I am not sure where I first heard about Dave Grohl’s Sound City. I think maybe I spotted the trailer for the film on the trailers app on my iPad. Wherever it was, I was immediately intrigued. Take a look.
I had a hard time getting an angle on how to write about this film. I made a few attempts but I could not coherently keep it together. Ultimately I found that my problem was because the movie itself has a few different threads that at times seem contradictory. That’s where I got into problems. Is the film about Sound City studio’s rise and fall? Is it about the unique Neve console or is it about the inevitable progression from analog to digital? I kept trying to come at it from all of these different directions but I kept failing at juggling those themes. I just could not get them to fit together. I left the post in draft mode and gave up while thinking I would come back to it later, which I have. The thing is, the film isn’t really about any of this. Sound City is about the process of making music. It is about the people, the tools and the technology that come together along with a little bit of magic to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is all part of the bigger story and like a great album, the film comes together to form something wholly different from its components.
If you didn’t get it from the trailer, here is the quick review. Sound City was a recording studio in the shadow of Hollywood. It wasn’t clean or the most high tech but what it had was a unique recording console, the Neve 8028, and a somewhat mystical room where drums sounded great. The studio went on to produce some of the biggest albums in rock history but ultimately fell victim to the tide of progress and when digital hit the studio chose not to change with the times and was left to a less than noble end.
Directed by Dave Grohl, Sound City explores how music is made. It may seem at first to be about the place or the console but it is about people. It is always people that come together to makes music. It is about the musicians, the engineers, and the people at the front desk that create an environment where special things happen. It is also about loss. What do we lose when people don’t create things together and does anyone care?
I enjoyed the film quite a bit. Grohl’s love of both the studio and the console shines through every moment of the film. I find it interesting what he lingers on and then what he completely skips over. Fleetwood Mac gets a lot of time in the film as does Rick Springfield. The hair bands, who may have been the largest genre of music to come out of Sound City, are given very little screen time. I don’t know what this means but I wonder if Grohl’s personal feelings about that genre are to blame. It is perfectly fine by me. I didn’t really need to hear much from Stephen Pearcy from RATT. The guy is creepy even on the best of days. Later acts that come through the studio only fare marginally better. Nirvana is featured for obvious reasons and I would like to see an entire documentary on the making of that record.
The last 30 minutes is an indulgent series of jam sessions with many of the acts that came through Sound City. At first it seems a little out of place. Once the story of the studio is over, Dave acquires the board for his studio and we get a bunch of Dave geeking out playing with all of these artists. Once I understood that the entire film is about making music, this section made complete sense. In fact, this section punctuates the theme. Music is always about people. Here, at the end, that’s what we are left with. The studio is closed, much of the tools have changed, but the people are still there, still rocking, still enjoying the creative process.
If I have one real criticism it is the appearance of Paul McCartney at the end. There is a quick moment at the beginning of the film where Grohl talks about The Beatles and how they influenced music and even the creation of Sound City. Nothing else is mentioned until the very end when McCartney starts playing. Yeah, it is a little bit of a full circle moment but it felt forced to me. More along the lines of Grohl wanting to show off how awesome he is that Paul McCartney comes to play at his studio. Maybe a minor gripe but I would much rather see more of the acts actually featured in the film. It is Grohl’s first film so I will cut him a little slack.
Sound City is available for download or On-Demand just about anywhere. I highly recommend it.