Kurt Cobain photographed by Michel Linssen
Sound City pays homage to the famed recording studio by the same name in the San Fernando Valley, California, where musicians such as Nirvana, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and many others recorded legendary albums. The film, directed by none other than Dave Grohl, the Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman, is a love letter to both analog recording and the human element of music in the digital age: “In the age of digital, when you can manipulate anything, how do we retain a human element? How do we keep music to sound like …people? The feeling that I had when I was young?” It is a tribute to a studio and a sound that can not be emulated or recreated digitally.
In 1991, Nirvana was practically unknown when they arrived at Sound City to record Nevermind. The album changed rock music, heralding the last great movement in music. So when the record label had to close its doors 20 years after Nevermind came out, Dave Grohl bought the studio’s legendary Neve recording console and decided to make a film about the studio that changed his life and the music world forever. “We were just kids with nothing to lose and nowhere to call home. But we had these songs and we had these dreams. So we threw it all in the back of an old van and started driving. Our destination: Sound City.”
All the interviews with the musicians in the movie just show how their experience recording there still lives with them. The documentary goes beyond the performers and the music that came out of the studio, to all the people who kept it alive all those years. Because it wasn’t just the sound that made this place special, it was the staff, too. The human element. That’s what gives honesty and truth and integrity and authenticity. You know what I saw when watching the documentary? I saw people at work, people doing real work, people doing what they love, what they are passionate about, whether musicians, sound engineers, music producers or studio managers, people who love music, not the business of music, and who inspire other people to love and/or do music. Something was lost forever when it shut down.
“The movie revolves around this board and this studio, the conversation’s about something a lot bigger: the human element of music. You can still play with each other and collaborate and capture those magical human moments, but we’re living in an age where you can manipulate or change any of that to make it sound any way you want. You can make yourself the greatest singer in the world or the best drummer in the world with the aid of technology. So a place like Sound City, which was just a big, beautiful room where you would hit record and capture the sound of the performer — a place like that isn’t necessarily in demand anymore,” Dave Grohl told NPR in an interview about the film.
I have compiled a list with some of my favourite songs recorded at Sound City, and I have added the movie soundtrack, Sound City: Real to Reel, as well.
1. Come As You Are, Nirvana / 2. Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie / 3. Rebels, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / 4. Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac / 5. The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala, Arctic Monkeys /
6. No Hiding Place, Elvis Costello and The Imposters / 7. Unchained, Johnny Cash / 8. A Sunday,
Jimmy Eat World / 9. Dog in the Sand, Frank Black and The Catholics / 10. Southern Man, Neil Young /
11. California Waiting, Kings of Leon / 12. My Friends, Red Hot Chili Peppers
You can buy the film, watch it online or gift it to a friend here
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