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Dave Grohl, Reed Mullin Explain Punk Supergroup Teenage Time Killers

As hard-hitting collective readies debut, ‘Greatest Hits Vol. 1,’ members of Foo Fighters, Lamb of God, Slipknot and more explain its origins.

As hard-hitting collective readies debut, 'Greatest Hits Vol. 1,' members of Foo Fighters, Lamb of God, Slipknot and more explain its origins.

“It was like hardcore karaoke with a bass,” the ever-affable Dave Grohl says of recording with the all-star punk and metal project Teenage Time Killers. “I just sat there, ripping to my favorite drummer [Corrosion of Conformity’s] Reed Mullin and my favorite vocalists — Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God, and fucking Neil Fallon, the singer of Clutch, and Pete [Stahl], the singer of Scream.” 

Along with Grohl’s appearance, Teenage Time Killers’ debut features 29 other guest shots by some of heavy music’s biggest names. The record, cheekily titled Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and due out this week, sports a collage of current and former members of Fear, the Germs, Slipknot, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Bad Religion, Alkaline Trio, Prong and many others who play a mix of catchy punk rock and electrifying gutter metal. The sheer talent on the record (see the full track list here) makes it one of the most exciting punk projects in years, but Greatest Hits’ most notable feature is its effortless feel. Despite the mix-and-match cast, nothing here sounds forced.

“To me, it’s a mixture of Dave Grohl’s Probot project and the seminal fucking punk-rock comp Let Them Eat Jellybeans,” says Mullin, a member of the triumvirate that led the group, referencing a 1981 compilation that featured Dead Kennedys, Flipper and Subhumans. “I don’t know what I’d call Teenage Time Killers, but I do know it’s a supergroup of fucking badass musicians and singers.” By Mullin’s own estimation, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened without Grohl’s generosity and loyalty.

The roots of the project stretch back 30 years. In the early Eighties, Mullin and his Raleigh, North Carolina–based bandmates began making regular trips to Washington, D.C. to check out the city’s booming hardcore scene, led by groups such as Bad Brains, Void, Scream, Minor Threat. At these shows, the drummer talked to other fans and struck up a friendship with “this one kid” over a shared love of Chuck Biscuits, then the drummer for D.O.A., Black Flag and Circle Jerks.

“This kid would approach me every time we’d play D.C.,” says Mullin, whose razor-sharp memory helps him recount long, intricate tales. “It ended up being Dave Grohl, and he followed me around and learned how I did triplets and stuff like that. It took him, like, two weeks to figure out all the shit I knew how to do.”

“Reed was my drumming hero when I was 15 or 16 years old,” Grohl says. “Corrosion of Conformity had a record called Animosity, which was one of the defining albums of that hardcore-metal genre. It’s a classic. It’s the Odessey and Oracle of fucking crossover hardcore metal albums. I’ve stolen so many of his fucking riffs from that record over the years.”

Eventually, Mullin got around to checking out Grohl’s band at the time, the post-hardcore crew Dain Bramage. “We were opening for a band called Honor Role,” Grohl recalls. “We were sound-checking and I was going fucking bananas, crazier than I’ve ever been. I was such a fucking spaz on the drums, it was nuts. I look up, it’s an empty club except for Reed standing against the stage, watching me.”

“They were killer,” Mullin says. “They sounded like Hüsker Dü a little bit.”

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Teenage Time Killers’ Reed Mullin performs in the U.K. with main band Corrosion of Conformity in 2011. Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns/Getty

Both drummers were still in their teens, but the C.O.C. stickman had dropped out of high school and started a label called No Core. He was so impressed with what he saw that he offered up his imprint to release Dain Bramage’s debut LP, I Scream Not Coming Down, which also came out more famously on the West Coast via Mullin’s friend’s label, Fartblossom. “I am forever indebted to him for that,” Grohl says.

The pair remained friends in the decades that followed, as C.O.C. became MTV favorites with metal and stoner-rock hits like “Vote With a Bullet” and “Albatross” and as Grohl hopped from Dain Bramage to the D.C. hardcore group Scream and later became a household name with Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Years later, though, at an Atlanta gig for one of Grohl’s other bands, Them Crooked Vultures, the Dain Bramage drummer would remember the role Mullin played in his career.

“Dave said, ‘Listen, I’ve got a killer studio in California. You and the C.O.C. guys gotta come out and do an album there. I’ll totally hook you up,'” Mullin says. “‘This is my studio manager. Call him as soon as you get home and set something up.’ So they split, a week goes by, and I get a call from Dave. ‘Reed, what’s going on? You never called. What happened?’ I was like, ‘Dude, I thought you were just being nice.’ So I booked some time and C.O.C. went out there.”

