Among the films that are premiering at Sundance Film Festival is the documentary Sound City. Directed by Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters), the film is about the legendary Sound City Recording Studios and the equally legendary Neve mixing console it housed. The film looks at the role of the studio in the stories of many, many current musicians who have helped define the age of rock including Nirvana, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rick Rubin, Fleetwood Mac and countless others. The film also features an original soundtrack and performances by many of the artists.
At a press conference Q & A session moderated by Elliot Scheiner (7-time Grammy Award winning music producer/engineer), Grohl spoke about how the film turned from a conceptualized 12 minute short into the full length documentary film. He also discussed how he feels about the current evolution of music and why the lack of live performance shows and the corresponding wealth of singing contest shows are dangerous for our cultural valuation of music. According to Grohl, the film will be released in February on the website soundcitymovie.com where patrons can potentially access it for free, because he believes it’s the most important thing he’s ever done. To read more highlights from the Q & A session, click after the jump.
When asked why he decided to direct the film Sound City, Grohl began by saying first, “I don’t even know what directing means.” He explained that it was important to him and to all the musicians that recorded there to pay homage to the studio. He said that recording at the studio would make a band sound like themselves, but “a big, badass version of you.” The project “was meant to be a short film, then the idea blossomed into something much bigger…the reason I made it is because I’m so passionate about it…I honestly feel like I’m making the movie for the people who are in the movie and the love of music and the appreciation. It’s not for me, I’m part of the story but it has a lot more to do with other people and musicians and music.”
He insisted that he just began with a clear outline in a notebook he picked up from the craft store Michael’s of what he wanted to accomplish in the film. “I’m not a director, I’m not a drummer, I’m not a guitar player, I fake all of those things…I can’t read music, I hold my drumsticks backwards. I’m not a director.” Grohl also answered the question of whom he wanted that wasn’t in the film. “Charles Manson. We had talked about going up to his…prison? And interviewing him, but we decided against it because we didn’t want to overshadow the amazing things that have happened [at Studio City].
As far as the possible influence a music documentary can have, he cited the soundtrack of The Decline of Western Civilization as the reason he first wanted to be in a band. He says it was “so raw and gritty and real and totally captures the vibe of that era and that genre of music.” He also says that the Paris, Texas soundtrack by Ry Cooder inspired the acoustic album In Your Honor, which he says is “one of my top 3 albums.
Grohl talked about the important of the tactile experience of being able to hold a record as opposed to a digital file, especially for young budding musicians. He told the story of coming home with the new Beatles boxed set of records for his 6 year old daughter, and the joy of teaching her how to play a record, and seeing “the fact that she could hold Magical Mystery Tour in her hand and it wasn’t an icon on her fucking iTouch thing.” He says that it’s “the exact same experience any of us had as we were children. We did the same fucking thing. The world has changed…the technology has changed but kids, they don’t change, they’re kids. That same tactile, tangible experience is just as valuable to them now, maybe more so than when we were young.”
Grohl also had a strong opinion when he was asked about the role of instant stardom singing contest shows like The Voice or American Idol. He said that he’d rather have his child “start music for the love of playing in the garage and play play play with no one listening than to have her stand in line to be on a song contest show and sing one song and have a judge say ‘sorry you’re not good enough’…could you imagine if Bob Dylan went on The Voice? What would happen? You got Christina Aguilera going uh uhhhh.” He dislikes the idea of the shows because he doesn’t think that having a perfect voice or performance determines a good musician. “My voice cracked or I was flat a little bit or I played too fast..that’s the fucking Who man!”
However, he does believe that there is a place and even a need for live performance shows on television, especially in American culture. He cites the TV programs around the world that feature live performance, and “summer festival season in Europe, 80,000 people a night…because music is more a part of the collective psyche of the population.” He finds it a shame that music on TV is relegated to “the Grammys and 12:25 at the end of late night talk shows…if we had more stuff like music documentary or live performance shows people would love music more.”
Grohl does feel that there is a positive today in the music industry, despite the death of his beloved Studio City Recording Studio and the rise of digital music. “I think the industry is in a better place now than it’s ever been…it’s almost like when Nirvana first signed…back to 1991, because like what the fuck did we need a record label for, really? We just made cool music and got in a van and went around and played. We weren’t gonna be the biggest band in the world but you know, it was fun. [Now] you can record an album in your living room for free and with a click of a button you can distribute it to the entire world.”
As far as distribution plans for his film, Grohl says that it will be a “direct to consumer kind of thing…we’re coming to this festival with a movie that’s finished and ready for everyone to see February 1st. You can go to SoundCity.com and get it digital…you can take it you can rip it you can give it to your friends, you can show it on all your devices, whatever.” He feels that “the most important thing for us is for everyone to see the movie. Anyone that wants to see it. If you live in a rainforest and you can’t find a movie theater, you should at least be able to go somewhere and be able to find it like that, because we want to share the message of Sound City.”
As for a Sound City tour? “We’re trying…what’s nuts is we did the show here the other night, to me it was like an extension of the idea of the film. You tell the story of Sound City you talk about what it represents but the last third of the film is performance. Now rather than talk about feel or composition…you see it happening and that speaks volumes.” He says all the artists had such a good time, they want to do more shows together. There’s also an album from the film with original music. He thought, “let’s do a show where every artist does their song from the soundtrack and then we do 4 or 5 of their…songs. But multiply that by everyone in the movie and you have fucking Woodstock.” He says that they would want to do as many places as possible, and named possible destinations as L.A., New York, London, Berlin and Sydney.
The Neve mixing console used by all of the artists in the film at one point was sold when Sound City was disbanded, and Grohl is the lucky admirer who purchased the board. He said that he “would have paid a million dollars for the board, but fortunately it wasn’t that much.” When asked if the original music for the film was recorded on the Neve mixing console Grohl had an emphatic response. He stated that not using the board “would be like buying a Ferrari and leaving it in the garage.”
In the end, Grohl’s words of wisdom about the current and future of the music industry were hopeful. He said “people fall in love with music everyday…making this film can feel a little hopeless. ‘Oh no! Rock ‘n’ Roll’s dead!’ But it will never die. Music will never go away.’
For more of our Sundance 2013 coverage click here.