It was inevitable Dave Grohl would pencil in a return visit to the Seattle area as part of his new “Sonic Highways” project. The HBO series follows Grohl’s band, Foo Fighters, around the U.S. as the group records its new album of the same name in eight different cities.
Where better to make a stop in the Northwest than at Robert Lang Studios in Shoreline, which anchors the Seattle-area episode airing Friday, Nov. 28.
It’s a locale with a lot of personal history for Grohl. It’s not only the studio where he recorded his last tracks with Nirvana (for whom Grohl played drums), it’s also where he recorded his first tracks with Foo Fighters.
“When he came back here, I was just really stoked,” said Lang, who feared Grohl was so famous now that he’d probably never come back. Not only did he return, he even referenced the place in some new lyrics.
Lang’s studio is literally carved out of a hillside. The main room soars up an impressive 24 feet, and the walls are lined with wood, stone and marble, making it akin to a small fortress.
“There aren’t too many studios that I’ve been to that are underground,” Grohl said in a phone conversation from Los Angeles. “I remember being in there with the Foo Fighters in 1996, when that earthquake struck Seattle. I started getting phone calls from everyone that had been rattled — and we didn’t feel a thing! Honestly, it’s one of the seven great wonders of the world that the studio just hasn’t completely fallen in on itself. In the event of a nuclear apocalypse, I’m going to Robert Lang’s!”
Grohl said that doing the Seattle segment of the series was “tricky. … probably more personal than any other episode in the series.”
Initially, it covers the familiar territory. Larry Parypa of the Sonics talks about the Northwest garage rock of the ’60s; Heart’s Nancy Wilson recalls the city’s first flush of music fame in the ’70s; and Bruce Pavitt and Jon Poneman of Sub Pop Records reflect on the entrepreneurial spirit of the ’80s that started grunge
When the story gets more personal, it becomes more resonant. Grohl cringes in mock embarrassment as his longtime friend, producer Barrett Jones, plays demos Grohl recorded in the West Seattle home the two shared in the early ’90s. And when Grohl talks about the months after Nirvana’s co-founder Kurt Cobain killed himself, nine weeks after the band’s January 1994 session at Lang’s, the sadness in his voice is clearly apparent.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says in the show. “I couldn’t stand the sound of music. I was scared of music … And then I realized that music was the one thing that was going to help me out of that place.”
So Grohl returned to Lang’s and recorded the first Foo Fighters album that same year. Twenty years on, the song the band recorded at Lang’s for “Sonic Highways,” the moody “Subterranean,” looks back on that period with poignancy. It’s a song about starting over.
“ ‘Subterranean’ was something very spiritual,” said Lang. “But the most incredible thing that I got goose bumps and chills over was when he was singing ‘God in the Stone.’”
The title, Lang explained, refers to a piece of marble he has that seemingly has an image of Christ in it.
“When you find a studio that you connect with, you keep going there because it feels like home,” said Grohl. “That studio’s a great example of a place where the environment can influence the music, which was the premise of the whole series.”
11 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28, on HBO.