Sound City

Sound City

David Grohl as seen in SOUND CITY, a film directed by David Grohl. Picture courtesy Variance Films. All rights reserved.

Sound City (2013)

Opened: 02/01/2013 Limited

Sunshine Cinema02/01/2013 - 02/28/201328 days
Playhouse 702/01/2013 - 02/14/201314 days
NoHo 702/08/2013 - 02/14/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Genre: Music Documentary

Rated: Unrated

Deep in the San Fernando Valley, amidst rows of dilapidated warehouses, was rock n' roll's best kept secret: Sound City. America's greatest unsung recording studio housed a one-of-a-kind console, and as its legend grew, seminal bands and artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Metallica and Nirvana all came out to put magic to tape. Directed by Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and featuring interviews and performances from the iconic musicians who recorded some of rock's greatest albums at the studio, Sound City doesn't just tell the story of this real-life rock 'n' roll shrine, it celebrates the human element of music as Grohl gathers some of rock's biggest artists to collaborate on a new album. Using Sound City's legendary analog console, together these artists continue to create musical miracles in a digital world.


SOUND CITY is a feature length documentary, directed by Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), about the human element of music, the lost art of analog recording, and the history of America's greatest unsung recording studio, Sound City. Deep in the sun burnt San Fernando Valley, tucked away behind the train tracks and dilapidated warehouses, it was home to countless legends, capturing their magic on two-inch tape, decade after decade. It was witness to history. It was rock and roll hallowed ground. And it was our best-kept secret. Sound City was state-of-the-art when it opened in 1969. It soon became known for churning out one rock and roll classic after another. Featuring a legendary, one-of-a-kind Neve recording console, and arguably the best tracking room in America, many of the seminal albums of the '70's, '80's and '90's were put on tape within these walls: Classics by Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Metallica, Nirvana... The list is staggering. As technology advanced, and digital equipment infiltrated the recording process, Sound City became a lonely analog outpost in a world of computers. Soon, in the age of Pro Tools, with auto-tuning and copy and paste, anyone could make music without even knowing how to play an instrument. The human element was no longer necessary.

Technology not only leveled the playing field, it also changed the game. Studios all over the world began to close their doors. Sadly, Sound City was no exception.

Through interviews with the legendary musicians and producers who've worked at Sound City Studios over the years, SOUND CITY tries to uncover and define the intangible magic within those wires and walls that was responsible for such an incredible history of music, while focusing on the real human experience and craft of analog recording by capturing epic performances of historic, full circle musical reunions.

The film is also a personal journey for Dave. In the spring of 1991, as a 22 year old starving musician without a cent to his name or a place to call home, he packed all of his belongings into an old army duffle bag, threw them into the back of an old Ford van, and headed down to Sound City to make Nirvana's classic album "Nevermind" with his band mates Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. The next 16 days not only changed the course of rock music forever, it changed his LIFE forever.

Now it's time for Dave to give something back. He's invited many of the greatest recording artists to ever grace Sound City's halls to help him make a NEW album on that legendary Neve console-- which he purchased when Sound City closed its doors. Together, we see them explore the human element of making music and the lost art of analog recording.

Director's Statement

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., there were always instruments laying around my house. A dusty old guitar in the corner, a rusted old snare drum in the attic. More ornamental than instrumental, they were always scattered about. And there was always music coming from the AM radio in the kitchen, or albums spinning on the turntable in the living room. Day after day I would sit on the floor and play my records, reading their sleeves and their liner notes, examining the pictures and artwork. It was really only a matter of time until I put two and two together and felt...inspired.

It's that same feeling I had as a kid that has kept me making music for the past 20+ years with Foo Fighters, Nirvana, and countless others. The search for those moments that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The feeling that you get when, without words, you connect with a song or another musician and you feel completely understood as a human being. That intangible, indefinable magic that happens when you create something truly honest and real.

And it's that same feeling that drove me to direct the documentary "SOUND CITY".

In 1991, I was a starving musician without a cent to my name and nowhere to call home. My band at the time, Nirvana, made the trek down to Los Angeles from Seattle for our first official major label recording session--the one that would become "Nevermind". We had booked 16 days in a recording studio that none of us had ever been to, let alone ever seen. More infamous than famous, Sound City Studios was known for recording legendary albums such as Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush", Fleetwood Mac's "Fleetwood Mac", Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Damn the Torpedoes", among countless others. It's history was staggering, like a virtual Rock and Roll hall of fame. It seemed too good to be true that the three of us, basically living out of a van, would even be allowed to step foot on such hallowed ground. But, when we arrived, we found something completely different that what we had expected...

It was a dump.

Like a time warp, it felt as if we had been transported back to 1973. Brown shag carpet on the walls, old analog equipment that hadn't been upgraded in over twenty years, a couch that they had been RENTING for a decade, it truly was a shithole. A bona fide shithole. Far from the upscale, state of the art recording studios in downtown Hollywood, Sound City was deep in the sun burnt San Fernando valley ghetto, tucked away in a warehouse complex out behind the railroad tracks. And it felt like it.

But those 16 days changed my life forever.

"Nevermind" went on to sell 30 million copies, and Nirvana soon became a household name. That old, dilapidated studio, on the verge of closing when we'd recorded there, was suddenly given a new lease on life, and was catapulted into the 90's as the "best kept secret" in the rock scene. It was now the coolest studio in the world. Where, as one studio manager most eloquently described, "real men went to make records". Rage Against the Machine, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica... you name it, they all went there to capture that magic, and to get that "sound"... which really came down to two simple things: The legendary, one of a kind Neve 8028 analog recording console (custom ordered and built in 1973), and the drum room (which, despite having never been acoustically designed, some people considered to be the best sounding drum room in the world). It was a lethal combination. A no-brainer. For the next 15 years, their phones were ringing off the hook...

And then digital took over.

With the introduction of digital recording technology, tape-based, analog studios like Sound City soon became "obsolete". The sound of a Neve recording console could now be emulated on your computer at home. The reverb of a beautiful drum room could be simulated by a plug-in, or a program. Hell... you didn't even need to know how to play your instrument that well anymore, it could all be done in the computer! It was a whole new world. A world where the "human element' was at the risk of being ignored. Or lost.

Sound City couldn't keep up. They eventually closed their doors in 2011. 40 years of history, legend, and magic...gone. Only the memories, and the music left to remain.

Now I want to tell its story.

As a first time director, my main intention with "Sound City" was not only to do justice to the incredible legacy of the studio, but to celebrate the human element of music, and to inspire the NEXT 40 years of musicians to find that magic within themselves. That feeling that I had sitting on my living room floor, listening to album after album, swimming in the history of music that came before me. That feeling that I had when I picked up a guitar for the first time and strummed the riff to "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple... without anyone showing me how! The realization that I could do this too. That music is human, and real, and beautiful in its imperfection and feel.

Through interviews and incredible live studio performances with the long list of musicians that have recorded at Sound City over the years, I try and uncover the magic that made Sound City America's greatest unsung recording studio, and reunite the cast with the one thing that's responsible for the sound of all those amazing records. Something we all have in common: That Neve 8028 recording console. A piece of history that's just as instrumental as any instrument that has run though it's tubes and wires. A huge part of our lives. Quite simply... the reason why I am here today.

"Sound City" is, to me, my life's most important work. I hope that you feel the same.

-- Dave Grohl, Director