Dave Grohl’s What Drives Us probes what makes bands want to tour and perform

The directorial debut of the Foo Fighters frontman shines a spotlight of some of his peers and why they do what they do.
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By John Curley

What Drives Us, the excellent directorial debut of Dave Grohl, premiered on Friday, April 30th, on The Coda Collection via Prime Video in the USA and on Prime Video in other markets around the world. The film delves into what makes touring musicians want to do what they do and the sacrifices that they have to make. To get to the heart of it, Grohl interviewed an array of musicians including Ringo Starr, St. Vincent, Ben Harper, U2’s The Edge, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Exene Cervenka of X, L7’s Jennifer Finch, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, No Doubt’s Tony Kanal, Slash and Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Fugazi’s Ian Mackaye, Black Flag’s Kira Roessler, D. H. Peligro from The Dead Kennedys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Charlie Gabriel of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Grohl also spends time with the young bands Radkey and Starcrawler in the film to get the perspective of bands that are on their way up at the moment. Setting the tone for the film, Grohl discusses the importance of the vans that young bands use to tour and how the musicians bond during the time on the road.

What Drives Us is Dave Grohl’s directorial debut. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

What Drives Us is Dave Grohl’s directorial debut. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

Because he is a peer of those interviewed in the film, Grohl gets the interviewees to be quite candid in a way that they might not have been had a journalist been asking the questions. And each interviewee brings interesting things to the film. The Edge states that seeing The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night made him want to play music. He goes on to discuss the first meeting of what became U2 at Larry Mullen’s house and how awful they were at the start. He speaks with fondness about U2’s first gig in which their version of Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” brought down the house. And he talks about the vital importance of the connection with the live audience and how making that connection was critical to U2’s success.

The Edge speaks about the vital bond between band and audience in the film. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

The Edge speaks about the vital bond between band and audience in the film. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

On the subject of influences, Johnson discusses how seeing Little Richard perform on BBC-TV changed his life. Harper talks about how his neighbors, the band Christian Death, turned him on to bands such as The Clash and The Jam. Kanal says that his No Doubt bandmates got him interested in bands like Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And Ulrich reminisces about he and his Metallica bandmate James Hetfield bonding over their love of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Lars Ulrich states in the film that Metallica is the only band in which he’s been a member. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

Lars Ulrich states in the film that Metallica is the only band in which he’s been a member. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

Mackaye provides a bit of a musical history lesson when discussing how the Vancouver-based punk band D.O.A. created the punk-rock network of touring in America and added that the Southern California punkers Black Flag built on that network of clubs to play and places for the bands to stay.

In the film, St. Vincent discusses making the choice between what most would consider a normal life, such as working in data entry, and being a touring musician. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

In the film, St. Vincent discusses making the choice between what most would consider a normal life, such as working in data entry, and being a touring musician. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

There are some laugh-out-loud funny moments in the film, such as St. Vincent and Johnson both talking about band members farting in the van. And there are also a few quite poignant parts of the film, like Flea talking about the school band being his salvation to help him deal with an uncomfortable life at home as a child and Peligro discussing how his alcohol and drug issues eventually led to him living in a homeless shelter.

D. H. Peligro provides one of the most poignant interview moments in the film. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

D. H. Peligro provides one of the most poignant interview moments in the film. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

The portions of the film that Grohl spends with Radkey and Starcrawler are inspiring. Both bands appear to love what they do. And the three Radke brothers who make up Radkey also have their father, who quit his job to tour with and manage the band, on board.

St. Joseph, MO-based Radkey are one of the two young bands profiled in the film. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

St. Joseph, MO-based Radkey are one of the two young bands profiled in the film. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

At one point in the film, Grohl states, “There’s no guarantee it will pay off. The reward has to be the experience.” At the end of the film, Starr opines, “You’ve gotta get in the van if you want to make it in this business.” Those two quotes provide a perfect summation of the film.

The poster for the film can be seen here. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

The poster for the film can be seen here. (Photo courtesy of Roswell Films)

A Roswell Films / Therapy Studios production, What Drives Us was directed by Dave Grohl, produced by John Ramsay, James A Rota, Mark Monroe and Foo Fighters, and edited by Dean Gonzalez. Jessica Young was the director of photography and Brandon Kim was the sound designer and mixer.

The trailer for the film can be seen below:

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