"Foo Fighters: Back and Forth": A Rock Doc
In the present-day uncertain, no guarantee, cutthroat business known as the music industry, it’s a surprise that a rock band such as the Foo Fighters have held longevity in a sea of rock, pop, and hip-hop artists. Formed by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s untimely suicide, the Foo Fighters have put out consistently rocking albums while not getting too caught up in the destructive rock n’ roll lifestyle and staying true to their roots. Their 2011 record “Wasting Light” marked a critical point in the band’s career and their accompanying documentary “Foo Fighters: Back and Forth” takes a look at their endurance despite a few inner-band conflicts.
After the death of Cobain, Grohl was left in a months-long funk with no motivation to play music. He decided to take all the songs he had written on his own over the previous years to record them in a small studio in Seattle over the course of a week. Around the same time, Tom Petty asked Grohl to play drums for his Saturday Night Live performance. Afterwards, Petty gave Grohl the opportunity to join his band.
Grohl instead formed his own band with the songs he’d recorded. In 1995, he caught the last show of influential indie band Sunny Day Real Estate who were breaking up. Impressed by the band’s rhythm section, he asked bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith to join his band. Rounding out the band, Grohl asked former Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear to join.
Invited on tour by influential punk bassist Mike Watt (The Minutemen), the Foo Fighters embarked on their first outing as a band and soon created buzz amongst rock fans with their self-titled debut record. As the band was gaining attention, Grohl would constantly be asked questions by music critics as to why he was creating a new band in the wake of Nirvana’s demise and whether or not a song on the first record was secretly referencing Cobain. This was Grohl’s chance to make a name for himself as a singer, a songwriter, and a band leader.
During the recording of their second album “The Colour and the Shape,” tensions mounted between Grohl and Goldsmith. Grohl was insistent on re-recording the drum tracks for most of the songs. Believing his drumming ability was not being appreciated, Goldsmith quit the band. Needing a new drummer, the band sought out Taylor Hawkins, who at the time was drumming for Alanis Morissette behind her monster breakthrough record “Jagged Little Pill.” Meanwhile, Smear asked to quit the band due to the stress of the constant touring. Smear would stay with the band until they found a replacement. Grohl’s first choice was his former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl.
Stahl’s tenure with the band was short lived as his lack of input and rapport with the rest of band had him fired. As a three-piece, the band recorded and released “There is Nothing Left to Lose,” a more subdued rock album but still met with critical acclaim, winning three Grammy Awards. Embarking on a four month tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters soon found themselves overwhelmed by playing big arenas for the first time. The pressure got to them and would rely in alcohol to prepare for their next show. A low point for the band came when Hawkins want into a temporary coma in London after consuming heroin. Fearing this could be the end of the band, Grohl remained strong and sought out a second guitarist to join the band in order to solidify its line-up. Chris Shiflett, formally of the punk rock band No Use for a Name, came on board and established a more cohesive group.
What follows is the continuing journey of an uncanny rock band. In constantly changing music trends, the Foo Fighters have been able to produce guitar-heavy melodies, hit songs, and a loyal fan base. Over the years, the band became known for putting out creative and humorous music videos, such as “Big Me” and "Learn to Fly.” The documentary is an obvious lead up to the band’s latest record "Wasting Light" with a behind-the-scenes look into that recording process. Highlights include their collaboration with producer Butch Vig (who produced Nirvana’s “Nevermind”) and guest appearances by singer/musician Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü) and Grohl’s former bandmate Krist Novaselic (Nirvana). This record is one the band is particularly proud about but didn’t depend on over-production. Recorded in Grohl’s garage, the band members were able to create a more organic record without spending time away from their families, who were featured in the behind-the-scenes footage. Staying true to their roots, the band decided to premier new songs not in a massive arena, but at the Los Angeles rock club The Roxy.
The documentary itself is a treat for the casual Foo Fighters fan but doesn’t delve into too much detail. Most of the revelations deal with inner-band conflicts, potential break-ups of the band, and the lack of confidence behind their 2002 record “One By One.” The beginning goes into good detail about the band’s humble beginnings and Grohl’s musical background. Former members Goldsmith and Stahl were on hand for the interviews to provide their own side of the story but don’t seem to be too bitter regarding their relationship with Grohl. However, in terms of covering the band’s catalogue, the documentary barely touches upon their 2006 rock and acoustic double album “In Your Honor” but instead cuts to the band’s landmark performance at London’s Wembley Stadium.
As far as rock docs go, “Back and Forth” pretty much caters to the average Foo Fighters fan. Nothing crazy that you would find in a “Behind the Music” episode on VH-1 but proves that a band such as the Foo Fighters can keep their integrity without compromising to the pressure of the ever-changing music industry. If you’re in a band with hopes of making a career out of it, look at the Foo Fighters for inspiration.
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