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Foo Fighters: How 'There is Nothing Left to Lose' Changed Dave Grohl's Fortunes

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 Written by Huw Baines

The end of any decade is, essentially, meaningless. We attach poignancy to it because we’re all narcissists in some way—we want this decade, our decade, to stand for something. Musically, the ‘90s did a better job than some of its peers in allowing us to think that: young people were swept up by grunge, or the gloss of modern R&B, or punk’s chart explosion, or the battle between the east and west coasts.

A few months after Woodstock ‘99 symbolically brought the curtain down on the whole thing (or allowed a bunch of meathead bros to burn the curtain while listening to nü-metal) one of the decade’s most important musical figures chimed in with an LP that felt like a full stop of its own. For Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters, things just weren’t the same following the release of ‘There is Nothing Left to Lose’.

In November their third LP turns 20, while it’s also 25 years since the group first came together as Grohl’s solo vehicle following the death of Kurt Cobain. The loss of his friend and the end of Nirvana is perhaps the seismic event in Grohl’s ‘90s, and at this remove ‘There is Nothing Left to Lose’ feels like the last time he was still reeling a little, and trying to figure out how his new band functioned.

In 2019, Foo Fighters are an enormously popular, equally settled, veteran rock band. This summer their day job extends to monster shows in Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin prior to the small matter of headlining Reading and Leeds. They have drum solos built into their setlists and people actually watch them. They have nine records from which to whittle a running order every night. 

These days people don’t mention the fact that Grohl used to play drums in Scream, because they barely remember the fact that he was in Queens of the Stone Age for a while. Their lineup is so settled that it might as well be carved into a rock face Mount Rushmore-style. But in 1999, that absolutely wasn’t the case. 

Back then, almost everything about the band was in a state of flux. Their second LP, 1997’s ‘The Colour and the Shape’ had been a smash hit but its backstory was an emotional warzone. Grohl’s lyrics documented the end of his first marriage, to photographer Jennifer Youngblood, while massive friction during recording resulted in the exit of drummer William Goldsmith. 

By the time the album was due for release, guitarist Pat Smear had informed his bandmates that he was leaving too. The Germs legend stuck around long enough for initial tour dates in support of the record, but soon handed over the reins to Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl live on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. Stahl’s tenure would last until midway through ‘99. 

In its way all this was just another phase in the post-Nirvana turbulence of Grohl’s life, and he knew it. Year on year he reckoned with a new band, a new sound, huge levels of expectation, festival sets getting out of hand in tiny tents, and the very nature of performance when you don’t have a drum kit and iconic bandmate to help shield the glare. It was a lot. 

From the release of ‘Nevermind’ in 1991 to trying to find a spark to write a new Foo Fighters record post-’Colour and the Shape’ comprised only seven years or so. Describing the cash coming his way in the early ‘90s in an interview with the Guardian, Grohl acknowledged the transience of this existence: “My dad was like, 'Don't mess this up, treat every cheque as if it's the last one you're ever gonna make. Because there's no way this is gonna last.' And I was like, I know. This will never last."

In its proper context, ‘There is Nothing Left to Lose’ is a crucial building block in Foo Fighters lasting. If the mayhem never completely subsided—their future would hold near misses with drugs, broken legs, and press acrimony—then it certainly became less pervasive. After some time out west in Los Angeles, where Grohl drank too much and got bogged down,  album three’s reset button was found back home in Virginia, specifically in the basement of a new house in Alexandria. 

"People there are trying to relive the whole '80s GN'R thing, which I hate even more now than I did in 1991,” Grohl told Spin of his time in the City of Angels. “I met all these people who were trying to 'save rock 'n' roll' because they were superhero rock stars who record in the house where the ghost of Errol Flynn lives. But the music they made sucked shit.”

With Stahl gone, the band was down to a three-piece, with Grohl aided and abetted by bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins. He played each and every guitar part on the record, which came together in the studio once he and co-producer Adam Kasper had scrounged enough gear to make it more than a pipe dream. In the basement, a stone’s throw from Grohl’s old high school, the Foos were essentially cut loose to do as they pleased. 

They’d left Capitol Records following the exit of president Gary Gersh, which was an option written into their contract, and work progressed without outside interference. Rather than retreat into a knotty, experimental state, though, the music the trio made was melodic to a fault—more Cheap Trick than Bad Brains. There was an ease to the process that appeared to be reflected back by the glam-pop stomp of Gimme Stitches, or the lilting Aurora. Even its one rager—the snotty LA hate-fest Stacked Actors—has a weird lounge-pop verse.

Once it was out in the world, the reaction was largely positive. Reviews were solid to very good, even if the album couldn’t scale the raucous heights of its predecessors, and it went top 10 in the US and UK. It won them their first Best Rock Album Grammy. At Reading the following year they slotted in third on the bill on the main stage and were greeted by a packed house as the sun set, with new guitarist Chris Shiflett in harness. 

After years of chopping and changing, these building blocks haven’t changed in two decades: Smear’s return and the addition of Rami Jaffee on keys are minor tweaks to the formula. Grohl really did make his way back home and learned to fly—two nights at Brixton Academy on the tour supporting ‘There is Nothing Left to Lose’ became two nights at Wembley Arena by the time ‘One By One’ hit shelves in 2002. Then it was on to Wembley Stadium, headlining Glastonbury and all that jazz. Pressing pause and heading home to Virginia ensured that the last album Dave Grohl made in the ‘90s was the first one of the rest of his life.

Foo Fighters Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat August 17 2019 - GLASGOW Bellahouston Park
Mon August 19 2019 - BELFAST Boucher Playing Fields
Wed August 21 2019 - DUBLIN RDS Arena
Fri August 23 2019 - LEEDS Bramham Park
Sun August 25 2019 - READING Richfield Avenue

Click here to compare & buy Foo Fighters Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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