doesn't sound exactly like the record. I think over time that became the allure.

This is a band that's going to go up on stage, and that guitar might be out of tune. That song might go faster and slower, that vocal sounds a little flat. But f---, dude, we're giving it everything we have. So I think over time, we became that band too. Like, "Oh, let's go see how much the Foo Fighters can s--- the bed tonight!" But it's real, you know. At first, I was definitely afraid of engaging the audience, because what would I say? I can't be Freddie Mercury at Live Aid. I can barely f---ing eke out a vocal in a song. And then, at some point, I realized that the most important thing on stage is just to be yourself.

Credit: Tony Woolliscroft

SHIFLETT: I mean, that's kind of the beauty of it now with where the band has been at for a while. It sounds terrible to say, but we kind of don't really ever have bad shows, you know? Because people aren't there by accident. They come out because they want to hear the songs and sing along. There's a lot of us on stage, and it's loud as f---. You really have to mess it up bad to drag the ship down.

HAWKINS: If young kids look at us they're like, "Yeah, they're just old rock stars." And maybe on some level we are a heritage act now. I'm okay with that. You only get to be the young punks [for a little while]. That's sort of the essence of what rock & roll is to begin with, from Elvis all the way up to the Sex Pistols and Nirvana and Jane's Addiction. Once you actually are flying around in private planes and stuff, you're not really young punks anymore. You're well-fed punks. So I don't really feel like it's our duty necessarily to keep rock & roll alive. I think that duty — doodie! I said doodie [Laughs] — lies in the hands of that next Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain or John Lennon that's in his parents' basement hating them right now and getting ready to explode the whole world with rock music again.

THE BEST MEDICINE

Though they began recording in late 2019, the group's tenth studio album Medicine at Midnight — like their anniversary and so many other plans — was delayed by the pandemic; it finds a new release date Feb. 5.

GROHL: Of all of the things we've done before in the timeline of our band — loud, dissonant, noisy punk-rock s---, gentle, beautiful, orchestrated acoustic stuff — I thought the one thing we haven't made is a groove-based rock record. I didn't want to make an EDM album, but I did want to incorporate rhythms that were a bit more groovy than what we had done before. So I think that people might be terrified that we've made some slap-bass funk record. It's not that. But it is the furthest we've ever moved in the direction that makes you want to shake your ass.

SMEAR: Well, I gotta tell you, I didn't realize it was a dance record until other people started saying it was. I compare it to Van Halen. Not that we sound anything like Van Halen! But that was always a good-time party record that if it was playing at a party the boys and the girls would both be happy.

MENDEL: It's light. It's not leaden in any way or super dense or aggressive. And that was on purpose.

SHIFLETT: It's definitely not a heavy record. I know it keeps getting called the dance record or the party record or whatever, and there's space on it, some drum loops and things like that. To me, it's not a radical departure. I don't think people are going to hear it and be like, "What the f--- happened to Foo Fighters?" But it's definitely got a little more swagger to it, and that was really fun to make. It's nice to not have every song from start to finish just be like 8,000 guitars. [Laughs]

GROHL: In hindsight, it's easy to read lyrics and have some revisionist perspective where you're like, "Oh my God, how prophetic. Medicine at midnight! Is he referring to the vaccine?" But no, part of making an album is the experience and the atmosphere of the moment. We made that album a year ago because that's how we felt at the time, and then we put it away, a time capsule. Taylor calls it our old-new record, or our new-old record.

BACK TO THE FOO-TURE

A quarter-century in, the band is philosophical about their future plans.

GROHL: First of all, never say you're breaking up. "This is the last tour." "No, this is the last tour." "This is the last tour." F--- that shit. Just shut your mouth and put on your instrument when you feel like playing. That's it. It's like telling someone you're quitting smoking, and six months later you put a cigarette in your mouth. They're like, "Dude, I thought you quit?" You're like, "Wellllll...." You can't do that.

HAWKINS: Hopefully, this will continue for the rest of my life. But then again, if I die on stage, that'll be fine too. Like dying of a heart attack on drums. It would be kind of poetic I suppose.

SHIFLETT: Well, that'd be a good one. [Laughs] I hope Taylor dies on stage and then we'll hang it up there.... No, rock & roll usually ends in tragedy, so let's hope we don't. But I remember going to see the Stones a few years ago and thinking, "Okay, we can do this for a while. They're still crushing it. We got some good years left."

MENDEL: I think ending purposefully would be nice rather than by a tragedy or by just sort of limping along until it falls apart. I'm a planner. I'd want to plan it. I'd want to know when it's happening and celebrate it properly. What that would look like? I don't know. I'm not there yet.

SMEAR: Why do we have to go out at all? [Laughs] There doesn't seem to be a retirement age for rock bands anymore. And seriously, what else can any of us do? I literally know how to do nothing else besides play guitar in Foo Fighters, so please don't take that away from me, don't make it end. I'm not kidding, I'm not even qualified to work at Taco Bell.

JAFFEE: There really is no idea of fading away or stopping. It's the Rolling Stones' way of just going until we're dead in whatever way that happens... Because there's always another phone call from Dave — "We're playing the Acropolis!" Oh, okay. [Laughs]

GROHL: If you've ever spent 20 minutes with us backstage just as we're about to walk up to play, you'll realize that it's like a sitcom. Everyone's doing shots of whiskey and everyone's laughing hysterically. Everyone's doubled over in laughter until our tour manager says, "You guys, come one. Let's go." And we walk on stage still laughing. 

Credit: Tony Woolliscroft

SMEAR: We're best friends. I can't tell you how many times some big rock star will come backstage at one of our shows and say, "Wait, you guys are all sharing the same dressing room?" It didn't even occur to us that people don't.

I remember we played a gig with the Eagles once, which was really bizarre. It was a corporate gig, as they call them, and they came all in their own separate private jets, got into their own separate SUVs, and were driven to their own separate dressing rooms. And they met onstage. Bands like that, first they make me sad, and second I think, how the heck do you function? Then I remember, "Oh, I've been in bands like that!" And then I do understand. [Laughs]

HAWKINS: With Dave, I met this guy who was going to be my f---in' life partner, you know? We become a little bit telepathic on stage. Dave's running the show, he's busy making sure that the audience is happy. He's the guy who goes out at the baseball game and sells the food in the stands. I'm the guy that's working on the hot dogs.

GROHL: I hadn't seen Taylor for eight months [during the pandemic], and that's never f---ing happened. Getting back together again, it was like a slow-motion movie where there's two lovers running through a field of dandelions and they have this collision. Of course, you don't realize what you've got until it's gone. So when we all came back in late summer and just sat in a room, it gave me so much happiness — without instruments, just being together. 

MENDEL: As fun as as it's been, it's also been a lot of work to build this band up to where it is, so we appreciate what it took to get here. There's just some unwritten rules about how we conduct ourselves and how we treat one another — they've never been spelled out, and yet everybody adheres to them. That's huge.

If I had go into my job and actively disliked somebody that I'm working with so intimately, I don't know if I'd still be doing this. On top of that we're still making good music and there's a large fan base out there that appreciates coming to the shows. It's like, how am I supposed to give that up?

SHIFLETT: I'll tell you what I miss. I miss the immediacy of playing a new song in front of a crowd. 

GROHL: When things open up and people get back to that place where we can stand together in a sweaty field or a sweaty arena, I don't know when it will happen. I don't know where, I don't know how. But the one thing I do know is it's going to be f---ing electric. It will be amazing. I dream about walking on stage and standing there for three minutes, just staring at the audience and celebrating the fact that we're together. And then launching into a song and f---ing bouncing around for three hours again.

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