This piece is part of Rolling Stone’s second annual Grammy Preview special issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting. We spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a nomination — or even a statue come January — and delved into the challenges facing the Recording Academy, providing a 360-degree view of what to watch for in the lead-up to the 2022 awards.
Artist: Dave Grohl
Eligible for: Foo Fighters’ Medicine at Midnight, “Shame Shame”
Pre-Covid, Dave Grohl had a busy 2020 on the books: He’d planned to celebrate the Foo Fighters’ 25th anniversary with both a new album release and a “Van Tour” that would pay tribute to their humble roots. None of that went off like it was supposed to, but in 2021, Grohl has returned to his usual hyperactive gear, releasing his band’s 10th studio LP, Medicine at Midnight (plus a companion Bee Gees tribute LP), and launching an extensive arena tour. He’s capping off the year with a new memoir, The Storyteller, and his second entrance into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this time with the Foos.
So it’s understandable that, taking a few minutes to speak with Rolling Stone in September, he sounded a little beat. “I remember during the pandemic thinking, ‘You know what? When things open back up, I’m going to hit that shit harder than I’ve ever hit,’ ” Grohl says. “And I’m regretting that right now. You can hear it in my voice. I barely have a voice today.”
How has it been to return to the stage?
It’s been great. I honestly feel like the band is better now than it’s ever been. I have to imagine that a year and a half away during the pandemic only made us hungrier and sharper and more in love with the music. When we hit the stage now, you wake up every day crossing your fingers that the show will actually happen, because who fucking knows anymore? It’s almost as if that’s the last show you’re going to play, and we’re into it. It’s fucking crazy.
What was it like putting out a record during Covid?
We had finished the album. It was mixed and mastered, ready to go. We made a video, a film, a documentary series, and booked a year-and-a-half–long tour to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I thought the plan was bulletproof. We were like, “This is going to be the best year of our entire lives!” and then everything shut down.
We just waited. A few months would go by and I’d call my manager and say, “Hey, can we put out the record now?” He’d say, “No, not yet.” And then another few months: “Could we put out the record?” He’s like, “Nah, not yet.” Finally I got to the point where I thought music is made to be heard, not seen. So, why not just release the album so that people have something to listen to, to find escape or happiness in a really difficult time? So we decided to release it, and we basically said, “Listen, once the wheels start moving, they’re not going to stop. So, is everyone ready?” We all agreed, and it’s been about a year since we started that process now.
You’ve won 16 Grammys, and you’re about to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What would the young, punk Dave in D.C. think about all of this?
[Laughs.] When I was young, I don’t think I knew what a Grammy was, nor did I understand the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It was beyond my wavelength. I just wanted to learn how to play my instrument and make records with my friends on funny little labels so that we could go play shows with our other friends. I had posters on my walls — Kiss, Sex Pistols, Rush, Zeppelin — but I never imagined that someday I would be a poster.
What’s your first memory of attending the Grammys?
The first time I attended the Grammys was actually after Nirvana was over. We were nominated for the Unplugged record. I remember I braided my hair and met Eddie Money. I don’t think I’d witnessed the pageantry up until that point, and there are times when you walk through the lobby of one of those award shows and it feels like you’re in a wax museum.
Back then, Nirvana seemed more at home at the VMAs — where, like, Dennis Rodman presented awards to Green Day.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed going to the Grammys, because I’ve enjoyed meeting other musicians. I honestly feel like music is a community of people. I’m not a competitive type; I look at the whole thing like it’s a group of like-minded artists all working together, and that goes back to the Washington, D.C., punk-rock scene. When you’re in a small music scene with maybe a few hundred people, everybody’s in bands with each other, everybody’s recording in everybody else’s basements, and you’re borrowing gear. …
So even when I walk into the Grammys, to my right, there’s Demi Lovato. To my left, there’s Paul McCartney. To me, it still seems like this sort of extended family. I feel connected to it in a way in that I’m a musician. But then there’s part of me that’s like, “God, why did they let me in here?”
