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Dave Grohl opens up about Foo Fighters’ new rock’n’roll horror Studio 666, his love of thrash metal and why you shouldn't always try to be cool...
"As much as this movie seems like a twisted fantasy that I’m finally able to live out, I don't want to murder my band," laughs Dave Grohl, speaking to Kerrang! about his band's upcoming horror-comedy movie Studio 666. Filmed at the same mansion Foo Fighters made their latest album Medicine At Midnight, the gore-splattered schlock-rock-fest follows a fictionalised version of the band as they battle both creative and actual demons in the search for their new sound.
“The movie is one big cliché," Dave smiles. "A band wants to make a record, the manager needs the money, you’re sick of using the studio so you got to some destination to record, it turns out to be haunted, the singer gets possessed, murders everyone over creative differences, and then goes solo. Other than the murdering, that is a cliché of rock’n’roll for the past 70 fucking years.”
And boy is there a lot of killing, with [SPOILER ALERT] only Dave making it out alive, having decapitated drummer Taylor Hawkins with a cymbal and chainsawing keyboardist Rami Jaffee in half while he had sex with the neighbour. As you do.
To find out more about Studio 666, we sat down with Dave – who actually came up with the idea – to chat about horror, Satanism, rock'n'roll and what we can expect from the movie's own band Dream Widow.
What is your relationship with horror movies?
“I grew up watching horror films in the ’70s and ’80s. It started with The Exorcist then it was Amityville Horror, then it was Halloween then Friday The 13th… But I also loved rock’n’roll movies. I loved the early Beatles movies, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park, into the ’80s movies like Prince’s Purple Rain, Ramones’ Rock ’N' Roll High School and things like that. There was something about seeing your favourite band wandering into this whole other medium and extending the invitation to entertainment that I thought was really cool.
“I’ve never been an aficionado [of horror], which is why when the idea came up I thought, ‘Why would we make a fucking horror film? What a ridiculous idea!’ But clearly we’re not averse to those, so we decided, ‘Alright, let’s do it and see what happens,’ without realising it was going to turn into a full-length feature film. Most of our other projects are very low-key, usually done pretty quickly – Sound City, Sonic Highways, What Drives Us, things like that. Those type of projects happen pretty naturally but this one turned into a fucking battleship, and I mean that in the best way. It was this gargantuan project that no-one thought was possible and I’m still surprised. I can’t believe I’m doing an interview about a Foo Fighters horror movie because that was never on the cards!”
The movie is full of gore and blood at every turn. Were there any scenes that had to be removed or toned down for being too over-the-top?
“No (laughs). In true classic horror fashion, there had to be a chainsaw, someone had to be decapitated, there had to be rivers of blood flowing down the gutters of our fucking movie set. If you’re going to do it, just do it. If you’re going to go there, fucking go past there. I remember seeing the first cut of the movie, and the opening scene where the singer of Dream Widow gets her head smashed in with a fucking hammer – very Cannibal Corpse – I thought, ‘This is how we’re opening the film? Are you sure?’ And everyone just nodded (laughs).”
Do you have a favourite death scene?
“It has to be Rami’s (laughs). The person who did special effects for the film was a man named Tony Gardner; Tony’s been around for decades and is a special effects legend. He invented Chucky, he was in the Thriller video, he’s been around and is no stranger to grisly gore at all. When it was time to come up with these deathly scenarios we basically walked around the house with a notepad and said, ‘Oh you know what you could do? Smash Chris’ head into a fucking grill then stab him 50 times in the back!’ ‘Oh you know what you could do? Rami will be having sex with Whitney Cummings then we just fucking splay them with a chainsaw so they fall to the side.’ We didn’t sit around with a team of writers thinking about how everyone should be killed, we just walked around laughing with a notepad coming up with the most ridiculous and inventive ways to kill everybody. But I only say Rami’s [is my favourite] because it’s so bloody, closely rivalled by Taylor’s death.”
Was it hard to keep a straight face during the bits that are supposed to be really scary?
“Oh, the whole time! We’ve been making music videos for the past 26 years and that’s a whole different ballgame – that’s a few days on set, no dialogue, it’s usually done pretty quickly, and any of the ‘acting’ is very much physical comedy or exaggerated gesture to convey whatever action is happening. Making a feature film is an entirely different process – we were given lines, there was dialogue to memorise, and we’re not fucking actors (laughs). It was take after take after take after take, and by the 15th or 20th take of something, it’s inevitable that we’re going to improvise, and when the improv starts to happen – most of which we kept – that’s when it gets hard to keep a straight face. If you’ve ever been in the room with the Foo Fighters, it’s basically just relentless improvisational comedy the entire time. We laugh all day every fucking day. There aren’t too many quiet moments in this band.”
