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Dave Grohl Goes To The Movies With ‘Sound City’

In 2011, Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl bought the classic Neve console at the heart of Sound City, the Los Angeles recording facility behind legendary albums from Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, System of a Down, Johnny Cash and Grohl's old outfit, Nirvana. Inspired by the desk, he's now shooting a feature documentary about the facility's life and times, simply entitled Sound City.

Everyone likes souvenir. We hold on to a memento of a time and place, and enjoying it helps us hold on to that experience. You might still have a seashell from that vacation you took years ago, or a tour t-shirt from your first concert, even though you’ll never fit into again.

In 2011, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl bought himself a little keepsake, too: the vintage Neve console from Sound City Studios that he and the rest of Nirvana used to record the game-changing album, Nevermind.

It’s not too surprising that he’d buy the desk—after all, Grohl is famously passionate about old-fashioned, analog recording. When he got his hands on the desk, it must have brought back a ton of memories—enough that perhaps he began wondering what tales his fellow rock stars might have about the facility. Whether he wondered that or not, Grohl’s learning those stories now, as he directs Sound City, a documentary about the famed Los Angeles studio.

Lots of classic albums were recorded there, such as Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 eponymous LP; Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes; Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut; Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush and plenty more. Over the years, Sound City hosted the likes of Ratt, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Foreigner, System of a Down, Kiss, Motorhead, Guns N’ Roses, Slayer, Tool, Dio and Dr. John, just to name a few.

Nirvana/Foo Fighters producer Butch Vig is involved in the film project, too, having recently recorded in the studio with Grohl and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Vig told Billboard that they hope to edit it together in the fall, with an eye on a January or February release—a move that sounds like they’re aiming for the Sundance Film Festival. Vig told the publication, “He’s probably interviewed 150 or 200 people so far, and now we’ve been working on musical collaborations to be a part of the soundtrack for the film.”

If you watch the fast-paced teaser trailer at the top of this page, there’s a lot of rhapsodizing about the Neve desk (and some gorgeous pans across its fader-filled surface, too). They aren’t just playing it up for the film, either; the console is legitimately legendary within the right circles. In his book, Making Rumours, producer/engineer Ken Caillat recounts going to Sound City specifically to use that board to mix Fleetwood Mac:

Sound City had an old Neve console that provided a big, open bottom-end-sounding record. I knew we had a great top-end sound with this album [Rumours], so I said, “Okay. Let’s try it.”….

We went to Sound City to mix Rumours. This was where the band had recorded their previous album. Sound City was an older studio and somewhat rundown. It was out in the middle of the San Fernando Valley and was definitely a longer drive for most of us than to any of the other studios where we had worked.

Sound City had old Neve consoles, which should have sounded excellent with our music. We tried mixing “Go Your Own Way” and “Never Going Back Again,” but the EQ wasn’t as precise as we wanted. Then Lindsey, frustrated as the rest of us were, suggested that we had had such good luck mixing [a live version of] “Rhiannon” at [Wally Heider Studios] that we should go back there to mix Rumours. So back to Heider’s we all went.

Not everybody had a bad time at Sound City, however. Take Eighties pop star Rick Springfield; it’s no exaggeration to say that the studio changed his life. In his autobiography, Late Late At Night, Springfield describes Sound City as “a successful recording studio that’s part of a hideously ugly industrial complex in the ass end of LA’s San Fernando Valley.”

While that might sound a bit uncharitable, the guy recorded a ton of hits there back in the day, including his breakthrough single, “Jesse’s Girl,” which came after four flop albums. The only reason he still had a record deal, in fact, was due to the persistence of his manager, Joe Gottfried—who owned Sound City.

Springfield had another life-changing experience at the studio, however; he met his wife, Barbara, when she worked there answering phones, and stole her away from another rocker recording at the site: Peter Frampton.

Springfield appears in the teaser trailer, and will surely make the final cut of Sound City, if only due to one of the collaborations that Vig mentioned—in this case, a wildly unlikely effort between Grohl, Springfield, Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age. That alone might be worth the price of admission.