Creative Minds: Dave Grohl on Voice

Dave and me, hanging out @ The Experience Music Project in Seattle


This is the fourth post in an occasional series about finding inspiration in other artists’ creative processes. Read the first, about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the second, featuring Trent Reznor, and the third, mourning the death of Scott Weiland, at the links.


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Dave Grohl fangirl. (Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana, and founded and fronts the Foo Fighters.)  So when I heard Dave was keynoting the South By Southwest Conference a couple of years ago, in 2013, I blocked out an hour on my (then) day job’s Outlook calendar so I could watch the webcast uninterrupted.

Dave didn’t disappoint. In an f-bomb-laden, highly personal speech, and sporting ridiculously sexy reading glasses, Dave brought us along on his personal artistic journey, one inspired by wise parents and a love of punk rock. He reveled in his independence, developing and nurturing what he later recognized was his individual voice.

Voice. It’s an aspect of art, of craft, that musicians and writers share. It’s a tone, or a worldview, that makes a piece of work – or a body of work – belong uniquely to its creator.   

Some key takeaways from Dave’s keynote that resonated for me:

“There is no right or wrong, there is only your voice. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s (expletive) gone.”

“Am I the best drummer in the world? Certainly not. Am I the best singer/songwriter? Not even in this (expletive) room. But I have been left alone to find my voice.”

“I am the musician, and I come first.”

This statement about creative control of one’s art, spoken with such certainty during a time when my traditional publisher and I were parting ways and indie publishing loomed on my horizon, shrilled into my very bones.

Somewhere along the line, I’d forgotten that.

I am the writer, and I come first.

I won’t forget it again.

I could quote from this keynote for hours – and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it since Dave made it 2013 – but I think I’ll just let the man speak for himself. Here’s Dave, being all hot ‘n wise ‘n awesome. The video is 49:32; it’s well worth the time regardless of how you write or publish, and the language is NSFW.

Listen. Learn. Enjoy. And remind yourself, if you need to: “I am the writer, and I come first.”

I realize fifty minutes is a significant time investment, and that comments might be few and far between at the blog today. But if you’re inclined to comment:

Do you think there are lessons writers can learn from musicians, and publishing can learn from the music industry, about the intersection of art and commerce?

Is there a writer whose voice you absolutely adore? Why do you like it, and which book do you recommend we read to get a taste?  


17 responses to “Creative Minds: Dave Grohl on Voice”

  1. jbrayweber says:

    I have a very high respect for this man. He’s humble and a class act in my book. What a journey he’s been on… I love Dave! I WILL be watching this. Thanks, Tammy!


    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Jenn, one of the things I most enjoy about this keynote, and maybe it’s because I’ve listened to it so many times, is how well it’s CRAFTED. Even in this format, he’s a master of rhythm, rhyme, and timing – ever the drummer, I guess!

  2. Sheri says:

    I love Dave Grohl, and I too fangirl over him. He is dead,sexy, and smart, something that people tend to forget is important. So I’ll definitely be watching this.

    As to your question, Neil Gaiman is the voice I love. If I ever get to be half as amazing as he is, I will have completed my goal.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Sheri, yes! Isn’t Gaiman fabulous? He’s one of the writers whose work I’ve learned I simply can’t read during certain phases of my writing process. It’s hard to get “I’m not worthy!” out of my head. 😉

  3. Thanks, Tammy!

    I love this speech, and I shared it previously with my 17-year-old rock and roller of a youngest son, and it really helped build bridges between us. And it was kind of cool to have my kid realize that I understood him seeking and refining his ‘voice,’ because I’ve done the same. 🙂

    This is a great message for all creative people. Especially people who are struggling with creativity. 🙂

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      EE, it was after listening to this keynote that I came to realize why Dave is pretty much my spirit animal: He marches to the beat of his own drum (heh), and continues to blaze his own trail, giving zero f*cks about the industry or what other people think he should do. He pleases himself first.

      I’m glad Dave helped you and your son find creative common ground!

  4. Artists are artist, no matter the genre or medium, and we all seem to face the similar doubts and battles, personally and professionally. I’m married to a musician and some days, that common language is what allow us not to strangle each other 🙂

    I’m a sucker for musicians and writers with a strong, distinctive voice–Darynda Jones, of course, DJ Older’s Bone Street Rumba for urban Latin flair, Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock for it’s contemporary Southern edge, or Rob Thurman’s Trick of the Light for no hold’s barred dark sarcasm.

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch recently posted an interesting look at changes in the music industry and what writers can learn from the Radiohead experiments.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks for the link to Kris’s awesome blog post. YES YES YES. “Ripped” by Greg Kot is a very instructive book.

      I considered buying Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” when it was first released, but having to provide an email address to do so was a deal-breaker for me. 😉

  5. I love these posts, Tammy. There is so much we can take from artists of all different types and Dave Grohl… *swoon* I love the introspection and the passion and the fight. It’s impossible to sell ourselves short when we’re growling and screaming in OUR voice. Love that. And at least if we make mistakes, we make them BIG.

  6. Tammy, I’ve gotten so much goodness from each of your posts. This one was, as usual, fabulous and so, so timely for me. In fact, I’d just started watching it when hubby came home from dropping the kids off at school, and he sat down and started watching it with me. He loves Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters and we were both sucked in immediately. So inspirational. My husband is a creative type of a different sort…a biomedical engineer who has started his own company and produced his own devices that he’d researched, so he really connected with “finding your voice” and protecting that creative environment in a different way than writers and musicians might. And then we had a very nice discussion about the creative process, and how similar and yet different it can be…

    So thank you for a fabulous start to the day. I really needed this, as I’ve been doubting my voice lately, and where it’s taking me. It was a much-needed reminder to follow my passion.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I’m so glad you and your husband enjoyed the keynote together, Anne Marie! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for your follow-on conversation.

      One thing I’ve become more aware of recently is how easy it can be for me to start feeling like crap if I spend too much time on social media. I love Twitter, but because I’ve been writing but not publishing recently, anyone looking at my feed would be hard-pressed to know I’m a writer, much less published. ;-/ It can be SO hard to ignore what everyone else is doing, and just focus on me. On my thing. My voice.

      So, retail therapy to the rescue! I just ordered this bracelet to help me stay focused. 😉

  7. Thank you, Tammy! I love your posts. I always find inspiration from those you suggest. BTW I ordered The Gift Of Fear and two other suggested books after reading your comment to another blog post TGOF looked interesting and something that will help me with writing RS. I’m looking forward into diving into it over the weekend. Keep the suggestions coming, sister.

    I’m going to spend the next hour listening to Dave. I’ll let you know what I think. WINK

    • Now I know why you listen to his keynote again and again. Awesome! I love his message. Really, Thanks for sharing.

      • Tamara Hogan says:

        I’m glad you enjoyed it, Autumn. It can be so hard to know whether something that’s helped me so much translates.

        Regarding “The Gift of Fear” – as a victim of violent crime, I found the book life-changing, and so empowering. Let me know what you think!


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