Dir: Dave Grohl, 2013
Dave Grohl takes us on a journey to a ramshackle studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles. Once Grohl details its forty-year run and its contribution to the heyday of rock and roll, he assembles a supergroup of past tenants to record new tracks on the same (now considered obsolete) hardware as before. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Sound City.
Sound City is clearly a passion project for Dave Grohl, who first encountered the studio back in 1991 when recording Nevermind with Nirvana. Grohl’s fondness for the studio is manifested in the movie magic that Studio City is brimming with. Grohl brings personality back to an art form that has been depredated by capitalism, technology and most of all, that dastardly Pro Tools. The prospect of influence is deepened by looking not only at the artists but at that desired “drum sound” which only a setting such as Sound City Studios could guarantee. Many would argue that the heart of Sound City Studios lay in the Neve 8028 Console that sat in Studio A. Grohl dives head-first into the history of the console and gathers its praise from all musicians that “played” with it, as Tom Petty would say. But it’s hard to tell whether Grohl is genuinely applauding the machine or bragging that it now sits in his personal studio.
Grohl enlists a catalogue of talking heads to offer their memories and persuasions as to why this dingy, run-down studio which Jimmy Iovine believed should have been “firebombed” became such a widely-sought haven for labouring rock stars over almost half a century. Is it superstition, compulsion, or something deeper? The answer generally varies from rock legend-to-rock legend, as they do for most of the questions which Grohl puts forward.
Sound City is crowded with anecdotes and rock star in-jokes, taking you as close to the source of the music as you ever possibly could. Perhaps there is too much story to tell; Rick Springfield’s naive managerial drama, the happenstance union between Mick Fleetwood and Buckingham Nicks, even the taming of Dave Grohl himself for the recording of Lithium all seem a little too piled on to be charming. Sure, the studio has history but Grohl never seems to get to the bottom of it.
Ironically, part of what makes Sound City effective is also what accounts for its shortcomings. The film is a love letter, an ode to rock history which is why Grohl doesn’t lather it in any level of controversy. Grohl’s filmmaking limitations mean that this enjoyable rockumentary may satisfy Foo Fighters fans more than anyone else, especially in the last half-hour where the film shifts to a behind-the-scenes of new tracks laid down by Sound City alumni. Nevertheless these thirty minutes are more suited to a DVD special feature rather than the third act of a film, simply because Sound City’s message of nostalgia and classicism, if impactful, should send you back to the memorable records of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash and Nirvana instead of craving for fresh material.
To set the proverbial record straight: If you don’t want to be everywhere with Fleetwood Mac, if your girl doesn’t belong to Jessie, hell, if you have no interest whatsoever in rock music and its history, you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if all of the above get your head bashing then load up on guns and bring your friends to Dave Grohl’s Sound City.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