Taylor Hawkins on Fandom, Foo Fighters, and the Freedom to Be a Coattail Rider
Three albums in, Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders feels like a vacation for the Foo Fighters drummer.
Taylor Hawkins is all over the place. That’s cool—so is the Foo Fighters drummer’s new solo album with the Coattail Riders, Get the Money: a widescreen record that features friends and heroes like Queen’s Roger Taylor, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, and Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell.
During our interview, the genuinely effusive Hawkins talked about growing up with one of the album’s collaborators, Yes’ Jon Davidson, remarked on the camaraderie of both his fellow Coattail Riders and the Foos, did Joe Walsh impersonations, ranted about gratitude, and discussed his wife and children with humor and pride.
“I can put the phone up loud and right up to my mouth if you can’t hear me,” Hawkins told me conspiratorially. “My wife doesn’t have to know about it, and if I get brain cancer, it’s your fault. That’s showbiz.”
Along with a solo EP and material as The Birds of Satan, you’ve done three albums as Coattail Riders—to say nothing of being part of Foo Fighters brain trust. Are you writing or demoing things in boxes with their names on them, or do you just write and see where things fit?
I don’t really write with Foo Fighters. It’s not that kind of band. It mostly comes directly from Dave Grohl. There are a few things that I do, some songs I goofed around with during down time, that he might like and put it on a record. Like “Cold Day in the Sun” on In Your Honor.
Now, in Coattail Riders, I have a true songwriting partner in John Lousteau. I’ll come home from tour with the Foos with six or seven song ideas, and we build the songs up from demos. Chris Chaney and Brent Woods come by, we have fun, and we work. Generally, there’s one song at a time that gets things started, and for Get the Money, it just happens to be the first song on the album, “Crossed the Line.”
Ah, you precipitated my next question—the one where I ask what track guided the making of the rest of the album, or its overall tone. Even though this record has a dozen different tones.
I did that around the same time we did “Queen of the Clowns,” and we put those songs together. OK, they sound like something unique. And the ones after that sound unique from the other tracks. The album is all over the place. Definitely. Which I love. All of my favorite albums are like that.
What albums are those?
Like Abbey Road and The White Album. Like A Night at the Opera and the first Jane’s Addiction album. I mean, Queen’s first two albums were all glam metal, but after that, they did ragtime, reggae, hip-hop, whatever they wanted. That’s cool. I like the fact that you don’t know where I’m going. That’s fun for me. My records are all over the place because I’m all over the place. I mean, I listen to Drake with my son. I listen to country, hence I have LeAnn Rimes on the album.
“I like the fact that you don’t know where I’m going. That’s fun for me. My records are all over the place because I’m all over the place. I mean, I listen to Drake with my son. I listen to country, hence I have LeAnn Rimes on the album.”
Before I forget, why did you call the outfit the Coattail Riders?
It looks better on a t-shirt than just my name. It looked more punk rock with a band.
Hey, don’t sell yourself short.
Originally, I was just going to call it Coattail Riders, but then thought, you know, I’m a Foo Fighter. [Laughs.] If I’m making a record, that name makes it sound as if the only reason it’s worth listening to is because I’m a Foo Fighter. Of which I’m proud. I like that. My records away from the band, though, they’re different. They’re like vacations from my regular gig. They explore different parts of my personality.
Here you are, doing this thing away from Foo Fighters, and yet Grohl and Pat Smear are on your new album. How do you keep your identity while hosting those guys?
The Smear thing occurred because I had a cover I wanted to do, The Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things,” and had a kickass backing track. I just thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could layer in Roger Taylor’s harmonies?” I mean, the drummer from Queen. C’mon. Then I thought of the whole Queen thing—Pat loves Queen. And he loves the Sex Pistols. So I thought it would be kind of cool to have Smear’s guitar on one side, and Pistols’ Steve Jones on the other, on this old school rock song. Grohl? I love playing with the guy. No point in overthinking that in any way.
We talked about “Crossed the Line” earlier, the big prog track. Grohl is on it with Jon Davison, the guy currently singing with Yes. Or at least the Steve Howe Yes. What’s the story with your love of prog rock—Birds of Satans were very prog—and where do you sit on the whole Yes Jon Anderson/Jon Davidson controversy, to say nothing of the multiple Yes-es? Davidson gets a lot of flack.
I can’t. I just can’t. Davidson gets a lot of flack, and he gets a lot of praise, too. I know him from early on. We went to high school together. One of my main goals in life was always to connect him with [late Yes bassist] Chris Squire. Chris was such a lovely guy. After I introduced them… eventually he wanted to know if Jon could start a tour in Japan in two weeks. I said “Yes, I do.” And Jon did.
That’s a nice gift.
I know, I told him to never fuck this one up.
Still, the controversy hasn’t died.
I know. This guy Davidson can sing his ass off. He’s amazing on his own and with Yes, and he has the ability to capture an audience just as Jon Anderson does. There’s just so much bad blood in that band.
Right. I don’t get the fact that they’re always arguing.
You’re gearing up for the big Foo Fighters twenty-fifth anniversary next year, starting with a handful of cover EPs you’ve been releasing this year. And you keep talking about making time for your wife and your kids. Not to sound corny, but how do you fit it all in?
I have to. I love when my wife asks me to do things like clean out the garage. I tell her that I’ll do it in between doing interviews, making solo albums, and touring with Foo Fighters. Then again, we all have families. We’re regular dudes.
So what can you tell me about 2020?
I just have to keep it together. Foo Fighters do these marathons, back-to-back three-hour shows. I’m not twenty-seven anymore. It’s different making your legs go as fast now as they did then, twenty years ago. But, we want the shows to be great and have energy. I have a lot on my shoulders. I called Joe Walsh and asked him about how he’s done this for so long. That’s what the song “Get the Money” is about.
“So you think you’re not getting your due / You’re out of touch and been for a while / You’re a spoiled brat, think you deserve this crap / A grown man acting like a child.”
It looks easy, but it’s not easy. Still, I’m grateful. I am living that fucking dream. FL