Written by Kevin Dunne. Media by Zach Bonner.
What makes music good? What gives an album a certain, unique sound? How is it that certain songs can either turn even the sourest of days around or make you break down? Why do some records stand out from the hundreds of thousands that are released each year, sometimes decades after they are released? Why so many questions? I think the answer is quite simple; music taps into the essence of who we are and gives us a sense of understanding that we spend our entire lives searching for. Music is powerful, as are the ones who create it. Music is full of memories and experiences. I still remember the first album that I ever listened to, Fleetwood Mac’s untitled white album. For many people, music is everything.
That brings us to Sound City. From the late, late sixties well through the 2000s, Sound City Records produced and recorded some of the greatest albums to date in an old amplifier factory in LA. The studio produced the very first album I ever listened to, along with some like After the Gold Rush (Neil Young), Damn the Torpedoes (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), Nevermind (Nirvana), Crimes of Passion (Pat Benatar), With Teeth (Nine Inch Nails), Unchained (Johnny Cash), and the Queens of the Stone Age’s eponymous album. In case you weren’t paying attention, those are some great albums.
Yeah, yeah. Great history lesson, but what’s the difference between Sound City and Sound City? Well, Sound City is the recently released documentary about the studio, directed by none other than Dave Grohl (Nirvana, The Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures). While Dave Grohl has directed many music videos, including many of his own, this marks his directorial debut as a filmmaker. Sound City tells the story of the studio from the people who were there: managers, producers, engineers, receptionists, owners, and of course, musicians. To name a few, the likes of Tom Petty, Frank Black, Mike Campbell, Josh Homme, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Barry Manilow, Neil Young, and Grohl himself talk about what makes Sound City such a wonderful studio and why they love it so much. While the film contains elements which would go against elements of the Lifestyle Statement, Sound City expresses the familial bond created by the studio. It’s a simple story, which is why documentaries continue to be my favorite genre of film. All of the elements of film are stripped down to their bare essentials, and you are left with a tale to tell and people, not actors, but people to share the story with you. Sound City accomplishes this with magnificence and even philosophical insight. Weird, right?
Sound City itself is no more , but it still lives on. Digital came along in the eighties, along with other horrors like hair metal and Hammer pants, and Sound City had trouble competing with the synthetic and artificial sounds of bands like Whitesnake. A good chunk of the documentary focuses on the integration of and eventual popularization of digital and how it opened up the door for many musicians who, quite frankly, are untalented, to make albums (like Whitesnake). The very least you could do is watch this documentary if you agree that digital is superior to analog and listen to some pretty influential musicians discuss the topic.
(Photos taken from the movie’s website)
When I said Sound City is no more, I sort of lied, sorry. While the studio itself is no longer open, Grohl purchased the unique soundboard from the studio and opened his own, Studio 606. The last half hour or so of the documentary takes place here, with Grohl and The Foo Fighters jammin’ with everybody who was in the documentary. An album of these heavenly tunes is also available. Grohl has been promoting the documentary and album with tours, film festivals, a performance at the Hurricane Relief Concert on 12.21.12, a Reddit AMA, and if I haven’t convinced you already to buy or rent the film, you can go to the website or I-Tunes to do just that.
Sound City is many things. It is a film about people’s secondary home and families. It is a film about the music industry. It is a film about togetherness. It is a film about rock ‘n’ roll. What I got most out of the film though, was that it is a film about something I already spoke of; the power of music. Music is great and if you haven’t pieced it together already, it means a great deal to me. Musicians like Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Tom Waits are of the highest caliber in my mind. I saw Dylan and Petty and traveled hundreds of miles to see them each, even venturing through ghettos to do so. Not just the “this place is a ghetto, ha ha” kind of ghetto, but actual ones. It’s interesting that some of the most frightening moments of my life took place within hours of two of the happiest moments of my life. Sound City directly plugs into that love and that power which music has and Dave Grohl captures something truly wonderful.