The trio went on to record its self-titled 2012 LP at Grohl’s Studio 606, and while there, Mullin struck up a friendship with chief engineer John “Lou” Lousteau. Eventually, the engineer suggested that he and the drummer collaborate on a five-song hardcore EP during periods when Foo Fighters weren’t around. Lousteau also brought in guitarist Mick Murphy, also of My Ruin and two side projects featuring Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins (The Birds of Satan and Chevy Metal), to complete the nucleus of the group.

When the trio finally convened, Mullin had five songs that split the difference between the bludgeoning crossover metal of D.R.I. and Black Flag’s epic sludge. The fifth tune was a musical interpretation of a poem by John Cleese in which the Monty Python comedian eviscerated conservative radio host Sean Hannity. “It was gonna be four songs with me singing, and I decided to get Jello Biafra to sing that ‘Ode to Sean Hannity’ song, just ’cause it seemed so perfect for him,” Mullin says. “I’ve known Jello since ’82 when he discovered C.O.C. through Maximum Rocknroll and asked for us to open for the Dead Kennedys.”

The project was to remain an EP with only one guest until Mullin spotted “this really tall dude wearing sunglasses and a giant C.O.C. shirt” at LAX. Feeling snarky, Mullin approached the fan and said, “Nice shirt.” The man lowered his shades and said, “Reed? Reed from C.O.C.? Dude, I’m Randy from Lamb of God. What the fuck are you doing here?” Mullin filled him in on the EP, and Blythe asked to sing a tune.

“Growing up in the Virginia–North Carolina punk scene, Corrosion of Conformity were a huge influence on me from about age 14 or 15 on, specifically their Animosity album,” Blythe tells Rolling Stone. “Reed Mullin and Mike Dean’s vocals on that album were my first direct musical influence as an aggressive singer. What punk-rock kid wouldn’t want to sing on an album alongside dudes from all the bands that were the soundtrack to their awakening as a real human being?”

The Lamb of God screamer recorded his song, “Hung Out to Dry” — a stuttering exercise in riffy skate-punk — with Mullin and C.O.C.’s Mike Dean in Raleigh. “Basically I recorded a straight-up punk-rock song with dudes that made one of my favorite records of all time, then bugged them with a bunch of questions about that record I had had running around in my head since high school,” the singer beams. “I never even dreamed that kind of thing would ever happen.”

As for the subject matter of the track, which might well be Teenage Time Killers’ anthem and is one of Grohl’s favorites, Blythe says it’s about how Internet connectivity has “killed” the mystery in underground music. “The song is a lament that the new generation will never even get the chance to miss some of the amazing things about our community that I experienced,” he says. “It honestly really makes me sad. I get bummed that all these kids who are growing up are being cheated out of some of the human interaction our scene provided and just about all of its tasty local flavor.”

With Blythe and Biafra now on board, Mullin and his bandmates began reaching out to other musical pals. The finished version of “Hung Out to Dry” would also feature guitarist Mike Schaefer, of Raleigh thrash band Blatant Disarray, and, on bass, Grohl.

“Nobody said, ‘Well, let me speak to my lawyer first,’ or, ‘I needed to put my manager or publishing on it,'” Mullin says. “I think when I asked Pete Stahl from Scream, he said, ‘Dude, I’d be honored.’ I was like, ‘You’d be honored? I’d be honored to have you on this.’ It was just a lot of serendipity and having friends for over 30 years.”

The songs on the record are mostly Mullin-Murphy originals, but a few offbeat covers find their way into the mix. The most notable redux is the group’s rally cry, “Teenage Time Killer,” which is fittingly sung by real-life teenager Trenton Rogers, the middle-school-student singer of a band called Chaotic Justice. The discordant lament was originally recorded by British art-punks Rudimentary Peni on their self-titled 1981 seven-inch. The record also includes takes on “Ignorant People,” originally by D.C. bruisers Void, and “Big Money,” a song by North Carolina’s Village Pistols.

“They were kind of a goofball punk band from ’78 or ’79 and the only thing they did was a seven-inch, and one side was a terrible version of ‘Strawberry Fields’ and the other was one of the best punk songs I’ve heard, ‘Big Money,'” Mullin says of the latter. “It’s such a good tune, I’ve wanted to do a cover of it since I was 15 or 16. The vocalist always reminded me of [Fear singer] Lee Ving, so I brought up the idea to Lou and Mick and they were like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get this.’ Luckily, Dave had done some work with [Ving] on the Sound City thing.”

