2021 has been the year of the Foo. It seems Dave Grohl and headline-generating juggernaut the Foo Fighters haven’t been out of the news cycle for more than an hour of late, whether Grohl’s promoting his new book or coming to the aid of a Seattle metalhead who caught a bullet confronting an Idaho gunman. The top of the year brought the post-grunge rockers’ dance-ready new album, “Medicine at Midnight,” which Grohl and the gang would support while serving as go-to arena reopeners in a post-lockdown world — a run that includes christening Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena on Tuesday with fellow hometown heroes Death Cab for Cutie.
As one of the genre’s most reliable hitmakers, the enduring hard rockers have carved a niche as rock ‘n’ roll ambassadors to music’s mainstream as guitar bands have thinned from the foreground in recent years. News that the Foo Fighters will be enshrined into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Oct. 30, making Grohl a two-time member after Nirvana’s 2014 induction, feels like a culmination, a salute to the band’s longevity and catalog of anthemic radio rockers that have kept fists pumping for decades.
To think, it all started with two guys in a Shoreline studio 27 years ago this week.
As the legend goes, six months after Kurt Cobain’s death brought Nirvana’s run to a heart-wrenching close, Grohl quietly hit Robert Lang Studios for a week of cathartic recording sessions, unsure exactly what would come of it.
“He always says that,” said producer Barrett Jones, the other guy in the room, “but I personally remember knowing that it was going to be released and that it would be huge [laughs]. That’s the way I felt about it.”
Jones will be in attendance when the Foo Fighters take their place in the Rock Hall during a Cleveland ceremony simulcast on Sirius XM and airing on HBO at a later date, just like he was at Grohl’s side for the “whirlwind” sessions that spawned one of modern rock’s most omnipresent bands. But their history actually predates the Foo Fighters’ nascent Seattle days.
Long before Nirvana’s world domination, Jones met a 14-year-old Grohl when both were living in Virginia and the future Hall of Famer came into Jones’ studio to record with his first band. The two became regular recording partners and played together for a time in the band Churn, which Jones continued after moving to Seattle. “We were like best friends for a little while there,” Jones said. “It’s basically the reason I moved to Seattle.”
After Grohl joined Nirvana, Jones toured with the band as his drum tech. Arriving in Washington in 1991, Jones and his girlfriend lived with Grohl in two different houses in West Seattle, where Jones still runs his Laundry Room Studio, before Grohl eventually bought a place in Shoreline.
So it was no wonder Jones got the call to record what became the Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut, before Grohl recruited Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear and Nate Mendel (bass) and William Goldsmith (drums) of Seattle favorites Sunny Day Real Estate to round out the lineup.
The two friends had already demoed most of the songs, some written between Nirvana tours, by the time they hit Robert Lang for those workmanlike sessions that featured Grohl playing all the instruments. After all their time in the studio together, Grohl and Jones had a system down that would help them knock out the album in just five days, a tight time frame even by their standards. Jones would set everything up so Grohl could come in and lay down the drums, then a couple of guitar tracks and a bass part in that order, saving vocals for the last two days.
“He was doing about a song an hour that way,” Jones said, laughing. “There’s no messing around. He’s so good and does everything so precisely — no click tracks or nothing. He’s just a human metronome.”
That proficiency has been one of Grohl’s calling cards in his post-Nirvana days. Though the singer/guitarist has spent the better part of the last 25 years out front, he’s still apt to hop behind the kit on stage at the old Safeco Field or for a viral drum-off with child prodigy Nandi Bushell.
If anyone was surprised by Grohl’s one-man-band capabilities on that first record, it certainly wasn’t Jones. “The first time he ever recorded a song by himself was when we were still living in Virginia,” Jones recalled. Back in their Churn days, Grohl approached him with a song he’d written called “Gods Look Down” and wanted to lay it down in essentially the same manner in which he blasted through that first Foo Fighters album.
“I just remember being so blown away by how good the song was, one, and how good all his playing was, for two,” Jones said. “I had been doing the same thing my whole life, basically from when I started playing music when I was like 15. … But after seeing him do it, I was very shocked at how good it was [laughs]. … I haven’t seen anybody else be able to do it the way he does it. Ever.”
With its cage-rattling energy and full-throated melodies legions of fans and rock radio programmers couldn’t deny, that first record, in all its rawness, set the foundation for a band that’s receiving the highest honor in its field 27 years later. Not bad for two guys in a Seattle-area studio.
“I’m excited and proud to be part of it,” Jones said. “He is one talented guy and a sweetheart.”