Dave Grohl May Be Fond Of String Quartets, But Foo Fighters Haven’t Gone Soft

'I still listen to Slayer once a week,' says frontman, chalking up new LP's serious sound, lyrics to 'musical exploration.'

Dave Grohl has been in the rock business for more than 20 years now, and during that time, he’s seen many so-called “musical movements” come and go. Thus, he’s particularly amused by the current generation of emo-punk acts bounding across stages worldwide. After all, he’s been doing this for so long that he remembers emo the first time it came around.

“I have a funny relationship with emo,” he said. “I’m from Washington, D.C., and in the mid-’80s, the hardcore scene changed from what it was — Bad Brains and Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys and MDC — to a bunch of new bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace, which Ian MacKaye was the singer for. Everyone started labeling it ‘emo-core.’ So I went to Rites of Spring’s first show, and it was a revelation. I’d never heard anything like it, and it was a really emotional experience. But in D.C., we all hated that ‘emo-core’ tag.”

(Watch Dave Grohl talk about his emo past.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that Grohl has placed a song called “Cheer Up Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running)” smack-dab in the middle of the Foo Fighters’ upcoming Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace album, due September 25. After all, Grohl has always struck us as the kind of rock star who’s aware of the inherent silliness of being a rock star — the kind of guy not afraid to take a few potshots at those who take themselves a tad too seriously. So the song must be a sort of piss-take on this current crop of raccoon-eyed emo boys, right?

Wrong.

“The title has nothing to do with the song — it’s placed right in the middle of the record, where there’s a lot of dark stuff. It’s a pretty heavy record. We have a couple bummer tunes,” Grohl said. “I felt the album needed something to sit in the center and balance it. So we had this lighthearted song, and I called it ‘Cheer Up Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running)’ because it seemed like a little ray of hope in the middle of all this despair.”

(Watch Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl insist the band isn’t going soft.)

It is statements like that from the normally jovial Grohl that provide the first hint that perhaps Echoes isn’t your run-of-the-mill Foo Fighters effort. Building on the musical ground they excavated on 2005′s double-discer In Your Honor (see “Dave Grohl: The Gambler”) and the foundations laid during the Foos’ acoustic tour last year (see “Dave Grohl Gets Personal At Foo Fighters Acoustic Show In Hollywood” ), the new album finds the band inhabiting a vast new sonic space, equal parts quiet and loud, refined and raw.

“The acoustic side of In Your Honor was about breaking out of this formula we’d been caged in for years. We wanted to try something new to expand the sound of the band, like a whisper-quiet acoustic song or this wall-of-noise rock stuff and anything in between,” he explained. “And the acoustic tour, going out with eight people — I’d never played with strings and Mellotrons and vibes, and we were doing all these new versions of old songs. I realized all this melodic and instrumental potential, like, ‘Wow, man. Imagine if we could do this with rock songs.’ So I started writing [this new album] with that in mind. Like, ‘I’m not scared of a string quartet. I’m not afraid of playing piano.’ ”

That sonic seriousness is coupled with a newfound heaviness to Grohl’s lyrics, which he attributes in part to the birth of his daughter, Violet Maye, last year. And after heading up the band for nearly 13 years, he feels like the Foo Fighters are finally ready to test new terrain, which is why they opted to give their sixth studio effort such a, well, sensitive handle.

“It’s tough to name a record,” he said. “A lot of bands go into the studio with the title already in place, but we sort of figure it out when we’re in there, and when we’re done, you try to find this slogan to sum up the whole album. It’s strange, especially for an album like this, where it’s really diverse and the music is moving in different directions and there are different lyrical themes. So I think it needed a beautiful title, something that represented grace and sound and beauty.”

And it is statements like that that might have Foo fans a little worried. Have fatherhood and a newfound appreciation for “arrangements” finally caused Grohl to go soft?

“Not at all. I still listen to Slayer once a week,” he said. “But a lot of people who came to see us on our first tour in ’95 might have been 22 then, and now they’re as old as me.

“It’s all about musical exploration,” he continued. “We have moments of kick-you-in-the-teeth rock stuff, but there’s a lot of power in that lower dynamic too. To be able to get a room to pin-drop silence with an acoustic song that means something is sometimes even more powerful than all the lights and lasers and amps in the world.”