A few months after Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl called his longtime friend, musician and producer Barrett Jones: Grohl wanted studio time. What transpired was a five-day session manned by Grohl and Jones at Seattle’s Robert Lang Studios which yielded, note for note — with only final mixes finished later — Foo Fighters’ self-titled, punk- and grunge-fueled, keenly melodic debut album. Released July 4, 1995, it was an instant classic and went on to sell more than 1.5 million copies, according to the RIAA.
Twenty-five years later, Grohl and crew, which includes original members Nate Mendel (bass) and Pat Smear (guitar) in addition to Taylor Hawkins (drums), Chris Shiflett (guitar) and Rami Jaffee (keyboards), were planning to celebrate the milestone with a spring 2020 Van Tour that would take them to the cities originally booked to promote the Roswell/Capitol Records-issued debut. The Foos had also finished a tenth studio album right around the time the coronavirus pandemic hit.
As many have done during lockdown, Grohl has been reminiscing about his past via a new Instagram handle called @Davestruestories, so Variety thought it appropriate to reach out to Jones for his own memories at the recording session that started it all over a quarter of a century ago.
Jones and Grohl, who lived 20 minutes apart in Virginia, first met in the mid-1980s when a 14-year-old Grohl was playing guitar in a band called Freak Baby, which recorded in Jones’ studio next to the laundry area in his parents’ house. Jones was three years older: “Yeah, I was the cool older kid,” he recalls while “hunkered down” in Seattle, where he still heads his Laundry Room Studio.
Several bands later, in 1990, Grohl joined Nirvana and suggested Jones move to Seattle and also invited him to the Los Angeles studio as Nirvana recorded their game-changing album, “Nevermind.”
“It was the first time I’d witnessed a major label record being made and I remember thinking how slow the process was going,” Jones recalls. A three-song Nirvana session in 1992 at Laundry Room – which was then located in the house Jones shared with Grohl in West Seattle — was far less laborious.
After one more brilliant album, 1993’s “In Utero,” suddenly Nirvana was gone.
“Dave went away for a little while after, at least a few months,” Jones recalls. “When he was finally ready to get back into it, he called me, booked the studio, and we did the whole thing in five days with him playing everything.”
By any standards, this remains an astounding feat. “He has a knack for it,” explains Jones. “He rarely makes mistakes and he basically has perfect timing; and he knows exactly how everything is going to go. There was no time dawdling trying to come up with stuff. You bring anyone else in, then it takes a lot of time explaining.”
Randomly, Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs, a mutual friend, dropped by and is credited with playing guitar on the song “X-Static.” Although Jones reveals: “Greg barely did anything. It was probably just one little guitar line.”
During the recording, Tom Petty rang the studio phone, inviting Grohl to play on “Saturday Night Live” with The Heartbreakers, which he accepted. Jones says Grohl was over-the-moon excited after the call. Did Grohl waver from his mission in the studio? “No, not at all,” Jones attests with a laugh. “It was no distraction whatsoever.”
Jones thinks the familiar setting of the two of them working alone was a comfort zone Grohl needed, emotionally and creatively. There’s no doubt, it was an intense five days though.
“It was intense, but not in a stressful way,” Jones says. “It was purely this feeling of getting it out. This was my second time ever in a 24-track studio. We had done everything on 8-track before. I was like a kid in a candy store and Dave was on top of his game.”
Although Grohl had no big plans for the recordings at that time, Jones knew they were destined for a record deal. Says Jones: “Dave’s very good at not getting too far ahead of himself. He’s very humble about that sort of stuff. He thought it would be a demo that he’d hand out to some friends. I knew that the songs were so amazing that even if he wasn’t in Nirvana, people would want to hear them. But the fact that he was in Nirvana pretty much, to me, guaranteed it.”
Jones thinks Dave would have recorded his own songs whether Nirvana had disbanded or not. He has no doubt there was any question of him quitting music ever.
“It wouldn’t have been the same route, but he was always recording anyway. He was always going to carry on somehow,” Jones confirms. “I have never ever since I met Dave at age 14 had any doubt in his talent. It does not surprise me that he has had this longevity.”
The pair did some recording after that 1994 session and still stay in touch; Jones even visited during the band’s recording sessions last year, though he’s keeping mum on that. But those five days in Seattle that launched Foo Fighters remains a redoubtable rock and roll moment.
“Personally, I would have liked more than five days to work it out,” Jones says, laughing softly. “But I hear all the time from his fans that it’s their favorite record, because it is so raw.”