I recently had the honor of interviewing Franz Stahl, the founding guitarist of the hardcore punk band, Scream, as well as the former guitarist for the Foo Fighters. We spoke about everything from guitar lessons to music videos to record stores to Foo Fighters to Nirvana to live shows.
Alex Obert: What were those first guitar lessons like?
Franz Stahl: (laughs) The first guitar lessons were very boring and very mundane. I only had a few of them because I was listening to a lot of music and wanted to learn how to play it. I didn’t want to be doing Mary Had A Little Lamb and shit like that or whatever, G, G, G, D, D, D, I didn’t have the patience really. (laughs) So, they were painful.
Alex Obert: How long until you learned Smoke on the Water?
Franz Stahl: Well to be quite honest, I didn’t even hear that song until a few years after I’d been playing. But I always taught myself by ear, by listening to music. Whenever I did hear that song, it didn’t take long at all.
Alex Obert: What are your earliest record store memories?
Franz Stahl: Well, in D.C. we had Penguin Feather Records and Tapes. I don’t have really great, fond memories and I didn’t go to too many record stores because I didn’t have money to buy records. My older brother, he had a job and he brought home a lot of the music that I listened to early on. Later on, when we had our band going and put out our first record, it was really cool to go to the record store and see it there. That’s pretty fucking cool. The record stores back then, at least the ones in Virginia, they weren’t that great. Early on, a trip to the record store was always going there to put up flyers for the show. One of the first records I bought at that record store was All Mod Cons by The Jam. And to be honest with you, I hadn’t heard them before. The sole reason I went and bought it was because I looked at the cover and I was like, “This kind of looks punk rock or somethin’.” So I bought it and that was my introduction to The Jam.
Alex Obert: In regards to putting up flyers, what were the struggles for getting people to come to your shows before the days of social media?
Franz Stahl: Well basically, you did it by word of mouth, by phone. One of the biggest ways of doing it was driving to the show at the club the night before and handing out flyers. Or even the week before. You’d go to the music stores and they’d have the bulletin board there for the want ads and shows, the same at record stores. We’d put ’em up at both places. We didn’t do too much flyering on telephone poles or stuff like that, it was more like bulletin boards at school, shit like that. But we didn’t have Facebook back then, obviously, so it was mainly by going to shows and handing out flyers. Whether you were attending and seeing the band or not, you would get to the show at the end as people were walking out and you’d hand out flyers. A lot of people did it. But there were only a few clubs in town, main places that we all played, and they all advertised as well. You would spread the word through the scene like that. Other than that, it was done by phone.
Alex Obert: Do you have any memories of trying to get on shows?
Franz Stahl: Nothing really worth talking about, pretty mundane. To be quite honest, my brother did most of the booking and he would be the one trying to get us on shows. I remember when we played with The Damned two nights at the 9:30 Club. But it’s a pretty typical process trying to get on. There isn’t any exciting backstory to any of it, really.
Alex Obert: You mention your brother, but your dad was a band manager. Did he ever give you any band-related advice?
Franz Stahl: No, he was long gone, split the family from a divorce. And we were too young of an age for him to present us with any real good advice anyway. But I remember being around a lot of it and he would take us to some shows when I was really little. Jefferson Airplane and shit like that. But no, he never really extended any kind of advice, like I said, he was gone and he really wasn’t around, even by the time we got the band together.
Alex Obert: If he wasn’t around when your time in the Foo Fighters came to an end, who did you go to for advice when that happened?
Franz Stahl: I reached out to a lot of people. I reached out to my brother. I had some nice, long conversations with him. A good friend of mine, the old Fugazi soundman, a guy by the name of Joey Picuri, who shed some good light on the whole thought at the time. But it wasn’t my father, that’s for sure, sadly enough. I talked to a couple people about it in depth.
Alex Obert: What was it like going back to performing at clubs after that? Did you feel right at home or did you have to get used to it again?
Franz Stahl: Oh, it was no big deal. I enjoy club shows, in fact, even with the Foo Fighters, some of our best shows were at small clubs. I mean there’s something about live, big shows, but they’re impersonal. I love small club shows. I love when the crowd is right in my face and it’s way more intense for me. And actually, when I left the Foo Fighters, I got back into my previous situation which became available, luckily enough, at the same time I left the Foo Fighters. And that was playing with this Japanese guy in Japan named J. And soon after the Foo Fighters, I spent seven years playing in Japan. I basically lived there. We played places like Budokan, we were playing big places. Two thousand seaters, eight thousand seaters, and clubs. It’s kinda weird in Japan. So it’s not like when I left the Foo Fighters, I went straight back to playing small club gigs, not that I care either way. I just wanted to play and I didn’t care where it was.
Alex Obert: With the talk of club shows, how was it set up that Scream was on the bill for the secret show that the Foo Fighters did for their 2011 album, Wasting Light?
