‘Sound City’ stylishly documents historic music studio with all−star cast
Classic musicians and bands honor sound city studios
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 01:02
When listening to an album or song, most listeners usually don’t give too much thought to how the music was actually recorded. In his directorial debut with the documentary “Sound City,” Dave Grohl has arrived to shine a spotlight on the art of recording, with a special example in mind: The legendary Sound City Studios and their Neve analog recording console. While a documentary about a recording console sounds anything but fascinating, director Grohl (better known for his day job as frontman for the Foo Fighters and former drummer of Nirvana) injects the film with a heartfelt enthusiasm that helps make “Sound City” a fascinating look at a bygone era in music history.
The initial focus of the film is on the recording studio, which opened in Los Angeles in 1969 and was responsible for a huge number of classic albums. A short list of artists who recorded at Sound City includes Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Elton John and the Grateful Dead—and that’s just from the ‘70s. The significance of this studio isn’t lost on Grohl, who uses one of the first sequences of the documentary to highlight the contribution of the studio’s signature sound to rock ‘n’ roll’s history.
The first two−thirds of “Sound City” are a loosely chronological look at the studio that moves through the decades. It features interviews with the former owners and sound engineers who offer unique perspectives on what made the studio so special, such as explaining why the acoustics of the main studio in Sound City were perfect for recording drums. All of this unfolds at a brisk pace thanks to Grohl’s direction, which ensures that all interviews and stories get their fair share of screen time but never feel like they’re dragging.
Even with all the heavyweight artists who have recorded at Sound City, Grohl makes the custom−built Neve console the true star of the film, treating it with all the reverence of a historical artifact. The console’s initial reveal at the beginning of the documentary has all the trappings of a big−budget movie, with the camera slowly panning over the various dials and knobs before pulling back to reveal the behemoth machine in all its glory. A love for that analog console and what it represents is the main connection between all of the musicians who appear in the film. “Sound City” uses the interviews to highlight the hidden role that the Neve console has played in rock history.
Drawing most of his interview material from artists who have recorded at Sound City, Grohl has assembled a truly stunning cast for this documentary. In addition to all the key players associated with Sound City Studios, Grohl talks with musicians who recorded there at different points throughout the decades. The varied list includes Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and that barely scratches the surface. In nearly every interview, the artists are candid and at ease talking to a fellow musician in Grohl. This produces honest reflections on the magic behind Sound City and some fascinating anecdotes of time spent at the studio.
Of course, any music documentary is only as good as its soundtrack, and “Sound City” provides in spades. The majority of the film’s soundtrack is taken directly from the works that were recorded there, helping place the events and stories in the context of their time period and offering direct proof of the type of sound achievable through the studio’s use of analog.
The final third of the documentary is where things get really musically interesting. Grohl records members of the Foo Fighters playing with some of rock’s greats as they record new tracks with the console, which Grohl purchased upon the studio’s closure in 2011. These collaborations are the subject of the film’s final part. They add a dynamic energy to the film and make the console’s story feel like it is coming full circle. Some of the highlights include Stevie Nicks’ fierce take on “You Can’t Fix This” and a pseudo−Nirvana reunion with Grohl, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic backing guest Paul McCartney on “Cut Me Some Slack.”
“Sound City” serves as Dave Grohl’s tribute to the analog era, when musicianship was emphasized above Pro−Tools or digital fixes. Having assembled a cast filled with rock royalty and influential musicians, Grohl has made “Sound City” a must−see documentary for any music fan and a fascinating look at a piece of rock history.