Following the death of Kurt Cobain and resulting demise of Nirvana Dave Grohl found himself in a strange place, not knowing where he wanted to go musically nor what his future held. "After Kurt's death, I was about as confused as I've ever been. To continue almost seemed in vain. I was always going to be 'that guy from Kurt Cobain's band' and I knew that. I wasn't even sure if I had the desire to make music anymore." he explained.
His outlook changed however when he unexpectedly received a note from musicians in a similar position with words of advice. "I received a postcard from fellow Seattle band 7 Year Bitch, who had also lost a member. It said, 'We know what you're going through. The desire to play music is gone for now, but it will return. Don't worry.' That fucking letter saved my life, because as much as I missed Kurt, and as much as I felt so lost, I knew that there was only one thing that I was truly cut out to do and that was music. I know that sounds so incredibly corny, but I honestly felt that. I decided to do what I had always wanted to do since the first time I'd recorded a song all by myself. I was going to book a week in a 24 track studio, choose the best stuff I'd ever written out of the 30 or 40 songs that had piled up, and really concentrate on them in a real studio. So I booked time at the studio down the street and got my shit together."
The studio Grohl decided on was the Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, Washington, booking a week there from October 17th - 23rd 1994. He was already familiar with the studio having recorded what turned out to be the final Nirvana recording session at the same studio just nine months earlier and had even recorded some of his own material with Krist at that session.
Close friend Barrett Jones was once again in place to record and produce the session, the two now being very familiar with each other and how to get the best out of recording. "The first four hours was spent getting sounds" recalled Grohl. "This was a cinch for Barrett, whom I'd asked to produce since he was the one person in the world I felt comfortable singing in front of. By five o'clock we were ready to record".
Barrett and Grohl had been recording together for the previous six years and by this point a simple process for recording had been devised by the pair. "Barrett and I had perfected our own method of recording" recalled Grohl, "Start with the drums, listen to playback while humming tune in head to make sure arrangement is correct, put down two or three guitar tracks -- mind you, all amplifiers and everything are ready to go before recording begins -- do bass track and move on to next songs, saving vocals for last".
Grohl recorded every instrument himself during the session (as he had done for many of his earlier demos) with the exception of one guitar track on 'X-Static', which was recorded by Greg Dulli of the band 'Afghan Whigs', the pair having previously worked together on the soundtrack for 'Backbeat', a drama adaptation film documenting the early days of The Beatles.
Dulli was present at the session and was amazed by the speed at which Grohl would work. "He'd do a whole song in about 40 minutes" recalled Dulli. "I was completely fascinated by it. He could do it because he has perfect time. He'd lay down a perfect drum beat and work off that. He'd play drums, run out and play bass, and then put two guitar layers over the top and sing it". With Dulli present Grohl naturally asked if he wanted to record on one of the songs. "I was just watching him record, and he asked me if I wanted to play. I didn't even get out of my chair. He just handed me a guitar".
Grohl also had similar memories of the speed of the session, recalling how it became something of a challenge for him. "It became sort of a game. I wanted to see how little time it could take me to track 15 songs, complete with overdubs and everything. I did the basic tracks in two and a half days, meaning I was literally running from instrument to instrument, using mostly first takes on everything". Grohl and producer Barrett met their target, all tracks recorded and rough mixes for every song created within the week.
Equipment for the session was fairly simple, Grohl using a combination of a custom Les Paul and a red Gibson Trini Lopez for recording guitar tracks with a Pro Co RAT 2 for effects. For amplification a Marshall JCM 900 was used for the most part but for some of the more 'grunge' sounds, a battery powered Marshall Amp placed inside a gas can (nicknamed "the can") was used. This setup was also used for the distorted vocal effect on the tracks 'Podunk' and 'Weenie Beenie'. The drum kit Grohl used was the same Tama kit he'd used in Nirvana.
Fifteen songs in total were recorded during the session, most of which were written and recorded by Grohl before Kurt's death, whilst still in Nirvana. 'Winnebago' had been recorded in 1991 and featured on 'Pocketwatch' and an instrumental version of 'Podunk' had been recorded by Grohl, his sister Lisa and Mike Dees in April 1992 under the name 'Allister Lob'.
The songs 'Big Me', 'Alone + Easy Target', 'Exhausted', 'Good Grief', 'Weenie Beenie', 'Floaty' and 'For All The Cows' were all recorded during downtime from Nirvana in 1992 and 1993 and early recordings of all these songs are circulating amongst with the exception of 'For All The Cows'. The track 'Butterflies' originated from as early as May 1992 and was also recorded by Grohl and Krist Novoselic in January 1994.
The only songs without a known earlier demo are therefore 'This Is A Call', 'I'll Stick Around', 'X-Static', 'Wattershed' and 'Oh, George'. In a 2006 interview Grohl confirmed 'This Is A Call' was post-Nirvana, written on his honeymoon in summer 1994. 'I'll Stick Around' and 'Oh, George' were also first demoed by Grohl after April 1994, detailed earlier in the book.
The only two songs therefore with unknown origins are 'X-Static' and 'Wattershed' although in 'The Dave Grohl Story' author Jeff Apter suggests the latter was also written by Grohl whilst on honeymoon, taking an acoustic guitar with him.
