Dave Grohl sounds hoarse. On a day off from the Foo Fighters’ current North American tour, the frontman comes off as typically amiable, but he blew out his vocal cords during a marathon, career-spanning gig the previous night. “My voice is the least of my worries at this moment,” he rasps jovially.
The band made that show, though, thanks in part to a Medieval-looking throne of rock, adorned with flashing lights, guitar necks and a cradle for the frontman’s leg — a vision Grohl says he dreamt up while heavily medicated on OxyContin. Earlier this month, Grohl told Rolling Stone US just how bad the injury was. Although he’d gotten his cast off by that point, he said his ankle felt like it “got its ass kicked by Ronda Rousey.” But nevertheless, he’s been slowly recovering. At recent gigs, he’s been able to walk down a catwalk with crutches to play acoustic songs and even stand up for brief periods, demonstrating that he’s still not able to dance.
Grohl’s sketch of the guitar throne, built by his lighting guy. S. Fernandez/Splash
As Grohl explains his current state to Rolling Stone, and just how well he’s adjusting to life on a throne, he proudly points out that he’s also doing exercises to regain his kick-drum muscles.
When do you think you’ll be able to run around again?
It just depends on the recovery. If things go well and I’m a good boy and do what the doctors tell me to do, that’s the best-case scenario. I’m trying to be a good boy, so we’ll see.
You came up with the throne during your recovery. Was getting ready to return to the stage a difficult process?
After I had the surgery, I just imagined I’d be onstage a week later in a chair. My doctor said, “You’re not going to want to do anything for a couple weeks at least.” So we canceled a couple festivals, and after those first five days, my doctor was right. I couldn’t even get up yet, dude. It was so incredibly painful. If I sat up and put my foot down to the ground, I could maybe leave it down for a minute before it started hurting so bad that I had to lie back down. But that was the first four, five days.
And then there was a day where there was no pain. And then… no pills. I’m like, “I’ll let the pills run out. I’ll let the pain run out, and I’ll see what happens.” I hate those fucking pills, dude. I think the last time I took a painkiller was for a fucking wisdom tooth 10 years ago. They just made me feel like shit. I hated it.
How did you do without the pills?
Within like 18 hours, I went into full-on fucking opium withdrawal. I think because I just don’t fuck with that stuff, seven days of that kind of drug in my body, going cold turkey, just stopping — oh, my God, dude. Don’t fuck with that shit. For real, again, don‘t fuck with that shit. I couldn’t even believe what it did to my body. I’m glad that I had them when I needed them, but the second I stopped fucking needing them, I didn’t want them. It was terrible. So anyway, I knew that there was no way we were going to miss that Fourth of July show.
So how did you get it together for that show?
I knew the only way I could do it was to sit down with my leg up in the air, and I drew this throne in an altered state of OxyContin. I reached over and grabbed the hotel stationery, drew this really ridiculous, primitive drawing, took a picture of it on my phone, and sent it to my lighting guy and said, “Build this.”
So what was your reaction when you first saw the throne?
I doubled over laughing. It was exactly what I had imagined it to be. The idea was just ridiculous [laughs].
Your fans at the Washington, D.C., show must have had a similar reaction.
Someday I hope that you have the opportunity to sit in that throne when the scrim is off at a stadium, and look at 50,000 faces smiling, jaws dropped, cracking up, like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” We’ve never had production, never had any sort of pyrotechnics, ever. We’ve never had any kind of big, crazy fucking mechanical set pieces. We are milking that shit for sure.
How worried were you about getting back onstage? Was there ever a moment where you didn’t think you would?
Nope. I mean, there was before that show. An hour before a show, all of us warm up by getting in one room and just hanging out with each other. I always feel that our best shows are the ones where we walk onstage laughing. So we were all sitting there getting dressed, and I’m like, “Wait a minute, I have to wear pants. How am I going to wear pants?” I’m sitting there cutting my favorite pair of pants with scissors so I can stuff my fucking leg through it. And we all looked at each other and felt kind of nervous, and that’s what I like about it. This changes the game for the band.
