Released at Austin’s SXSW Festival in March 2011, Back and Forth is a documentary that chronicles Dave Grohl’s journey from drumming for Nirvana to starting the Foo Fighters, and continuing all the way through their album Wasting Light. As a longtime Foo Fighters fan, I knew some of the backstory but the documentary also provided a ton of new information that depicted a different side of Grohl and the revolving door of band members.
Although the film was released in 2011, it didn’t become available on Netflix until September 2017 and this week I finally had a chance to watch it. I enjoyed hearing all the details that gave Grohl the strength to turn down Tom Petty, get past Nirvana, and put together one of my favorite rock and roll bands of all time.
I’ve always joked that Grohl is my spirit animal and if I had the option to meet one living musician he would be it. His passion for music is undeniable and I love that about him. All that being said, this film marked the first time I heard negative comments spoken about Grohl which was surprising but also humanized him a bit. Hearing that he wanted things his way, even if people’s feelings got hurt, was unexpected but honestly didn’t make him any less likable.
A few thoughts on the documentary – which won a Grammy Award in the Best Long Form Music Video category – and what I learned:
- Following Kurt Cobain’s death, Tom Petty asked Grohl to go on tour with him and play drums for his band. While he did play with Petty on an episode of Saturday Night Live, Grohl clearly decided to pursue the Foo Fighters instead.
- Two of the members of the band Sunny Day Real Estate, which was signed to Sub Pop Records like Nirvana, became the Foo Fighters rhythm section. Nate Mendel played bass and William Goldsmith played drums.
- Pat Smear – who played for both Nirvana and Foos – was also an original member.
- Following the end of Nirvana, people gave Grohl a hard time about starting another band and playing loud, guitar-heavy rock. His response: “What do you want me to do? Make a fucking reggae record?!”
- During their first year as a band, the Foos toured for seven of the twelve months.
- Their second record, The Color and the Shape, was produced by Gil Norton who was known for his work with the Pixies. After hearing the finished album, Grohl decided he didn’t like the work Goldsmith did on drums so he rerecorded all the drum tracks himself. Once Goldsmith found out, he quit the band.
- Taylor Hawkins, who was playing drums for Alanis Morissette at the time, heard about the opening in the band and decided to audition. He got the gig.
- When Smear quit the band because he didn’t want to go out on the road again, Franz Stahl from Scream took over. Grohl was part of Scream (in fact he dropped out of high school to play drums for them) but eventually left to play with Nirvana.
- Stahl’s tenure with the band (which lasted two years before Grohl kicked him out) began on the roof of Radio City Music Hall where the band was performing live for an MTV awards show.
- Chris Shiflett, guitarist for No Use for a Name and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, was hired in 1999. He became the Foos’ third guitar player.
- Following Hawkins’ overdose, the band went through serious turmoil that led to Grohl going on tour with Queens of the Stone Age. Additionally, after spending a million dollars on One by One, the band rerecorded the album in Grohl’s basement. “Times Like These” is about the issues the band experienced during that time.
- “All My Life” is one of the band’s favorite songs to play live.
- Pat Smear returned to the band for the acoustic tour that supported In Your Honor.
- Selling out two nights at London’s famed Wembley Stadium meant six months of preparation. The looks on the band members’ faces as 90,000 people sang along with them exemplifies how much they love to play. In awe and drenched in sweat, Grohl looked absolutely mesmerized.
- Their seventh record, which became Wasting Light, was produced by Butch Vig (who produced Nevermind and was in the band Garbage) in a garage using tape.
- Husker Du lead singer and guitar player Bob Mould was brought in to sing vocals on “Rosemary.” Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) played bass on “I Should Have Known.”
During the Wasting Light recording sessions, which took place in Grohl’s home, one of his daughters came in to ask him to go swimming. He told her he was going to take a “five-minute lyric break” and then get in the pool with her. While they swam, Mould sang his part of the song and then everyone gave it a listen when Grohl returned with wet hair.
I love that Grohl is a real person who loves making great rock music as much as he loves his family. He drives around with a Motorhead air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror and still plays small clubs like the Roxy even though his band has sold out stadiums with capacity numbers that reach well into six figures. It really is amazing how many great songs and albums the Foo Fighters have produced over the last twenty years. I will always be a fan.
Foo Fighters (1995): “This Is A Call” and “I’ll Stick Around”
Grohl recorded the whole record himself and chose the name “Foo Fighters” to hide his identity as he passed cassette copies to close friends. After these tapes attracted record label interest, Grohl signed with Capitol and recruited a full band to perform live.
The Color and the Shape (1997): Main singles “Monkey Wrench,” “Everlong,” and “My Hero” peaked within the top ten on rock radio and the album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album.
There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999): “Learn to Fly”
The album marks the first appearance of drummer Taylor Hawkins and it won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2001.
One by One (2002): “All My Life” and “Times Like These”
Won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2004—the second Grammy Award for Best Rock Album won by the band.
In Your Honor (2005): “Best of You”
The album was nominated for five Grammy Awards: Best Rock Album, Best Surround Sound Album, both Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Best of You,” and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Virginia Moon.”
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007): “The Pretender” and “Long Road to Ruin”
Nominated for five Grammy Awards, won Best Rock Album, and earned the Brit Award of Best International Album.
Wasting Light (2011): “Rope” became their second song ever to debut at number one on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart. Other singles included “Bridge Burning,” “These Days,” and “Walk.” In 2012, Wasting Light earned the Foo Fighters four Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album.