I sat down to watch the new documentary directed by Dave Grohl, "Sound City", expecting an entertaining documentary about the history of a studio that was used by several big names. This is what I had gathered by the hype around this documentary before the release through different interviews, comments by friends and people online. I had seen the 12.12.12 Benefit Concert online and had seen the quasi-Nirvana reunion for the one song with Paul McCartney, "Cut Me Some Slack", and knew that this song had been recorded for the documentary. I had read that Dave Grohl was collaborating with a lot of different artists for the soundtrack, in addition to the song with Paul McCartney. What the documentary actually was, versus what I expected, were a little bit different.
The beginning of the documentary has Dave Grohl narrating what it was like as a new band, to go out there and try to succeed. The camera comes up on the outside of the studio after some scenes of the road, and then moves inside. The studio doesn't look like a studio from the outside, but more like an urban warehouse. In the studio you see dingy walls, old shag carpeting (sometimes on the walls), old beer and liquor bottles lying around, pages from adult magazines taped on the walls, second hand broken down equipment, and a long hallway of gold and platinum records. There are in some places exposed wiring and holes in the walls. This is when I realized that this documentary was going to be a little bit different than what I expected.
Soon, the story began to center around the Neve 8028 Analog Mixing Console that had been custom ordered for that studio back in the 70's. The Neve consoles were considered golden as far as just sounding generally great, but especially when recording drums. It goes on to talk of the bands that came to record at Sound City, many because of the Neve 8028 console, with some of the first patrons being Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham for their failed "Buckingham Nicks" album, and then Fleetwood Mac (where Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham met the other members and eventually joined the band). After Fleetwood Mac recorded their self-titled album at Sound City, it was suddenly a hugely popular studio and a long list of huge names came through the doors and creating epic albums there. A short list includes Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Dr. John and Barry Manilow.
From there, the story goes into the invention of digital recording vs. analog and the devastating impact this had on the studio. Then, from the very ledge of complete ruin, Nirvana went to Sound City Studios to record "Nevermind". Suddenly Sound City Studios was huge and sought after again. It became on of Rick Rubin's favorite studios to record in and he brought the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash and Metallica into Sound City to record. Frank Black, Rage Against The Machine and QOTSA recorded at Sound City. Trent Reznor even used Sound City Studios (despite his penchant for digital recording and his use of ProTools, several people interviewed excused Trent for his use of digital recording techniques). After this second boom and the return of success to Sound City Studios, it once again fell into disuse as the years passed and digital recording continued to become better and began to replace more and more analog based studios. It is then revealed that Dave Grohl bought the Neve 8028 console from the studio and moved it to his personal studio, Studio 606. The documentary closes out showing the console being moved to Studio 606, and then video clips of the songs recorded for the soundtrack of the documentary. Most of these songs are collaborations with other musicians who had recorded at Sound City Studios.
The documentary throughout had short interviews with several artists who had recorded at Sound City, talking about the studio, the staff and their philosophy on music and recording. Several members of the staff spoke about "back in the day", sharing anecdotes about this artist or that artist. There are photos and footage of artists recording in the studio throughout its history. Some of the more prominent artists featured in the documentary were (of course) Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield and Tom Petty. Rick Rubin and Butch Vig also had a lot to say. There was a lot of talk about what the move to digital recording has taken away from music, as well as briefly talking about the advantages. At the end of the film, I felt like I was familiar with the studio and wished I could have visited it in the mid 70's or the mid 90's at its most successful. It made me think about digital recording versus analog recording. Most of all, I felt awed at the amazing place in musical history that Sound City Studios had cemented for itself.
Now I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the soundtrack, "Sound City: Real To Reel". I would strongly suggest this documentary to musician, recording engineer, or to just a fan of music in general. It was entertaining on several levels and had one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a movie in a long time.
By Brandon East