“Sound City” is a Rock & Roll Masterpiece

By Zachary Adler

Contributing Writer

When a director has love for their film, you can tell. There is a quality in it that makes it look like a labor of love to the creative process. This is what makes Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino, and more of Hollywood’s greatest directors churn out amazing films one after another.

With “Sound City,” first-time director, former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl strikes this passion with a immensely personal touch.

“Sound City” is a documentary about the legendary Van Nuys, California, studio of the same name, where countless classic albums were recorded between the studio’s opening in 1969 and its closing in 2011. Grohl compiles interviews with studio staff as well as artists that recorded at Sound City, including Tom Petty, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Nine Inch Nails.

What also makes “Sound City” magical is the fact that it really plays out as a play in three acts. The first part of the film focuses on the history of the studio, while part two focuses on the magnificent Neve recording console that resided in the studio and was purchased by Grohl when the studio closed down.

Part three takes place after the closing of the studio, where Grohl moves the console into his Northridge studio and invites artists to come with original music and record an album of new songs. What ensues during these madcap sessions is bottled lightning, including stellar songs from Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Trent Reznor, and Paul McCartney.

Perhaps the most crucial moment in the film comes at the very end, right after Grohl, McCartney, and former Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear finish their ferocious performance of “Cut Me Some Slack,” an original song written for the film and later performed at the “12/12/12” benefit concert. Grohl turns to McCartney and asks him, “Why isn’t it always that easy?” In the classic McCartney style, he responds with “It always is.” Somehow, this sums up the entire feeling of the film.

What keeps “Sound City” fascinating is Grohl’s interviews, which give rise to intensely personal stories about his interviewees. These stories include the forming of Fleetwood Mac, the recording of Nirvana’s Nevermind, the first jam of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Neil Young initial arrival at the studio in 1970 in which he was chased down the street by the LAPD. But also revealed is the magic of recording, the power of the human element of music, the bond that people create through the recording process, and how the rise of digital music and Pro Tools have major effects on the recording industry. Grohl’s message seems to be very pro-analog and pro-band, even if Pro Tools gives creative reign to a new generation of artists.

In essence, “Sound City” is a love letter to a place and a process. It is a living history of rock music and a lens into generations past. The experiences in it come from the artists as both musicians and as fans of music. It shows rock stars in their most casual, and their most creative.