Dave Grohl (guitar/vocal)
Nate Mendel (bass)
Taylor Hawkins (drums)
Chris Shiflett (guitar)
If by the second Foo Fighters kick into "All My Life," the lead track on their brand new fourth album One By One, you don't realize you're listening to the new millennium model of world class rock band... well then, you must have a defective copy or something.
... Because if that's the case, you're not listening to the same record that this band his been working toward since the very day Dave Grohl's Late cassette spread like wildfire in the pre-broadband early '90s and morphed into 1995's Foo Fighters. The trials and tribulations along the way-drummer William Goldsmith leaving after laying down a scant few tracks for 1997's masterful The Colour & The Shape, guitarist Pat Smear exiting during the tour supporting that same record; the defection from Capitol to RCA for 1999's There Is Nothing Left To Lose (which rightfully boxed Bon Jovi and Creed out of the Rock Album Grammy in 2000); the recovery from Taylor Hawkins' near miss of summer 2001-have all made this band stronger, leaner, meaner. It bears repeating: This is the new-model-last-men-standing best rock band there is.
One By One goes from strength to strength in ways no Foo Fighters album has to date. For one, it's the first Foo Fighters record to feature guitarist Chris Shiflett, making the Grohl/Mendel/Hawkins/Shiflett line-up the first to survive two full Foo Fighters album/tour cycles. Or as Taylor Hawkins puts it, "This is the final line-up, the one that lasts until the band breaks up."
True enough, from the opening salvo of the aforementioned "All My Life" through the riveted-tight "Low," the melodic highs of "Have It All" and "Times Like These," the whisper/scream transitions of "Disenchanted Lullaby" and the spare, haunting ballad "Tired" (replete with ominously beautiful guitar swells courtesy of Queen's Brian May), all the way to epic closer "Come Back," this camaraderie is in full evidence: Both in the width and breadth of material here and the consistency and tightness with which the band attacks it all.
"This album is different than anything we've ever done," Grohl says, "but it still has our fingerprints all over it. It still has our trademarks. So, as much as a departure as it may be, there is still a common thread, which is our sense of melody, or our sense of arrangement, the way we approach playing our instruments... And I think we're always challenging ourselves, whether we're going in a pop direction, or a complicated prog-rock direction... That's what makes being in a band interesting and fun, keeping it a challenge and keeping it fresh. Doing something different than what you've done before."
"I also think it's different for us," he continues, "Because we have a lot of freedom that other bands don't. When it comes to making our albums, we make them in our own studio, on our own label (Roswell) and then give it to the bigger businessmen to distribute it and market, and things like that. Everybody has an opinion, thinks it should be one way or another... But at the end of the day, we're all stable and confident, knowing that we have the final say, in anything."
It was this freedom that allowed the recording of One By One to be split into two sessions, permitting Grohl to take a mid-album break to tour with Queens Of The Stone Age (on whose Songs For The Deaf he plays drums on all but one track). Though the delay may have been a source of angst for his bandmates, it undoubtedly made for some serious mental palate-cleansing, resulting in the addition and re-arrangement of some of One By One's best material, as well as a renewed sense of vigor and purpose that all but jumps out of the finished product.
"The neat thing that happened when making this record," says Hawkins, "is that we kinda' made it twice, in a way. We went back and re-recorded everything, re-recorded any song we wanted to and wrote a couple more."
"It made this album unlike anything," Grohl adds. "You didn't really know when it was going to end. You didn't know when a song was finished until it just felt right... You'd sort of chase it and take it as far as it'd go and hope it's going somewhere... Some of them didn't, some of them got thrown away. But the ones that made it, I think are exciting because of things like the subtle power of a guitar break in a middle of a song. Very simple but it just makes sense, you know? It doesn't necessarily make sense in a conventional arrangement sort of way, but at that point in song, that's what's needed.
"At first," Hawkins continues, "a lot of the emphasis was placed on getting everything perfect. Beyond pretty much what is humanly possible for us. So, a lot of the energy went into that frame of mind and in the end it sounded... as Nate put it once, sort of self-conscious. We stopped and said we needed to chill out... Dave went off to play with the Queens and we all did our little things and whatnot and... I think our first plan was to go back and just re-record four or five tracks, but when we went back, and in ten days did all the rhythm tracks and most of the rhythm guitars, all Dave's guitars and a lot of Dave's vocals... We did that in Virginia and then came back to L.A. and finished Nate's bass and Chris' guitar... All in all it was about three weeks.
"Whereas the other was a laborious long affair... Plus we got some great new songs out of that too. 'Low' is my favorite song on the album. Thank God we took that break, thank God Dave went and did his stuff with the Queens, that all happened for a reason. Because, in the end, when I listen to the album it's got all of that, it's got all the shit that counts... We definitely struggled in a way to get this record done but, in the end, it has that sort of tension and energy to it, which is good."
The tension, energy and focus that went into the three-week burst of creativity and activity that ultimately became One By One may have also resulted in the most lyrically cohesive Foo Fighters record since 1997's The Colour & The Shape. "I hate writing lyrics," Grohl admits. "Although the lyrics on this album I love more than anything I've ever done.
"Sometimes I'd just spit out lyrics onto paper and other times I'd over-analyse and lose the plot. I didn't realise that there was a sort of a line running through everything, but now, with the album sequenced, it kind of makes sense. It begins with 'All My Life' and ends with 'Come Back' and throughout the album, it is basically just like the difficult beginnings of falling in love, and then the relief of feeling comfortable in love. I'm a sappy fucking romantic, so - it's tough, man, I swear, but I'm not ashamed, I swear to God.
"I think that the dark-romantic side of aggressive rock music is hard to come by these days, you know, but... who can't relate to that? I remember our second album, I was going through some hard times in relationships, and had people come up on the road, grown men come up to me after a show and tell me 'Thank you very much, that album helped me through my divorce.' I'd think - wow! That's weird! I don't necessarily know if there is a message that I want to send but... I definitely know what's going on in my head and that compliments the music. There are certain things that fit with certain things, you know, but yeah, there is theme running through the album although it wasn't an intentional concept record.
"So, we didn't make The White Album. It's not fucking Sgt. Pepper's... But, it's getting there! Maybe, it will be some day..."
In the meantime, "All My Life," "Have It All," "Times Like These," "Low" and the like are taking up rightful places in the Foo Fighters canon alongside "Learn To Fly," "Aurora," "Stacked Actors," "Everlong," "Monkey Wrench," "This Is A Call" and "I'll Stick Around," as the band headlines the 2002 Reading Festival and prepares for at least a year's worth of typically intensive Foo Fighters touring agenda and work ethic. All in all, another day on the life for possibly the hardest working and most reliable rock band there is.
"This album being the best album we've ever made," Grohl concludes, "I feel like it definitely deserves 100 percent of your attention. Now it's time to give it everything that we have-gladly. I can't wait to play it, to do more interviews. That's new for me! I'm excited to talk about the album; before, I couldn't give a shit; just give someone a fucking CD and tell 'em to go figure it out. I'm excited about it and I want the world to hear it because I'm so proud of it."
--- from the official Foo Fighters website