That over-familiarity with each other comes through in the dialogue, which is essentially you telling each other to fuck off over and over again.
“I know (laughs)! This was the most difficult area to work within – a band that’s angry with each other, that has writer’s block, and is on the verge of falling apart because they can’t collaborate. That is the antithesis of the Foo Fighters. We’ve never suffered from writer’s block, mostly because we don’t have to write music, we only do it when we’re inspired. I cannot remember a time in the studio where anybody has blown up into a total screaming argument in 26 years. That was a role that was difficult to learn because it’s never been there before.”
The story is rooted in the occult and Satanism. Do you have a personal interest with the darker arts?
“It goes all the way back to Robert Johnson meeting The Devil at the crossroads and selling his soul, then you wind up in black magic territory with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin with Aleister Crowley, then it becomes theatrical with Alice Cooper and KISS, then it’s taken to another extreme with Venom and Celtic Frost and Slayer, then you wind up in Norway burning churches! There’s a very linear progression. I think a fascination with The Dark goes hand-in-hand with rock’n’roll and it always has. Am I a practicing witch? No. Do I believe I’ve sold my soul to The Devil? No. Do I know every word to Slayer’s Reign In Blood? Yes. Those two things lock together in some way.”
Have ever had a supernatural encounter?
“I did live in a house in Seattle that I believe was haunted. Before that I never had any interest in paranormal activities; I didn’t not believe it, but I’d never experienced it. But when I lived in there it became clear I wasn’t the only person in the house – and I lived there for two and a half years, so I kinda got used to it. There’s no reason to think it can’t happen and having the weird experiences I had, I see it as almost like proof when doors open and close by themselves, you hear footsteps in the kitchen, you have recurring dreams about an old woman standing in the living room barefoot covered in mud, feeling like someone’s always behind you when you’re in certain rooms, or someone’s face is an inch from yours when you’re trying to sleep. These things happened to me and it scared the fucking shit out of me. Then all of a sudden my friends are forwarding me numbers for a good shaman! But what’s the worst that could happen? I wasn’t living in a poltergeist house, I was just sharing a house with someone I didn’t know.”
The movie also features the music of fictional metallers Dream Widow. Is thrash an itch you’ve been wanting to scratch creatively?
“I discovered underground thrash the same time I discovered punk rock music, so 1982/83. I fell in love with both genres because of the energy of the music, the intensity of the music. When I was a teenager I was really into Venom, Slayer, Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate and all of those bands from that era. I’ve always loved that type of music. Even a newer thrash band like Power Trip, I love those bands. But I’ve never been in a thrash metal band, I’ve always played in hardcore bands, punk rock bands or rock’n’roll bands. Years ago, in 2000, I made a record called Probot where I had all of these legendary vocalists sing over instrumentals I recorded, and I ticked off all of my favourites – Max from Sepultura, Lemmy, Cronos from Venom, Eric from Trouble, Kurt from DRI, King Diamond, Tom G Warrior… My love of that type of music is pretty well documented but I don’t practice it with Foo Fighters, so it was my idea to make this Dream Widow record and, of course, because it’s a horror film I wanted to scratch that thrash metal itch. But you’ll hear it, so I don’t want to give [too much] away.”
Away from horror, Studio 666 also draws on those classic rock movies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, which bands don’t really make anymore. Do you think that’s a symptom of artists taking themselves too seriously nowadays?
“I don’t know why it is, but obviously we don’t have that problem! As we were making the film, we talked about sequels, nothing serious but playing around with silly ideas to continue ‘the franchise’ – a phrase that we laugh about. And we were trying to imagine what other bands would be up for that type of project and unfortunately it’s hard to think of many, mostly because you really have to let your guard down and show everybody your true dork (laughs). You have to let go of the cool factor and do it for entertainment’s sake. When we make our albums and play our gigs, we take that very seriously, and beyond anything that’s the foundation of this band – that’s why we’re here. Everything else is just icing on the cake. I always loved seeing a band bounce to another medium and do something unexpected, and hopefully this gets the foot in the door so other bands can maybe feel the same and do something as ridiculous as this. At the end of the day I think most bands would love to entertain their audience even more, but it’s easy for me to say because I’m in the Foo Fighters and that’s our intention.”
Studio 666 is released in cinemas on February 25.
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
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