Dave Grohl’s directorial debut pays homage to Sound Studios
January 16, 2013
In 1991, a Seattle rock trio called Nirvana walked into Sound City Studios to record the album "Nevermind."
Little did drummer Dave Grohl know that his life would not be the same once the sessions wrapped.
"Nevermind," considered the album that introduced the Seattle "grunge" sound to suburbia and pushed America’s love for glam metal to the curb, sold more than 30 million copies and launched the late singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and Grohl into the realms of superstardom.
But Nirvana was only one of thousands of bands that recorded ground-breaking albums at Sound City.
Others bands and artists include Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, the Pixies, Dio and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
So, when Grohl, who is the founder and guitarist for the Foo Fighters, heard Sound City might be closing, he "gently’ let the owners know that if they wanted to get rid of the Neve 8028 recording console, he would be happy to have it.
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"They talked about it and told me they wanted me to have it because of my history there and they knew I would use it," Grohl said during an interview with The Park Record.
When he went to pick it up with his pal Jim Rota, musician and filmmaker, Grohl had the idea of doing a short web documentary and interviewed studio owner Tom Skeeter.
"During that 15-minute interview and the stories that came out of his mouth were jaw dropping," Grohl said. "It was rock ‘n’ roll history. So, I knew I needed to do more."
What Grohl ended up making was a full-length feature documentary called "Sound City," which will premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
"After the interview, I decided I needed a list of all the records that were made and got a short list of the good ones," Grohl said. "I made some calls to see if anyone wanted to talk and every one of these people said yes and wanted to be involved."
The reason across the board was because the studio represented the human element in music making, he explained.
"That’s when music becomes a conversation between people," Grohl said. "That’s when the musician’s personality determines the sound of the song, and if there are imperfections in the playing, it stays there."
Grohl was able to chat with Neil Young about guitar sounds and with Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails about classical piano and computer technology.
"I also got to sit down with John Fogerty to talk about what made him pick up the guitar and hear Stevie Nicks tell Fleetwood Mac stories," Grohl said. "I mean, Sound City is where Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham met Mick Fleetwood. It was awesome."
Other interviews included Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Barry Manilow, Tom Petty, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and producer Butch Vig.
"My job was to put everything together in a movie for all to appreciate, because first off, the console is porn for gear and studio nerds," Grohl said. "When I show it in all its glory, those people look at it like it’s Pamela Anderson. They freak out because it’s like a centerfold.
"But when I show it to my mom, it’s like an alien spaceship," he said with a laugh. "She asks what are all the nobs and buttons. So, the idea was that we had to tell the story of studio and what it represented in a language that everyone could understand."
That’s why Grohl had to tap into the human element.
"To me, making this movie was just as simple as telling a story," Grohl said. "If you and I were sitting at a bar with a beer between us, I would tell you the story the same way I did in the movie.
"Any musician, really, spends 22 hours of their day sitting in the front lounge of any given hotel, telling stories about the past 20 years," he said. "So, if you sit down with someone who has been around the block a couple of times, you can usually pry a couple of juicy bits out of them."
While Grohl has made music videos for Foo Fighters in the past, he never considered making a full-length film.
"It was funny, because this all just happened," he said. "I didn’t set out to buy the board and make a movie, but since it’s about something that meant so much to me, it was easy to do.
Grohl said he probably wouldn’t be able to make the film, let alone have a music career if it weren’t for Sound City Studios.
"One thing that people don’t understand is if that album would have been recorded in another room, on a different recording console, it wouldn’t have sounded like ‘Nevermind’ and my not have sold 30 million copies," he said. "It may only have sold 30.
"So, I think Sound City is responsible for my success," Grohl said. "That place is a very special part of my life and the recording console is just as much a part of my history as friends of family or houses I’ve lived in. It was a pleasure working on the film."
Grohl credits his 15-person crew that included editor, Paul Crowder, who worked on the film "Dogtown & Z Boys" with making "Sound City" happen.
"Paul grew up in England working at recording studios and he’s a recording engineer," Grohl said. "When I met with him, I didn’t have to explain what I wanted to do with my film. He knew. He was a perfect fit."
After "selfishly" spending 30 years making music and recordings for himself, Grohl made the film everyone.
"Its purpose is to inspire people to fall in love and appreciate the human element of music," he said. "I paid for this whole thing out of my pocket, but nobody told us what to do. We are like missionaries and determined to save the human element of music and preserve it."
The Sundance Film Festival will screen Dave Grohl’s "Sound City" Friday, Jan. 18, at the MARC at 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Library Center Theatre, at 8:30 a.m. and at the Sundance Resort Screening Room at 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Jan. 22, at the Salt Lake City Library at 6 p.m.; Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Library Center Theatre at 11:45 p.m. and on Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City at 6 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org/festival.