6 Things Dave Grohl Teaches Us About Creative Discomfort

I adore the Foo Fighters, so a few months ago when my husband told me we could check them out at a corporate event in NorCal, I jumped at the offer. I’ve loved these cats, and particularly lead singer Dave Grohl, for twenty years now.

Then Dave fell off the stage in Sweden, dislocating his ankle and breaking his leg, then famously finished the concert before heading off to surgery. Talk about there goes my hero…!

I wasn’t too worried that they wouldn’t play the gig — hell, Dave wrote an open letter to fans immediately afterward promising to “… do everything I can to come back and give you a night to remember for the rest of your lives AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.” But having seen the Foos earlier this year perform for Dave’s birthday in an epic, nearly four-hour concert with incredible guests as diverse as Paul Stanley, Perry Farrell, Alice Cooper, Lemmy Kilmister, Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Trombone Shorty and David Lee Roth(!), I figured it would be hard to top.

Hullo, I forgot I was talking about Dave Freakin’ Grohl! While the corp. gig was much shorter than the long-ass birthday jam, there was an unmistakable intensity that he poured into the music as he shredded “tasty licks” so hard I thought his hands might fall off. And although he had to jam around in a Game of Thrones inspired “Iron Throne” (Dave of Thrones?) worthy of a rock god, it didn’t slow him down one iota.

In fact, it seemed like his broken leg was a lightening rod for an even more powerful show than I’d ever seen him perform in the past. As I watched him rock out so hard, it occurred to me that Dave’s limitation — the busted limb — opened up a new channel for creative expression.

And this reminded me of a great piece I read on Fast Company’s Co.Create site by Rae Ann Fera when the Foo Fighters released Sonic Highways, both an HBO series that explored and reflected the musical pulse of eight cities and an album by the same name that was composed throughout the band’s travels. Fera wrote about how “creative discomfort” fueled the process and helped the group, 20 years and eight studio albums deep, shake shit up.

This is nothing new for Dave — he routinely trades in stretching the limits. In fact, there’s at least a half dozen things about his career and the guy in general that I find super inspiring and try to remember whenever I’m feeling like I need to kick out the jams:

1) Nirvana isn’t about the destination – it’s the journey: OK, a cheesy play on the band that made him famous, but it’s literally true. While playing in the biggest rock band in the world at the time, Dave continued to write his own music, even releasing it under a pseudonym (“Late!”). Others in his position might have just enjoyed the ride, but Dave was driven to keep doing his own thing. So shortly after Cobain died in 1994, which would have been the end of the road for some, Dave famously recorded a 15-demo track where he played nearly all of the instruments himself. This music was remixed and released in 1995 as the Foo Fighters first album. And so the journey continued… and rocks and rolls on to this day.

2) Be punk, not perfect: Dave started out his professional career in music as the drummer in a punk band called Scream. Was his addition the result of him having years of music lessons? Hell no — he started drumming on the pillows to Rush songs on his bed as a kid, and then took the rhythm that flowed through him on the road by the time he was 17. He’s a self-taught guitarist, too. So the music he writes and performs is far from perfect, but it’s perfectly punk rock. Passion and emotion are great, ugly, beautiful channels to push your creativity out into the world — no lessons required.

3) Have fun, even when you think you suck: “Learn to Fly,” which is one of the seminal Foo Fighters songs from their 1999 album, There is Nothing Left to Lose, is, according to Dave, about “… the search for some sort of inspiration, the search for signs of life that will make you feel alive.” Here’s the kicker — he also said of the tune, “It’s actually one of my least favorite songs on the record.” So, what did Dave do with the very thing he thought kinda sucked? (My words, not his.) He went on to make a super creative, hilarious video inspired by the film Airport ’77, in which he and his band mates, Nate Mendel and Taylor Hawkins, play a bunch of different roles. In 2000, “Learn to Fly” won a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video. It’s also become an anthem for anyone that’s ready to launch into something new.

4) Don’t be afraid to get down ‘n dirty: Dave can and has recorded in incredible state of the art studios, but for the Foo Fighters’ seventh studio album, Wasting Light, he opted to record analog, on tape machines, in his two-car garage in his home in the San Fernando Valley. (That detail I enjoy because I also hammer away at various creative ventures in my garage in the San Fernando Valley =) And while he didn’t renounce Pro Tools and other modern comforts for future efforts, doing the work “live,” “raw” and “honestly” made for what Dave said at the time was the most fun he’d had making a record.

5) Go out and play with your friends: Feeling creatively challenged? Then pull on your shit-kickers and head out to make some noise with the people you love and admire most. Dave’s birthday jam that I mentioned earlier is just one tiny example of how many musicians from all ends of the spectrum Dave’s played and collaborated with over the years. From Tenacious D to Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, and a long-ass list of rock legends (Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones [Led Zeppelin], Brian May [Queen], and Stevie Nicks with Haim [just a couple nights ago!], to name a few), Dave’s played nicely and made a boatload of beautiful music with the best of ’em.

 6) Remember, nothing’s impossible: And the rest of that quote from Dave is “… in a Foo Fighters world.” It’s what Dave said when he came back on July 16th in Washington D.C. on his rockin’ throne — a magnificent, triumphant return on an incredibly creative piece of equipment that came to Dave in a morphine-and-oxy-induced vision, and was brought to reality by Dave’s awesome stage crew. In fact, he dedicated the set to his stage crew that helped him prove nothing’s impossible… and that’s a testament to the idea that creative discomfort is not necessarily something you should suffer alone.

But it is something that you alone can embrace, and chose to use some unfamiliar or uncomfortable feelings to make something, well, that kicks ass.

As Dave always does.

So if you see me humming “Everlong,” just know that everything really can be this real forever… all you have to do is promise not to stop when things don’t feel so comfortable… when you think you need to say when… cuz that’s where the magic happens =)!

Now, enjoy this short clip I took — I’m not saying I’m a cinematographer by any stretch BUT check out this snippet of “All My Life” — the song’s about giving pleasure (ahem) so maybe that’s why so… intense?

creative discomfortdave grohlfoo fighters