‘Sound City’ documentary revisits analog recording
“Sound City,” a documentary by famed musician Dave Grohl, was a project taken on after purchasing the studio’s famed console soundboard — the same console he and Nirvana band mates Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic recorded their groundbreaking album, “Nevermind.” But as the film implies, “Nevermind” may not even be the most famous album that was recorded there.
Throughout its existence, Sound City Studios welcomed a slew of musical acts through its doors. Among them are Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash and industrial outfit Nine Inch Nails. Throughout “Sound City,” Grohl uses interviews with musicians who have recorded at Sound City Studios, archival footage and a selective soundtrack to transport the viewer into a time when recording took place without the use of autotune and similar technological methods. He goes on to explain that being perfect is not the most important part of making music. At one point, he says people should encourage kids to go D.I.Y. by purchasing a guitar, meeting up with their neighbor and jamming in a garage.
This is why Grohl and his contemporaries get together in the studio to prove to viewers that you can make great, quality music with analog equipment. The drummer and his bandmates assemble in their recording studio, Studio 606, with the newly-acquired Neve console to record original material with some of the finest musicians to ever walk the halls of Sound City Studios. The result is an album of 11 original songs recorded on the old Neve 8028, serving as the last hoorah for a console that has been in existence since 1972.
The music created from these sessions includes curious and historic parings, and they all seem to work. The documentary, released Feb. 1 to video-on-demand services, features the recording process and how some of the original music was conceived.
“Sound City: Real to Reel,” the name given to the album of the music created by Grohl and his Sound City Studio alums, was released March 12. Perhaps the most noteworthy is a track called “Cut Me Some Slack,” which features the surviving members of Nirvana (Grohl, Novoselic and Pat Smear, a touring guitarist) and Sir Paul McCartney. The part in the film when Nirvana inserts McCartney as their frontman is a historic moment, as Nirvana has never played together since Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994. This moment alone, if nothing else, is worthy of seeing the film.
Grohl and McCartney really lock in as they go to work on the song. The group reportedly started from scratch and got all the way to a finished recording in about three hours. During the making of the song, Grohl looks to McCartney, smiles and says, “Why can’t it always be this easy?” McCartney shrugs slightly and deadpans- “It is.”
Without intent, Grohl, who most agree appeals to a Generation Y demographic and modern rock music enthusiasts, has introduced a variety of veteran musicians to a group of young people that may not have had the opportunity to discover when they were growing up.
This is a must-see film for anyone that appreciates music beyond a surface level. It explores the deep emotional attachment that music creates between people and how keeping that feeling alive in the recording studio is important.