As the line in Foo Fighters‘ “All My Life” goes, “Done I’m done, and I’m onto the next one.” But as it turns out, Foo Fighters were almost done before moving onto the next one that would be their One By One album.
While on the surface, the band seemed to be on top of the world, behind the scenes the road to the band’s fourth studio album was rife with bumps in the road. Drummer Taylor Hawkins suffered a heroin overdose while on tour with the Foo Fighters in 2001, which led to the band having to shut down their touring. The group then turned their attention to recording a new album, setting up shop at Hawkins’ studio in Topanga, Calif., to work on fresh tracks. But tensions were building and the material wasn’t connecting.
“It didn’t sound like the band does live. It didn’t feel right. With our band, the most important thing is that the songs feel right and the recordings feel good. It’s more about the feel than anything. We were so focused on production, because our intent was to make this big rock record. But your energy tends to wane after three months. Spontaneity and energy have a lot to do with rock, and rock records shouldn’t take long to make.”
So, after working on what the band started referring to as “the million dollar demos,” they decided to take a break. “It just made sense. We’d never taken a substantial break,” said Grohl. “We’ve never been away from the band. The band has always worked very hard and has always spent all of our time in the studio or on the road. It only made sense after seven or eight years we do that — to step back and look at the big picture, especially when you’re lost in the process of making a new album that seems like it’s going nowhere.”
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During the time away, Grohl accepted an invite to play drums for Queens of the Stone Age. He told Spin that the move kind of caught his bandmates by surprise. “It kinda flipped everybody out. There was this feeling, like, ‘Oh my God, this is breaking down, and it won’t start up again,'” said Grohl. “I remember having a conversation with Nate. He was concerned that I was going to leave and not come back. And I told him, ‘Man, the Foo Fighters are like my family.’ I can play drums with another band, and that’s fun. But at the end of the day, you come home to this thing that’s yours. I mean, fuck, I’ve got [our logo] tattooed on the back of my neck. I never want it to end.”
Still, there was some convincing that needed to be done and the band, who were scheduled to headline Coachella, almost split up before hitting the stage. They decided to honor their commitment to play the show, even if it were their last, and found during the show that they still enjoyed the feeling of getting up onstage together. As a result, they decided to push forward with new music.
Deciding they needed a change of scenery, the band shifted out to Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 in Alexandria, Va., and began to mend fences. The recording sessions went smoother, and the group was finally able to complete the disc. Helping out in the process was a young engineer named Nick Raskulinecz who would begin a fruitful relationship with the band as their new producer.
“My working with Dave and the Foo Fighters and everything else that has happened since really comes down to being in the right time at the right place,” Raskulinecz told Music Radar. “I was at the studio to pick up my paycheck, and Dave rolled up, literally in his tour bus, to record a song for the Godzilla soundtrack. The engineer who was supposed to be working that day wasn’t there, so I said, ‘Hey, I’d be glad to record you, Dave.’ Which, of course, was no joke! [laughs] We got on great, had a lot of laughs, and I think he was very pleased with my work.”
Foo Fighters, “A320” (Godzilla: The Album)
He added that Grohl remembered him when it came time for the new sessions. “Dave was just about to start recording One By One, and he wanted to do it in the basement of his house in Virginia. I guess he was having a hard time finding a guy who would commit to sitting in his basement for four months, but to me it sounded like heaven. So he asked me if I’d be interested, and I said, ‘Whatever you need, Dave.’ Two weeks later, I’m in his basement in Virginia, putting a studio together. And we proceeded to make One By One.”
Coming off the melodic There Is Nothing Left to Lose album, the band was ready to rock, and on Oct. 22, 2002, Foo fans found out how much as the band released the One By One album. “I’m just screaming my balls off the whole time. So there’s no real melody [like there was on the last one],” said Grohl to MTV News, which was mostly true, save for a few tracks.
The first blast out of the gate was speaker-shaking rocker “All My Life,” which arrived in September of 2002, just a few weeks ahead of the album.
Foo Fighters, “All My Life” Music Video
Grohl revealed that the song started off as an instrumental. He told Kerrang!, “It went through a few different versions. At first it was really dissonant and noisy. The middle section sounded like ‘Wipe Out’ [by the Surfaris]. It was just nuts! We recorded the instrumental and I had no idea how I was gonna sing it. Again, that was another one that our manager said, ‘That’s the song!’ And we said, ‘Really? You think that’s the one people will like?'” But they did like it! The track went to No. 1 at Alternative Rock and No. 3 at Mainstream Rock and earned the band a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy in 2003.
Changing the pace a bit, the band followed in early 2003 with the single “Times Like These.” The poignant track was birthed out of Grohl’s separation from the group, as he explained, “[I felt] like I wasn’t entirely myself.”
Foo Fighters, “Times Like These” Music Video
The track also finds Grohl offering a nod to one of his favorite bands, Husker Du, with the lyric, “I’m a new day rising.” While the song rocked, Foo Fighters squeezed a little bit more out of the track by offering an acoustic version of the track similar to what they did with “Everlong,” and that kept song fresh at radio. The song hit No. 5 on both the Alternative Rock and Mainstream Rock charts, but has proved to be one of the most popular songs during their live sets over the years.
The album yielded two other less successful singles, with “Low” and “Have It All” hitting the airwaves. “Low” was a Dave Grohl favorite, with the rocker telling MTV, “That’s the kind of song that you pray would be a single, but there’s just no way because it’s, like the coolest song on the record. It’s the one that everybody likes, but there’s just no way cause it’s too weird.”
The song was notable for having a video that would be banned by MTV. The clip found Grohl and his “Learn to Fly” video co-star Jack Black reuniting as rednecks in for a hedonistic night at a seedy hotel, but the humor turned out to be a little too risque for the video network.
As for “Have It All,” the song was released in Australia and the U.K. with moderate success, but may have been more notable in the U.S. for it’s B-side, a cover of the Prince classic “Darling Nikki” that became a surprise hit at radio.
In the end, One By One can be viewed as a transitional album for the group in many ways. It did yield two of their biggest hits and did go platinum, but for the most part has not been one of their more beloved discs. The creative process found the band almost coming to their breaking point, but also finding a way to come back from that to be one of the most cohesive and beloved acts in music.
As Grohl once stated during the process of putting together the album, “I really feel like one of the luckiest people in the world. We should never complain about anything. I swear to God, I think we have the best jobs in the world — besides porn star guys.”