Foo Fighters frontman and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl visited the University of California, Santa Barbara on June 2, 2013, to screen his new documentary, “Sound City,” followed by a question and answer session with Grohl. The event, put on by Rock the Vote, was UCSB’s reward for ranking as the top university in the nation in terms of voter registration last year.
The movie features musical talent from across the board, including Rick Springfield, The Pixies, members of Fleetwood Mac, Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, and even Sir Paul McCartney. Although convoluted at times, “Sound City” is a satisfactory film that shows the development and change in the music recording industry with realism and honesty.
Beyond the wide assortment of musical talent, the movie displays the makings, history, and impact of Sound City, a recording studio in the San Fernando Valley. Accredited with the fame and success of some of the last several decades’ greatest albums, Sound City has helped produce albums like “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “Undertow” by Tool, and “Heaven Tonight” by Cheap Trick. The documentary chronicles the history of the studio while paying special interest in the products of Neve Electronics, a manufacturer of recording and mixing consoles. In terms of recording and audio quality, Neve’s products are an audiophile’s dream, as they showcase the subtleties and emotions of a musician’s craft.
Noting the rise of digital audio technology, the documentary delves into the distinction between digital and analog recordings. The film also explores how many modern artists struggle to convey sincerity through their music, especially considering the heightened accessibility of music production today. Through the exploration of the studio’s history, the film addresses these issues.
Trent Reznor, the lead vocalist and main producer of Nine Inch Nails, comments in the film that despite new technologies being readily available, “you still have to have something to do with those tools.”
“Sound City” is a bit repetitive at times, but redeems itself through hilarious “behind the scenes” footage and snippets of insightful interviews. The interviews focus on some of rock’s household names, such as Tom Petty and Josh Homme. As a documentary about music, the movie is unsurprisingly accompanied by a great soundtrack that creates flow and rhythm from the start of the film up until the very end.
In addition to the documentation of the music industry’s change and growth, the movie also highlights Grohl’s personal growth. A high school dropout, Grohl describes his early days in Nirvana as a valuable learning experience and an impactful part of his 25 years in the rock and roll industry. It is those personal details that help add that genuine, human element to “Sound City,” a theme that Grohl highlights as an integral part of his music as well.
By the time the movie culminated, a sense of brimming anticipation for the question and answer session with one of rock’s most influential and dynamic figures appeared to captivate the audience. More so than the movie, the session captured and showcased Grohl’s down-to-earth personality and musicianship. Although he was not the most exceptional public speaker, Grohl and his words of wisdom were inspirational to the point where starting a successful rock and roll band seemed possible.
Despite how difficult it is to follow the film at times, “Sound City” is definitely a must-see film for any musician or music enthusiast that seeks insight into the workings of a recording studio that has brought some of the best albums to life within the last 40 years.