“Pat, what are these little sparkly things in our dessert?” Dave Grohl is poking at the contents of a miniature Eton mess with childlike glee, in the dining room at London’s Savoy Hotel.“I’ve noticed they use a lot of real gold in the desserts here,” Foos guitarist and hardcore punk legend Pat Smear muses, eating a teaspoon of his pudding. “You all usually under-sweeten the whipped cream, but this? This is nice”.
It’s lunchtime and we’re having afternoon tea with one-third of Foo Fighters. It’s a terribly civilised way to interview one of the world’s biggest rock bands, but actually, it’s all for our benefit. Famed nice-guy frontman Dave was astounded that poor little NME had never experienced the pinnacle of Britishness that is a Savoy tower of sangers, so insisted we “eat some scones and get f**king fancy”.
For Foo Fighters, it’s the end of a gruelling summer of festivals – including one much-hyped Glastonbury headline set – and promo for their ninth album, ‘Concrete And Gold’. For this record, they headed to Hollywood with uber-successful pop producer Greg Kurstin – the guy who built upon Adele and Sia’s successes – and the result is something quite spectacular. Rock riffs fuse with Beatles-like melodies to create a sound Dave quite fittingly describes as “Motörhead doing ‘Sgt. Pepper’s…’”. Macca even makes a drumming cameo.
But today, with only a couple more obligations left until they get a well-earned break, Foos are feeling silly. Dave, ever the prankster, tells the waiter it’s NME’s birthday (it isn’t). Midway through our interview, which is already more about scones than anything else, the dining room goes silent and a very classy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ starts to tinkle on the ivories. A cake arrives. Dave and Pat are beside themselves.
The ridiculousness continues as Dave tries to shoehorn in the pianist’s choice of song into every answer he gives. “At the end of the day, I’m just glad I did it ‘My Way’,” comes the response to a question about the choice to work with Kurstin. Momentary confusion ensues, before the pair erupt into giggles again. For a band that have been going for 22 years, having a laugh still seems high on the agenda. “I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t fun to be a Foo Fighter,” Dave reckons. “Even when I broke my leg, it was f**king fun. We had a party that night.”
Fans will remember Dave’s onstage leg break in 2015 – now the stuff of rock legend – which saw him finish the gig with a paramedic holding his bones in place, but later pull out of their Glastonbury headline slot. Ever honourable, Foos were back this year to deliver one of the most memorable sets in Worthy Farm history.
Two days before our tea-drinking sesh, Foo Fighters played a sold-out show at London’s O2 arena, rattling through almost three hours of hits from their epic back catalogue. “We were told there was a hard curfew at 11 and we’d get fined if we didn’t meet it, so I asked how much it would be if we went over time, and I thought, ‘We can afford that’, so we just carried on playing,” says Dave.
Being a Foos fan in 2017 has become something of an endurance test. “We played for nearly four hours in Sydney once,” Dave brags. But do they ever worry about the fans getting Foos fatigue? “I’m usually the last guy at the party and that’s not something you want to happen at a rock concert. I don’t want to be the last one there. I’d appreciate it if everyone stayed. But they usually do!”
The band knows it helps to keep some tricks up your sleeve for that point in the set when the fans are thinking, as Dave puts it, “Just f**king play ‘Everlong’ and let us go home”. At this week’s show, that secret sauce was a special appearance by one “badass motherf**ker” going by the name of, er, Rick Astley. “Rick is the man. The seventh Foo Fighter. He’s such a sweetheart,” Dave gushes about his new pal.
After a chance meeting in Japan, the band adopted Astley – ’80s pop titan and subject of the Rickrolling internet meme – as something of a mascot, bringing him out whenever they can to perform his decades-old megahit ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. “I love that he gets nervous before playing. He’s Rick Astley! It’s like he’s Muhammad Ali! You just wouldn’t be nervous, but he’s such a good guy.” After the O2 show, an awkward-looking Astley is loitering alone backstage. He seems bemused by this newfound friendship, but when Nice Guy Dave turns on the charm, you very quickly find yourself along for the ride.
Somewhere across the other side of London, the band have commandeered an east London boozer and rebranded it the Foo Fighters Arms for album release week. Fans have been queuing for hours for a pint of a specially brewed beer – Concrete And Gold – and to get a glimpse of the Foos-themed décor which consists of some old tour posters and paintings of the lads done up like some sort of 17th century musical tableau. Oh, and there’s some pretty pricey limited-edition merch on sale too, word on the street being that the shop took £28,000 in its first day.
Sadly, all hope of seeing Dave behind the bar in a Peggy Mitchell wig yelling “Get out of my pub” vanishes when he reveals that, firstly, he’s never seen EastEnders and, secondly, he’s not even been to the Foo Fighters Arms. “I do like British pubs but I just like to smoke and drink and chat. I’d throw a dart, but mostly I don’t like to compete with anybody unless it’s to see who can drink the f**king most”.
