more than a hobby project of a grieving drummer

May 1997. Foo Fighters releases the long-awaited follow-up to its self-titled debut. It’s hit or miss for frontman Dave Grohl. Growing pains mark the turbulent recording time in which the group of eggs falls apart.

Gunter Van Assche

When The Color and the Shape was recorded, Dave Grohl was particularly unsure and pessimistic about the group’s future. His greatest fear was to be mistaken for “guzzlers who think they are better than a circus attraction”. But instinctively he knew they had to continue. Foo Fighters faced an abyss, but he had to jump over it. To this day, he still cannot believe that the album would overcome that hurdle with flying colours.

Foo Fighters was created a year after Kurt Cobain’s death, but was initially a solo project and grief counseling for Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. For a long time it was uncertain whether Foo Fighters would remain a full-fledged band or a hobby project of the drummer. Live, the group around Grohl was initially also a loose cannon that wanted to find its way wildly. “We were really bad back then,” bassist Nate Mendel recalls. “Although hopefully we made up for something with our youthful enthusiasm. We’re talking about a time when Grohl wasn’t so confident and charismatic.”

From compassion to hype

From that time Grohl mainly remembers the feeling of pity. “I had the impression that most people in the room were rooting for me. It’s like: that boy is lost, that he will soon recover.”

However, compassion quickly gave way to hype. A month and a half after its release, Foo Fighters headlined a reading sidestage. Suddenly Grohl was once again one of the big boys. And that brought an insane amount of stress in the studio The Color and the Shape† An album that, according to the frontman, should sound like a “polished Pixies record à la Trompe le Monde” but ended up coming in more like the stadium rock version of a therapeutic session.

Grohl was determined beforehand to can the record with his live band; for him it was the perfect opportunity to show that Foo Fighters was more than a solo adventure of a wandering drummer. That just didn’t go smoothly. Producer Gil Norton was annoyed daily by the clumsy interplay between Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith. He would soon rename that tandem ‘the rhythmless section’.


Guitarist Chris Shiflett, drummer Taylor Hawkins and frontman Dave Grohl.Image Getty Images

Goldsmith still looks back on that period with a bitter feeling today. In his own words, a perfectionist Grohl once forced him to 96 takes of one song and thirteen hours for new takes of another. And still Grohl was not satisfied with the performance.

When Goldsmith slammed the door behind him, displeased with the biting criticism he received from Norton, Grohl played the drums on the second album himself. Who would be the new drummer? It didn’t take long to think about it. Taylor Hawkins, drummer in Alanis Morissette’s band, of course. With Grohl it was love at first sight according to both. That bromance came to a brutal end earlier this year, after the sudden death of Hawkins.

Parting

In love, Grohl was not really under the market during the recordings. In those days, he was going through a divorce from his first wife, photographer Jennifer Youngblood, with whom he had been together for three years. You hear that in a delicate ‘Doll’, in which it sounds with a soft sob: “You know in all of the time that we’ve shared / I’ve never been so scared† In the forward-driven hit single ‘Monkey Wrench’ he took a less subtle or tactical approach to the separation:I’d rather leave than suffer this

Around the same period, he also started a relationship with Louise Post, singer-guitarist with Veruca Salt. In ‘Everlong’ you can hear her singing in the background over the telephone connection from Chicago. †And I wonder when I sing along with you”, he sings. †If everything could ever feel this way forever / If anything could ever be this good again† There are miles between Grohl and Post, but the two voices dance around each other in love.

Norton also forced Grohl to drop the nonsense of his first record for words that had more meaning. Grohl made giant strides as a lyricist. He had to, if he didn’t want to succumb to malnutrition. “Norton wouldn’t let me come to the table in the evening before I could submit a few texts that made sense. (laughs) And for every moronic line of text I got forty lashes.”

Departure Smear

However, some texts had been in the making for some time. Grohl’s love for Cobain was aptly expressed in ‘My Hero’, a tribute that had already made its appearance at concerts two years earlier. ‘Up in Arms’ and ‘Enough Space’ have also been introduced to fans before during the European tour. With that last song, Grohl wanted to come up with a new hymn for the moshpit, like ‘This Is a Call’ was. Mission accomplished, just like in the raucous rocker ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’, dedicated to Grohl’s childhood friend of the same name.

His camaraderie with Pat Smear took a big hit after the painful recordings and private disputes. Smear decided to stay on during the promo part of the record, but then disappeared from the Fighters radar until 2005.

The record had to hand over the Grammy for best rock album to Sheryl Crow a year after its release, but despite all the problems, disputes and growing pains, Foo Fighters has laid the most important foundation for its further existence with The Color and the Shape