Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins were the most entertaining part of last month’s Grammy nominations, stumbling all over the pronunciation of best new artist nominee Ledisi.
Now, it looks like the band’s performance could be the highlight of the prime-time Grammy telecast on Feb. 10 (8 p.m. EST on CBS). The Foos will be accompanied by winners of the Recording Academy’s second annual Grammy Moment contest, in which aspiring musicians submit clips of their work on YouTube for a chance to play along with the band.
“It looks like a bunch of people,” says Hawkins, who admits that he didn’t see last year’s Grammy Moment featuring Justin Timberlake. “We’re going to get a little orchestra.
“I think its cool, in a way, with a bunch of kids, because it’s exciting for them. I’d rather do that than do some mash-up with Jay-Z, with all due respect to Jay-Z. I think this fits more for us.”
In addition to playing at the event, the Foos have a chance to add another Grammy to the trophy case. The band scored five nominations, including nods for best album (“Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”) and for best record (“The Pretender.”)
Major-category recognition came as a surprise to Hawkins.
“Just to be nominated is really cool, but I don’t really have any dreams that we’ll get it,” he says. “We’re up against people like Kanye West, and compared with that, it’s like `Who are these guys?’ We’re really gnarly, you know what I mean.
“We’re just a little rock band, but it’s always nice to be acknowledged in some way.”
Over a decade, Hawkins and his little rock band have transformed themselves into arena headliners, a job made easier by their extroverted leader, Grohl.
The first Foo Fighters album, a Grohl solo project, sold a million copies. The follow-up, “The Colour and the Shape,” doubled that, and the third (“There is Nothing Left to Lose”) won a Grammy for best rock album in 2000.
In 2007, the band played to a worldwide audience at London’s Live Earth concert.
“It all comes down to Dave,” Hawkins says. “He’s really turned into a terrific frontman, who can really command the attention of an arena and a stadium.
“Did you see the Live Earth concerts? Purely from a performance standpoint, Dave stole the show, much the way Freddy Mercury did at Live Aid.”
Much the same way that Grohl, in a 2000 opening set for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Orlando, made his way to the arena floor and climbed into the lower-bowl seats.
“He’s a ham,” Hawkins says. “He’s just made for it. There’s no way he was going to be concealed behind a drum set for his whole life. No way.”
In the studio, Grohl’s songwriting has pushed the band into heavier rock material, without losing the knack for melodies that characterized the Foo Fighters when it was Grohl’s own post-Nirvana solo project.
On “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” radio-friendly rock songs such as “The Pretender” share time with more subtle material such as “Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners” and “Statues.”
Songs such as “Come Alive” are exercises in tantalizingly slow builds, a concept that Grohl used as a musical theme for the album.
“There are lots of songs on the record that take you on little journeys, and that’s the same thing that happens on some of my favorite songs ever,” Hawkins says, citing “Stairway to Heaven” and Yes’ “Awaken,” among others.
“I love all the prog-rock stuff; love all the big conceptual stuff. `Come Alive,’ I don’t care what anybody says, is one of our top-five songs.”
So far, the band has been slow to incorporate it into concert set lists.
“Dave’s nervous that people don’t care about it and aren’t that interested in it,” Hawkins says. “And really, it’s taking a chance when playing a song like `Come Alive’ and `Statues.’
“It’s like, `OK, you’ve got to come with us and trust us.’ A lot of people just came to hear `Monkey Wrench’ and `Everlong.’ Those will be in the set, but at the same time I like taking those chances.”
On the other side of the coin, critics have complained that the Foos sound has become formulaic as the band has emerged as a reliable radio fixture.
“This will sound sort of pissy,” Hawkins says, “but a lot of the major reviews in Spin and Rolling Stone say `Sounds like the same old Foo Fighters’ and it’s like `What do you want us to do? Rap or play techno music? What’s gonna be new to you guys?’
“We’re not working to impress Rolling Stone or Spin, but it makes me wonder, `Did you hear `Statues’? Did you hear `Come Alive’?’ To me, those are departures.”
On the new album, one thing is the same as ever: finding the best songs.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s nine soft-rockers or nine hard-rockers or whatever. Dave, and the band and I still think in terms of albums and not ringtones.
“You hope even if it’s a small percentage, that someone will sit and listen to the whole album as a piece of music.”