EXCLUSIVE Interview: Dave Grohl on Cutting the New Foo Fighters Album's Master Tape to Pieces--and Giving Them Away to the Fans
Imagine our surprise when we received the advance CD of the Foo Fighters' new album, Wasting Light, and we noticed the following sticker copy:
Recorded Entirely On Analog Tape in Dave's Garage. A piece of the ORIGINAL MASTER TAPE included in this package.
Upon opening the cardboard case we found out that, yes, there was about an inch of magnetic recording tape inside the booklet.
Wait--don't bands often fight protracted legal battles to recover their precious, hallowed "master tapes" from greedy record companies and managers? Aren't these precious objects what you need to remix and remaster later versions of the album every time a new audio format replaces the previous one?
We were confused, and thus we did what we always do when we're confused:
We called Dave Grohl.
LA WEEKLY: Hey, what's up Dave.
DAVE GROHL: Hi--we're here rehearsing for SNL [that was last Thursday]
LA WEEKLY: So, am I holding a piece of the ACTUAL the master tape for Wasting Light?
DAVE GROHL: Yeah, basically we recorded the record in my garage to analog tape, and probably wound up with 20-30 reels of tapes, masters reels with all the takes on them, reels with alternate takes. At the end of the session I thought it would be an extraordinary move to destroy all the masters and give the pieces of the tapes to the fans.
Everyone was saying, "Can you do that? Is that gonna work?" People are so into digital recording now they forgot how easy analog recording can be.
I think it's much easier than using a computer- you just plug in the machine, and you put your microphone in input and get your levels and hit the red button and that's IT. You don't have to scroll through, don't have to install anything; it's really, really simple. Been about 15 years since anyone had recorded an album to analog tape.
First song we recorded was called "Miss the Misery." We finished it in three takes, it sounded really great; Butch went down to edit the drums with a razorblade, and Eddie was editing. He rewound the tape, and the tape started shredding. And the tape was falling apart. And he came upstairs and said, "You know what, I don't know if this is gonna work. The tape is shredding. I think we should back up everything digitally right after we record it." And I said, "NO, Butch, I don't want any computer in this house at all. Maybe it's a bad reel."
The artifact and the sticker
And everyone was so nervous and precious about the tape! No one has any faith in the tape anymore-- everyone just relies on computers and considers the hardrive to be the safest option, and I don't. I think an analog tape is something you can hold ...
When you record digitally, the original version is digital, or does it ever go to tape?
Some people record onto tape, and then they pay for the tape, and download those onto a hard drive. Initially in a Pro Tools program. Other people go straight into digital, and use no tape at all. So after you've made an album on Pro Tools, you just have hard drives and store your hard drive. If you aren't using any tape at all, it's all going straight to a hard drive. But some people like the sonic advantage of using tapes. There's a specific sound analog has-- the tone and compression, and sound does something when it's etched in a tape- something it doesn't necessarily do when they're using digital equipment. People will download it into a Pro Tools session and then manipulate it within a session.
But we didn't want to do that; we wanted to go fully analog. For sonic reasons, and also because I feel like digital recording has gotten out of control. It's too easy to control. When you're recording to analog tape, it captures performance and you can't necessarily manipulate that in different ways. It is what it is.
When I listen to music these days, and I hear Pro Tools and drums that sound like a machine- it kinda sucks the life out of music.
It robs the musicians of their personalities, and their fingerprints, their signature sound. I think the idea to have more of a human sound to this record than just a sterile cold version.
So anyway, everyone was so precious about tapes, so afraid they're gonna shed or break or something will happen to them, weather, "you have to be really careful with them." And that just made me want to destroy it. To prove a point to everybody to show how intangible a real tape can be. I thought, let's chop it up into a million pieces, and give it to the people who buy the album so they can hold it in their hands and see it. A lot of the records you buy, there's nothing you can hold in your hand, it's all 1's and 0's, this digital cloud floating in the ether. but with analog albums, you can hold it in your hand.
There's something about pulling out a real tape from a shelf and looking at it and knowing that "Everlong" is on it, or "Best of You" is on it, and it's really special.
I say that to say you can touch it and know it's real, so we decided to chop it up and put it in the album.
Behold a piece of the Foo Fighters' master tape (penny provided for comparisons--and for your thoughts)
So the master version of this album is a harddrive?
No, we backed it all up to tapes. We did backup reels, we have 25-30 backup reels and tapes, also hard drives. It's second generation analog in our closets, but then we also did hard drives, because now when you do something like Guitar Hero, they have to use that.
So if someone were to grab the little piece of tape and splice it on a longer piece of tape and then played it, would they get like one drumbeat or is it too short to hear anything?
They'd probably get one note, or one drumbeat. I mean, the pieces of tape are like an inch by an inch piece of tape. We chop it up into a million fucking pieces ... if a million people got together and put it back together, they'd get a whole album.
Maybe somebody can sample it.
Yeah, give it to Gaga, maybe she can sample the snare drum beat!
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.