Ahead of its release on June 02, writer Teddy Coward breaks down the Foos emotional and powerful new album.
There’s a moment on Foo Fighters’ forthcoming album, ‘But Here We Are’, that’ll break even the hardiest of rock fans. Two-thirds of the way through a record that sees Dave Grohl and co. work through the grief that’s beset the band since the death of Taylor Hawkins last year, Grohl duets with the album’s only feature: his daughter, Violet.
“I’ll take care of everything,” they take turns singing, on seventh track ‘Show Me How’, assuming the responsibility after someone’s death. This father-daughter vocal dovetail is made all the more poignant by the fact the Foos haven’t just been reeling from the death of their long-time drummer, but the loss of Dave’s mother, Virginia, who passed away in August.
The pair were exceptionally close, Virginia often accompanying the band on tour. In 2017, she even wrote a book, ‘From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars’, which not only relayed motherly advice in atypical circumstances but, between the lines, impressed just how much she adored and nurtured her son. The feeling was mutual.
‘But Here We Are’ is a heavy record for this very reason, grappling with loss almost at almost every line. Across its ten tracks, a consistent thread reoccurs throughout the lyrics: imagining someone’s presence only to be reminded of their absence.
Yet as was evident in the Foos’ half-jokingly-titled ‘Preparing Music For Concerts’ livestream last weekend – in which they confirmed Josh Freese as their new drummer for upcoming tour dates – there’s a camaraderie that has helped them through it all.
And, of course, there’s some incredible tunes. ‘But Here We Are’ is in fact the first Foo Fighters album where Grohl wrote the lyrics first, adding the musical firepower of bandmates Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett and Rami Jaffee, and production hand of Greg Kurstin (who Grohl once hailed “a fucking genius”) afterwards.
Its creation was also carried out largely in secret, processing the anguish of the past year or so away from the glare of any commercial pressures. It’s pure, pained, rock expression, and lives up to the band’s preface for the record as being “a testament to the healing powers of music”.
With that all in mind, and ahead of its release next week, here’s everything you need to know about ‘But Here We Are’, track by track.
The album’s lead single, the arrival of ‘Rescued’ was reflected the track’s opening lyrics, “It came in a flash, it came outta nowhere”. The immediate reference, of course, is to Hawkins’ death; the following questions of “Are you feeling what I’m feeling? This is happening now” reflect a disbelief at the news, a sense of time standing still.
Foos fans will of course be well-versed in the track by now, but listening to is as part of the full album, it’s clear why this kicks off the record. Grohl’s refrain, “I’m just waiting to be rescued, bring me back to life” sets up a theme that recurs throughout; a sense of being between the living and the dead, of feeling someone’s loss so strongly that you become more present to them than ever, and like a part of you in turn has died.
But in a strange way, that’s what lends this album a real sense of life. “We’re all just waiting to be rescued tonight / To be rescued tonight” lends a hand out like an invite to the last rock gig on earth.
Likewise, fans will be familiar with this previously released single. The lines that stand out, however, hit in the pre-chorus, “Over it, think I’m getting over it / But there’s no getting over it”. It’s the ultimate coming-to-terms with a grief that may very well be lifelong. There’s hope there, though, that “Someday I’ll come out from under you,” away from the immediate pang of loss, able instead to remember the good times and the memories.
Where ‘Under You’ at least has an element of hope sonically via its jaunty riffs (which albeit are at odds with its weighty lyrics), ‘Hearing Voices’ has a far more melancholic, grungy arrangement and is where the album’s emotional heft really begins to take hold.
This sound is matched by the lyrics that capture that sense of someone’s not-quite-being-there. “I’ve been hearing voices / None of them are you,” Grohl sings. This is the main sentiment of the track, emphasised when Grohl asks, “Speak to me, my love”. When this line repeats over pared-back piano at the song’s end, the momentary quietness adds a real sense of depth by its contrast to other raucous parts of the album.
But Here We Are
“Waning, Fading Innocence,” Grohl draws out on this title track, in long, elongated pronunciation. “I gave you my heart, but here we are”. The overarching tone and message of this near-midpoint of the album begins to plant the seed of acceptance – only for grief to be weathered again until the album’s end. On the second chorus lies one of the most pained “Oohs” you’re likely to hear and a wild howl near the track’s close indicates it’s always better out than in.
The lyrics of this track sound most referential to Grohl’s relationship and grief for his mum. Although it could still refer to the feeling induced by his longtime rock brother-in-arms, one line sticks out like a sorrowful thumb: “I had a version of home / And just like that I was left to live without it”.
Grohl’s lyrics here echo what the Foos frontman said in a Stephen Colbert interview alongside his mother, promoting her book in 2017. Describing the stress of life on tour and the death of the late, great Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain, Grohl said whenever he felt overwhelmed, he would “just go back to Virginia, where I grew up… back to the bedroom I grew up in… go back home, hang out with my mum and see my friends”.