“It was a good song with a nice sentiment,” says Ving, who cites the “party record” vibe of the Sex Pistols as turning him on to punk. “I was not aware of the Village Pistols. I listened to it and called back and said, ‘Hell, yeah, man, let’s do this. This is going to be good.'”

The “Big Money” cover also features Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear, who slugged it out on L.A.’s early punk circuit alongside Fear, playing guitar and bass. The two musicians had previously reconnected when they recorded “Your Wife Is Calling” for Grohl’s Sound City: Real to Reel soundtrack album and tour. “I met Pat through me having Fear and he being in the Germs,” Ving says, pointing out that the two were never in the room for the recording of “Big Money.” “Pat’s a great guy, man. He’s easy-going, really smart.”

With time, the guest list started growing: former Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri chipped in on the Void cover, Eyehategod howler Mike Williams sang the Black Flag–ish rager “Time to Die,” Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba sang the poppy punk anthem “Barrio.” “It just felt like punk, blues and metal all stirred up and pissed like a hornet’s nest,” says Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, who sang the stomping, better-than-you–themed “Egobomb.” “I just hope I held my own.”

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“Bass is probably my favorite instrument to play standing up,” Dave Grohl says of recording with Teenage Time Killers. Jason Merritt/Getty

And, of course, they got Grohl. “As soon as Dave heard about the project, he was like, ‘Oh, I want to play on it,'” Mullin recalls. “We were like, ‘Heck, yeah!’ Not to mention it was his studio and he was totally giving us the deal. It turns out, man, he is a fucking phenomenal bass player.”

“It’s probably my favorite instrument to play standing up,” Grohl says. “My schedule was crazy, so I went in and knocked out a bunch in one day. I don’t even remember how many.”

In total, the Foo Fighter played on 11 of Greatest Hits Vol. 1′s 20 tracks. “It was really fun,” he says. “Then I continued doing Foo Fighters shit, Sonic Highways stuff, and a little while later, Lou said, ‘Hey, we finished mixing the Teenage Time Killers record.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s right. Let me hear it.’ He gave me a copy and the fucking thing was stuck in my CD player in my car for months. I listened to it every single fucking day.”

When Rolling Stone asks Grohl about his favorite performances on the record, he doesn’t know where to begin. “Pete Stahl, who sang for Scream and now sings for Goatsnake — he’s like my brother,” Grohl says. “He taught me how to be a touring musician. Randy from Lamb of God — I love his song; it’s so fucking cool and fun to play. I love Neil Fallon’s voice. You can’t go wrong with Jello Biafra and Lee Ving. It’s just full of heroes. And Mick Murphy’s riffs are just so fucking sharp and Reed. . .”

Grohl pauses, suggesting a dawning revelation. “You know who my favorite singer is on that record?” he asks. “Reed Mullin. His song ‘The Dead Hand’ — oh, my God, come on.

“It’s funny,” he continues. “People don’t realize how much he sang on that Animosity record. I think he sings all of side one of that record. He’s got this fucking awesome hardcore voice. But I mean, who’s my favorite singer? The drummer. How about that.”

“‘The Dead Hand’ is this system that the Soviet Union had in place during the Cold War where, if we bombed it, it would launch their entire arsenal at us and wipe everybody out,” Mullin says of the inspiration behind his friend’s favorite track. Then, categorizing the tune as is his wont, he adds, “It’s a Discharge-sounding, medium-paced song.”

Everything went so well with the recording that Mullin says he’s already thinking about Greatest Hits Vol. 2, grilling Rolling Stone about who the guests should be. “There’s no Roger Miret or John Joseph on the first one,” he says. “There’s no Texas folks or U.K. or Europe folks. Maybe we can get [Rudimentary Peni frontman] Nick Blinko to sing on it.” Although Vol. 1 features 20 songs, Mullin says the group recorded 24. He also has five or six more written for a second installment.

“This was just gonna be this tiny project,” Mullin says. “Because Dave let us record at his place for virtually nothing, and we knew so many people, it just kind of turned into whatever it is.”

Also, now that the album is done, the C.O.C. drummer has begun wrapping his mind around just how he might get Teenage Time Killers onstage. He’s currently planning an L.A. gig sometime in late August or early September. “Even if we get two thirds of the people, it’ll still be a big show,” he says. “It might be a short show so if, like, Lee Ving came up, maybe we’d do a Fear song, too.” Beyond L.A., Mullin hopes to set up gigs in New York, Chicago, Seattle and London.

“Oh, my God,” Grohl says with a laugh at the prospect of the concerts. “I need to learn those fucking songs again. Those are hard.”