By Noah Hubbell
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Shortly thereafter, Goldsmith and Mendel found themselves smack in the middle of the alterna-rock event of the year--a brief club tour in which indie legend Mike Watt was joined on stage nightly by Grohl and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, who was then at the height of his popularity. (Denver's Mercury Cafe was among the handful of venues to host the show, which also featured performances by the Foo Fighters and Hovercraft.) For Goldsmith, "the whole thing was kind of blurry, because I think I was drumming for three sets a night. But it was a pretty memorable experience. I didn't really look at Grohl and Eddie Vedder as huge media rock stars; I just kind of looked at them as goofy people. So I enjoyed that. But pretty much everything after that blew."
According to Goldsmith, Grohl misled him about the Foo Fighters' mission. "It was my understanding that Dave just wanted to do music to be happy and he didn't want to tour that much. He wanted to keep it mellow. But then it turned into a world-domination thing that became really creatively stifling."
Foo Fighters, Grohl's inaugural post-Nirvana recording, was pretty much a one-man show: With the exception of a cameo appearance by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, Grohl did everything himself. When the disc became a hit, however, Grohl got together with Smear, Goldsmith and Mendel, and once they'd learned his songs, the band hit the road--and hit it hard. Goldsmith says he quickly grew tired of reproducing arrangements that he'd had no hand in shaping during shows at ever-larger venues. He believes that the killing schedule took its toll on his body as well. He blames a case of carpal tunnel syndrome on the constant pounding he took while backing Grohl. "I'm really concentrating and relaxing and not over-exerting myself now," he says. "Otherwise, it gets really bad."
Worse for Goldsmith was the experience of making The Colour and the Shape, the first Foo Fighters disc to feature a full band. "Dave had me do 96 takes of one song, and I had to do thirteen hours' worth of takes on another one," he points out. "It just seemed that everything I did wasn't good enough for him, or anyone else. I think that everyone at the label wanted Dave to play drums on the record, the producer [Gil Norton] wanted him to play drums on the record, and it felt like everyone was trying to get me to quit. But I didn't quit. I played drums on pretty much the whole record. But then, behind my back, Dave re-recorded the whole record without telling me. I found out through Nate, who--well, I won't get into that. But I thought, 'This is bullshit.'"
Goldsmith walked out of the Foo Fighters over what he viewed as Grohl's betrayal just as the idea of a new Sunny Day Real Estate album was fermenting. In the beginning, the disc was supposed to spotlight random unreleased and live tracks, but that changed after the original quartet reassembled. All four discovered that the conflicts that had driven them apart in 1995 didn't seem as unsolvable as they once had--and the sound they made together was as singular as ever. "All our problems had been personality-based," Goldsmith says. "Musically, we never had a problem. And we still don't."
Before they knew it, the musicians had a handful of dynamic new songs, and Enigk, Hoerner and Goldsmith were eager to put out the Real Estate shingle once more. The rub was Mendel. "Nate worked on the stuff with us, and he told us he wanted to be involved," Goldsmith says. "But he needed to quit the Foo Fighters for it to work. We waited about a year for him to do it, and finally he did. But then Grohl sweet-talked him into staying, telling him that he could make the Foo Fighters a side project--which was one thing I knew would never work, the way Grohl is. And since Nate has a mortgage to pay, he didn't want to take a chance on us without doing the Foo Fighters, too. He was kind of wishy-washy about the whole thing, and in the end, he just chickened out. It was a real disappointment. Nate still wanted to do the record, but I didn't want him to. If he wasn't committed to us, there was no way in hell he could do that."
This situation came to a head only a week before the date on which Sunny Day Real Estate was scheduled to enter a Seattle studio to cut How It Feels to Be Something On. Goldsmith and company responded by going into full scramble mode, and within days, bassist Jeff Palmer, best known for his work in San Francisco's Mommyheads, was made a partner in the firm. But this job didn't last long. Between the recording of the disc and its release, the three longtimers realized that the logistics of having a bassist living in another city were too much to overcome. "Jeff was having a hard time with the practice schedule we wanted to keep," Goldsmith explains. "And he couldn't move up here, because he had some things he had to do in San Francisco. So we needed to find someone from here who could do it."