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Rock 'n' roll road trip

Foo Fighters frontman takes a tour of American music history -- and makes some of his own -- in HBO series

Dave Grohl


Dave Grohl

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/7/2014 (2191 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

HOLLYWOOD -- You probably already knew this: enthusiasm is infectious.

The truth of this notion has seldom been more evident on the TV press tour than when Dave Grohl -- the rock 'n' roll genius whose two-decades-plus career started with the grunge invasion of Nirvana and continues with the hard-charging barrage of Foo Fighters -- made an appearance here during HBO's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles to discuss the upcoming music-documentary series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways.

The eight-part road-trip chronicle, which will première in October on HBO Canada, follows Grohl and his Foo Fighters bandmates (Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, along with producer Butch Vig) as they criss-cross America during the recording of their as-yet-untitled eighth album, with each episode examining the writing and recording of a song in a different city.

In essence, Sonic Highways is Grohl's personal rock-music history tour, with each stop along the way exploring the musical roots and cultural fabric of the destination city by visiting storied recording studios and inviting local music legends to participate in the sessions that produce each locale's contribution to the Foo Fighters' album.

It's a fascinating concept, but it becomes exponentially more intriguing when you hear Grohl talk about it with the passion, humour, smarts and reverence for music history that he displayed during his exceedingly upbeat interview session here.

Buddy Guy


Buddy Guy

"To me, these recording studios are hallowed ground," he said of the locales the band visited in Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C. "They're churches. They're monuments to me. Some people just think they're rooms with tubes and wires, but history has been made in these s holes all over the country. You know what I mean?

"So to me, I was like, 'We've got to tell this story because it will humanize the whole (recording) process and make it something that people can really connect to.' And honestly, it was easy. All I had to do was tell a story. I rounded up six or seven of my best friends who work in film, and we got together and we made this documentary."

Grohl, who got his feet wet in the music-documentary field with the acclaimed 2013 feature film Sound City, admitted that choosing the cities that would be included -- and, more importantly, the places with deep music roots that would be left out -- was one of the most daunting tasks in producing the series.

"I know a lot of musicians," Grohl says, "but the challenge is (that) you could give a history of music from every city in America, from Green Bay to Richmond to San Diego. All of these places have music. It's not just New York and Los Angeles, you know. And when we first came up with the idea, I was like, 'We're going to Iceland, and we're going to Jakarta, and we're going ...' and then someone was like, 'Do you know how much (expletive) money that's going to cost?' ... So then we decided, 'We'll tell the story of American music. See if we can do that.'

"And just as you want to hear Willie Nelson talk about his history, you also want to hear the stories of these unsung heroes that you might not otherwise have ever learned about. Inner Ear recording studio in ... Arlington, Virginia -- now, this studio created the soundtrack to my youth. It recorded every punk rock band in Washington, D.C. Its influence is immeasurable. It changed millions of people like me.

"Ian MacKaye (of Fugazi) from Washington, D.C., started his own record label when he was 18 years old and hand-cut and glued singles and mail-ordered them. Do you know how many he's sold at this point? Four million records. Does anybody know about Dischord Records? Well, you (expletive) do now."

Joe Walsh


Joe Walsh

The game plan for Sonic Highways involved visiting each of the destination cities, spending time in the featured recording studio, and interviewing and jamming with musicians who've made key contributions to each city's musical evolution. With the camera rolling, Grohl and his fellow Foo Fighters would work out the musical structure of the song that they were about to record, and then right before the session, Grohl would sit down with a pen and paper, sift through the notes from the interviews he'd conducted, and compose the lyrics to the song.

It was, he said, an enlightening, inspiring and inevitably humbling task.

"The challenge of the whole process is that, as you're seeing these people talk about these cities, you see our band in the studio writing and putting a song together," Grohl explained. "And on the very last day of the session, I take my transcripts with all the interviews, and I get a bottle of wine, and I sit in my hotel room. And I read through the transcripts and take words and ideas and thoughts, and I put them on this side of the page, and on this side of the page, I have the outline of the song. And I write the song from the episode.

"So the finale of each episode is a performance of the song, where you realize all of these lyrical references are from the show that you just watched. So that's the challenge. It's not like anything I've ever done. And it was so much fun. And I will never, ever do it again. It was a pain in the ass, but it was so exciting."



Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

Read full biography


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Updated on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 7:10 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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