The answer to that question, we’d wager, might well be Mr Grohl himself. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich recently teased him about their differing pre-show rituals – Metallica’s being massage and meditation and Foos’ being cans and top bants. “I’m trying to grow up but I don’t know if it’s working,” Dave jokes. “I honestly feel like, for me, the best way to walk on stage is while everyone’s f**king laughing. Like at The O2 until 20 mins before we walked on stage…” Pat chimes in, “We had a lot of people in the dressing room, it was a lot of fun and then it’s like, ‘Oh great, we get to play a show now. Let’s go!’”
That ‘lot of people’ weren’t your usual motley crew of friends and family, either. Kylie Minogue, Simon Pegg and boxer Joe Calzaghe chatted while rowdy British punk band Idles played their support set. Stella McCartney was seen pulling Dave away to do sneaky Patrón shots from her secret supply while Foos bassist Nate Mendel was baffled as to who the 6ft 5in Czech dude, with whom everyone wanted selfies, was. “Are you some kind of sports guy?” he asked Arsenal goalie Petr Cech.
“Most people that know us know that we’re friends with everybody,” Dave says. “Do we seem like some super-elitist rock snobs? We have an open-door policy with this band.” It’s that open-door policy that has seen a number of surprising guests feature on ‘Concrete And Gold’, from Justin Timberlake (“The guy’s an incredible singer”) to Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men and basically anybody who happened to be passing through LA’s star-studded EastWest studios at the time they were making the record. “When you’re in a studio like that and Rufus Wainwright is down the hall and the guy from Deep Purple is in the other room and Lady Gaga is wandering around and Wolf Alice were there for a week…I was just doing all this crazy barbecuing and talking to everyone. Gaga would come in and listen to the record. Wolf Alice were scared of us though, I think.”
Later on at the NME photoshoot, drummer Taylor Hawkins further confirms – over a brew – that this band really are “friends with everyone”. He’s spent a lazy day in bed, mostly watching Liam Gallagher interviews on YouTube (“That cup of tea thing was so hilarious. Did you see that? I texted him about that, it was so funny”). The night before, he and Nate had been for a late-night chicken tikka masala with Queen’s Roger Taylor and Brian May. “It’s a bit of a tradition, whenever we come here, to go for a curry. I still totally still get all fanboy around them sometimes,” he admits, “even though I’ve met them so many times.”
“Iiiii just wanna tell you how I’m feeling…” The conversation is interrupted by Dave bounding into the room singing Rick Astley and clicking his fingers. “Damn, once that song gets in your head, you just can’t f**king get it out”.
The band are whisked off to the Royal Albert Hall for a special 25th anniversary episode of Jools Holland’s Later show where they perform a mix of new and classic material. They’re required to be on stage throughout the two-and-a-half-hour recording. Taylor gets fidgety, drumming along to everyone else’s songs on his bright pink kit that’s decorated with his parents’ faces. Dave “goes bananas” during ‘Times Like These’, thrashing about in front of some unassuming Jools fans who look like they’ve come straight from work.
Kylie and Stella McCartney are dancing in the box to our right and it’s McCartney’s local, a tiny Notting Hill oyster and Guinness bar, that is the destination for the after party. She and Kylie are the first to arrive, shortly followed by Reese Witherspoon, Jools Holland, KT Tunstall and, of course, the band – who work the room, chatting to everyone, despite Dave admitting he’s shattered. “You wake up every morning on tour and you open your eyes and think, ‘Does my back hurt? Does my throat hurt? Do I have another show in me?’” he says. “We were doing three countries a day in Asia. I’m f**king exhausted. I have found a cure for insomnia though: the BBC Parliament channel.”
But with a bit more of McCartney’s magic Patrón, Dave’s on his feet, passing around cigarettes – the smoking ban doesn’t apply if you’re a Foo Fighter – and joining Kylie on the dancefloor to bellow out the words to Toto’s ‘Africa’. The jukebox is manned by the band’s tour manager. Dave shimmies over. “This was my first punk rock record in 1979,” he yells as the spooky synths of The B-52’s ‘Planet Claire’ start to play.
After many more tunes – at one point Kylie is assigning instrumental parts to everyone in her vicinity (“I’m the triangle”) – we leave Dave in the pub in the early hours. Things are winding down. “Sometimes I wonder if f**king ‘Everlong’ is too old for us to play now,” Dave mused over tea, earlier in the day. “You see kids in the audience singing along to ‘Run’ but if we bust out ‘This Is A Call’ they’re like ‘What’s this f**king new Foo Fighters song’. It’s weird. We’ve been in a band 22 years. It really is a long time.” So what is next for the band who’ve done it all? “We’ll see, I guess. Things just fall into our laps.”
We bump into Taylor who wants to talk about The Gallaghers again. In doing so, he tells us he reckons that it’s never the same if you break up a band and try and get it back together. “Doing this is a blessing – why would I ever want to stop being in Foo Fighters? It’s the greatest thing on earth.”
As we head off, Dave is looking like he’s settling in for the night. True to form, he’s the last guy at the party. But what a f**king party it is.
Foo Fighters tour dates for Summer 2018
Manchester Etihad Stadium (June 19)
London Stadium (June 22)
London Stadium (June 23)