The evident ease between them – Virginia being both a mother and a friend – is echoed in another repeated line of this track, “There is something between us / Between me and you”. Overall, the symbolic imagery of ‘The Glass’ is a clever one; whilst, like glass, there was a transparency between Dave and his mum, the material is also easily breakable, able to shatter into a million pieces.
Nothing At All
This unreleased track debuted on the ‘Preparing Music For Concerts’ last Sunday, giving fans a glimpse of the album’s sound beyond the singles released to date. It’s mostly geared around the life-affirming line in the chorus “Everything or nothing at all” – an uncompromising feeling that exists “Now that all the feeling is gone”. The sense of numb shock of the opener, of having “fell in a trap / My heart’s getting colder” has now given way to an all-or-nothing perspective.
It was following their performance of this track on the livestream special that we also learnt Grohl is behind the drums for the forthcoming album, as Freese picked his brains about how the track was originally put together.
Show Me How
This beautiful tune poses numerous questions. After a breezy guitar, wind-ruffling-through-hair style opener, it begins simply by asking “Where have you gone? / I walk in circles, back to square one” before later adding “Where are you now? Who will show me how?‘” It really is the Violet Grohl feature that makes this track shine, though, as she takes it in turns and also harmonises with her father on the line “I’ll take care of everything”, starting to turn the corner – only just – on a sense of loss.
The final three tracks mark something of an emotional turning point in the album, with words that give a sense of letting go. Prescient of the next track, Grohl here assumes the role of philosopher or teacher. After its hushed opening refrain of “You must release what you hold dear / Or so I fear,” Grohl later proceeds with reflections that “Everything we love must grow old / Or so I’m told”.
The concept of something in ‘The Beyond’ is likewise firmly rooted throughout the record; Grohl tries to speak to those now passed and come to terms with the one thing that happens to us all. “But it’s beyond me / Forever young and free,” he sings, trying to conjure a hope that things will last, whilst aware they never do.
Whilst ‘The Glass’ lyrics sound most reflective of Grohl’s maternal loss, it’s impossible not to deem the title of this track as an ode to his mum, who spent more than 30 years as a public-school teacher in Fairfax County. Yet at more than ten minutes long, the twists and turns of this epic track make it about more than one person, but lessons gleaned from life as a whole. Its opening lines commence a dose of poetry, “Who’s at the door now? / Sun goes down, windows wide”, before a meandering run of guitar kicks into life when Grohl yells “Where will I wake up?” and repeats “Wake up” over and over, echoing the sentiments of opening track ‘Rescued’.
There are reflections on his mother, perhaps most evidently in the line “You showed me how to breathe… / Never showed me how to say goodbye”; a clear reference to the person who gave Grohl life but has now left this mortal coil. Breathing is used as a symbol of life, both metaphorically and actually; one minute you’re alive and breathing, the next you’re not. With that in mind, there’s a desire to appreciate every moment, to “Try and make good with the air that’s left / Counting every minute / Living breath by breath”.
And after the valuable life education this track provides, derived from the highs and the lows – “Every page turns / It’s a lesson learned in time” – the track ends with a customary mammoth Grohl growl, saying “Goodbye” before heavy distortion kicks in to bring the tune to a close. That significant word leads directly into the next and final tune.
After working through the album, almost inevitably the record arrives at the final stage of grief: acceptance. As its title suggests, ‘Rest’ is a message of letting-go. In some ways, it shares much of the same framework as the previous tune, beginning with a splash of lyrical picture-painting, of “Waking up / Bottom of an empty cup”, before later pronouncing the lessons learnt: “Love and trust / Life is just a game of luck / All this time escaping us / Until our time is through”.
But as with the first track, ‘Rest’ rests on its title word, one refrain lamenting “Rest, you can rest now / Rest, you will be safe now”. At one point, an explosive injection of drums and guitars is matched by Grohl belting out “Re-e-e-e-s-t”; he yells it so powerfully it’s as though he really is trying to deliver the line beyond this world and into another.
It’s a track that provides the ultimate sense of finality to this 48-minute project and speaks to the very heart of what Foo Fighters are all about: making great rock tunes that bear the burden that all life throws at us. This, after all, is a band forged in death, from the embers of a post-Cobain existence for Grohl, before he famously went on to write and record all the music for the Foo’s self-titled debut himself. (Hence why his drums on this album make it all the more sentimental).
Grohl might have been joking that last week’s livestream special might as well have been called ‘Foo Fighters: Just Playing Some Tunes With The Guys’, but there’s something profound beneath that jesting title; it’s a reminder to enjoy the sessions we have left and how that’s what Foo Fighters have always done best… just playing some tunes with the guys… an afternoon of just playing some tunes with the guys… a rare afternoon of just playing some tunes with the guys.
‘But Here We Are’ is out June 02 via Roswell Records/Columbia Records.