When I got our touring schedule a year ago, I was scared to look at it because there were so many shows. I thought, “Fuck. How are we just gonna go up there and do what we’ve been doing for 20 years, 80 times this year?” And when this happened, I was kind of happy. Like, OK, this is gonna make things interesting. This is gonna throw a wrench in the works and make it a challenge for everybody. Everything from the throne to the configuration onstage to how we communicate together onstage, it’s different now.
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl on his throne of rock. Joy Asico
How did it feel when that gig was done?
We thought, “We can stay on tour. This is gonna work. This is gonna be good.” But then, like, I come up with this stupid idea: “Let’s make a T-shirt out of the X-ray of my broken leg.” So now I sit on that throne and look at, like, 25,000 people with my fucking X-ray on their chest. It’s really weird.
What’s it like to play in the throne? What do you do when you feel like you want to run around?
Every show is a little bit different in that thing. First of all, I’m breaking guitar picks and dropping shit. I asked my guitar tech the other day, “Why am I losing all my guitar picks?” He said, “Because you’re playing your guitar harder than you’ve ever played it in your life.” I’ve got my leg up on that thing but the rest of my body, it’s like I’m fucking Joe Cocker up there. It’s insane. There’s a seatbelt to keep me in it so I don’t fucking fall out.
It sounds like you’ve adjusted well.
I’m kind of going nuts, and I love it. I love running around a stadium on two feet, getting a crowd to fucking sing along with me, but I also love closing my eyes in that chair and fucking going off. It’s fun, man, honestly. And the shows are longer, because I’m just sitting there and I scream for three fucking hours and then I lose my voice. It’s like the transfer of pain.
I’m like an old car at this point: Once you fix the carburetor, your fucking fan belt goes out. Once you fucking fix that, your fucking gas line ruptures. I’ve got an old car, and I know what it’s like to fix that thing once a fucking week. And I’m starting to feel like one.
The way you talk about the shows, though, it sounds like you’re having fun anyway.
We’ve established this connection with our fans over the last 20 years, and we know each other. I look out there and I see them, they look up and they see me, and I think we feel like we’re all in it together and have been for a long time. The way I look at it is, I’m sharing this otherwise shitty experience with them and turning it into something beautiful or magical, like, “Let’s make it all better together.” And, you know, it could be worse. It could’ve been a lot worse — I mean, I fucked it up bad but it could’ve been a lot worse. It gives the gig this whole new energy, this whole new vibe. It loosens it up. It makes it seem real. And that’s what I like. So it’s been OK.
Now that things have been progressing, how has Sonic Highways‘ second season been coming along?
Well, we’ve been talking about it. We’re still trying to figure it out. I have a pretty good idea of what I’d like to do. One of the great things about the idea of the series is that there’s opportunity to grow and evolve and change. It doesn’t always have to be [about] the Foo Fighters; it doesn’t always have to be America. You can modify a lot of the moving parts in that series and still work within the basic concept. So I think there are a lot more Sonic Highways to come, but they might not be exactly what you think they’re gonna be. The challenge is trying to keep it alive. I’ve already contacted a ton of musicians to see if they’d be interested in being involved, and every single one of them said yes. And again, it’s all across the board. There are people that I haven’t worked with yet. So we’ll see. I just try to get through every day with this fucking ankle at this point [laughs]. It’s something I look forward to — let’s just say that.
Can you foresee your first gig without the throne?
Deciding when to stop using it will be hard. Can we stop using the throne when I can just stand there? Can we stop using the throne when I can walk around the stage? Can we stop using the throne when I can fucking jump around like a madman like I used to? It’s going to be a pretty awesome moment when the throne comes out, and I just fucking jump off of it and start running. I don’t know when that’s going to be, so I’m keeping the throne for now.