My deep dive into music began when I picked up a copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” during my senior year of High School. Before then, I had only ever been a casual listener of music, but it was in that span between “Smells Like Teen Spirit” & “Something In The Way” that my appreciation of music changed – call it the perfect timing of youth; the last wave of Generation X; the mass immersion into the “grunge” scene of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth – any number of bands – but I was hopelessly now a fan in the worst (and occasionally insanely expensive) way of almost every genre of music there was. As strange as it can sound – that album was a genuine life changing experience for me.
“Nevermind” also plays an important part in the story of “Sound City”, the Documentary on the Van Nuys recording studio by first time Director Dave Grohl (Nirvana / Foo Fighters). His love of the studio where that seminal album was recorded & particularly the “Neve” tape based console where so many classic albums were made between 1969 & 2011 inspired him to delve deeply into the history of the studio, and conduct interviews with many of the musicians who spent time there over the years.
From the eye opening archival footage to the interviews with people ranging from Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) through to Corey Taylor (Slipknot) along with staff past & present, it comes across that there were three notable boom periods for the studio following massively successful releases – Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog” & the aforementioned “Nevermind” – All of the major participants from those albums and seemingly everything in between are covered in their thoughts on recording at the studio – some great insight in particular comes from Tom Petty & Rick Springfield who both recorded multiple albums there, and show genuine fondness for the people who worked behind the scenes.
The history of some of this classic music is captured as well by the people who wrote / produced / played it and manages to stay completely engrossing over the first 70 minutes – until there is a distinct tonal shift away from the history of the studio to the removal & installation of the Neve console into Dave Grohl’s home studio when Sound City closed its doors for good. Little screen time is given to the physical closure of the Studio – the remaining 40 minute chunk is instead a celebration of the history, and centres on the recording of a new album featuring artists like Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Lee Ving & Paul McCartney utilising the original equipment.
Throughout the Documentary, Grohl’s obvious passion for not only the art of music as a whole, but also for the process of recording in an “old school” analogue format is mirrored by the participants, but there is genuine respect given to the likes of Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) who see the Digital Tools as an “enhancement” rather than a replacement of older tech – the core unifying thought of these musicians is around those who focus on over use of Pro Tools & Auto Tune rather than sitting around with other people in a room and forcing themselves to get better.
The enthusiasm that Grohl conveys through his discussions with his fellow artists is extraordinarily infectious – and the chance to see a real recording process featuring some incredibly talented people is equally engaging. I have no hesitation in recommending “Sound City” to anyone from a casual music fan through to hardcore devotees, it really has a great story to tell.