In this episode, Justin interviews Jim Rota, lead singer of Fireball Ministry. They talk about the old days working at Pop Up Video as well as Jim working with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters on producing the HBO documentaries “Sound City” and “Sonic Highways”.
On Oct 17th, 1994 Dave Grohl went into Robert Lang studios in Seattle, WA and recorded the first self-titled Foo Fighters record in about six days, pretty much by himself. It was released the following year in 1995, when I was a freshman in college. I had just started writing music and playing guitar in a few different bands, and the first two Foo records became a massive inspiration and influence for those endeavors. I spent the next ten years of my life writing music and being in a band. I had very few people I looked up to in life, and Dave Grohl was the closest thing to an idol that I had.
Making an album? Just Grohl-it-yourself.
I realize that a lot of times meeting a rock star hero in person has the potential to be a massive letdown. But as it turns out, it can sometimes pan out even better than you imagined, when your idol happens to be one of the most genuinely nice people on the planet.
We were way better than our band name
On Nov 16th, 2000, thanks to an amazing gift from my sister Sally, I went to my first Foo Fighters show at the Black Cat in Washington D.C., and actually got to hang out and talk to him. This was one of the best nights of my life. The show was a Foo fan’s dream come true. They had just finished a stadium tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and this was their last show for a while. So here was a stadium band, at the height of their success, playing a tiny club, packed with about 350 people. They proceeded to pour out everything they had in them with a ridiculous 30-song set list. They played pretty much every piece of music they’d ever written, and even threw in some obscure covers pulled spontaneously out of their asses. The show was so intimate, that after the first few songs, when Dave was taking a sip of water, I got to dictate the set list. I screamed out : “Floaty!” and … presto – my wish was magically granted. It’s hard to duplicate a feeling of pure bliss like that one.
Sweatin’ to the oldies
Right after they were finished playing, I did my usual move of acting like I belong backstage, and marched right down into the bowels of the basement of the club. There was no real security, but my confidence and movement with sheer purpose allowed me to get access to a crowded little room of about forty people consisting of the band, their close friends and family and, little ol’ me. I used to work at Pop-Up video back in the day, and I knew a friend of Nate Mendel’s, so I told him so-and-so says “Hello”, and that led to me striking up a conversation with Dave. He had no idea who I was, but we spent about ten minutes talking about Tenacious D and the possible trajectories of rock music going into the next decade. It was at about the eight minute mark that I stopped relaxing and having a blast, and started getting a bit starstruck and feeling the surrealness of the moment. I told him I was in a band, and he asked me to give him a CD. I panicked and realized I didn’t have one on me, so I told him I’d run back to my sister’s place to get one and be right back. I didn’t really think he’d still be there, or remember the conversation when I got back to the club 30 minutes later. But, he certainly did, and he zipped it up in his backpack and couldn’t have been nicer.
Somehow, Dave looks more like the excited fan in this pic.
Twenty years later, I still remember this night like it was yesterday, and am forever giddy reminiscing about it. I have recorded a ton a music I am quite proud of, and had a blast playing shows of all shapes and sizes. While I am not in a band anymore, Dave is recording his 8th album with the band(Sonic Highways), and documenting the whole process in a weekly series on HBO. Each episode of the show is dedicated to a city that had a great influence on Dave. The show/album is about how music, places, and people have these vast, intertwined connections and stories. Which, is kind of funny since the show’s executive producer is Jim Rota, who happened to work at Pop-Up Video with me during my brief time there. Which also happened to be the job that allowed me access into that room to meet Dave. Jim also happens to be the lead singer/guitarist of Fireball Ministry, the band who I happened to see and meet up with in Chicago a few years ago. Which also happens to be the first city that was featured on Sonic Highways this week, because Dave was first birthed into the punk rock scene there. Which also happens to also be where I was physically born, married, and the second time I got to see a Foo show. Needless to say, it would be hard for Sonic Highways to be more relevant or fascinating to me as an individual.
Rota livin’ the dream
I’m not sure how much the general public will enjoy this show. It’s so hard for me to separate myself from my own personal interest and connection, and be objective about how other data points will react to this entertainment. I’m not sure if my Mother could get through the whole episode without falling asleep. But, I barely blinked and had to rewind a few times. The pacing and content was really well-balanced. The interviews were fascinating, and the behind the scenes stuff was such a joy participate in. I feel like a good barometer for whether you will enjoy this show or not is : If you liked Grohl’s 2013 documentary Sound City, then you will LOVESonic Highways. This is a more slickly packaged, less technical version of that.
The band is on top of the world right now, and I could not be happier for them. This show is a testament to how enormous the Dave Grohl brand has become. I think this show will push it even further. Most bands never get to an 8th album, and if they do, the last thing they want to do is get in a van together and spend a bunch of time together. Unless you all actually love and respect each other, and your leader personifies that warmth and friendship. The show is produced, directed by, starring, and written about and by Dave. But, it comes across with such a grateful, humble tone where it feels in no way self-congratulatory or blow-hardy. This is the charming awesomeness that is Dave Grohl.
RS was making tour suggestions 6 years in advance
I will say that the batting average for the average Foo song has dropped with each album. They used to bat about .955, and now they are hitting about .221. But, this is a phenomenon that no artist is impervious to. As time goes on, you simply can’t keep up that same good wood. I struggle to name one band that didn’t get worse and worse with each successive album. To quote from the Foo’s “A Matter of Time” – “The heart is a clock, just like a bomb that keeps on ticking away” – hard to argue with that logic. The song from the first episode, “Something From Nothing” wasn’t really close to the caliber of “Everlong” or “Hey Johnny Park!”, but it was decent enough. And I’m not really watching the show for the new songs anyway. I’m watching because the show is so relevant to my life experience. You should watch because it’s a revealing look into the fascinating history of great American cities through the lens of some uniquely talented musicians.