Nate's Trip

From the Tri-Cities to the Foo Fighters.

These days, he calls L.A. home and is the bass player of one of alt-rock's most successful bands. But back in 1986, the Foo Fighters' Nate Mendel (who, with the rest of the band, will be performing at the Convention Center this Sunday night) was bashing out the hardcore punk rock home-style in Eastern Washington as a member of the Tri-Cities band, Diddly Squat.

"Originally it was called POR, whose initials stand for something I don't even want to reveal," he recalls with a laugh. "But Diddly Squat was my mid-'80s band. We did a couple of national tours and put out an EP and played Spokane all the time."

So much, in fact, that this writer for many years labored under the misconception that Diddly Squat was from Spokane.

"Yeah we played there a lot," says Mendel, and Moses Lake and Seattle and Portland. We did a lot of shows in the Tri-Cities, too, but there was kind of more going on in Spokane. We played up there at the Grotto and at a place called 123 Arts. It was a lot of fun then."

That fun came to an abrupt halt in 1988 with the drowning death of Diddly Squat's guitar player.

"It was before our last show," says Mendel. "So it was just really tragic and strange."

But he wasn't band-less for long. A former Diddly Squat singer who had moved to Washington, D.C., to become part of that city's punk scene was moving his new band, Christ on a Crutch, out to Seattle and wanted to know if Mendel wanted to sign on. He accepted the offer and in 1989, made the move west.

"They were great," he says of Christ on a Crutch. "They had tons of respect for the music that was going on in D.C., just a great punk rock band with interesting political lyrics. Tongue-in-cheek stuff, not just your rote 'we hate the government' kind of thing. But I had some time to spare. Something that I suppose should be embarrassing for me but isn't is that I filled in playing bass for a friend's band called Brotherhood, a straight-edge band. I did that for about four months, so I got to put a straight-edge band on my resume."

Mendel was a member of Christ on a Crutch for a couple of years, touring with them and booking the shows himself all DIY-like.

"It was hilarious because I had no idea how to book a tour, he recalls. "It would take me months of just hounding people on the phone to try to get a show. We'd get out there with our broken-down little van and half the shows would fall apart. You'd never know what the show was going to be like. Running out of money, sleeping on people's floors or staying at Motel 6. We'd actually shop around for the cheapest Motel 6. I mean, every $10 counts."

But Mendel says he grew weary of playing straight punk as he began acquiring a taste for niceties such as melody, understatement and lyrics that didn't necessarily deal with politics. He started Sunny Day Real Estate with guitarist (and Spokane native) Dan Hoerner and drummer William Goldsmith in 1992. Things for that band took off the following year (coinciding with the addition of singer Jeremy Enigk), and SDRE was signed to Sub Pop in 1994.

"Then Jeremy converted to Christianity. It hit him like a lightning bolt. And he really embraced it fervently. It didn't allow him to do the band in a way that would allow everybody else to be in the band. So at the end of '94, we stopped."

That same year Nirvana collapsed with the death of Kurt Cobain. In 1995 Mendel and Goldsmith were invited to sign up with ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's new band, the Foo Fighters (with Grohl and Pat Smear on guitars).

"Dave Grohl knew about Sunny Day. He'd been to a couple of shows. When he wanted to put a band together, he talked to William and I about doing it, and it worked out really well. And that's what I've been doing ever since."

Foo Fighter drummers and guitarists rotate out with some frequency (current drummer Taylor Hawkins replaced Goldsmith and current lead guitarist Chris Shiflett replaced Franz Stahl, who briefly replaced Smear). But Mendel had been at the bass position since Day One.

"It's not so much why I've stayed as why other people have left," he explains. "It's not a difficult band to be in by any stretch of the imagination. Everybody left for their own reasons, not because Dave has any communicable diseases or anything. But we get asked about it a lot. We started from scratch and from the moment we started it -- because of Dave's history -- we had a lot of attention put on us. So we went through a lot of growing pains that other bands will do before they put out their first record. We went through it when we already had fans and people that knew about the band."

Mendel says that despite all the side projects various members are involved with (he's getting back together with most of his Sunny Day mates in a new outfit called the Fire Theft, and Grohl, of course, is still receiving accolades for a stint at the kit behind the Queens of the Stone Age), the latest entry from the Foo Fighters, 2002's One By One, will surely not be the last.

"We're already writing songs. It's gonna be great, because Dave's going to open up a semi-commercial studio in L.A., and so we're going to have a permanent studio right in the same neighborhood where we're all living. We'll tour through the end of this year, and sometime next year start work on the new record. We're just concentrating on touring for the moment."

That tour is going to take the Foo Fighters into previously uncharted Inland Northwest territory -- namely, Spokane.

"It's going to be like a homecoming for me," Mendel says. "I don't think we've ever played Spokane, and that's where almost my whole family lives now. It's gonna be a zoo of family. My father called and said he's got a 20-person guest list already. And that's just him."

Iron Maiden, Trivium @ Spokane Arena

Fri., Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m.
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