Some may not remember that in 2003 you presented a Grammy with Lou Reed.
That was amazing because I had never met him, and we were standing on the side of the stage waiting to go up to read the award. And he says to the woman, “Where’s the envelope? I want to see who the winner is.” And she goes, “Well, you’re actually not supposed to do that before you hit the podium.” And he’s like, “I don’t have my fucking glasses, give me the envelope!” [Laughs.] It was pretty cool.
You’ve had such a busy year, but still found time to do something as goofy and awesome as releasing a Bee Gees tribute record. How did that happen?
Listen, we’re not good at vacations. We were at our studio recording live versions of songs for different radio stations. And in the corner of the room, there were two people talking about the Bee Gees documentary, which everybody had seen at this point, except for me. And so I was like, “What is up with this fucking movie? You know what? Let’s record a Bee Gees song. Let’s do ‘You Should Be Dancing.’ ”
That’s the most fun I’ve ever had recording a song, and it quite possibly could be the best thing we’ve ever done. We come in the next day … I said, “Fuck it, let’s do another Bee Gees song.” So, we basically made that record in a week, and for no other reason than just to have fun. The best part was when I started reading bad reviews of it. It was truly just to make ourselves smile. Hopefully other people as well.
The Foo Fighters have such a solid catalog that you don’t even need to put out new records. What drives you to keep creating?
Longer set lists. I know that sounds stupid. I’m not kidding. I want more songs that people will sing along to. And in order to do that, you need to write a melody and a lyric that everyone will connect to. And hopefully it winds up in their speakers, because then when they wind up at your show, they’ll be singing their fucking hearts out. The last time we played for fucking two hours and 45 minutes, something like that. That’s a big ask for any audience. The only way you’re going to keep them on their feet is having them sing songs that mean something to them. And that’s our responsibility. Honestly, we’ve already started talking about the next record.
“The only way you’re going to keep [people] on their feet is having them sing songs that mean something to them. And that’s our responsibility.”
As the years have gone by and rock acts have started to fall off the scene, Foo Fighters are really the go-to band in the genre. Are you proud to fly that flag?
We’re so blissfully unaware of so much. We live in our own little bubble; we have for so long. We just go to our studio and record and write and work on our projects and then come out and play the shows. I do remember ages ago, in 2002, we played at [the] MTV [Europe Music] Awards in Spain. I think Puff Daddy was hosting, and it was like Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Coldplay, and us. And it seemed pretty clear at that point that they thought, “Ah, we need a rock band. Who should we get? Just get the Foo Fighters. They’re a rock band.” So it’s been that way for a really long time, but I love being a rock & roll band.
We’re not the only one. There’s so many fucking great bands out there that hopefully will start getting more attention, because I think the dial is starting to turn back to guitar-based music. And to me, it’s really exciting. My love of music is really diverse — I like everything from jazz to K-pop. I’m down; I’m into it. But when I see the younger artists picking up guitars and turning them up, it shines a little light inside of me. It makes me feel happy.
The dial is definitely turning. Knowing that you’ve inspired young women like Nandi Bushell — who recently appeared onstage with the Foo Fighters — must be better than any of these awards you have coming this year.
If you want to see the true meaning of rock & roll, watch Nandi play the drums. That is as inspiring as any Beatles record, any Zeppelin record, any AC/DC record, any Stones record. To watch her play the drums and see her passion and belief in this music … if that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. So, the fact that we got to share a moment with her onstage makes all of this worthwhile. And the funniest thing is, after jamming with Nandi, “Everlong” went back on the charts.
Did you see Olivia Rodrigo singing along to “Everlong” at the VMAs?
My daughter told me. She was like, “Oh, my God. Olivia Rodrigo was singing your song!” It’s very cool and it’s very flattering, for sure.