Tom Petty, Carl Perkins and John Fogerty walk into a recording studio. No, it’s not the premise for some hipster rock joke, rather it’s one of the many plot lines in Sound City. Throw in Neil Young, Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Lee Ving, Fleetwood Mac, producers Butch Vig and Rick Rubin, one very emotional Rick Springfield, and the most famous rock star alive today, and you have the makings of one hell of an epic party. Except it’s more than just a party. It’s a retrospective. A love affair. The stuff dreams are made up. And it all started with a piece of very rare sound equipment.
The Neve console did for consoles, what the moog synthesizers did for synthesizers and DJ’s everywhere. Except it’s rarer. Much rarer. There were only four made in the world, and for years Sound City was the proud owner of the only ever custom-ordered direct from the factory. For Grohl, that is how the movie started. He wanted to tell the story of the Neve Console. A hilarious interview between old British Genius Rupert Neve and highschool dropout Grohl is just one of the many highlights.
While the movie is basically an excuse for Grohl to get all his famous friends together, it is remarkably well done (especially for a first time director) and the audience actually finds themselves empathizing with the studio and its employees on more than one occasion. For a hole-in-the-wall recording studio that most outside the industry who are not hardcore fans have never heard of, it has done quite well. In the 70s in helped launch the careers of Buckingham Nicks and Fleetwood Mac and in the 1980s, Rick Springfield became an overnight sensation thanks to Sound City Records and Jessie’s Girl. But perhaps the biggest success was Dave Grohl’s former band – Nirvana.
The studio itself was renowned for being grungy, dingy and unkempt. Upon entering it for the first time, legendary producer – and then-engineer – Jimmy Iovine quipped “someone should set fire to the fucking place”. Along with interviews about the various artists and studio players reminiscing, the film has some rare archival footage of bands in the studio – including Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and Fear. In addition, many demos and master recordings are heard throughout. It is quite an achievement.
The movie is great for not only teaching the audience about the history of Sound City Studios, but also of the music industry in general and its various jobs. According to anecdote told in the movie, the San Fernando Valley Studio was responsible for the creation of the modern-day record producer. Many well-known producers such as the aforementioned Jimmy Iovine and Butch Vig started as engineers and became producers out of necessity. But there is more to the story than that.
Like so many companies in the music industry, Studio City had its ebbs and flows. It survived the digital revolution, the invention of the CD and the refusal of its management to invest in ProTools. It is amazing to think that a studio such as Sound City – which recorded on tape – survived when vast numbers of other studios very closing. As for why Grohl decided to make the film, he stated that it began as a story about the Neve console and grew into an homage of the place that made him what he is today. The movie comes full circle in the end as Grohl plays with his musical hero – who rocks out on a resonator box guitar. In fact, it was the meeting that gave birth to the Sound City Players supergroup album, and also the Nirvana-Reunion-with-Paul McCartney thing that happened at the 12-12-12: Concert For Sandy Relief as well as Saturday Night Live. A fantastic film for music lovers, history buffs and everything in between. A must see.