If you ever get a chance to meet Dave Grohl, he will instantly charm you. He’s not known as the “nicest guy in rock n roll” because he’s standoffish and aloof. Chances are he will launch into a tale of something personal that recently happened. Perhaps its something that happened on the way from wherever he was to where he is now? Or last night he got the strangest call? He shares some morsel of his world with you and you are smitten. Whether insignificant or not, it becomes that moment you shared with a legendary rock star. The word for that ability to connect is called “charisma” and you better believe Grohl has it in spades.
Dave Grohl is a remarkable storyteller. This is what makes his songs so good. He not only has a natural inclination to craft masterful sounds but he knows just what to say to make them memorable. His ability to reveal something of himself in his music, connects to the hearts that hear it. Sure I’m a fan. Much of the Foo Fighter catalogue has been played on repeat in my house, in my truck, and in my headphones. I’m not in love with every single song, but the ones that speak to me, speak volumes. But then again, I’ve met and spent some time with Dave Grohl.
In 2013 when Grohl decided he wanted to jump into movie making, with the documentary Sound City, he sharpened those storytelling skills to reveal a rich history of one little studio that played a role in so many careers. When he told me of his plan to tell the tale of the Neve board he acquired from Sound City, I thought to myself, good luck. Sure gear heads into old recording equipment might care, but if you’ve never spent any time in a studio, it’s not exactly riveting material. I was proven oh so wrong.
Sound City was a compelling story of people and timing and energy and dreams. It was a vehicle to connect the viewer with this process that Grohl is intimately familiar with, recording. It was a reason to wax nostalgic about glory days with other truly great musicians, and connected them all with this thread called Sound City. It worked. Maybe you weren’t already a huge Foo Fighters fan, but once you spent a little time with Sound City, you had a new respect for the indelible Dave Grohl.
My skeptical self wondered, along with everyone else, how Sonic Highways would be different? So he’s going to 8 different studios across America. Would this series be 8 little “Sound Cities?” Is it just a vanity project full of self-indulgence? Delightfully, not even close!
Foo Fighters could have done what so many other bands that have been together for over 20 years have done. They could have headed into their comfortable local studio, pumped out some standard tunes that utilized their “formula” crafted over decades, released a single or 2, and rested on their laurels. The true fans aren’t going anywhere, they’re buying what your selling, eating what your cooking.
Grohl wanted to share his love of music by sharing the stories of those who came before him; those who helped shape him into the musician he is today. He kept it personal and revealed his process with compelling footage of remarkable characters, city by city. The genius of it all lies with the unveiling of each song, with each episode.
When you hear a song for the first time, maybe it sticks; maybe it takes a few more listens. Sometimes the hook reaches in, grabs you by the heart, and screams, “This is what I’m feeling and now you feel it too”. Sometimes it simply never lands. But almost always when you know the story behind the song, it means a little more; you listen a little closer. I remember being in grade school and someone told me that the Eagles song, Hotel California was about cocaine. The next time I had a listen; I had a whole new context for that catchy tune.
Context is everything in art, no matter what variety. When Grohl takes you through these cities, and introduces you to his friends, producers, comrades in sound, he’s letting you into his mind and heart. He’s revealing his molecular musical DNA. At the end of each episode, when he plays you the song, inspired by the interviews, and the city itself, you connect. He makes you feel like an insider. Like you too have spent some time with the man himself.
If you want to get to know Dave Grohl, he’s right there naked before you. It’s called Sonic Highways, and it’s impressively smart. “ We all come from what came before.” This is Grohl’s legacy for those who come after.
You can watch Foo Fighters Sonic Highways Friday nights at 11pm on HBO. Album Will be released globally on November 10th. You can pro-order it here: