In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Though he’s best known as the smiling, gum-chewing drummer for the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins isn’t a one-band pony. He sings and plays drums in a few other projects, including Taylor Hawkins And The Coattail Riders, Chevy Metal, and The Birds Of Satan, the last of which has a new record out now. Hawkins has also laid the beat down for members of Queen, Rush, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and The Beach Boys, and played Iggy Pop in Randall Miller’s 2013 CBGB movie.
The hated: U2, “Discothèque” (1997)
The A.V. Club: Why is that the song you picked?
Taylor Hawkins: Let me start out by saying that I love U2. I really do, especially the first four records. They’re very, very important records. They were super, duper important to me growing as a musician, whether I was 10 or 12 or 14. Boy, October, War, The Unforgettable Fire, and The Joshua Tree, those records, they’re part of my musical DNA and structure. Then they did Achtung Baby. I was like, “Okay. I get it, sort of.” And then they did fucking “Discothèque.”
My brother and me used to love early U2. We used to listen to early, live U2 records like Under A Blood Red Sky. Then we were watching MTV and they said, “We’re going to world première the new U2 song and video today.” I was like, “I hope it’s a little more like the older stuff. I mean, Achtung Baby was fine, but I hope it crosses over that ironic narcissism thing that they were doing on Achtung Baby.” Then that “Discothèque” song came on and they were all doing the “Y.M.C.A.” dance and shit in the video, and me and my brother were sitting there watching, going, “What. The fuck. Is going on?!”
I know it’s all supposed to be all tongue in cheek and, believe me, one of my favorite bands in the world is Queen, the masters of tongue in cheek. But that was just a bummer to me.
AVC: It feels like both Pop and Achtung Baby were supposed to make listeners think U2 was this fun party band, which they never really were.
TH: They were trying to take off their stone-faced, world-on-their-shoulders thing, for lack of a better way of putting it. That was their image when they first came out. They had heavy, political songs about religion. It was heavy shit and “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” was just heart-on-their-sleeves things. Then they did the Achtung Baby, and you’re like, “Yeah, I get it” and it’s changed a little bit and I still really like some of the songs on that record. But then Pop came out and it was like, “Come on!” You know, it’s one of those things where if “Discothèque” was a great song, I think I could have gotten over it, but it was such a shitty song. I mean, come on!
AVC: You joined the Foo Fighters on The Colour And The Shape tour. That was around the same time Pop came out. Were you competing for the same modern-rock radio slots?
TH: I didn’t even realize any of that at that time; I was still the new kid in the band, so I didn’t know where on the charts fucking “Monkey Wrench” was or anything like that. I see where you’re going with that, and I’d like to say that, yes, there was some rivalry or something like that, but there was no rivalry with U2. It’s such a different playing field. They play stadiums everywhere they go, and they deserve what they got and they deserve their accolades because they’re great—they really are.
I saw them play at the Video Music Awards once. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe five or six years, and they did, [starts singing] “Hello / Hello / I’m in a space called / Vertigo.” I was in the third row, and to be that close and see a big four-piece band play like that… I was really blown away by the chemistry and magic they had going on. It was amazing and interesting and you knew why they were one of the biggest bands in the world. They’re great! Bono’s great, Edge is great and an innovator, and they’re great. But that song bummed me out, man. It fucking bummed me out.
And at that same time, when we were trying to go around and be a rock band still, Bono is going around saying, “Oh, rock ’n’ roll is dead and it’s all about dance music now,” and we were like, “Fuck you, dude! Rock ’n’ roll is not dead! Fuck U2!”
AVC: But you’ve liked their stuff since, which is good.
TH: I think “Vertigo” is a great rock ’n’ roll song. I love that song. And “Beautiful Day” was a great pop-rock song and that’s getting back more to accepting who they are as a band: a band with their heart on their sleeves, you know? Bono is reaching for the rafters emotionally. I want that out of U2.
AVC: Have you ever had to check yourself in a band? As in, have you had to say, “This isn’t who we are as a band, this isn’t who I am in this band”?
TH: Musical direction-wise, [the Foo Fighters have] always been led by Dave [Grohl]. There’s no question about that, and it’s great because it gives me a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. If we ever decide to do something that’s completely fucking lame, it’s like, “Okay, it wasn’t my fault, it was Dave! He wrote the fucking song!” So, no; not really.
We did a whole acoustic record, which was a double record, the whole In Your Honor record. I don’t really think that’s overly ambitious. Neil Young’s been doing acoustic records that go with rock records since the early ’70s. Zeppelin’s done it for years. So we weren’t re-writing the books or whatever, but there was a moment where I was like, “Are people going to want to hear a whole acoustic record from the Foo Fighters?” But looking back on it, I think it worked out great and it was a great departure for us as a band. Whether it was “groundbreaking” for us or not… it was groundbreaking for the Foo Fighters and groundbreaking in our little world and so that was the only time I ever thought, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
AVC: And you have your own projects if you want to do other stuff.
TH: Yeah, we all have our own things. Dave always goes and plays drums with other people, and we all have other little side bands where we can all get that out of our hair.
Hey, I can ask you this because we’re not together and I’m not standing next to you. How old are you?
AVC: I’m 33.
TH: Okay, so you were just a kid when “Discothèque” came out. Did you even care about a U2 song at that point?
AVC: I did. I grew up in Cleveland, and modern alt-rock radio was a big thing at the time. I remember hearing “Discothèque” all the time and being like, “Fuck this! I hate this song!” I just didn’t want to hear it.
TH: I remember back in the ’90s when the song came out that these talk show guys on KROQ out here in L.A.—Kevin and Bean—they kept going, “Okay, we’re going to play you a little bit of the U2 song. We’re going to play you a little bit of the new U2 song. We can only play a little bit of it and here it is right here. Ready? Okay!” Then they’d play that Rick Astley song [starts singing] “Never gonna give you up / Never gonna let you down!” And then they’d turn it off really quickly and go, “That’s the new U2 song! They’ve changed direction!” And the funny thing is, a couple of weeks before, Tommy Lee had been interviewed so they had a sound bite of Tommy Lee going, “You guys are fags!” So they’d go, “We’re going to play the new U2 song, we’re going to play a little snippet of it. Here it is,” [starts singing] “Never gonna give you up / Never gonna let you down,” then they’d turn it off and you’d just hear Tommy Lee go, “You guys are fags.” And it was so fucking funny, man.