When Dave Grohl first heard a film studio was interested in making a horror movie with the Foo Fighters, he dismissed the notion. But when a former landlord emailed him about a vacant Encino property, the Foo frontman decided to make the most out of the “big creepy old house.” There, he wrote and recorded the band’s 10th album, “Medicine at Midnight,” in addition to filming “Studio 666” — a once “stupid idea” transformed into a feature film starring the Foo Fighters. The movie debuts Feb. 25 in limited release.
Ahead of the film’s arrival, Grohl sat down with Variety to discuss “Studio 666,” along with his real-life ghost story and the metal album he recorded as fictional band Dream Widow.
When and how did the idea of “Studio 666” come to you?
It started almost three years ago when a friend of mine who works in the industry was in a meeting with a studio and texted me afterwards saying, “This studio said they would love to make a horror film with the Foo Fighters.” Totally out of left field. And I responded by saying, “That’s the stupidest fucking idea I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” And I forgot about it. When it was time to make the next Foo Fighters record, “Medicine at Midnight,” I was looking around at houses in my neighborhood to build a temporary studio. At the same time, my old landlord emailed me and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about subdividing this property. Would you like to buy part of it?” And this house — which is the house from the movie — I lived in 10 years ago while I was remodeling the house that I live in now. And I thought, “That’d be perfect, I can move all of my shit into this old house and just write a bunch of material for the next record.”
While I was there writing this material, I remembered the idea of making a horror film and I thought, “Oh shit, I’m already in this big creepy old house. We might as well not only make an album here but actually act on that really stupid idea from a year and a half ago.” Soon, it turned into a full-length feature film, and the whole thing ballooned into a project that we had never imagined.
Were you inspired by any specific horror movies while making “Studio 666”?
I’m not a horror movie person, it’s funny. I think that’s why when the idea first came up, I didn’t really consider it. It didn’t seem to fit into the band’s aesthetic or anything we’d ever done, which ultimately became part of the motivation for doing it: We’ve been a band for 26 years — let’s try something that we’ve never done. A lot of the people involved in production, like our director BJ McDonnell and producers John Ramsay and James A. Rota, are very into horror, so I just took their lead. All I had to do is act like I’m in the Foo Fighters, and they made it scary.
You’ve directed documentaries including “Sound City,” “Sonic Highways” and “What Drives Us.” How did that translate to making a feature film?
With the documentaries I’ve made, I’m really just trying to capture moments that translate as something entirely real. The interviews that I’ve done in “Sound City,” “Sonic Highways” and “What Drives Us” are more conversations than anything. For me, the real meat of the process is the edit. Making those documentaries was really different than making “Studio 666,” up until it came time to cut it; those processes are similar. But they were also similar in that they were both a joy to do. I don’t often enter a project that I don’t think will be fun, because there’s just too much to do. I’d hate to waste my time on something that wasn’t.
Your character in the movie has these unattainable, almost mythical music goals, like finding a new musical note and writing a song that never ends. Are there any ambitious musical projects you’ve attempted but haven’t been able to achieve yet?
I don’t think there’s anything that I haven’t been able to achieve [laughs]. With most things we do, I come up with an idea and mention it to a friend and say, “Oh, my God, wouldn’t it be fucking crazy if I recorded this thing that was 23 minutes long and each instrument is one take throughout the whole thing, blah, blah, blah.” And then five days later, I get the call: “We’ve held the studio. When do you want to do it?” And then I wind up fucking doing it because I’ve already committed to it. Though usually when there’s something I’d like to attempt, it’s within reason.
The music from the movie is very metal-inspired. Why did you decide to go in that direction for the score?
When we started writing the script, we had the idea of there being this epic metal opus that — once completed — would release the demon in the house. I said, “Oh, fuck, I’ve got a million riffs.” So I recorded this 13- or 14-minute long instrumental just by myself that’s very metal, and it’s meant to be from the [fictional] band Dream Widow. Then, I furthered that idea by making a whole record by Dream Widow that would be their lost album that they recorded before they were murdered. Horror films and metal kind of go hand in hand.
Have you ever encountered a ghost?
I lived in a house in Seattle in the early ‘90s that I’m convinced was haunted. I had reoccurring dreams of this older woman who was in the house with me and barefoot and looked like she had been sleeping outside, with her hair messed up and a blue sweater and a gray skirt. She never spoke but just stared at me, and there were footsteps in the kitchen and the motion detectors would go off. It was absolutely 100% fucking real.
There’s been chatter surrounding the Grammy nominations this year — that out of the rock nominees, only one, the Black Pumas, formed in this century. Do you think the Recording Academy has some catching up to do?
I have to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what the process is. I don’t know the mechanics of how it works. But I will say this: Years ago, when we were nominated for a Grammy, we were in the same category as Alabama Shakes. I remembered the Alabama Shakes from years ago when we would come to a festival and see them like midday on the side stage. And then the next year we’d come back to the festival and they were headlining the side stage, and then the next year they’re midday on the main stage, and then the next year they’re headlining. When Alabama Shakes beat us for that Grammy, I was so fucking happy to see that they had made it to that point in the most rewarding way possible, and that they had that entire experience leading up to that moment. I’m not a competitive person. In ping-pong, OK, I’m competitive. But when it comes to music, I’m just not a competitive person. I think there are a lot of fucking great bands out there that deserve the same sort of recognition that a band like ours does. I don’t understand the optics. I don’t understand the industry, how that works. But I know that there is rock ‘n’ roll out there that’s totally valid and totally worthy of these accolades. It’s just up to some process that I don’t understand to find them. I’m not sure. But I mean, I never considered that — what you just mentioned. I mean, listen, all I know is that if I’m in a category with AC/DC, I’m just going to fucking give it to AC/DC.
It’s been 20 years since the Foos played Coachella. Would you consider playing the festival again?
I don’t know. I just hope that Coachella actually gets to have a Coachella someday. Holy shit. Fingers crossed. Who knows? My kids love going to Coachella, I do know that. I just I hope that they get to have a Coachella. I think that’s more important than us playing there.