Foo Fighters are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, so Dave Grohl unearthed some interesting recordings from the time the band started for a special Record Store Day release, due out later this month. The 10-inch vinyl release Songs From the Laundry Room contains demos of Foo Fighters singles “Alone + Easy Target” and “Big Me,” as well as a cover of Kim Wilde’s 1981 New Wave anthem “Kids in America” and the previously unreleased Foo song “Empty Handed.” Additionally, Grohl is serving as this year’s Record Store Day Ambassador – the event takes place on April 18th – so he says he dug deep to make the release unique.
“There was a kid that lived not too far from me that had a four-track studio in the laundry room in his parents’ house, his name was Barrett Jones,” Grohl tells Rolling Stone, explaining that the recordings date back to his days playing in punk bands in Virginia. “He was a couple years older than me. But he was the guy who bought the equipment and started figuring out how to record all of his friends’ bands. So the first time I ever recorded anything was with Barrett.”
Grohl remembers he was in a band called Freak Baby. “I think we put the instruments in his bedroom and the control room was in the laundry room in the basement of his parents’ house. So he was just our guy. He was the Quincy Jones of Arlington, Virginia.” Grohl laughs, and names all the bands he was in that Jones recorded over the years: Mission Impossible, Scream, Dain Bramage, Nirvana.
“In the early Nineties, I moved out to Seattle, and then he came out and we got a place together,” Grohl says. “So I had his eight-track studio in my basement at my house, and I would go downstairs every time I came home from tours and he and I would record songs. That’s how the Foo Fighters started, really.”
“I had, songs I had no recollection of, which is weird. It’s almost like seeing a snapshot of yourself, passed-out drunk at a party.”
Throughout the process, Grohl kept all of the recordings to himself. “They were an experiment for fun,” he says. Plus, it was easy to keep them secret since he was the only musician playing on them. “It’s funny because I hadn’t heard some of these songs since I’d recorded them,” Grohl says. “When we went to shoot Barrett for the Sonic Highways Seattle episode, he was putting on songs that I’d recorded, fuck, I don’t know, 25, 26 years ago? I had, songs I had no recollection of, which is weird. It’s almost like seeing a snapshot of yourself, passed-out drunk at a party. You’re listening to a song like, ‘Oh, my God, what was I thinking?'” Grohl laughs again. Jones would go on to coproduce Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut.
Grohl says the laundry room recordings were just a hobby and never meant to be taken seriously. “It was just something to do in between tours when I was playing with Nirvana,” he says. “By the time Nirvana was over, I had, I don’t know, 20, 30, 40 of these recordings that no one had ever heard. There’s a lot more than just those [Laundry Room 10-inch] songs. I think the songs that we picked for the Record Store Day album were maybe picked out of 15 or 20 others that no one’s ever heard.”
Laundry Room contains one song that nobody has ever heard – “Empty Handed” – and Grohl describes it more as an experiment in singing, guitar playing and songwriting. “I’d never been the singer of a band and I’d never been the principal songwriter of a band,” he says. “So to me it was just this private experiment, not something that I wanted lots of people to hear, because I didn’t necessarily like my voice.
“When you’re in a band with the greatest songwriter of your generation, you don’t want to be the guy saying, ‘Look at my songs, too.'”
“When you’re in a band with the greatest songwriter of your generation, you don’t want to be the guy saying, ‘Look at my songs, too,'” he continues. “So I would record them and put them away. But it was fun to do. I’ve recorded stuff and just erased it. Sometimes it’s just fun to flex that muscle and record. It feels good.”
When Rolling Stone asks about his role as Record Store Day Ambassador, Grohl exhales and says, “How crazy is that shit?” When the event organizers called him up and asked if he would assume the role, his response was a hearty, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it!”
“I’m of that later vinyl generation that mail-ordered my albums from punk fanzines all over the world,” he says. “I’d send $3.50 and a couple of stamps and then wait two months and get a single from like, the Headcleaners from Sweden or the Necros in Ohio. Vinyl, to me, was a really precious art form, ’cause you would get these albums and they were all handmade. Going to a record store and flipping through bins of major-label albums from years ago or today is fun. But when you order something from an independent that’s really handmade, I mean, you know that the singer of the band folded this thing in his bedroom, stuffed it in a sleeve, licked the stamps and sent it to you — that, to me, was fucking cool. That was going outside of the system.”
Grohl says one of the first punk records he bought was directly from the singer of the crossover hardcore band D.R.I. at a Rock Against Reagan concert on the Fourth of July. “That show, I think, was in 1983 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” he says. “It was a 22-song seven-inch. I bought it from him out of the back of his van. I still have it. To me, that’s what vinyl represented: the tangible, romantic experience of holding something in your hands that someone put a lot of time and effort into.”
He even describes it as high art. “To me, it’s like sculpture or a painting on the wall,” Grohl says. “It’s something someone made with their fucking hands. When they asked if I could be the ambassador for Record Store Day, I thought, ‘Sure.’ I spent a lot of time in those places.”