‘Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways,’ with New Orleans on the route, debuts in October on HBO

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‘Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways,’ with New Orleans on the route, debuts in October on HBO

Posted on: July 12th, 2014 by tommyj

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HOLLYWOOD — The epic road trip that brought Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters to Preservation Hall in May for a blowout concert that closed down St. Peter Street is headed for an October premiere date on HBO. The eight-episode series "Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways " will track a musical journey by the band that took its members on a roots-music trek to Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

The format called for the band to take up short residencies in those places to explore each city’s musical identity by hanging out with, and in some cases, interviewing on-camera, locals. (Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Allen Toussaint and members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are among the New Orleanians featured in the series, according to advance publicity material from HBO.) Each city-residency concluded with Grohl writing a song to sum up the experience, which the band then recorded. A companion album of the songs and some extras will accompany the HBO series.

"On the very last day of the session, I take my transcripts with all the interviews, and I get a bottle of wine, and I sit in my hotel room," Grohl said during a Summer TV Tour Q&A session to preview the series. "And I read through the transcripts and take words and ideas and thoughts, and I put them on (one) side of the page. And on (the other) side of the page, I have the outline of the song. And I write the song from the episode, so the finale of each episode is a performance of the song, where you realize all of these lyrical references are from the show that you just watched.

"So that’s the challenge. It’s not like anything I’ve ever done. And it was so fun. I will never ever do it again. It was a pain in the ass. But it was so exciting. I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t want to, you know. I just wanted to write, and I wanted to play, and I wanted to interview the President."

Sure enough. Preview footage screened by HBO showed Grohl interviewing Barak Obama for the series.

"I wanted him to talk about America as a country, where you have the opportunity to start with nothing — like Buddy Guy, and make your guitar from strings and wires in your screen porch and then become a blues legend that’s inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors. Or be a high school dropout from Springfield, Va., that winds up in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Or being a kid from Hawaii that winds up being the President.

"The idea was that I wanted to talk with the President of the United States of America about America."

This roots-project’s roots are in "Sound City," a 2013 documentary Grohl made about a legendary recording studio in suburban Los Angeles where his old band, Nirvana, recorded "Nervermind," and where the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac and many others hit-makers made records.

"The response to ‘Sound City’ was incredible," Grohl said. "Sitting on an airplane, businessmen, and old ladies in the grocery store (mimicking her voice), ‘ "Sound City" was amazing.’

"Everywhere I went, because it didn’t matter if you were a musician or not, the message of that movie was something a lot more human than Fleetwood Mac or Rage Against the Machine or Nirvana. It was all about being inspired to follow your passion and that anything is possible, really, if you really want to do it."

"Sound City" was a solo project, as it were. For "Sonic Highways," Grohl brought a band and film crew along for the ride.

"It’s all about recreating or reinventing the process," Grohl said. "We could just go and make another record in a studio and hit the road and sell a bunch of T-shirts and turn on (the radio) and hear another Foo Fighters song. But where’s the fun in that? We’ve been a band for 20 years now. Let’s go to tiny studios all over the country, tell the story of music from that city and what is it about each one of these cities that influences the music that comes from there. Because there are cultural influences from each one of these places. There’s a reason why jazz came from New Orleans. There’s a reason why country went to Nashville and why the blues went to Chicago."

Guy, Toussaint and Grohl’s punk-rock heroes are among the artists "Sonic Highways" will visit as the journey unfolds on HBO. Also Dolly Parton, Joe Walsh, Chuck D and Gary Clark Jr. Grohl’s enthusiasm for the project, relayed to a roomful of sometimes-skeptical entertainment reporters, was infectious.

"I have kids, and when I listen to my kid practice the violin or the flute, it sounds like someone is strangling a (bleep)ing cat," Grohl said. "But she looks at me like, ‘Check this (stuff) out. Did you see what I just did?’ You know, she feels great.

"I don’t want my kid to think the only way you can be a musician is if you stand in line at a song-contest audition and then wind up having a bazillionaire tell you you’re not a good singer. Don’t get me started. To me, that’s not what music’s about.

"I would rather do this (referring to the HBO project). I would rather a kid pick up a guitar and learn three chords and become the Ramones, because they changed the world. So I think it’s important for people to realize that the simple pleasure of playing music is the most important thing."

Got a TV question? Contact Dave Walker at dwalker@nola.com or 504.826.3429. Read more TV coverage at NOLA.com/tv. He’s @DaveWalkerTV on Twitter, and Dave Walker TV on Facebook.

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