FEATURE: Rubberband Boy: Dave Grohl’s Odyssey, Play: A Benchmark and Education




Rubberband Boy


IN THIS PHOTO: Dave Grohl in Play/PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Stuart

Dave Grohl’s Odyssey, Play: A Benchmark and Education


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PHOTO CREDITGrizzlee Martin for Kerrang!

music is becoming synthetic, distant and electronic. How often do we listen to music and get a real sense of where it comes from and how it is made? I used the analogy before: music, in a way, is becoming a foodstuff where we do not have information regarding its origins, calorific qualities and history. We digest what is put before us and never really think how the instruments interplay; how the artists recorded their parts and how the anatomical nature of the song gestates, grows and finalises – a complete recording that took time and involved a lot of effort. The more we stray away from vinyl and hardware; as we embrace and drool over digital means and the Internet – do we ever really think about the process of music and how it all coalesces?! I feel we are becoming foreign to the production process and less passionate regarding music in its purest form. Dave Grohl is someone who is never too far from the music news. That is not a bad thing: he innovates and splits his time between recording with Foo Fighters and changing the industry. He is keen to teach drums a spread music to as many people as possible. In a recent interview with GQ, he talked about the late Kurt Cobain and finding new light in his lyrics:

 “Even today, listening to Cobain’s music, for Grohl, is almost impossible. “I don’t put Nirvana records on, no. Although they are always on somewhere. I get in the car, they’re on. I go into a shop, they’re on. For me, it’s so personal. I remember everything about those records; I remember the shorts I was wearing when we recorded them or that it snowed that day. Still, I go back and find new meanings to Kurt’s lyrics. Not to seem revisionist, but there are times when it hits me. You go, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise he was feeling that way at the time’”.

The reason Grohl is in the news at the moment is a two-part documentary, Play. The premise of his new project is simple yet very complex: a twenty-three-minute Prog-Rock song that sees Grohl play every instrument. Not only is every part played by Grohl but, if there is a mistake, say, during a drum part; he has to start over again – there are no spaces for errors and cock-ups. Rolling Stone provided the details and rundown:

 “In his ambitious two-part documentary, PlayDave Grohl overdubs multiple instruments into a 23-minute, instrumental prog-rock odyssey.

The project opens with the Foo Fighters leader reflecting on the sheer childlike joy of picking up an instrument. “To any musician, young or old, a beautiful studio full of instruments like a playground,” he says. “To me, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Most musicians are always chasing the next challenge; you never feel satisfied, and you never feel like you’ve completely mastered the instrument you’re playing. It’s always going to be a puzzle; it’s always going to be a challenge. It’s a beautiful mystery. But once it gets its hooks in you, that’s when the obsession and the drive really kick in.”

Grohl then cuts to the “Join the Band” music lessons school in the San Fernando Valley, where instructors teach kids how to play in rock ensembles. Various pre-teens and teenagers discuss how learning an instrument teaches them discipline and fuels their creativity”.

Play concludes with Grohl’s epic, expertly edited in-studio video, in which he overdubs various instruments (electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, Fender Rhodes piano, synthesizers, vibraphone, tambourine, tympani) in a one-man-band approach. The footage is a head trip in itself, piecing together the sessions so that various Grohls appear to play live together in one room”.



There are a couple of reasons why I feel Grohl’s latest project should be taken to heart by musicians. I will come to the beginnings and getting children into music but the fact Play is such an ambitious piece should provoke musicians to up their game. You think of Grohl as a drummer and led of Foo Fighters but never really realise how deep his musical knowledge runs. I saw her perform the Them Crooked Vultures song, Spinning in Daffodils, during a BBC Radio 1 session and was amazed by the sheer intensity and physicality of the performance. The song, with band members Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) alongside him, is an incredible display (Alain Johannes also appears). Seeing Grohl demolish the kit; Homme shred and swagger; John Paul Jones’ bass and gorgeous closing piano entice – it was a complete experience and vivid look at a song coming together. Unless we are in the live setting, I feel we never really consider music’s bones and soul. Grohl’s epic song shows exactly how it came to be: seven of him moving between instruments and putting this fantastic piece together. A lot of modern music relies on computers and a real lack of any playing skill. Even artists who still play instruments rarely push themselves to the limits.