For the new songs without any lyrics Grohl wrote them in the studio, often scrawled down just before he went in to record the vocals. "By no means am I a lyricist" Grohl recalled. "But a lot of times, the things you write down spur of the moment are most revealing. Now I look at them and some of them seem to actually have meaning. I had seven days to record fifteen songs, I was just concentrating on everything being as together as possible, having everything be tight and in sync. There wasn't too much time spent sitting on a chair thinking".
With an albums worth of songs recorded Grohl had plans to start his own record label, release some music only on Vinyl and not put his name on it. His idea was that that people would not know it was "That drummer from Nirvana", instead taking the music at face value.
One of the reasons he gave the music he recorded a name, 'Foo Fighters', was so that people would think it was a band rather than just one person recording all of the instruments. "I wanted to get an independent distributor to send it out into the world. Maybe 10,000, 20,000 copies, so that people would think, 'God, who is this band Foo Fighters? I've never heard of them before'. I just wanted it to be this real anonymous release" said Grohl. Things didn't exactly pan out that way though.
The very next day after Grohl had completed the session he went to a cassette duplication lab in Seattle and ran off 100 copies of the complete session, roughly mixed at Robert Lang Studios. He would later described this as the first mistake in keeping the release anonymous as he originally desired.
The second mistake was his generosity. "That fucking tape spread like the Ebola virus, leaving me with an answering machine full of record company jive." recalled Grohl. "I'd give tapes to everybody. Kids would come up to me and say 'Nirvana was my favourite band' and I'd say 'well here, have this'".
The mixes done at Robert Lang on the final day of the session were only very rough and eventually those mixes were discarded and the sessions moved to Rob Schnapf and Tom Rothrock's 'The Shop' studio in Arcata, California for proper mixing.
These new mixes were completed on a 32 channel API DeMedio console, custom built by Frank DeMedio in 1972 for Wally Heider Recording's 'Studio 4'. A Stephen's 24 track 2 inch tape machine was used for playback. Processors used in the mixes included an Eventide Omnipressor compressor for vocals and guitar solos, an Alan Smart stereo compressor for "squashing" the drums and mixing them back in as well as being used over the entire mix.
Other processors included UREI 1176 and LA3A compressors as well as an Echoplex for delays and a "crappy digital reverb" according to Schnapf. Mixes were "nothing that crazy" he mentioned, adding that he "mixed Big Me in 20 minutes".
With all of the music now known to be by Dave Grohl and many songs being aired on US radio, spreading like wildfire, Grohl realised he would need a band of musicians if he wanted to promote it, and more importantly, play it live.
Sunny Day Real Estate, an Alt-Rock band from Washington, D.C. were breaking up around the time Dave finished recording the tape. "I jammed around with a few people before meeting [Sunny Day bassist] Nate Mendel. His girlfriend was a good friend of my wife, and they joined us for a Thanksgiving party at my house" Grohl recalled.
Shortly afterwards he then gave a copy of the tape to Pat Smear, the second live guitarist in Nirvana between 1993 and 1994 and former member of The Germs. "Not long after meeting Nate, I gave a tape to Pat. I knew that the band would need two guitars, but didn't think that Pat would want to commit to anything or that he would even like the music. To my surprise, not only did he like the tape, he expressed interest in joining up".
Smear explained his reasons for doing so in a later interview. "After you've been in the coolest band ever, what do you do?" he recalled asking himself at the time. "I sat on the couch with the remote control in my hand for a year. I didn't know if I ever wanted to be in a band again. I was just working on solo stuff. Dave and I had kept in touch and I had heard about his tape, but I didn't know what to expect. When I heard the tape, I flipped. Dave gave it to me at a club and I went home. After I listened to it, I went back to the club. But I didn't want to ask to join the band. I waited for him to ask me." With guitar and bass positions in the new band seemingly filled there was only one position left.
"[Now] I just wanted to find the perfect drummer." said Grohl. "Enter William Goldsmith" he proclaimed. Goldsmith was the drummer of Sunny Day Real Estate alongside Mendel. "Though I had never seen or heard them, I knew a little about them. I saw them play their last few shows in Seattle and was blown away by Nate and Will. So you can imagine my first reaction when I heard the band was calling it quits. I gave the two of them tapes through my wife's friend and prayed they'd enjoy them." he said. " We got together and it was soon apparent that this was to be that next band. I wanted everyone to have the freedom to do whatever they wanted to do within the songs, each member as important as the next" he added.
Grohl stuck to his plan and did create his own label named 'Roswell Records' (keeping to the UFO theme), but also signed to Capitol Records as a major distributor. The first album was released on Vinyl as Grohl has envisioned, but also on cassette and CD.
The record was released on Independence Day, July 4th 1995 and of the fifteen songs recorded, twelve were included on the album. Two of the others, 'Winnebago' and 'Podunk', were used as B-sides on the first single release, 'This Is A Call'. The only song therefore not officially released from this session is 'Butterflies' although recordings including that track do circulate from the cassettes Grohl duplicated and handed out.
Whilst Smear, Goldsmith and Mendel were not involved in the recording of the album, they were featured on the inner artwork for the record and received a percentage of royalties.