If Dave Grohl already seemed like the most multidimensional man in rock ’n’ roll — drummer, guitarist and bandleader — you can now add filmmaker to his résumé.
“Sound City” is Grohl’s first film, and it is a joyous ode to a lost era of music making that will delight music buffs and those who appreciate a well-done documentary.
The title references the now-closed Sound City recording studio near Los Angeles. Though Sound City was dumpy outside, with questionable shag carpeting inside, the space created magic. The studio was where Nirvana recorded “Nevermind” and Fleetwood Mac made “Rumours.”
Grohl often appears on camera in the film, either interviewing other musicians or offering his own reminiscences. That gives “Sound City” a bit of a “Roger and Me” feel that is lighthearted, often humorous, but also at times poignant.
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“When I hear ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on the radio, I remember those really simple moments of being in the studio,” Grohl tells the camera. “And those 15 days, 16 days, whatever it was, of being in the studio, that board, changed my life.”
By “board,” Grohl is referring to the legendary Neve mixing console from the control room of Sound City, which many felt gave the studio’s recordings a specialness. Grohl even interviews Rupert Neve, who constructed the board. This is mostly not a geeky documentary, though, and when Neve goes off into a complicated and lengthy analysis of the sonic qualities of the board, Grohl, the interviewer, jokes that he has no idea what the man is saying.
Legends like Tom Petty, the members of Fleetwood Mac, Trent Reznor and Neil Young get plenty of camera time to talk about seminal recordings they made at Sound City. Archival footage of Petty recording adds much, as does a segment toward the end of the film with Stevie Nicks singing in Grohl’s home studio.
Sound City was doomed by the advent of cheap home-recording equipment, along with the falloff in sales of albums. The film is a love story to a lost age in rock ’n’ roll, and even if “Nevermind” still feels recent, it is ancient history now in music.
To Dave Grohl, the studio, and the time he spent there playing with Nirvana, was life- shifting. It is a part of Grohl’s past he doesn’t want to let go of, and “Sound City” does an admirable job explaining why that one room, and that one mixing board, mattered.
And if Grohl misses Sound City, he doesn’t have to venture far to recapture that part of his past. When the studio closed, he purchased the studio’s Neve board and installed it in his own home studio.
Its legend lives on.
Charles Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org