Franz Stahl: Well Scream had just done a record out of 606. We recorded The Complete Control Sessions out there at Dave’s place and that was at the same time they were finishing up their record and they were doing some small club gigs. So they basically said, “You guys wanna open up? Come play.” It’s as simple as that! (laughs) And they were really good shows, actually. It was strange for me, in a way, to be honest. But it was cool.
Alex Obert: Did you happen to see the garage tour that the Foo Fighters did?
Franz Stahl: I happened to see one garage show. I remember seeing the uber fan that had all of his gear in that barn up on top, he had like a full on fucking stage, but it was just him! (laughs) He didn’t have a band or anything. He had his gear and knew every single song, then got to play with them.
Alex Obert: Something I’m curious about in regards to your involvement with the Foos, what was it like to film the music video for My Hero?
Franz Stahl: Well, it’s enjoyable. It’s kinda fun, in a way. But for the most part, it’s kind of ridiculous. I’ve never been a real big fan of the music video. I like videos like the Radiohead stuff and that French director who did a lot of other stuff, I think he’s really cool. But I think videos are a waste of fuckin’ time and a waste of money. It’s just a fucking jackoff thing to make somebody stand there and pretend like they’re playing. It’s just the most un rock n’ roll thing you could ever do. I’m just not a fan of it.To be honest, I was working in the film business prior to that, like as a production assistant, and I worked on music videos for tons of people. Names like Shakira, Cracker, all these people. I think a band belongs on stage. I think videos are just fucking ridiculous. And it’s even worse now when you add in the HD cameras and all that stuff. And it does not bode well, especially for older guys, older musicians and older bands. (laughs) That Rolling Stones one that’s all in high def, it’s like ugh. It should be black and white and not in HD! (laughs) But it’s the way it is now. The one thing I hated about doing music videos, we did kind of a cool one out in the desert for Kill the Crow, but I always remember my right hand would be bleeding by the end of the video because you’re not playing to any music. I mean you’re not really playing, you’re cranking the music. So it’s take after take after take after take. And you’re constantly just banging yourself against this instrument. So by the end of the video, you’re all cut up and bloodied which used to always piss me off. It’s just kind of embarrassing to be jumping around when you’re not playing. Can you imagine doing that? It’s pretty fucking ridiculous. It’s embarrassing. I don’t see how singers could do it. It’s one thing to be playing a guitar, but to mouth lyrics, you need the reality of it to make it worthwhile. You need the crowd screamin’ and you need the amps behind you just blasting underneath.
Alex Obert: Getting into a live performance, I’d like to get into some of the punk bands and icons and get your thoughts on them.
Franz Stahl: Okay.
Alex Obert: Bad Religion.
Franz Stahl: They’re good at what they do. And I know Brian very well. I like some of their stuff, but I’ve never been like, “Oh, go put on a Bad Religion record!” But if they needed a guitar player, I’d join the band in a heartbeat! (laughs)
Alex Obert: The Cramps.
Franz Stahl: True fucking garage rock n’ roll band.
Alex Obert: Henry Rollins.
Franz Stahl: I wasn’t really a big fan of his band’s music. But with Black Flag and the Damaged album, I like that stuff. But the later stuff I wasn’t a fan of.
Alex Obert: And I’d also like to get your opinion on a couple of the early Foo Fighters songs.
Franz Stahl: Alright.
Alex Obert: Monkey Wrench.
Franz Stahl: I love that whole record, dude. And the cassette, all that shit.
Alex Obert: Big Me.
Franz Stahl: Love it.
Alex Obert: For All The Cows.
Franz Stahl: Smoke break. (laughs) Nah, I love the way that song kicks in.
Alex Obert: I love the scene in Back and Forth where there’s a clip montage of Dave saying, “This one’s called For All The Cows.” at various performances. I thought it was the funniest thing.
Franz Stahl: I love that record. I love that record and The Colour and the Shape. The rest of ’em I could do without. I’m not saying that just because I’m not in the band anymore, but I don’t think any of the stuff matches what he does on those first two records. Learn To Fly, I think is a great track. But as far as punk bands, I feel there’s only one punk band, and that’s Bad Brains.
Alex Obert: Seeing as you live in Hollywood, have you ever been to The Rainbow?
Franz Stahl: Yes. It’s like going to a place that had its time like twenty, thirty years ago. (laughs) But as funky as that place is, they serve really good food there, believe it or not. I’ll tell you a story from one time when I was there. I was having drinks and John Entwistle is right behind me sitting in a booth, the former bass player for The Who. He dropped his gold card, it kind of fell right on my seat and we both got up at the same time to pick up his card. I was like, “Here, you dropped your card.” And while sitting, he just goes, “You shoulda kept that one! You know how many Ferraris you coulda bought with that?” (laughs) And this was like twenty, maybe fifteen years ago. But yes, I’ve been to the Rainbow, it’s kinda kitschy. The Rainbow had its time and that was in the late seventies and in the eighties. It was much more the place to go back then when you had the Sunset Strip happening, before the whole alternative scene and the punk rock scene came around.
