Taylor Hawkins: ‘Liam Gallagher is one of the last great rock stars’
The musician speaks to Roisin O'Connor about his new album with The Coattail Riders, Liam vs Noel, and why Foo Fighters no longer question their longevity
Politics is so f***ing weird,” says Taylor Hawkins, the irrepressible drummer of Foo Fighters. “I can’t believe Trump is our president. It used to be some white-haired dude who said something every once in a while. The dynamic has changed completely.”
Trump, he continues, is a narcissist obsessed with fame and is “addicted” to social media. “He’s a symptom of where America’s at right now.”
The 47-year-old is wandering around his home in LA in search of a decent phone signal, having emerged from his studio where he’s been rehearsing for a new Foo Fighters record. The band have only just started talking about it – “it’s still in the foetal stage”, Hawkins says – but frontman Dave Grohl has sent him a few demos.
We’re actually meant to be talking about Hawkins’ other band, The Coattail Riders, for whom he drums, plays guitar and sings. Theirs is a palpably different sound to the Foos’ pummelling rock’n’roll, all operatic crescendos and choppy pianos. Get the Money, their new record out this week, has the sleazy desert grit of early Queens of the Stone Age, but is also furnished with fine vocal work from guests such as Chrissie Hynde and LeAnn Rimes. There’s also a rousing cover of The Yardbirds’ anti-war song “Shapes of Things”, whose lyrics, Hawkins says, are “still pertinent to today”.
While Hawkins isn’t keen to dwell on the current political turmoil, he admits he wasn’t surprised when the presidential election results rolled in, having driven through the South and the Midwest on tour and seen Trump signs in every front yard. “I was reporting back to my older brother,“ he says, “and was like, ‘Hey, you know, this guy might win!’”
Much like Grohl, Hawkins has a Tiggerish ebullience and a fondness for expletives, which he peppers throughout even the most innocuous of sentences. He joined Foo Fighters in 1997, after working as the touring drummer for Alanis Morissette and with the experimental rock band Sylvia. Influenced by the likes of Roger Taylor, Phil Collins and Neil Peart, he’s now one of the best drummers in the business; his style is sharp and precise. I ask him what he made of Cream drummer Ginger Baker, whose death is announced on the day of our interview. “He died?!” he exclaims. “Oh s***, I had no f***ing idea. He was like the first real rock-star drummer. I owe a lot to Cream and Ginger Baker. One of the greatest ever.”
Did they ever meet? “I stood next to him once at this drummer’s convention,” he recalls with a laugh. “I was too f***ing terrified to speak to him.”
He says it shows how far out of the loop he is these days that he didn’t know anything about Baker’s death. “I don’t go on social media or anything. I feel like it’s a way of accounting for success, like how many followers you have. It doesn’t mean anything. But hey, Liam Gallagher loves it!”
Foo Fighters drew the ire of Liam’s brother, Noel, when they headlined Reading Festival this year, after Hawkins stuck a picture of Oasis to his drum kit and Grohl called for the band to reunite. Noel responded by suggesting a petition for Foo Fighters to split up. Hawkins is “Team Liam”. “He is truly one of the last great rock stars,” he says. “He just f***ing stands there on stage, the bastard, in his parka, eye-balling, with a tambourine that he’s not even playing. I just love him.”
Most of the new “rock stars” are hip-hop artists, he suggests. “I saw Travis Scott, his show was pretty gnarly, almost like a f***ing Metallica gig. Generally, rock music is not something that’s particularly trendy right now.”
That said, he’s still wistful for bands that don’t rely on computers or backing tracks for their live performances. “Whenever I see a band play and they’re hooked up to computers, there’s just no danger there. With me, everything depends on how I feel that day. When the Foos play ‘All My Life’, it’s different every time. I’m not gonna say any of my records are better than Post Malone, or whatever. There’s talent there. But it’s not really my bag.”
I ask whether he agrees with comments made by The Raconteurs’ Brendan Benson, who complained to The Independent this year that his son spends his time watching videos of people playing video games, and that skills such as guitar-playing are no longer valued. Hawkins’ own son, Oliver, who is 12, went viral in February performing at a benefit concert in LA with his father and Dave Grohl.
“He doesn’t really practise,” says Hawkins, “but he’s started to. I started playing drums when I was 10 years old, I wasn’t really anything spectacular at my school – not the best at sports or anything like that. I was a chunky little kid and then I found drums, and it became my defence mechanism against the world. It was like a badge of honour, my armour, and what really defined me. And yes, rock music isn’t necessarily cool if you’re like 13 or 14 now, but these things are cyclical. I feel like some day there will be some sort of Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix who comes along.”
Still, there are plenty of rock heroes on his own record. Chrissie Hynde was one of the artists Hawkins was most excited about getting on board. “She’s one of those people who does not bend unless she really believes it, which I love,” he says. “She’s very defiant, which is intriguing and awesome and empowering.”
On the last Foos album, Hawkins says there were discussions about longevity and how long the band would – or could – keep going. But working on Get the Money and performing during the last Foos’ tour has “really crystallised” why Hawkins loves being in the band. “We’re pretty tight, and hopefully that energy and excitement will make it on to the live record,” he says. “But we’re not here to save rock’n’roll. Music is this generation’s ball to run with.”
Get the Money is out on 8 November