Taylor Hawkins on Going Solo and Calling the Shots

Ed. Note: This interview was conducted and published in 2016 in advance of the release of Taylor Hawkins’ solo album, KOTA. In light of Hawkins’ passing on Friday, March 25th, we are republishing the full interview.

There’s this sense of invincibility in the air around Taylor Hawkins, this feeling that he could do anything, so he did everything. It got daring for a while for the Foo Fighters drummer, drugs and laziness, and too much of nothing. He’s reached a symmetry now. He won’t go back, but he will be able to look back at a life of adventures.

Take a look at the titles of his various non-Foo projects and you get an idea of ​​Hawkins’ personality: the Coattail Riders, the Birds of Satan, Chevy Metal. His new solo album shows a similar sort of winking, old-school rock ‘n’ roll goofiness, the same spirit that imbues his wild, excited energy in conversation. Each piece on his upcoming album, KOTAboasts his high-volume past and the awareness of its over-the-top lunacy.

That duality runs through his entire conversation, too. At once he’s humble to a fault, constantly crediting Dave Grohl and other old friends, downplaying how seriously he takes his solo work. However, he’s also bold enough to actually get out there and do itto put out a record full of classic rock-infused goodness under his own name.

According to Hawkins, sometimes you listen to music because it kicks you in the face. It grabs you by the gut and shoves you down a shaft until you’re falling and you have no idea where your feet are going to land. And while he’s far too bubbly and nice to worry about any actual violence, his music runs on that kind of feeling, a powerful drive to make an impact — even if he simultaneously says it’s not that big a deal.

You know, it actually sounds sunny where you are. I can hear it in your voice.

Oh, it’s sunny and bright! I am in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. It’s going to be 85 degrees today.

What does one do on an 85-degree day?

I do a little bit of work, I talk on the phone with you, I take the kids to school. Regular shit. I’m a regular dude. [Laughs] We were out of eggs today! I do go mountain biking. That’s what I do when I’m not working to get my jollies and stay in shape.

But you’ve essentially been touring for half of your entire life. Perhaps because of being that busy, working so much, you have honed in on a very particular Taylor sound. Your album feels as energetic as you sound.

Well, that’s fucking good news. I wish the rest of the world would agree, but probably not. I really just make music to amuse myself more than anything because I have to have something to do, a creative outlet outside of Foo Fighters. I just do. I am a creative person. I’m trying to make catchy music. That’s the trick always. I mean, even when we’re making Foo Fighters music, that’s all I want to do most of the time: as catchy as possible, even if it’s strange. The real trick is, can you make catchy music that’s interesting and not just fucking [sings like Drake], “You can call me on my cellphone.” I mean, that’s catchy as fuck. My kids love it. They love Drake, and they love all that shit. I like catchy music, so when I hear all those songs, I totally get it. I’m not saying this in a negative way, but it’s amazing what little effort goes into making something so huge. I’m not going to say it’s horrible. I’m not going to be one of those going [mimics an old man], “Aah, you sound like fucking Nirvana or The Beatles, you guys!” That’s just not my way.

As much as you say you’re doing this to amuse yourself, it still must be a bit of a challenge to go, “Hang on, I’m only putting six songs on a record, the ones I love playing and the ones people will like.” There still has to be that consideration. Or do you not care about that at all?

Whenever I make a record, I do think, “Okay, for the 5,000-10,000 people that usually listen to my side projects — that’s an estimated amount of how many people listen to me — I’m really only playing for that audience. I am trying to make the best music I can, but I like to do it quickly, so that eliminates much thought about it. I’ve made four records that you can dub my “side project.” Two of these were Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, one was under Birds of Satan, and then I made this. The second Coattail record, I really dug in and tried to make it a professional-sounding production. Dave [Grohl] helped me a lot with that, actually. I liked that record, and in some ways, it will probably always be one of my better ones because it’s so worked on. I remember working on that record and being a month and a half into it and thinking, “Fuck this, I don’t want to do this. I want to make music fast, have fun, get it recorded, and get the fuck out!” Enjoying the process is the most important part to me, because I know you know this, but this project isn’t going to put food on my kids’ table, so I don’t really have to worry about those things. I don’t have to think in those terms.

When the Foo Fighters make a record, there’s a crew of 70 waiting to do a massive tour, so we have to do the best thing we can every time, and that pressure brings the best out of you. Whatever the best means — trying to write a song that’s going to get on the radio, I suppose. I’m merely a small tool in what makes a Foo Fighter record anyways. I’m Dave’s drum machine. Like, Dave could do it all on his own if he wanted to. We do it as a band because Dave likes to be around people, and we believe in the notion of a band and a gang … a rock and roll gang. Fans do as well, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re still around: People identify with Dave as this leader and his merry band at the back. Some people don’t even notice, they think it’s just Dave, but we all play on the records. In the end, it’s Dave’s project, and his ideas will win out always. And it should be like that.

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