Alex Obert: Have you ever seen Lemmy there?
Franz Stahl: I think I have. In fact, yeah, he was outside in the patio area. But I didn’t have a conversation with him.
Alex Obert: They say it’s his second home.
Franz Stahl: (laughs) It’s like a second home, yeah!
Alex Obert: A band that made a name for themselves by playing in California, have you ever seen Steel Panther play live?
Franz Stahl: I have never seen Steel Panther.
Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on them?
Franz Stahl: Hey, more power to them. They’re a novelty thing and they’re really good at it. I don’t even think they work, but I thought they all had regular day jobs. But yeah, they play all over the place. There’s a whole niche for these novelty bands. They make good money too, you’d be surprised.
Alex Obert: I’m curious to get your thoughts on this. With Dave and Nirvana and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, what are your thoughts on Chad Channing (played drums on Nirvana’s 1989 debut album, Bleach) being told that he won’t be inducted with Nirvana? That it will just be Kurt, Krist, and Dave.
Franz Stahl: I don’t know how they break that stuff down. I would throw him in there just because he was on that record and he was a band member. I don’t know what their qualifications are for that kind of stuff. I mean what do you think about it? Do you think Chad Channing should be in it?
Alex Obert: He should be because unlike KISS and the original four being inducted, Nirvana has a far smaller discography and one additional drummer on a debut album isn’t too much to ask for.
Franz Stahl: I agree, I agree. And it was that record that got the label interest, got ’em on the way. Fuck, Bleach is a heavy ass record, man. I think it’s awesome. I don’t know how many times we cranked that thing in the van. (laughs) But I would agree, I think he should be made apart of it. I can’t believe Krist would let it happen either.
Alex Obert: Do you feel it involves the Nevermind era and the fact that the Hall wants to preserve and promote that?
Franz Stahl: No, because everybody knows the history of Nirvana and the band. Had one drummer on Nevermind and had another on Bleach. I don’t understand what they’re preserving. It’s a fact that this guy was on the other record. And it doesn’t take anything away from Nevermind. It surely doesn’t take anything away from Nirvana as a whole. To not recognize him, I think it’s in poor taste.
Alex Obert: So what’s on your iPod?
Franz Stahl: Lately, I listen to lots of Rival Sons, who my brother’s tour managing for. I’ve been listening to a lot of No More Censorship from my band Scream because we’re actually going in the studio and remixing that record. Listening to a lot of The Damned, Strawberries. I have a ton of music on my iPod, just hit play and it rolls through ’em all.
Alex Obert: What’s something people would be surprised to know you have on your iPod?
Franz Stahl: This French artist, Yelle. (laughs) I don’t think any of it would surprise you, I think it would be more like, “Who is that?” Just obscure stuff. I grew up listening to a lot of Southern rock. Allman Brothers and stuff like that. Some people might find that surprising. I’m into a lot of electronic music, which people probably find surprising. A lot of Squarepusher. There’s a lot I have on my iPod because of my kids.
Alex Obert: What do you play in the car when you drive them?
Franz Stahl: My kids are into Bad Religion, actually. (laughs)
Alex Obert: If you ever got signed to do a show for Sirius, which bands would you play?
Franz Stahl: I’d play a lot of Bad Brains, a lot of Damned. I’d play a lot of Bob Marley and a lot of roots music. I’d play a lot of garage stuff, like Seeds. Sky Saxon, Flamin’ Groovies, a lot of Iggy. A good portion would be English music. The Clash, Pistols, The Undertones, The Ruts. A lot of good English punk. But I’d play it all. And I’d play a lot of fuckin’ Who and Zeppelin. I’d play a lot of everything. There’s not much that I don’t like. I even like the new One Direction record! (laughs) I’ve heard that album inside and out from my daughter. More than I care to say. You don’t ever like it, you just kind of get used to it. (laughs)
Alex Obert: That happened to me when my sister wouldn’t stop playing Britney Spears in the house and car growing up.
Franz Stahl: And there’s the whole story about Britney Spears and these Swedish guys who wrote all that stuff. It’s a great story.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what are you up to for the rest of the year?
Franz Stahl: I also play in my friend’s band, DYS. And I’ve been playing with them for the last year, typically weekend stuff. But we did do a tour and we have done some recordings. We’re going back East to do some shows there. We’ll probably do a week in Europe. We’re supposed to do a couple shows in China and Singapore. Scream’s got some stuff coming up, we’re remixing the No More Censorship record at Dave’s place, 606 Studios. With Scream, we’ll probably do a handful of shows here and there. Just kind of the usual thing. My brother’s gonna be pretty busy tour managing, we’ll see how many shows we can end up doing. But we’ll probably go out and have some fun. Got a lot on the plate.
Alex Obert: Sounds great! Thank you so much!
Franz Stahl: Alright, Alex. Thank you!