Because they are imperfect.
They are a garage band that refuse to leave the garage. When they do have to physically leave, they simply take the garage with them — sometimes to other people’s garage (literally!).
Foo Fighters are in the midst of well-deserved quiet time (or self-described Ihateus) after a huge 2015 touring on the acclaimed Sonic Highways record and HBOseries. They’ve been hinting about potential Europe activity via FooFightersPassport.com. As I wrote about the Rockin’ 1000 earlier this year— a story and group that will always be one of my favorites — I found myself thinking about Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters, and how they were such a huge part of why the Rockin’ 1000 has become what it is. In fact, they’re the main reason why they exist in the first place as it was the Foo Fighters that the Rockin’ 1000 wanted in Cesena, Italy and their song “Learn to Fly” that 1,000 people so magically performed. If this were a handwritten article, the previous line would be scribbled due to the chills I still get from that first video.
“The musician comes first.”
In 2013, Dave Grohl gave one of the most profound keynote speeches an artist will ever hear at South by Southwest. He stated within the opening minutes that to him, it has always been “the musician comes first.” The art, the music and what it means to you is what really matters; it’s a foundation that has always driven Grohl and the Foo Fighters.
In a band that consists of arguably two of the best drummers in the world, Grohl is a raspy, energetic, guitar-playing, screaming, soulful and inspirational lead singer. In describing how he discovered the power of music at a young age Grohl said: “I had finally found my voice, and that was all I needed to survive from now on. The reward for playing a song from beginning to end without making a mistake — well, that was enough to feed me for weeks. I liked my new voice because no matter how bad it sounded, it was mine. There was nobody there to tell me what was right and what was wrong, so there was no right or wrong.”
When was the last time you heard Grohl provide guest vocals on another track (drums are a different story)? But it doesn’t matter; his voice is his own — thus, the music is too.
“Who’s to say what’s a good voice and what is not — The Voice?”
Foo Fighters are pioneers in creativity. Each opportunity to make a new record starts with a big, white canvas. As the band goes to the woodshed to gather their art supplies, they make sure to take some paint color they have never used before. They don’t exclude the colors they have already used — they simply blend them with others, ultimately creating a brand new and unique color. Take a look at much of their catalog:
Their debut self-titled record was made entirely by Grohl. He wrote all the songs and played all the instruments when making the record at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, with the lone exception of a guitar part played by Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs’ fame on the track “X-Static”. There Is Nothing Left to Lose was recorded in Grohl’s basement in Virginia; In Your Honor is a double record — where Side A features electric rock songs and Side B acoustic songs, respectively; Wasting Light was recorded in Grohl’s garage, all to tape; Sonic Highways was an innovative tribute to the history of American music that featured recordings from eight different cities; and the Saint Cecilia EP was recorded on a whim at a hotel in Austin, TX and then given away for free to anyone who wanted it as a thank you. Each album is different from the last and unrivaled in its own way. Each one is imperfect, just the way they want it — capturing the raw emotion of Rock n’ Roll. Each one is their own.
“You are still and will always be that person at your core: the musician. And the musician comes first.”
Charisma is defined as: “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.” Though charms stands out as a key word in that definition, it’s the ability to inspire devotion in others that makes me say Foo Fighters exude charisma, with Grohl being the captain of their charismatic ship. They lead by example and do it in a way that is attractive, compelling and subtle enough that you know it’s there, but it does not overpower the fact that their music makes you feel free.
Grohl is someone who had to begin again; shortly after one of the most unimaginable nightmares in the death of Kurt Cobain, he started his own label and went back to doing what he knows and loves. The musician came first. As he says: “there was no right or wrong, because it was all mine.”
Atop the strong garage foundation that is the Foo Fighters lays a thin layer of satire most notably visible in their videos or Grohl’s comedic moments behind a microphone. A common theme of all garages: they serve as a strong safe haven. Fall off the stage at the beginning of a world tour where you sold out stadiums? No problem. Just create a giant, movable throne to navigate the stage. Oh and when you’re done, please lend it to Axl Rose.
The Foo Fighters make their own decisions and literally own, write, record and perform their own songs. They decide what the album will be, what the singles will be and what they will deliver to their fans.
Though this keynote I am referring to is now over three years old, I find it rings true today more than ever before. The Foo Fighters are in a down period right now and yet their universal message is always there if you want it.
Grohl often discusses how Edgar Winter and punk rock changed his life — it made him recognize his voice. By continually practicing what he preaches, he and the Foo Fighters are helping the masses find their voice. Look at Cesena, Italy: over the past year 2,200 people in Cesena have shown their voice in the most amazing way.
“It’s your voice. Cherish it, respect it, nourish it, challenge it, stretch it, scream it until it’s fucking gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that.”