David Bauder

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE ’N’ LOUD -

ROCK mu­si­cian Dave Grohl set out to make a record­ing stu­dio the sub­ject of his first-ever film. He was in­trigued by a spe­cific piece of record­ing equip­ment – a 1970s era sound board – that cap­tured ev­ery note of mu­sic made there. Geek city, right? It sounds like an idea any sane movie­goer would run from.

In­stead, Sound City of­fers a colour­ful piece of mu­sic his­tory, a can­did ex­am­i­na­tion of changes wrought by tech­nol­ogy and a de­fi­ant state­ment about not sur­ren­der­ing the hu­man el­e­ment in cre­ativ­ity.

Grohl’s first film made it to the Sun­dance movie fes­ti­val and is ac­com­pa­nied by an al­bum fea­tur­ing artists he in­ter­viewed.

‘‘It hon­estly was more like a keg party with a cam­era than mak­ing a Hol­ly­wood film,’’ he says.

Grohl knew noth­ing about the Sound City stu­dio in Van Nuys, Cal­i­for­nia, when he and fel­low Nir­vana mem­bers Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic booked a ses­sion to make Nev­er­mind in 1991. Their record com­pany wanted Nir­vana nearby to keep an eye on them and time at Sound City was cheap.

It was in a drab neigh­bour­hood and looked like a dump, with tired shag car­pet­ing. Then Nir­vana no­ticed all the gold records on the wall from artists who had recorded there: Fleet­wood Mac, Tom Petty, Van Halen, REO Speed­wagon, Guns ’n Roses, Neil Young, Cheap Trick, Slayer, Rick Spring­field and more. Af­ter plug­ging in their in­stru­ments and run­ning through In Bloom, Grohl and his mates dis­cov­ered why. The sound, to their ears, was amaz­ing. Nir­vana had never been cap­tured with such clar­ity and power be­fore.

‘‘You might have never heard of Nir­vana if we had recorded in Hol­ly­wood with a fancy pro­ducer,’’ he says. ‘‘The fact that that (sound) board made us sound like us is what peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ated. To be re­united with it, hon­estly, it was like meet­ing your real par­ents for the first time.’’

Sound City own­ers bought the record­ing con­sole for about $84,300 at a time many houses cost half that. When Grohl asked about buy­ing it a few years ago, the stu­dio op­er­a­tor sug­gested she’d rather sell her grand­mother. But Sound City closed and Grohl’s wish came true (he won’t say what he paid for it).

The con­sole is now in a stu­dio that Grohl and his band, Foo Fight­ers, op­er­ate in Los An­ge­les.

Sound City be­came a hot stu­dio af­ter the mod­ern in­car­na­tion of Fleet­wood Mac was es­sen­tially born there, and Grohl’s film in­cludes vin­tage footage of a young Tom Petty with his mighty Heart­break­ers.

‘‘It was our home away from home,’’ says Ste­vie Nicks. She recorded Buck­ing­ham Nicks, her al­bum with then­boyfriend Lind­sey Buck­ing­ham, at Sound City, and met her cur­rent backup singer there in 1972.

Nicks and Buck­ing­ham joined Fleet­wood Mac soon af­ter, and the al­bum that pro­pelled the band to star­dom was made on the con­sole.

See­ing Grohl’s movie, and the mem­o­ries that came flood­ing back, made her cry, Nicks says.

Sound City strug­gled in the mid-1980s be­cause tech­nol­ogy led artists else­where, un­til Nir­vana made it a mecca for a new gen­er­a­tion. Now tech­nol­ogy is so good that peo­ple can es­sen­tially record alone in their bed­rooms, and they do. That doomed Sound City and many other stu­dios.

As Mick Fleet­wood says in Sound City, just be­cause you can record by your­self cer­tainly doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily make it a great idea.

‘‘When you get four dif­fer­ent peo­ple, four dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, four dif­fer­ent play­ers in a room – that com­bi­na­tion equals magic,’’ Grohl says.

di­rec­tor Dave Grohl at the film’s Sun­dance pre­miere.

‘‘You can get The Bea­tles and you can get the Rolling Stones and you can get AC/DC. That hap­pens be­cause of peo­ple’s im­per­fec­tions and bad habits. That’s what gives mu­sic its per­son­al­ity, and that’s what I think is ex­cit­ing about mu­sic.’’

Grohl spoke while sit­ting in his stu­dio, in a room filled with gui­tars and over­look­ing the sound board he reveres. Home­work as­sign­ments of songs to

Sound City

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