First published on 1 Feb 2013. Updated on 2 Feb 2013.
Everyone's been heaping praise on Sound City, the documentary about life and death of the legendary LA studio responsible for countless classic albums from everyone from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to Rick Springfield to Fleetwood Mac to Slipknot to Neil Young to Metallica and literally thousands more – including Nirvana's groundbreaking Nevermind. Here, Dave Grohl thinks back to the recording of the album.
Dave, what was your first impression when you first came down to start making Nevermind?
I was expecting this big flashy LA studio, and we get there and it’s just a shithole: the paint’s peeling, when it rains the carpark floods and it washes into the hallway, everything’s worn and grimy. They had a couch that they had been renting for ten fuckin’ years. Renting. Seriously!
But then you look at the discs on the wall and go “…that was recorded here?” and you start to appreciate there’s something more going on. And the board [the studio’s Neve recording console] – we wouldn’t be talking now if it wasn’t for that board. That’s the sound of that record, and of all the records that were made there.
So what made you want to make a film about it?
To me, it was really simple. It was really easy to tell this story because if you and I sat down with a pint at the pub, I’d tell you the fucking story the exact same way it is in the movie! That’s the story: this is the story of Sound City. This is what happened. This is why it’s gone. This is what to love about it, and this is why it’s important. So for me, it was a cinch.
And with the studio shutting its doors in 2011, I guess it’s a matter of telling that story while there’s still a story to tell.
The story behind the music and the people behind the music and the life behind the music is just real, and to see it disappear seemed like an atrocity to me, and so I wanted to talk about the human element to making music: the magic that happens between people when you retain the human element of music.
So it’s not a big technical debate about analogue-recording-vs-digital-recording or something?
It hardly has anything to do with the sonic debate: you could get really deep into the sonic debate of digital versus analogue, and to be completely honest I'm fucking deaf, dude. I've been playing 120 decibel music for 25 years, so you could A/B that argument to me all day long and I swear to god, everything sounds like I have teacups over my fucking head anyway. [laughs]
So it’s about sound made by people?
Yes: to me the most important thing is to lift the veil on that kind of secrecy, to lift the curtain and show people "see, this is what happens when Paul McCartney gets into the studio with Chris [Novoselic], Pat [Smear] and Dave from Nirvana in one day." It might not sound perfect; it might not take over the world, but in that moment there's a feeling and there's an energy and there's a magic because it's fucking real. And those kind of things, they don't happen every day. And you can't manufacture them: it' something that happens between people that's very special, you know?