Dead End Drive-In: Now Showing – Sound City
Written by Gaz E
Sunday, 14 April 2013 03:30
Sound City (Roswell Films)
Makes you sick doesn’t he, that Dave Grohl? Everything he touches, it would appear, turns to gold. It’s happened again y’know, because Sound City, the Foo Fighters mainman’s directorial debut, is a documentary that simply has to be seen if you’re a bonafide fan of rock music.
Why? Because, quite simply, there will be something for you in the film, whether it be a favourite artist, beloved album, or just the process of recording timeless music, the examples of which contained within (and on the bonus features that accompany this release on home video) being possibly the rawest, yet most inspirational, eye opening and incredible studio footage ever captured.
Grohl’s life changed when Nirvana entered Sound City Studios to record sophomore album, ‘Nevermind’, but, as the film, the drummer-turned-frontman’s love letter to the studio, quickly, and majestically it has to be said, informs us, there had already been many lives changed by the unassuming recording facility situated in Van Nuys, Los Angeles.
Grohl says that the genesis of the movie was basically a desire to tell the story of the board – a state of the art Neve 8028 analog mixing console that, decades after purchase in 1972, remained (remains actually) an incredible piece of technology that helped forge incredible careers for a list of incredible artists. And while the board remains the focal point of the film – Grohl actually buying it when the studio closed in 2011 and putting it in his home studio – the important role that Sound City Studios played in the creation of seminal bands and albums will amaze and thrill. This is documentary filmmaking licking at the top of its craft, remarkable considering that it is the director’s first film…until you remember that the director is Dave Grohl.
The Fleetwood Mac that you know and love, the most-revered line-up at least, was created as a result of a chance meeting at a grocery store that culminated in Mick Fleetwood checking out the studio and, when looking for a new guitar player, remembering hearing a guy called Lindsey Buckingham at Sound City. Buckingham wouldn’t join the band without his girlfriend however, a young vixen called Stevie Nicks. The rest, as the clichéd would say, is history. But that’s just the start of the story.
Rick Springfield saw his career nurtured, grow, and ultimately explode due to Sound City, and while his is one of the most emotional tales on display in Grohl’s film, it’s just one of many entertaining tales told that basically mainline nostalgia and cool. Tom Petty, Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, Stephen Pearcy of RATT, Rick Rubin, Frank Black, Lars Ulrich, Neil Young amongst other iconic performers stab out testimonials about the console and the decrepit building that housed the studio, complete with brown shagpile carpet on the walls.
The list of hugely popular albums recorded at the studios – from artists as diverse as Dio, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Barry Manilow, Rage Against The Machine, Kyuss, Metallica, Johnny Cash, Slayer, Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, etc – amazes almost as much as the digital revolution of the ’80s threatens. Yes, the analog tape was in danger of having a pillow pushed into its face by the demons called Sequencers and Drum Machines…..until a trio out of Seattle decided to make their second full-length album, titled ‘Nevermind’, at the run down locale.
Smells like Teen Spirit? Like analog, more like. The digital backlash began as cool bands swarmed back to the studio ready to take advantage of the Neve console that, after two decades, was still the biggest draw, closely followed by an immense drum sound the description of which will be akin to drum porn to all stick twirling viewers: Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’ was recorded at Sound City – one of the last big records to be recorded there before its sad demise – purely because of the notoriously awesome drum sound.
Talking of drummers, Dave Grohl’s natural directorial nous allows this documentary to grow and, ultimately, inspire. All good music documentaries make you want to listen to the artist/s involved, and Sound City is no different. All good documentaries also tug at the hearts strings whilst also making you want to punch the air; again, Grohl succeeds. Suddenly though, with the studio closed for business in 2011, the tearjerker of an ending is usurped by Grohl’s buying of the console.
The film shifts, suddenly. You expect an ending, but get a whole new third act. Grohl moves the Neve board to his own studio and proceeds to make the accompanying album that would be released as ‘Sound City: Real to Reel’.
The footage of Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Lee Ving of Fear, et al recording with the Foo Fighters is a raw as you like, proper fly-on-the-wall footage the likes of which you have probably never experienced before, secrets exposed for sure. Thing is, it all kinda feels like a DVD extra feature. The footage stuns with its honesty and creation, it really does, but it feels like a different film almost.
Some of this material is history in the making itself though, so its inclusion can hardly be truly dissected. The root of all the ‘McCartney fronts Nirvana’ headlines that surfaced several months ago makes for great viewing as Sir Paul turns up to record with Dave and his Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, but the footage of Grohl creating music with Josh Homme and Trent Reznor – that would become the song ‘Mantra’ – is really special, genius at work, inspirational and incredible to be allowed access to.
The region free Blu-ray disc that I reviewed looks and sounds great and, quality-wise at least, is a must purchase, its only (minor) flaw the decision to simply number the chapters, making them devoid of any information – it’s a revisit lucky dip. Bonus-wise you get three quarters of an hour of extra studio footage from the recording of ‘Real to Reel’, Butch Vig at the controls of the Neve.
The recording of the song from Lee Ving of Fear – ‘Your Wife Is Calling’ – gets looked at in depth, ‘Time Slowing Down’ featuring Chris Goss of Masters of Reality and Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk afforded similar treatment. It’s the footage of Slipknot/Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor, Scott Reeder of Kyuss, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen recording ‘From Can To Can’t’ that impresses most, however. Taylor’s performance is stunning, but still topped by the outrageousness of Nielsen laying waste to Grohl’s Gibson: “What are you doing to my guitar?” Dave asks. “Finally playing it,” Rick replies. Proper legend…
Sound City is a must-watch, definitely. ‘Real to Reel’ a must-listen too: whether you’ll revisit the album as much as the film without being inspired to do so by the latter is questionable but, as an all-round package, this project is amazing.
It’ll be interesting to see how Grohl the filmmaker, who does a more than admirable job here (the film looks great), moves on with a project that he isn’t as emotionally attached to. That said, the humour and heartache that is finely captured in Sound City would make Grohl the ultimate candidate to get the final word on the Nirvana story on film. Now that would be remarkable, but maybe a heartache too far…..