I wonder whether people are scared of doing anything too ambitious through fear of a lack of radio attention and streaming success. We have come out of the Prog-Rock glory days and artists rarely throw together big jams and multi-part songs. I have followed Grohl since his Nirvana days and am amazed by the energy he still has. Whilst many of his Rock brothers have departed us; he is soldiering on and continues to pioneer. I feel Play is a chance for colleagues to do something similar. If Grohl had released a track like this and told us about it, then we would have got a limited impression of what it is about. The fact we can see him play and everything taking shape makes the music a lot more evocative and revealing. I would like to see more artists, solo or band, doing something like Grohl has. Whether it involves filming instrument parts of pushing music in new directions – shaking things up and doing something original is always popular. I have heard of artists recording albums live and stream them on the Internet; others have used new techniques and tunings to enhance their material and explore new ground. Each of these revelations and projects dissects music and goes against the rather sterile and digital-streamed music we all consume.



I think musicians should look at Grohl doing his thing and learn from it. How the legendary artist follows this I am not sure but I hope the larger industry opens up their horizons and challenges themselves. It need not, as I say, be a Prog-Rock-type thing or involve so much effort. It would be great to see albums and songs come to life – at the moment, we only hear music and do not know how it is made. Taking music to its roots and then stretching it in all sorts of directions is a fascinating thing to watch. I do genuinely hope musicians take guidance but another benefit of Play is seeing a musician record and put a song together, bit by bit. Grohl is keen to teach and share music with the new generation – I feel they can learn a lot from his current work. Watch the documentary and you see Grohl talking about music, his background and his dreams. The Atlantic talks about Grohl’s ambitions to pass Play to the next generation:

Play” presumes to pass that passion to a new generation. It begins with voiceover about the rewarding challenge of learning to play an instrument, and then segues into interviews with young, diverse students of music.

…They talk about the lack of support for music education in their schools, and about all the great things—focus, commitment, fun—that guitar or piano or drums offer them. At the bottom of the “Play” interactive website, there are links to music-education organizations across the country. A press release mentions “upcoming auctions” to benefit such causes.

What, exactly, connects that public-service display with the seven-Grohls stunt? It’s that Grohl is so inspiring. His struggles as an arena-touring rock star are, we’re told, basically the same as a newbie’s. When Grohl screws up a riff, he goes back to the start of the song he’s been playing, just like these kids have to do. He’s still learning things about instruments he’s played for decades, and there are still instruments that he has yet to really broach”.

I am not sure what music programmes are like in the U.S. but music is not a compulsory part of the curriculum here. It should be a mandatory part of the education process: many children go through school without learning music or having exposure to it. Grohl is still learning about his craft but I wonder how many kids and new musicians are learning to play and bonding with instruments. My concern is not without grounding. I get far less material sent in from artists who play instruments than those relying on electronics and laptops.

Maybe it is a sign of modern music’s changing tones but I relish a revival of great bands who articulate what we all want to say and create anthems that are passed through the ages. There is such much to take away from Grohl’s documentary. He talks about music and what it means to him; how he has grown and what he still wants to do. You get a very direct and unique view into his world as he puts this incredible song together. My hope is musicians keep the ball rolling and try similar things. There is a fear, among many, real instruments are being replaced by electronics and fewer people are studying music. We cannot let standards slip and take music away from education. Music teaches us so much more than notes and sounds. There are emotions attached and so many lessons we can take away. Music is a culture and a worldwide language that every one of us speaks. Dave Grohl, in his own way, is passing on lessons and creating a seminar that can be discovered, explored and passed on. If you have not discovered Play and all it has to offer; set aside the time and watch a modern-day icon…


IN THIS PHOTO: Dave Grohl in Play/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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