I like Dave Grohl, and I’m liking him more as the years go by. He lives the life he believes in, and he eats, sleeps and breathes music. He lied about his age to audition for his first band, then was the East Coast emigré in the Seattle scene when he joined Nirvana. He plays well with others, from Queens of the Stone Age to Them Crooked Vultures to…Paul McCartney. He’s a songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist, a producer and he dabbles in engineering. He made Fresh Pots, enough said.
And I thought the Foo Fighters absolutely killed it at the Grammys. You could argue that the Adele performance, intimate and soulful in its lone spotlight, and the Foos, a bona fide rock band, dialed in and pounding it in an outdoor tent, were the highlights of the night. All about the music and not the spectacle. All about the performance onstage. Grohl actually appeared three times, closing the show with McCartney, Springsteen and Walsh. With all that, it was his acceptance speech for Best Rock Album that garnered all the online attention. To recap, in Grohl’s own words:
“This is a great honor, because this record was a special record for our band. Rather than go to the best studio in the world down the street in Hollywood and rather than use all of the fanciest computers that money can buy, we made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine. To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what’s important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do. It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head].”
It’s hard to argue with any of that, and his message resonated with a lot of people. It also led others to say he’s stuck in the past, that at a time when the Grammys reached out to dance/electronica, Grohl was undercutting its significance. Perhaps we need to separate the message from the messenger, as we can all assume that Grohl is a music fan first and foremost, however it is created. And keep in mind that while he made this record in his garage, he definitely has a leg up on his punk forebears.
First, while his garage is untreated and he wouldn’t allow a computer in the space, he did have a 32-channel API, two Studer 24-tracks and all the mics and vintage outboard gear he would ever want. Plus, he had Butch Vig. So, yes, he doesn’t need the Hollywood studio; not everyone does. But he certainly has access to the tools that color his sound. He made the record in a space where he was most comfortable. That’s a good message.
As for computer-based production, it’s not like he never touches bits and bytes, though he made a point not to on this project. Between the lines, my own sense is that he was more talking about precision vs. imperfection, opting in favor of the latter if the performance had soul. He doesn’t like to line up drum hits, never has. But he also shared a stage with Deadmaus and was seen bopping his head to house music. So he can’t be against computers in production. From everything I’ve read about him, he’s about music, whether it comes from a stick beating an oil drum or a groove built for the dancefloor.
In the end, though, he is absolutely spot-on. Music comes from the heart and the head, and an artist who starts there, then writes and plays and practices till his fingers bleed, just might end up on the Grammy stage.