LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Rock musician Dave Grohl set out to make a recording studio the subject of his first-ever film. He was intrigued not only by the studio but by a specific piece of recording equipment – a 1970s-era sound board – that captured every note of music made there.
Geek city, right? It sounds like an idea any sane moviegoer would run from.
Instead, Sound City offers a colorful piece of music history, a candid examination of changes wrought by technology and a defiant statement about not surrendering the human element in creativity. Grohl’s rookie film made it to the Sundance movie festival. It was released in theaters Friday and is accompanied by an album featuring artists he interviewed.
“It honestly was more like a keg party with a camera than making a Hollywood film,” he said.
Grohl knew nothing about theSound City studio in Van Nuys, Calif., when he and fellow Nirvana members Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic booked a session to make Nevermind in 1991.
Their California record company wanted Nirvana nearby to keep an eye on them and time at Sound City was cheap.
It was in a nondescript neighborhood and looked like a dump, with tired shag carpeting. Then Nirvana noticed all the gold records on the wall from 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.
After plugging in their instruments and running through In Bloom, Grohl and his mates discovered why. The sound, to their ears, was amazing. Nirvana had never been captured with such clarity and power before.
“You might have never heard of Nirvana if we had recorded in Hollywood with a fancy producer who made us sound like Def Leppard,” he said. “The fact that that (sound) board made us sound like us is what people appreciated. To be reunited with it, honestly, it was like meeting your real parents for the first time.”
Sound City owners bought the recording console designed by British engineer Rupert Neve for $76,000 at a time many houses cost half that. When Grohl inquired about buying it a few years ago, the studio operator suggested she’d rather sell her grandmother. But Sound City closed and Grohl’s wish came true (he won’t say what he paid for it). The console is now in a studio that Grohl and his band, Foo Fighters, operate in the North Ridge section of Los Angeles.
Many people have wrongly interpreted his film to be anti-technology, Grohl said.
“I’m not Amish,” he said, noting he uses advanced recording equipment all the time.