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Interview: Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) makes directorial debut at Sundance with 'Sound City'

Published January 15, 2013 11:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Like many good ideas, the film "Sound City" started with some barley and hops.Dave Grohl, former Nirvana drummer and now frontman of the Foo Fighters, had just purchased the custom Neve 8028 Console from Studio A of Sound City Studios, in order to install the board at his private recording studio.His good friend, James Rota of the band Fireball Ministry, had helped Grohl move the massive board, and he and Grohl were resting after what had turned into a more difficult transport than expected. The two music geeks, over some beers, started talking about all of the famous albums that had been recorded at Sound City Studios, which closed in 2011.Grohl became more and more animated the more they talked, Rota said. In honor of Nirvana's 20th anniversary of "Nevermind," perhaps a short film about the place where "Nevermind" — one of the most influential and important rock records ever — was recorded could be fun, they told one another."We were hanging out, and he said, 'Hey, you know how to make a movie!" Rota recalled.It was true. To supplement his income, Rota was a production supervisor for films ranging from the "Chronicles of Narnia" franchise to the more recent movies "Parental Guidance" and "Chasing Mavericks."That small film grew and grew.By the time the film was over, Grohl, 43, in his first time as a director, had completed a 106-minute documentary he told The Tribune is the most important thing he has ever done."I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that board," Grohl said. "It's a huge part of my life and history. It's like being reunited with a family member."The film tells two different stories that are still tied with the same thread. The first story chronicles the story of Sound City Studios, a recording studio nestled in Van Nuys, Calif. that was the gestational partner for some of modern music's most popular and critically acclaimed albums, ranging from Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" to Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut. Opened in 1970, the old-fashioned analog studio closed in 2011 as high-tech, computer-assisted digital recording became the standard. "The studio has a Ripley's Believe It or Not [story]," Grohl said. "People who casually listen to music never think about the room, or the mixing console."The second story in the film is no less important. The analog console from Sound City represents a dying ethic: people working with other people in a live setting, making music. It is the antithesis to where modern music is moving toward: people making music in front of a computer. "Four people playing together — it's hair-raising," Grohl said."That's what makes magic."It is "the human element" — not ProTools or digital recording — "that gives you the chills," Grohl said.Grohl isn't alone, and contacted as many people as he could think of who shared the same feelings he did. And there many, and they ended up in the documentary: Trent Reznor, Mick Fleetwood, John Fogerty, Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins, Nirvana's Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic, Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Rage Against the Machine's Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, Queens of the Stone Age's Joshua Homme and Alain Johannes, Ratt's Stephen Pearcy and Warren DeMartini, Heaven and Hell's Vinny Appice, Fear's Lee Ving, The Pixies' Frank Black, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Robert Levon Been, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin, Pat Benatar's guitarist Neil Giraldo, Rick Springfield and even Barry Manilow."The conversation got bigger and bigger," Grohl said.Slipknot and Stone Sour's Corey Taylor was a willing interview subject. Slipknot recorded its first album "Iowa" at Sound City. "It was really cool seeing [the console] again," he said. "It was a hell of an experience."Taylor said he regularly gets into fights with people who insist that recording by digital means is superior to analog recording — much like how vinyl lovers fight with CD enthusiasts. "I've had vicious arguments with people about how infuriating Auto-tuning and pitch correction [affects] the sound," Taylor said. "All that crap sucks the humanity out of it."Taylor continued, railing against the role of computers in music. "The worst thing that ever happened was that anyone and their dog [can make a record.]"However, as passionate as Grohl became, he realized his limitations. "I'm a f_____ high school drop-out," he said. "I don't have a diploma."So he enlisted Rota as a producer, who contacted his high-school buddy John Ramsay, who agreed to co-produce once he met Grohl."From day one, Dave was very clear about what he wanted to say about Sound City," said Ramsay. 'The place was very special for him. It was clear from the first meeting how big a deal it was, and how special this film would be."Ramsay, whose father-in-law is local TV reporter Rod Decker, said just by looking at Foo Fighter's body of work, he could tell that Grohl put his music where his mouth was. Foo Fighters' most recent album, 2011's "Wasting Light" (which won five Grammys and debuted at No. 1 in 11 countries) was recorded in Grohl's garage with only analog equipment.Mark Monroe was enlisted as writer, which in the documentary world means that he helps structure the scenes and builds a narrative arc. He is the writer of award-winning documentaries "The Cove" and "The Pat Tillman Story," as well as the writer of two other documentaries screening at this year's Sundance Film Festival: "The Summit" and "Who is Dayani Cristal?" He, too, was impressed by Grohl's fire."One thing about directing is that you have to communicate with others," Monroe said. "Dave has that in spades ... You're talking about a premier storyteller. In the first five minutes [of their meeting], he wanted to inspire people to play instruments and play them together."Monroe summed Grohl up: "First-time filmmaker, long-time storyteller."The film is a story that Grohl was in a unique position to tell. He was glad others helped him tell that story. "I didn't expect everyone to be as in love with Sound City as I did," he said.But the studio, tucked away behind train tracks and crumbling warehouses in the surface-of-the-sun-hot San Fernando Valley, represented what makes the heart of rock beat, a heart that continues on.He added, "It's not dead."

Some albums recorded at Sound City Studios:Nirvana, "Nevermind"Fleetwood Mac, "Rumours" and "Fleetwood Mac"Neil Young, "After the Gold Rush"Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Damn the Torpedoes" and "Southern Accents" Rage Against the Machine, "Rage Against the Machine"Dr. John, "Dr. John's Gumbo"Johnny Cash, "Unchained"Metallica, "Death Magnetic"Nine Inch Nails, "The Slip" and "With Teeth"Slipknot, "Iowa"Weezer, "Pinkerton"Tool, "Undertow"Grateful Dead, "Terrapin Station"Cheap Trick, "Heaven Tonight"Foreigner, "Double Vision"Red Hot Chili Peppers, "One Red Hot Minute"The Black Crowes, "Amorica"Blind Melon, "Blind Melon"Carl Perkins, "Go Cat Go"Josh Groban, "Illuminations"Mastodon, "The Hunter"Deathcab For Cutie, "Codes and Keys"

Dave Grohl's "Sound City" PlayersFeaturing • John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks, Dave Grohl, Nirvana bassist Kris Novoselic; Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen; fellow Foo Fighters Chris Shiflett, Taylor Hawkins, Pat Smear (also of Nirvana) and Nate Mendel; Rick Springfield; Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk; Slipknot's Corey Taylor; Chris Goss; Alain Johannes; Fear's Lee Ving; Jessy Greene, Rami Jaffee, and more.When • Friday, Jan. 18, 9 p.m.Where • Park City Live, 427 Main St., Park CityTickets • Sold out

"Sound City"Documentary PremieresJan. 18, 2:30 p.m., The MARC, 1200 Little Kate Road, Park CityJan. 19, 8:30 a.m., Library Center Theatre, 1255 Park Ave., Park CityJan. 19, 6 p.m., Sundance Resort Screening Room, North Fork, Provo Canyon, Sundance ResortJan. 22, 6 p.m., Salt Lake City Library Theatre, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake CityJan. 24, 11:45 pm, Library Center Theatre, 1255 Park Ave., Park CityJan. 27, 6 p.m., Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 S., Salt Lake City