Dave Grohl as Late!

Way back when Dave Grohl was the new drummer for an obscure indie-label band called Nirvana, he recorded a low-budget, low-profile solo album under the pseudonym of Late! (yes, the exclamation point was part of the spelling). Over the course of two sessions that took place several months apart, the then-unknown drummer recorded the album -- or, perhaps we should say, the cassette -- titled Pocketwatch. This cassette-only album was distributed by a now-defunct indie label called Simple Machines, as part of their Tool Cassette Series. The recordings in this series were only made available on cassette, not on CD or vinyl, and were reproduced on a just-in-time, as-needed basis when copies were ordered. The cassette was issued in 1992, after Nirvana hit the big time, and it wasn't long before word began to get around that Late! was actually Nirvana's drummer. A few years later, after Grohl had become the singer/guitarist/leader of the Foo Fighters, there was eventually such an increase in demand for Pocketwatch that it became difficult for the tiny label to keep the supply coming, especially using such a primitive method as tape-dubbing. When the two master tape copies were both worn out from this process, it spelled the end of distribution for Pocketwatch, as well as the rest of the label's Tool series. It's too bad that Grohl did not want the album issued on CD, reportedly because he did not want the demo-like recording to become a "big thing". To many fans of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, the now-rare cassette certainly has become something of a big deal.

Late! was essentially a one-man operation, as Grohl played all of the instruments and sang nearly all of the vocals. The Pocketwatch recordings hinted at the future sounds of both Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. The first six tracks were recorded in December of 1990 by Barrett Jones, the owner of Laundry Room Studio, who also provided background vocals on "Petrol CB". At this point in time, Grohl had just recently joined Nirvana after the breakup of the D.C. hardcore punk band Scream. The opening instrumental "Pokey The Little Puppy" sounds very much like an intro for a Foo Fighters album, almost resembling a working version of the FF's "My Hero". The fast-paced "Throwing Needles" also sounds very much like a lo-fi Foo Fighters demo. The acoustic ballad "Friend Of A Friend" was later re-recorded for the 2005 Foo Fighters album In Your Honor; although it's not as well-produced as the later version, the Pocketwatch version of the song is just as good. (The fact that Grohl originally recorded that song in 1990 casts some doubt on a frequent assumption that the song was about Kurt Cobain). "Petrol CB" slightly resembles Bleach-era Nirvana, with a lead vocal that echoes Cobain. "Just Another Story About Skeeter Thompson" is a crude spoken-word tale about the Scream bassist, with rough Metallica-like instrumental backing; a remixed version of this track turned up on a 1992 EP by Buzz Osborne of the Melvins. The ballad "Color Pictures Of A Marigold" later developed into the Nirvana B-side "Marigold".

The last four tracks on Pocketwatch were recorded in July 1991, and showed the increasing influence that Cobain was having on Grohl's songwriting. "Hell's Garden" could pass for a Nevermind-era Nirvana demo. The exciting "Winnebago" sounded equally Nirvana-ready, but in retrospect, it now sounds even more like a Foo Fighters prototype. Sure enough, that song was later re-recorded as a Foo Fighters B-side in 1995, with more refinement and less ferocity. The instrumental "Bruce" sounds like it was laying the groundwork for the late-period Nirvana song "Milk It". The closing track, titled "Milk" (coincidentally?), is a mid-tempo number that resembles a more easily digestible Nirvana song. As unpolished as it may be, Pocketwatch is a fine piece from Grohl's accomplished oeuvre.

Although Pocketwatch was the only official Late! album, Grohl did use the pseudonym on at least one later occasion: when he composed the music for the 1997 film Touch, he was credited as Late (without the exclamation point) on three of the soundtrack album's 13 tracks. Grohl (under his own name) actually wrote and performed all of the tracks on that soundtrack album, with a little help from a few of his friends. The album is another undeservedly obscure part of Grohl's studio recording history, and is certainly a much more polished work than Pocketwatch. It has more value than the unexpectedly weak movie it was composed for, in which writer-director Paul Schrader bastardized a deliciously offbeat Elmore Leonard novel. As you might expect, the majority of the tracks are instrumentals, and some of them bear a clear similarity to the Foo Fighters sound. (The Touch soundtrack was released earlier the same year as the second Foo Fighters album). The opening "Bill Hill Theme" comes on like a Foo variation on classic TV show themes like the one from Peter Gunn. "How Do You Do" (which does feature vocals by Grohl) and the machine-gun-paced "Spinning Newspapers" also are the types of tracks you would expect to hear on a Foo Fighters album. Some of the other instrumentals are flavored with jazz ("August Murray Theme", "Scene 6") and country ("Making Popcorn", "Remission My Ass") sounds; two others ("Richie Baker's Miracle" and "Final Miracle") attempt to create a heavenly aura in keeping with the story's spiritual overtones. A pleasant surprise: Grohl's two collaborations with Louise Post of Veruca Salt possess a dream pop quality not to be found on the usual work of either artist. On "Saints In Love", Post chants angelically over Grohl's languid guitar; the closing title ballad is a warm and blissful duet sung by the pair, ending the album on a touching note. Another songwriting collaborator on the soundtrack is former X frontman John Doe, who sings the lead vocal on the less remarkable country-blues ballad "This Loving Thing (Lynn's Song)", which is produced a bit too cleanly for its own good. A more affecting recording of this song appeared on Doe's 1998 EP For The Rest Of Us.

Late! "Pocketwatch" (Simple Machines SM TOOL 3) 1992

Track Listing:

1. Pokey The Little Puppy
2. Petrol CB
3. Friend Of A Friend
4. Throwing Needles
5. Just Another Story About Skeeter Thompson
6. Color Pictures Of A Marigold
7. Hell's Garden
8. Winnebago
9. Bruce
10. Milk

Dave Grohl - Touch: Music From The Motion Picture

"Music From The Motion Picture Touch" (Capitol 7243 8 55632 2 5) 1997

Track Listing:

1. Bill Hill Theme
2. August Murray Theme
3. How Do You Do
4. Richie Baker's Miracle
5. Making Popcorn
6. Outrage
7. Saints In Love -- (Louise Post and Late)
8. Spinning Newspapers
9. Remission My Ass
10. Scene 6
11. This Loving Thing (Lynn's Song) -- (John Doe and Late)
12. Final Miracle
13. Touch -- (Louise Post and Late)