Video: Sound City Official Trailer
“There’s no book store, there’s no music store and there’s no Sound City” – Josh Homme (vocalist/guitarist in Queens of the Stone Age) aptly surmises in the Sound City documentary about the demise of the much loved Sound City recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles.
Directed by the passionate musician and music lover Dave Grohl, who you might remember from Them Crooked Vultures, Scream, Foo Fighters, and Nirvana (remember when he was one of the best drummers in the world?) Sound City is a trip down memory lane to a time when analog recording ruled the world.
Dave and his amazing film documentary crew (including Mark Monroe, Academy Award winning writer of The Cove, and highly respected editor Paul Crowder of Dogtown and Z-Boys) take you on the journey explaining the ultimate demise of the hallowed halls of Sound City. The heartwarming fondness for analog tape and live recordings are captured in a series of interviews with musical idols and industry figures in the film.
It’s astounding to learn that a studio responsible for so many platinum selling albums is no more. Just read the line up of amazing talent to grace the precious studio: Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Mastodon, Tool, Kyuss, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Slipknot, A Perfect Circle, Guns n’ Roses, Weezer, Rancid, Johnny Cash, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Ratt, and Rick Springfield.
Okay, perhaps not so much Rick Springfield – but there is an interesting tale that accompanies his duration at Sound City that includes footage from his acting days on General Hospital (worth the wait?). Sound City also provided a place for Mick Fleetwood to recruit Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham into Fleetwood Mac.
Dave and Nevermind producer Butch Vig (Garbage) explain turning up to the revered studio for the first time with Kurt and Krist and being surprised at how much the place looked like a dump. By the 90’s the studio had lost its gravy train of recording artists and had been left in a decrepit state. You have probably heard Nevermind by now so you possibly understand how *amazing* the room sounds, but if not then off you go to hunt down a copy – no exceptions!
Nevermind’s popularity reinvigorated the life of Sound City for a few more years and resulted in a little know band by the name of Rage Against the Machine to also record their 1992 debut album there. However, a decade on Sound City could no longer continue to live off the benefits of Nevermind and selling off their equipment to pay the bills and actually closed their doors in 2011.
Holy shit, one of my favourite albums of the last decade, Mastodon’s The Hunter was also recorded at Sound City before it closed! Luckily, Dave decided to adopt the one of a kind Neve mixing desk and move it into his home studio for posterity. Dave even tries to interview engineer Rupert Neve during the film but finds him too evolved to comprehend!
Therein begins the second chapter of the documentary whereby Dave pulls together some hapless rock artists to throw together a Sound City – Real to Reel Soundtrack.
For the uninitiated that means some chick with a huge voice called Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac), a dude that can tinker around on a keyboard called Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), a groovy looking hipster with a guitar now known as “Joshua” Homme (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age), a guy who sometimes plays with scary clown masks and can scream his head off – Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), a rhyming old punk rocker Lee Ving (Fear) and lastly, an ageing Beatle who reportedly didn’t know who Nirvana was (WTF?) – Paul McCartney (The Beatles, but not the one with the cool glasses).
Dave locks them in a room together with his compadres from the Foo Fighters and sees if they can reproduce any of that Sound City magic by recording tracks live. This idea explores several of the essential themes behind the documentary. How does the chemistry of live playing improve the sound of the recording? Why can’t we take our fingers off Auto-Tune and try to sing the hell out of a song live? And lastly, why do we use Pro Tools for evil?
My enlightened answers: Because it just does, I can tell. Because most vocalists are shit. Because some musicians are lazy and don’t want to rehearse.
Long time digital technology whiz Trent Reznor advocates the notion of using Pro Tools sensibly as a tool, not as the be all and end all to touching up flaws in the recording of shit artists.
The bonus features of the DVD are worth watching to see Corey Taylor in action (should have been in the film), and to see Lee Ving improvising lines while every else cracks up. I would have liked to have seen the Sound City – Real to Reel Soundtrack packaged with the DVD, but alas you can purchase that separately! You can also still see Sound City in theatres if you’re lucky (currently in US & Canada).
See the film if your a sound engineer, musician, fan of music, Nirvana/Foo Fighters fan, or merely if you want to test your eyes and ears are working properly.
Bringing it all back to Josh’s earlier statement what I think the Sound City documentary reminds us of is what we have lost from the introduction of new technology.
We are sparse on book stores and recommendations from the avid bookworms behind the counter, we have lost so many great record stores and their music loving staff who continuously shove cool music in your face, and we have lost recording studios that sound fucking amazing so that artists can record tinny music onto their laptop anytime they like. Thanks internets!
This must be what they mean by “progress”.
Other samples you might enjoy: