More than two decades after the band was formed, a new album from Foo Fighters isn't just a collection of tunes written by the group's gregarious frontman, Dave Grohl. It also serves as a referendum on the state of rock at a moment when that once-dominant genre has given up ground to pop, hip-hop and dance music.
But if loud electric guitars can seem under constant threat these days, Foo Fighters' solution isn't to circle the wagons: For "Concrete and Gold," due Friday, Grohl recruited producer Greg Kurstin — a modern studio whiz known for his hit collaborations with Sia and Adele — to make an album that broadens the group's sound with mechanized rhythms and complex vocal harmonies.
On a recent afternoon at Foo Fighters' headquarters in Northridge, I sat down with Grohl and a fellow pop-curious California rocker — Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, who hired Mark Ronson to produce that band's just-released "Villains" — for a long conversation about their overlapping careers, their feelings about rock's future and their joint plans for next month's Cal Jam festival in San Bernardino. (Watch for that story soon.)
Grohl also offered his thoughts on working with Kurstin — whose sly electro-pop duo, the Bird and the Bee, is a longtime favorite of the singer's — and with a few of the album's surprising guests, including Justin Timberlake and the smooth-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz. Here's some of what he said.
On his first meeting with Kurstin:
I just ran up to him at a restaurant and freaked out on him. I did that thing that you don't want anyone to do when you're sitting at dinner: "I'm really sorry, I don't want to interrupt your dinner with your family in this nice restaurant on your vacation, but…" And then I spazzed on him super-hard.
On Kurstin's mild-mannered leadership style:
When we started working with Greg, I expected him to be more involved because of all the work that he'd done [with other artists]. But he understood that, as a band, we do what we do and we've done it for 22 years. There were times I'd say, "What do you think of this one?" He'd be like, "It's great, I love it." "Come on! What would Adele do?"
On those occasions when Kurstin would take the bait:
Greg's like a prodigy musician — started playing piano when he was really young and was already deep into jazz by the time he was a teenager. And because he was in that world for so long, he's totally willing to go way outside. So there were moments where I'd say, "I really want this one to be noisy," and he'd take it to a point where I'd have to reel him back in — like, "Whoa, dude, this ain't some Coltrane bootleg."
On running into Timberlake, who was recording at Hollywood's EastWest Studios at the same time as Foo Fighters:
We just hung out and drank whiskey all week and played each other our records. And then the night before his last day, Greg and I were walking out, and Justin said, "Hey, man, can I sing on your record?" We were sort of done, and he was like, "I don't want to force it — even if I just go, 'Hey!' " So the next day we had him come in and do a backup track.
He's my unofficial godfather. I'm not a religious man; I never had a godfather. But we were at a barbecue 12 years ago — he's friends with the family — and he said, "Would you like me to be your godfather?" I said, "Uh, sure!'"