20 Years Ago: Why Foo Fighters’ ‘One by One’ Didn’t Come Easily
Foo Fighters' fourth album - released on Oct 22, 2002 - did not come easily. It's even fair to say it was the fledging band's most difficult endeavor to date.
But that's why, at the time, Dave Grohl called One by One "my favorite Foo Fighters."
"It was kind of a struggle to make it happen," Grohl told this writer during the tour supporting One by One, whose No. 3 debut on the Billboard 200 chart was the Foos' highest at the time. It would go on to be certified platinum, win a pair of Grammy Awards (including Best Rock Album) and spawn Foos staples such as "Times Like These," "All My Life" and "Low." Nevertheless, Grohl acknowledged, "For a while, we really weren't getting it, and I think we were all worried that we might not."
Foo Fighters certainly had momentum heading into One by One. Its three predecessors had gone platinum, two had debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 and 1999's There Is Nothing Left to Lose, One by One's predecessor, won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album as well as spawning the Foos' highest-charting hit of the '90s, "Learn to Fly." The shows had gotten bigger, too.
Watch Foo Fighters' 'Times Like These' Video
"All of a sudden we were, like, an arena rock band - which is something I never, ever, ever imagined happening to us," Grohl said. "I sort of wrestled with it at first: 'God, I don't know if I like this, man.' You feel like you have to be Freddie Mercury or Axl Rose to fill a room that big. Then after a few shows, I realized, 'Hey, man, you know what's good about this? It's just a band playing onstage. We're kicking ass, and sure, we've got some badass lights and we've got an awesome sound system, but ultimately it's easy and natural and I don't have to pretend to be someone else or something I'm not. It's really pretty cool. It's fun."
The Foos, who had just added guitarist Chris Shiflett after Pat Smears' first departure from the band, began working on new material in early 2001 at drummer Taylor Hawkins' home studio in Topanga, Calif. But it didn't take long for the wheels to start wobbling. Hawkins overdosed on heroin during the summer European tour, which left him in a coma for a couple of weeks. While he recovered, Grohl played drums on Queens of the Stone Age's Songs For the Deaf, then brought the Foos back together to work with producer Adam Kasper at Grohl's Studio 606 in Alexandria, Va. When those sessions proved uninspiring, the group uprooted to Conway Studios in Los Angeles.
They were suddenly prolific, recording a reported 29 songs, including "The One," which appeared in the film Orange County. But after spending four months and more than $1,000,000, the band was unhappy - even with each other. Bassist Nate Mendel, the sole remaining member left from the first Foo Fighters lineup, acknowledged that he and Grohl were at odds.
"It was pretty hard on the first version, which was four months of toiling over production, trying to get [the sound] right - and then we threw it away," Grohl remembered. Dubbing the results "million-dollar demos" and described by Grohl in NY Rock as "far too clean, too tame and boring," the band paused during April 2002 and worked on a variety of other endeavors. Grohl even feared that the group's appearance at the 2002 Coachella Music and Arts Festival might be its last show ever, especially after some particularly argumentative rehearsals. But while on break from a Queens of the Stone Age tour, Grohl called the Foos back together, brought in Nick Raskulinecz, who engineered the original sessions, to produce and made another go at the album. This time it proved to be successful.
"We went into my basement studio maybe just to demo some new songs and wound up with an album in 10 days, which is the way we should always make records," said Grohl, who worked with Hawkins in Virginia while Mendel and Shiflett recorded their parts in Los Angeles with Raskulinecz while Grohl was on the road with QOTSA. Some songs were reworked from the original sessions, while new tracks "Times Like These," "Low" and "Disenchanted Lullaby" were added to the mix. Only "Tired of You," which featured a guest appearance by Queen's Brian May, remained from the fall 2001 recordings.
Watch Foo Fighters' 'All My Life' Video
"I think what was missing from a lot of the music [previously] had been that spirit, that energy that we wanted," Grohl said. "The studio can squash that spirit of energy, that passion, that spark that you hear in live recordings. I think that the second time around, we captured a lot of that on this album. It's not easy to do, but somehow we figured it out.
"It taught me that the best way to do it is, Go into the studio without the intention of making an album. Just go in the studio and jam. That's kind of what happened, and it really saved us."
One by One also featured backing vocals by Grohl's former Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic on "Walking a Line," while Gregg Bissonette played drums on "Danny Says." (Both songs were included as bonus tracks to the album.)
In addition to its No. 3 debut on the Billboard 200, One by One topped charts in the U.K., Australia, Ireland and Scotland. "All My Life" and "Times Like These" hit the Top 5 of Billboard's Mainstream Rock and Alternative Airplay charts, while the former won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.