‘Had to be different’: Foo Fighters’ surprising new sound


A gothic horror film has to be next on the endless to-do list of the "creatively restless" Dave Grohl.

It took him 36 years, but the Foo Fighters frontman and filmmaker has brought a teen nightmare to life in the music video for the band's new single Shame Shame.

"When I was 14, I had this dream that I was at the bottom of a hill and there was a coffin at the top of the hill on fire next to this dead tree," he says.

"And I ran up to the coffin to try to rescue whoever within it. I was burning my hands and I woke up in a sweat and I remembered that nightmare for 36 years.

"When we wrote and recorded the song, I listened back to it and thought 'Oh, my God. I think I just wrote the song about the dream I had when I was 14'."

The new Foo Fighters video was inspired by one of Dave Grohl’s teenage nightmares.
The new Foo Fighters video was inspired by one of Dave Grohl’s teenage nightmares.

Grohl enlisted Argentinian fashion photographer Paola Kudacki to direct and Algerian-French actor and dancer Sofia Boutella of The Mummy reboot and Atomic Blonde to play the role "shame".

Boutella brings both her creative disciplines to the role, jumping on Grohl's back, wrestling him to the ground and generally looking fierce.

"Oh my God, she's such a powerful female presence and in the video, she's this intimidating, empowering presence, not to mention she's a brilliant dancer and martial artist," the rocker says.

"Looking at the video and seeing the nightmare I had when I was a teenager … the funny thing is, I don't remember my childhood being a burning coffin on a f---ing hill. I was relatively happy." The single was rushed out on Sunday after a couple of days of social media teasing when the band scored the music slot on Saturday Night Live.

Dave Grohl was a whirling dervish of activity during lockdown. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Dave Grohl was a whirling dervish of activity during lockdown. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

They premiered Shame Shame, and played an acutely timely Times Like These, just hours after President-Elect Joe Biden made his acceptance speech in Delaware.

The single title - and its choice as the first single from their 10th album Medicine At Midnight - would suggest Grohl was in veiled political commentary mode.

But his overriding intent for the band's milestone album - which they recorded as they also marked their 25th anniversary - was to embark on a dramatic sonic shift rather than a state-of-the-world manifesto.

They will never lay down their guitars but Shame Shame introduces a funky, groove-heavy sound. He calls it their Let's Dance party album, inspired by David Bowie's melding of the rock and dance beat worlds.

"Our 10th record had to be different, it had to be unlike anything we have ever done," Grohl says.

"We recorded Shame Shame early on in the sessions and turned the wheel to follow that direction a bit more. The first song on the record Making A Fire has this gigantic Sly and the Family Stone groove and then a song like Cloudspotter is death metal disco and Love Dies Young is basically the Foo Fighters trying to write an ABBA song."

Drummer Taylor Hawkins was initially wary of the new direction. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Drummer Taylor Hawkins was initially wary of the new direction. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Grohl is the creative director of Foo Fighters and his bandmates Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Schiflett, Pat Smear and Rami Jaffee always follow his lead.

Hawkins admits feeling some trepidation "because I'm the drummer" when the band leader started talking about drum loops and new grooves.

But he says he parked his ego and has been buoyed by the response to the rhythmical experiment of Shame Shame - which has drawn comparisons to INXS and The Police - and other tracks heard by the band's inner circle, including his wife Alison.

"It's not like we made a full-on techno record and I still think Shame sounds like a rock song as much as Another One Bites The Dust does, it just has elements we've never used before," Hawkins says.

"We had a playback for some of the record company down at a studio and my wife came down and listened to all of it because I hadn't really played her anything yet and she said 'Dude, it's a really fun record. Get over yourself.' "Who am I to be a purist? I threw the ego out the window."

While the Medicine At Midnight recording sessions were completed earlier this year and the band's touring plans in celebration of their 25th anniversary were scuttled by the pandemic shutdown, Grohl was a whirling dervish of activity during lockdown.

His online drum battle with 10-year-old British music prodigy Nandi Bushell has thrilled millions of fans.

Dave Grohl is the creative director of the Foo Fighters. Picture: Supplied.
Dave Grohl is the creative director of the Foo Fighters. Picture: Supplied.

The Foo Fighters frontman's phone started pinging with text after text from friends when Bushell issued her first challenge.

The captivating back-and-forth between the rock statesman and the future star resulted in Grohl writing a song for her featuring his daughters on backing vocals, with Bushell responding with her original track Rock and Grohl, playing every instrument while wearing a superhero cape.

"It the most wonderful way to spend four minutes online to watch this kid who's so inspiring, so full of energy and so full of joy that she actually inspired me to do all the things I've been doing in the last few months," he says.

That includes the ridiculous stuff, like his fake ad for a coffee addiction drug, FreshPotix; the rocker is renowned for loving the java juice. Grohl also delved into blogging via Instagram, sharing weird and wonderful happenings in his rock'n'roll life.

And he said yes to a lot of artists who hit him up for collaborations; among those was a cover of Nine Inch Nails song Piggy with St Vincent to commemorate the band's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"I'm that guy who gets the calls from all these artists saying 'Send me a drum track because I want to do some crazy prog rock s---'," he says.

"I think next year we're going to have this new wave of music from artists you're familiar with, but you won't be familiar with their new work because it was done in an inspired time."

Releasing new music in the time of COVID has proven a challenge to artists and record labels; the inability to tour and therefore promote a new album has slashed the potential streams or sales by more than half.

But Hawkins says the Foos, like thousands of artists worldwide, believe the need to put something good out into this crazy world outweighs the financial considerations.

"We can't sit on (the album) forever … so we're not really thinking business-wise, we're thinking that hopefully for the fans who really want to hear our new music, this gives them a little sunshine in a pretty dark time and the fans can have their own private concerts dancing in their loungerooms."

Pre-order Medicine At Midnight wherever you get your records


Originally published as 'Had to be different': Foo Fighters' surprising new sound