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Seattle episode of Sonic Highways reveals new Dave Grohl demo snippets

By Simon Kilmore

Dave sits down with friend Barrett Jones to go over their old demo recordings, playing some previously unheard snippets.

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The much anticipated Seattle episode of Sonic Highways aired on HBO Television in the United States last night and it did not disappoint when it came to new content. The teaser for the episode posted online suggested we may hear some of Dave’s early 90s demos and that we did.

The episode kicked off right away with Grohl and Jones at his Laundry Room Studio, Dave loading a reel onto the tape machine. At one point we’re able to see the text written onto the reel itself, easier to read once rotated:

The first line says ‘Dave 1/92’ and the second line appears to be ‘Barrett 12/94’. The third line is hard to make out (Let us know if you can work it out), and then a final line was added much more recently. The word is hard to distinguish but the date is 10/14/13, likely the date Barrett re-transferred these reels to digital. October 2013 is indeed the date Dave is known to have been in Seattle, primarily to conduct interviews for this series.

The camera then cuts to a shot of Dave holding a session reel, telling Barrett that it contained ‘Floaty’ and ‘Alone + Easy Target’. He tells him which incarnation of the studio it was recorded, Dave then confirming the date of January 1992. As a further teaser to what Barrett has in his collection behind Dave on the table we can see nine further reel boxes, although they’re too far away to make out any details written on them.

Barrett then mentions a song title not heard before, ‘Heavy Handed’. Dave doesn’t remember it, suggesting it was another collaboration song between the pair, rather than a Grohl solo track. Barrett attempts to play the recording of ‘Alone + Easy Target’ but has technical troubles, and the credits for the show then kick in.

This is of course a new date for us, as we previously had attributed those two songs and few others to a broad date of ‘February – June 1992’. It seems we were a little off on that estimate, and he recorded those two a month earlier. This will be reflected in an update to the site soon.

The show returns to this footage later in the episode featuring a lot more information, and this time, audio playbacks. Dave prefaces the footage by stating he didn’t feel a lot of these songs he wrote whilst in Nirvana were very good, and we see some previously unreleased footage of Grohl sat outside, playing an acoustic guitar.

It’s hard to say when and where this footage was shot, but given the subject matter, it would be easy to assume it was either at Robert Lang or an incarnation of Laundry Room Studio some time around 1994. We then see some more rare, unseen footage, this time extremely grainy black and white footage of Grohl playing drums.

Grohl gets up from the kit and says “Let’s listen to it” so it’s safe to assume this footage was shot by Barrett at their home/studio in the nineties.

Back to the Laundry Room Studio in October 2013 and in an interview between Grohl and Jones the latter tells the former that he has “like 40 songs, or 40 various things” and mentions “the hooker song”. Dave again doesn’t remember the track so Barrett plays it for him, and he has a look on his face which can only be described as embarrassment.

This actually isn’t the first time we’ve heard the ‘Hooker’ track however. Barrett played the song in full on Seattle radio in 1994 but it seemingly went un-noticed until last year, when Barrett uploaded a recording to the Laundry Room Website.

You can still listen to the song in full, as well as a summer 1994 demo of ‘I’ll Stick Around’, on the website jukebox here. Listen to the first item labelled ’94 KISW NMS LRR’ and skip to 26:30 to hear ‘I’ll Stick Around’ and 37:10 to hear ‘Hooker’.

Next up Barrett plays a previously unheard song. Neither man mention a title but the lyrics heard are ‘Watered It Down’. Barrett isolates the vocal track and it seems Grohl sang the song in his now well known Fred Schneider impersonation voice. As with ‘Hooker’, Grohl looks downright embarrassed by the track, so don’t expect to be hearing this one in full any time soon!

As you can see Barrett has the session reel box resting in his lap but with the angle and quality of the video it’s hard to make out any of the other titles. If you can, get in touch and let us know. Another reel is played featuring yet another previously unheard demo and this time Dave seems much more enthused by what he’s hearing, saying that remembered the track and even air drums to it. Again no title is mentioned but the lyrics appear to be either ‘Empty Handed’ or ‘Heavy Handed’. Was this therefore the song Barrett mentioned earlier which Dave said he forgot?

Dave rolls off in his office chair and exclaims ‘More tapes’!. We see him picking up the reel for December 19th 1990 that we’ve previously seen before but that one is not played, he instead digs down further to pick up another.

Yet again we hear a snippet of a song never before heard, and Barrett again asks Grohl if he recalls it.He seems unsure, but then remembers once the lyrics kick in. “Faking me out, cos the times all mine” is the only line we hear clearly, the music then lowering in volume as a narration from Dave plays over the top, marking the end of the ‘demo playback session’. It’s not quite the end of hearing them though, as the episode then immediately cuts into a segment with the demo version of ‘Alone + Easy Target’ playing as the audio. We need to confirm, but this seems to be a different version to the one currently circulating.

Another point of interest in the episode came with Dave being shown a photo of the whole band at Robert Lang Studio.

There has been some confusion over this photo online for a few years, as the date written onto it is October 1995, which doesn’t correlate with any known session. Barrett Jones believed it to be from the X-Files session and this is seemingly corroborated by everyone in the film, Robert Lang, Dave Grohl and Nate Mendel all seeming to confirm it was taken during the X-Files session. The confusion of course being that to our knowledge, that session was recorded in January 1996. So is the October 1995 date a mistake? We assume so.

Just when the viewer thinks the episode is all over, we get another audio tease. As the credits begin to roll we hear audio from the playback session with Dave saying to Barrett “Oh my god, we did Kids In America”, which is then played, in part, over the credits. We first learnt of this cover some years ago, recorded on February 16th 1991. We don’t get to hear the song in full, but it’s a nice tease.

So, a very interesting episode with some revealing, brand new audio snippets. Will we hear more of these in the future? We can only hope, but given Dave’s reaction to some of the tracks Barrett played for him any release of these tracks in future will surely be extremely selective.