The song remains the same
Sound City explores music’s humanity amid encroaching technology
By Michel Miller 06/06/2013
“There’s no music store. There’s no book store, and there’s no Sound City.” — Josh Homme
Is there anything Dave Grohl can’t do?
The suspiciously humble, self-made rock star and most likable bro in the business who erected an improbable musical empire out of the ashes of Nirvana has outdone himself, again — this time from a director’s chair (or throne, as the case may be).
Grohl’s documentary film, Sound City: Real to Reel, tells the bittersweet story of the rise to greatness of a ratty San Fernando Valley recording studio and its eventual defeat at the hands of technology. There will be a special screening of the film as part of Ventura Music Week on Monday, June 10.
Grohl’s involvement with Sound City was and is personal. It’s where Nirvana recorded the seminal Nevermind in 16 days, creating a seismic shift in popular music while giving the ailing studio one long, final breath. It’s also where many of his heroes also recorded some of popular music’s most important and best-selling records — Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Dio’s Holy Diver, Foreigner’s Double Vision, Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R, a handful of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers records — and it made perfect sense that when the studio began selling off its assets, Grohl would inherit its legendary Neve 8028 console for a handsome price.
But with power comes great responsibility — for superheros and rockstars, of which Grohl is both — and no one who recorded through the behemoth Neve soundboard would dispute its power. Thus, the musician-cum-director decided to document the transaction, a project that expanded exponentially as it took shape.
The film begins and ends at the beginning — the birth of Sound City Studios in the 1970s, the purchase of the Neve console that changed everything and the recent resurrection of the Neve at Grohl’s studio, thereby continuing the legacy of Sound City.
But nostalgia is only part of the story. What emerges from the old school vs. new school, analog vs. digital, man vs. machine narrative is an exploration of the human element of music and an eventual coming to terms with technology.
All of this is done through engaging interviews with Sound City alumni, including Neil Young, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Jim Keltner, producers Rick Rubin and Butch Vig as well as Sound City staffers and many others. Trent Reznor remarks that all the tools in the world will never replace or duplicate human talent or the human spirit. You still need the chops, the feel, to manipulate the tools.
And as the conversation deepens, it’s only natural for music to follow. Some of the most memorable moments in the film are during artistic collaborations in Grohl’s studio between the likes of Trent Reznor, Grohl and Josh Homme (pure genius) Rick Springfield and the Foo Fighters; and the pièce de résistance, Paul McCartney, Grohl, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic. All the songs are available on the soundtrack record.
While anyone who appreciates popular/rock music should enjoy Sound City, with its ruminations on the heart and soul of art and craft, the film really belongs to musicians and serious music fans. Audience members are given a rare opportunity to be not merely a fly on the wall (that would be enough) but an invited guest, privy to the intimacy of creative process as it used to be and as it remains — Pro Tools or not.
Sound City: Real to Reel, Monday, June 10, 7 p.m. Century 10 Downtown, 555 E. Main St., Ventura. $10. Ventura Music Week will continue through June 16. For a complete schedule and list of special events, visit venturamusicweek.com