Handicapping the Grammys with a Foo Fighter

It's hard to believe that anyone, let alone a member of the Foo Fighters, takes the Grammy Awards seriously. But bassist Nate Mendel says he's honored that his band has been nominated. And he'll be damned if Kanye West wins Album of the Year.

At the 50th Annual Grammy Awards February 10, the Foo Fighters could add to their four Grammys by bringing home as many as five more gilded gramophones.

"When we were first nominated [in 1996 for Best Alternative Music Album] and especially when we first won [in 2001 for Best Rock Album], there was a real sense of disbelief," he said in a phone interview January 10. "It didn't seem that we were in a category of bands at that level that people would recognize as worthy of appointing a Grammy. It still feels that way, but because it's happened, it doesn't feel like it's out of the realm of possibility.

"When it comes around, it's still a real honor to be nominated. It's fun to dress up in goofy clothes and have our pictures taken and go to this over-the-top event."

One can't help but wonder if Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl—who was on vacation and not available for an interview—feels the same way. Perhaps it's been too long for him to hold a grudge about how the awards all but ignored Nirvana, for whom he played drums. The 1992 Grammys epitomized how utterly clueless the Academy can be about the state of pop music. Nevermind had just completely changed the face of rock 'n' roll, wiping a generation of hair-metal bands off the face of the earth and exposing millions of kids to the existence of "alternative" music. At one point, it was selling as many as 400,000 copies per week, yet it wasn't even nominated for Album of the Year—putting it on the ballot wouldn't have left room for the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. The world-changing single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was nominated for two relatively minor awards: Rock Song and Hard Rock Vocal Performance. It won neither. According to the old men running the show, Eric Clapton's unplugged remake of "Layla" was the better rock song of 1991, and Anthony Kiedis' white-boy rapping on "Give It Away" was superior to Kurt Cobain's ragged screaming on "Teen Spirit."

As influential as Mendel's former band, Sunny Day Real Estate, was to subsequent "emo" bands, they never sniffed a Grammy. Maybe that's why Mendel is so unabashed about his desire to win Album of the Year, a category for which the Foo Fighters have never been nominated.

I asked Mendel about who he wouldn't mind losing to—and who he'd hate to see win—for each category.

Best Hard Rock Performance

Nominees: "The Pretender," Foo Fighters; "Sweet Sacrifice," Evanescence; "I Don't Wanna Stop," Ozzy Osbourne; "Sick, Sick, Sick," Queens of the Stone Age; and "The Pot," Tool.

"There's nobody there that I'd be really disappointed if they win it. I don't know the Evanescence record, but I've got such respect for everybody else that that's the one I'd like to see win it the least. And I think Queens of the Stone Age are the best live band out there and they've been putting out such amazing records for so long, I think it'd be really incredible if they won. Josh [Homme] is a creative force, and I think it'd be great if he was recognized."

Best Rock Song

Nominees: "The Pretender," Foo Fighters; "Come On," Lucinda Williams; "Icky Thump," The White Stripes; "It's Not Over," Daughtry; and "Radio Nowhere," Bruce Springsteen.

"Well, I love the way The White Stripes run their band and put such a premium on doing things their own way, being creative and just ignoring convention, so I wouldn't mind losing to The White Stripes at all. They're really talented. I met Chris Daughtry and I like him, but despite that, I would probably feel the worst if he won, just because I have such a problem with American Idol. It's just a terrible way for someone to be put into the height of the music industry. It's a weird shortcut. Just the phenomenon of people choosing what they're going to listen to or buy just because someone was on television. The business practices of it too, where artists are obliged to be managed by the people on the show, I think that's kind of crooked."

Best Rock Album

Nominees: Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters; Daughtry, Daughtry; Revival, John Fogerty; Magic, Bruce Springsteen; and Sky Blue Sky, Wilco.

"I would love to see Wilco win that. I think that's an amazingly creative band and once again a group of people that are really just concentrating on their music, not following trends, and doing things their own way. I just appreciate it when artists, musicians and bands are individuals. Definitely I want to see Wilco win if it can't be us. The one I like least of those is...Geez, I'm gonna have to say Daughtry for those same reasons. No offense, Chris."

Record of the Year

Nominees: "The Pretender," Foo Fighters; "Irreplaceable," Beyonce; "Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z; "What Goes Around...Comes Around," Justin Timberlake; and "Rehab," Amy Winehouse.

"Justin can dance his ass off, so I gotta give him credit for that," Mendel said when asked who he least wants to win. "And he's a stylish dresser, so I wouldn't mind losing that to him. Amy Winehouse could probably use a little boost right now, so I wouldn't mind helping her out. Rihanna I don't know anything about, so I'm going to say her."

I remind him of her breakthrough single "S.O.S." and its "Tainted Love" sample.

"Oh, especially her, then. I don't like it when bands release covers, you know. Just write your own songs. Or don't put it out as a single. Maybe put it on your album as like a one-off."

Album of the Year

Nominees: Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters; These Days, Vince Gill; River: The Joni Letters, Herbie Hancock; Graduation, Kanye West; Back To Black, Amy Winehouse.

"I would love it if Herbie Hancock won. I'm not a huge fan, but I like it that somebody from a jazz background and such a venerable veteran is being recognized. I wouldn't feel bad at all losing to a legend like that."

And who would you hate to see win?

"Oh, that's easy. Kanye. He's going to be expecting to win it. He's probably got his acceptance speech all ready. He's an arrogant guy; everybody knows that. It would be really nice to take him down a peg and see him lose that."

The Foo Fighters will play a dozen dates before the Grammy Awards, including Wednesday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. While the band has cut back on its touring since Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins both became parents, the shows themselves will only be bigger, Mendel said. Joining them on the tour are Pat Smear as a third guitarist, Rami Jaffee on keyboards, Drew Hester on percussion and Jessie Greene on strings.

"We've kind of scaled up the production on this [tour] a bit," Mendel said. "We're playing bigger rooms, so now we're able to have a second stage. There's gonna be dynamics in the set...We'll start off big and have a second section in the middle where we kind of bring it down and play in a kind of more intimate setting. It's actually in the round in the middle of the venue. We'll come back with just the four of us and then end with everybody on the stage."

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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey

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