Pat Smear On Smashing Guitars With Kurt Cobain, Foo Fighters’ Next Album + More
Not many rockers can say they’ve played with two of the most iconic bands of all time. Even more rare is when two rockers can say they’ve done just that, together.
So it is with Dave Grohl and Pat Smear. Both had stints with Nirvana (Grohl’s obviously a bit more significant) and both are conquering the world with the Foo Fighters — Grohl as the iconic frontman and Smear as the humble guitarist.
While hanging in New York City getting ready for the final episode of HBO’s ‘Sonic Highways,’ we had the distinct privilege of chatting with Smear about the Foo Fighters’ new album, what it was like when he first joined Nirvana, and what’s happening in the world of that other rock band he helped form in the late ’70s, the Germs.
Check out our exclusive interview below:
It’s got to feel good to have ‘Sonic Highways’ done, wrapped up and out to your fans.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. It takes awhile for a record to come out, and it’s pretty f–king cool to have this one out.
When I listen to the record, there are a lot of memorable moments — I can’t imagine how memorable this process was for you putting it together. What was one of the most surprising things you came across recording this album all over the country?
I learned that I didn’t know much. [Laughs] I didn’t know much about anything. That was pretty surprising. The most surprising thing for me during the trip was that Seattle was hot and I got a sunburn! I didn’t really know much about the country, and other than my small limited world of rock and roll music, I didn’t know much about American music or music at all. And I learned a lot about Dave [Grohl], too. From that D.C. episode, I was like, “Oh, that’s why you’re like this and that’s why you do that.” It was pretty cool.
What was your favorite thing about the ‘Sonic Highways’ process?
You know, it was just making a record. That was my favorite part. Doing the songs, making the record. My favorite town was New Orleans, easy, but my favorite part was just making a record with the guys and with Butch [Vig]. It’s always fun.
Do you think the Foo Fighters will ever record an album the “traditional” way again?
I think at some point that’s going to be the weird quirk. Dave’s gonna go, “Hey, I got this weird idea. Let’s do the next album here in our own studio!” And we’ll all go, “Whoa! No way.” [Laughs]
So you recorded ‘Sonic Highways’ in eight different studios in eight different cities. What was the hardest part about that?
The only hard part was waking up early for flights. That was it. Seriously. Other than that, it wasn’t that hard. Sure, it’s awkward being mic’d and filmed [for the HBO show] all the time, but that’s just a little awkward. The only actual difficult thing was waking up and flying — and it’s not that difficult.
What was your schedule like?
We’d do a week in a city and then we’d go home for a week. We were always in an airport on Monday. We’d fly in Monday, we’d get there Monday night. We’d always be too excited to not go into the studio, so we’d run to the studio and check it out, check out the gear, and maybe run through a song. Then we’d start tracking the next day. While we’re doing that, Dave is running around doing interviews. Friday night, he’d go home and write the lyrics. Saturday, he’d do the vocals. Sunday we’d do the video and Monday we’d fly home.
Yeah, that’s intense.
It’s pretty cool. We got six days home every week, so it wasn’t bad.
HBO is referring to the New York City episode of ‘Sonic Highways’ as the season finale, not the series finale.
Oh yeah? Hmmm.
So, some fans are raising their hands and asking, “Does that mean there will be a season two?!”
[Laughs] Well, I don’t know what happens next. I only know we’ve already done it and we tend not to do repeats, so we’ll just see.
In a recent interview, Dave talked about the Foo Fighters’ next album and how it’ll make ‘Sonic Highways’ look like kindergarten.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a pretty weird idea.
Have you guys already started working on it?
No, it’s just a concept at this point. I mean, generally, what happens is, as we’re starting on a project, Dave will have an idea for the next project. He likes to keep one step ahead. We knew the concept of the next project as we were starting ‘Sonic Highways.’
Is there anything you want to tell us about that concept?
Hell no. No, no. It’s more fun when it’s a surprise.
Well, that’s true. Is there a timeline on it?
No, no timeline. It’ll happen, whenever that may be.
Can we talk a bit about Nirvana?
I’d love to hear the story about how it started for you. As I understand, Kurt just called you up one day.
Yeah, that’s what happened. At first, I didn’t believe it was him. That was weird, and then he gave me his number, and I was like, “Oh s—t, it is Kurt.” And then he just asked if I wanted to be in his band. I was like, “Yeah!” And that was it. [Laughs] That was it.
Was that your first real run-in with him?
I was acquainted with him. I didn’t know him well but I had been in his house a couple of times and saw him out a few times. I knew him only because I’ve known Courtney [Love] forever, so I knew him through her, but I didn’t really know him. I just kind of sort of knew him.
When you joined, was that your first time meeting Dave?
Yeah, it was my first time meeting the other guys, which was interesting, because I didn’t even have to audition or meet them before I joined. Kurt told me not to worry about it. So I went up to meet them on the same trip that I went to rehearse with them. We went out for dinner, hung out and then started practicing.
Yeah, it really was!
Did you and Dave hit it off?
Yeah, Krist [Novoselic] and Dave were really personable guys. They were really welcoming and nice and they tried to make me feel comfortable. We hit it off immediately and we played well together.
It seems like you’ve been jamming Hagstöm guitars for quite awhile now. How did you get hooked up with them?
You know, when I was in my punk rock band, the Germs, I didn’t have a guitar. I just borrowed from whoever we were playing with. That’s just how it always went. So for the final Germs farewell performance, I decided to buy my first guitar. I saw a Hagström at Guitar Center in 1980 and thought it was the coolest guitar and I played it and I loved it. I play all kinds of different guitars because my experience with the Germs was I never owned a guitar, and I’m not one of those guitar players that says, “I have to have my special ax, man.” I always had to play a guitar that I had never seen before. I’m still like that — I’ll happily go buy a guitar in the afternoon and play it that night at a show.
Is it true that Kurt bought you a few Fender Strats when you joined?
No, what happened was Fender actually started sending them to us. That was my first free guitar. I was like, “Whoa, this is amazing.” They were a couple of really nice Strats. When we played our first proper gig in Phoenix, I started smashing them around and beating the s–t out of them at the end of the set, you know, as we tended to do at the end of Nirvana shows. The Fender rep was there and he was like, “No, no, no, no, no! Don’t do that with those guitars!” So he started sending me and Kurt boxes of Mexican Strats out on the road. “Don’t smash those, smash these instead!” And I played those, and I thought, “These are pretty good, too! These are good guitars.” I mean, I guess they’re cheaper in value, but they’re still pretty good guitars.
Did they smash easier than the American-made ones?
Yes. [Laughs] Yes, yes, they did.
So what is going on with the Germs?
We haven’t done it for a few years. I’ve been focused on this, the Foo Fighters.
You don’t have any plans to get together?
No, there’s just no time. We tried to do a gig last month and we just couldn’t work it out between my schedule and Shane’s [West] schedule. He’s filming a TV show in Louisiana and we couldn’t make it happen. When we have a proper break or something, we’ll do it, though.
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