Grohl's challenge to band results in TV series
Oct. 16, 2014
NEW YORK (AP) — Dave Grohl doesn't think small. What began as an idea to challenge his band, Foo Fighters, turned into an HBO television series that celebrates the musical heritage of eight American cities and the idea of music as a community.
"Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways" debuts Friday at 11 p.m. Eastern.
After Foo Fighters recorded their last album in a garage, the ever-restless Grohl wanted to hit the road. He proposed visiting different cities, soaking up the atmosphere, then concluding each visit by writing and recording a song referencing the experience and sometimes featuring local guests. Grohl, whose 2012 "Sound City" film about a memorable music studio proved his ability in another medium, brought a film crew along.
"There's a family tree of American music, which we're all branches of," Grohl said. "But you have to get into the dirt, into the roots, and find out where it all came from."
Friday's premiere explores the blues and rock scenes in Chicago, and includes a visit with iconoclastic music producer Steve Albini. An episode on Washington D.C. is personal for Grohl, who grew up nearby, and it shows how hardcore punk and the propulsive go-go music of black Washington thrived simultaneously.
Subsequent episodes visit Austin, Texas; Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York and Seattle — home base of Grohl's first band, Nirvana.
The stories illustrate how history, geography and even weather influence the sound of a particular city's music.
"I never considered that until I went to New Orleans and someone said, 'you know, it's the humidity,'" he said. "It just knocks things out of tune. It makes the piano strings stretch, gives the horns a whole different sound. So when you listen to traditional New Orleans jazz, it's a little wobbly."
In Los Angeles, Grohl visited Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and heard what he answers whenever someone asks where "Hotel California" is.
"There's no building," Grohl said Walsh told him. "Los Angeles is Hotel California — you can check out, but you can never leave. I got the chills when I heard that. I didn't know that. That was so cool."
Grohl's enthusiasm, his love for hearing and telling stories, is part of what attracted HBO, Nina Rosenstein, a senior vice president at the network, said Thursday.
With the help of David Letterman's production team, Grohl got his first meeting with HBO before many of the people there had even seen "Sound City." When they did, they realized this was more than a rock star on a flight of fancy.
"Dave is like a guy you had to trust," Rosenstein said. "He has an absolute honesty about what he does and why he's doing it. We're always in the business of finding people who are great storytellers and can make emotional connections."
Each episode concludes with a performance of the song written in that city, and viewers can follow along with the lyrics to see how the story is filtered in. The album is set to be released next month.
What ties everything together is the idea of music as a broad community. Fans, producers, music store owners — all join together to create a scene, to build emotional bonds. Grohl always hopes to inspire others, and if some teenage drummer gets excited watching a drummer featured in "Sonic Highways," that's all to the good.
If anyone is inspired to show off their own city's musical heritage, Grohl said they can be his guest.
"I'm not doing it again," he said. "It's the most work I've ever done in my life. But I would encourage others to do it, because a lot of it has to do with pride, being proud of where you're from."
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.