LOS ANGELES, Calif .– Rock musician Dave Grohl has decided to make a recording studio the subject of his very first film. He was intrigued not only by the studio, but also by specific recording equipment – a soundboard from the 1970s – that captured every note of music that was recorded there.
Geek city, right? Sounds like an idea any sane movie buff would shy away from.
Instead, “Sound City” offers a colorful piece of musical history, a candid examination of the changes brought about by technology, and a provocative statement about not giving up the human element in creativity. Grohl’s rookie film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, hits theaters Friday, and comes with an album featuring artists he interviewed.
“Honestly, it felt more like a barrel party with a camera than making a Hollywood movie,” he said.
Grohl knew nothing about the Sound City studio in Van Nuys, Calif., When he and his fellow Nirvana members Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic booked a session to do “Nevermind” in 1991. Their California record company wanted Nirvana nearby for keep an eye out for them and the time in Sound City was cheap.
It was in some neighborhood and looked like a dump, with tired shag carpet. Then Nirvana noticed all the gold records on the wall of artists who had recorded there: Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Van Halen, REO Speedwagon, Guns’ n Roses, Neil Young, Cheap Trick, Slayer, Rick Springfield and more. Again.
After plugging in their instruments and browsing “In Bloom”, Grohl and his friends found out why. The sound, to their ears, was incredible. Nirvana had never been captured with such clarity and power before.
“You might never have heard of Nirvana if we had recorded in Hollywood with a fantasy producer who made us look like Def Leppard,” he said. “The fact that this (sound) card made us look like ourselves is what people liked. To be reunited with it, honestly, was like meeting your real parents for the first time.”
The owners of Sound City bought the recording console designed by British engineer Rupert Neve for $ 76,000 at a time when many homes were costing half that price. When Grohl asked for her purchase a few years ago, the studio operator then suggested that she preferred to sell her grandmother. But Sound City closed and Grohl’s wish came true (he won’t say what he paid for). The console is now in a studio that Grohl and his band, Foo Fighters, operate in the North Ridge section of Los Angeles.
Sound City became a trendy studio after the birth of the modern incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, and Grohl’s film includes vintage footage of a young Petty with his Heartbreakers.
“It was our home away from home,” said Stevie Nicks. She recorded “Buckingham Nicks”, her album with her then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham, in Sound City, and met her current backing vocalist there in 1972. Nicks and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac soon after, and the album that propelled the group to stardom has been produced. on the Neve console.
Seeing Grohl’s movie and the memories that came back made him cry, Nicks said.
Sound City struggled in the mid-1980s because technology drove artists elsewhere, until Nirvana made it the Mecca of a new generation. Now the technology is so good that people can basically record alone in their rooms, and they do. It doomed Sound City and many other studios.
As Mick Fleetwood says in “Sound City”, just being able to record on your own doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.
“When you have four different people, four different personalities, four different players in a room, that combination equals magic,” Grohl said. “You can get The Beatles and you can get the Rolling Stones and you can get AC / DC. It happens because of imperfections and bad habits of people. That’s what gives music personality, and so on. i find music exciting. “
Grohl spoke as he sat in his studio, in a room filled with guitars and overlooking the soundboard he worships. Song assignments to learn for an upcoming Sundance appearance were listed on a sheet of paper for the Foo Fighters’ arrival later that day, some by Nicks and John Fogerty. “Can you believe it?” Grohl said. “I sing ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around ‘with Stevie Nicks!”
It’s impossible to hide the excited child in Grohl’s eyes when the film portrays him, Novoselic and Pat Smear jamming with Paul McCartney in the same studio. The collaboration resulted in a song, “Cut Me Some Slack”, which they performed publicly at Sandy Benefit and on the new album.
Many people have misinterpreted his film as anti-tech, Grohl said. “I’m not Amish,” he said, noting that he uses advanced recording equipment all the time. “Sound City” interviews Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor as an example of a tech assistant who always benefits from collaborations.
“The intention was to inspire people to fall in love with the human element and the human process of making music,” he said. “A lot of kids only hear music on their video games. Many children only see singing contests on television. neighbor and write a song by yourself and it sucks. And then become the biggest band in the world. It goes like this. “
Grohl’s 6-year-old daughter recently asked her father to listen to his piece “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the violin. It looked like someone strangling a goose while scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard, he said.
To her daughter’s ears it was beautiful music.
Judging from “Sound City”, that was also for Grohl’s.
Associated Press correspondent Natalie Rotman contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE – David Bauder can be reached on dbauder (at) ap.org and on Twitter (at) dbauder.