Sound City marks musician Dave Grohl's directorial debut and a fine introduction it is. The former Nirvana drummer and present day Foo Fighters frontman takes us inside the Van Nuys, Calif., studio where his former band recorded its 1991 breakthrough release Nevermind and where Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers tracked Damn The Torpedoes and where Fleetwood Mac tracked its 1975 self-titled releasethe album that brought Steve Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham into the fold and sent the quintet on the road to superstardom.
You'd think it might be difficult to cram more than 40 years of history into a slender 108 minutes and not miss something. And yet this briskly paced feature touches on the most important moments in the Sound City story and has time left over for some extra fun at the end.
We learn about the studio's earliest, skin-of-the-teeth days in the dimming light of the 1960s when the owners were happy to get any client they could, including a down-and-out songwriter named Charles Mansonto the era when it became a haven for heavy metal acts such as Loudness and Ratt and then to its final moments in this last decade when home recording and shrinking budgets saw the building's doors shuttered for good.
So what made this place special? It wasn't the décor. We see archival footage of producer Jimmy Iovine (then working with Petty and band c. 1979) suggesting that someone might be doing the world a favor by setting the place ablaze. Although it probably helped that the staff were especially genial, perhaps the two greatest factors in Sound City's success were a custom Neve 8028 Console (more on that in a moment) and a room that allowed bands to get an amazing drum sound.
Grohl's affection for SC is evident throughout; it was the place, after all, where he cut the most important record of his career, the place where many of the records that influenced him were also recorded, and a place that he's keeping alive in a very real way. (Wait for it.)
His enthusiasm if matched by those he interviews, including Petty, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, members of Rage Against the Machine, Dio, and REO Speedwagon, as well as the ever-iconic Neil Young. But this is a film that is about much more than wax nostalgic about a bygone era or a place that has suffered a fate similar to many professional recording studios in recent years; it's about a sense of community, continuing traditions, and the joy that musical collaboration can bring.
As the film nears its close, Grohl purchases the famed Neve 8028, moves it into his own Studio 606 and invites a series of his peers and idols down to record himself and other members of Foo Fighters. We witness Grohl and his Nirvana pals Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear track with Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks stops in for an ace cut, and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) working with Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age's Joshua Homme.
Sound City is currently streaming via Amazon.com, iTunes and buy.soundcitymovie.com. It will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 12.