Aug. 03, 2005 - Issue #511: John Prine
Foo for thought
The Foo Fighters' Nate Mendel explains band hierarchy and time in the
Certain personalities have a way of overshadowing those who are around them, and nowhere is that more true than in the music industry. Despite the fact that most bands have, well, you know, a whole band of people responsible for putting the finished product on stage and CD, it’s inevitable that one person tends to get more than their share of the spotlight, and eventually becomes the face of the band. The White Stripes are really Jack White, The Rolling Stones are mostly Mick Jagger (though Keith Richards certainly has his drug-assisted place) and the Foo Fighters—the Foo Fighters are Dave Grohl.
Sometimes, of course, this can lead to trouble. But for Foos bassist Nate Mendel, who slapped bass for alt-rockers Sunny Day Real Estate before joining Grohl and company, sometimes a hierarchy is just a natural part of a band—a welcome part, even.
“It’s not something we really talk about, but think about how contrived it would be if you had the person who was in one of the biggest bands of the last 20 years, started this band, writes all the songs, sings, et cetera, and have that person just be 25 per cent of the band in everything you do,” he says matter-of-factly. “Dave does a lot of the creative work, and he’s sort of the visible focal point of the band, and that just lands him a different spot in a natural hierarchy, and it’s dumb to pretend it wouldn’t be that way.
“Besides, me, personally, I quite like [being out of the spotlight],” he continues. “The last thing I want to do is have someone try to get my autograph when I’m in the middle of a movie theatre—that just seems like bullshit to me. I wouldn’t want that for a fucking second.”
Of course, Mendel and his other bandmates, drummer Taylor Hawkins and guitarist Chris Schiffel, have made plenty of time to get used to their roles in the band behind Mr. Grohl—the Foos lineup has been essentially static since a fairly public rough patch of departures around 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. And, as Mendel explains, even though they started out as a group who always thought whatever album they were recording would be their last, they’ve come to appreciate each other as a band.
“This was never a group of people that got together when they were teenagers and said, ‘We’re going to be a group of buddies forever, and do this,’” he says with a laugh. “It just felt like, let’s just make records one at a time and see how it goes, you know what I mean? But with this one, we just kind of looked back and said, ‘God, you know, this has been fun.’
“And also, we kind of took care of a lot of the bullshit during our last record; a lot of issues got ironed out, and we kind of had our first real obstacle with making a record,” he adds, alluding to Hawkins’ drug problems that almost stopped the band dead in its tracks. “Having gotten through that really made everybody appreciate the band and feel like it was something we could do for a while. It’s a little like a family now, which sort of implies some permanence.”
Which is good news for the legions—every Foo Fighters album, including their recent double-shot In Your Honor, has been certified platinum—of Foo fans out there. And though they’re definitely here to stay, Mendel isn’t quite sure what’s coming next for the band, just that they’ll be ready—and that Grohl, as always, will have a significant say in it.
“I think the next one’s going to be the biggest challenge we’ve ever had in making a record, because there’s going to be an expectation in our group that we have to figure out some angle for this record, where there’s never been an angle of any sort whatsoever—it was always just bunch some songs together, call it something, find some album art and go,” explains Mendel. “But really, the only mention of the future is Dave saying he’s excited to go and make another record; but he’s been saying that a lot, so that’s a good sign.” V
With Sloan and The Constantines • Rexall Place • Sun, Aug 7
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