Sound City: Real to Reel

Sound City: Real to Reel

Directed by Dave Grohl

What do Bad Religion, Barry Manilow, Cheap Trick, Johnny Cash, Nirvana, Josh Groban, Tears for Fears, Rancid, Ratt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Santana, Foreigner, Nine Inch Nails and REO Springfield have in common? They all recorded albums at Sound City Studios. Those are just a few of the big names that rolled through the studio, an d the list is pretty long. Sound City, the movie is Dave Grohl’s documentary/slash tribute to the studio where Nevermind was recorded, a studio that he says changed his life.

Released in 2013, Sound City: Real to Reel is Mr. Grohl’s directorial debut, and it shows. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a Dave Grohl fanboy, but the movie started off a bit shaky for me. The first 5-10 minutes come off a bit amateurish. Just what you’d expect from someone with access to surplus cash taking on an expensive vanity project without a prior background in film or video… Sure, Dave has been around his share of video shoots in some outstanding music videos, and even made many successful cameos on TV and in the movies, but as a narrator for a story that he’s personally involved in, he’s at his most awkward. Thankfully, the movie starts to pick up steam after not too long. The history of the studio is actually very interesting. You will be amazed by the titles that were recorded there. For the most part, Dave Grohl’s personal involvement in the project only steps on the movie very briefly during the first part of the documentary. Sometimes his schtick can take you abruptly out of the story.

The movie is split into two main parts, one is strictly a documentary that seems to last for the first two thirds of the film. I didn’t mark off the running time, but that’s what it felt like. Sound City dwells at parts on the one of a kind Neve soundboard that was custom ordered for the studio at an exorbitant price. The soundboard is fetishized to the point that it’s no surprise that Dave actually purchased it when Sound City shut down and moved it into his own studio. The second part of the movie documents the tribute album recorded on the soundboard at Grohl’s studio, with contributing musicians featured earlier. Although it almost feels tacked onto the end, it’s still entertaining. The DVD extras feature extended footage from the recording session. The musicians are widely varied and the songs are good. Lee Ving’s contribution would have been right at home on the first Fear record. Dave knows how to write music for him, they should do a record together. It is easily one of the highlights of the movie, if you include the DVD extras. I also found myself actually giving a shit about a performance that the singer from Slipnot was on, and not just becasues he was paired with Rick Nielson from Cheap Trick.

Overall, Sound City was entertaining, but there were definitely some areas that needed work. Firstly, the choice of people interviewed, again while varied, was puzzling. With all the real big names that recorded there, the choice to include some of the less well known people were puzzling. It’s almost as if he had a short time to put together the album, so he chose people that were able to contribute rather than taking the extended time to get more people. He pals around with Paul McCartney, so I hardly think it’s a matter of people not returning his calls. Barry Manilow doesn’t add much to the film, he barely has anything to say about the studio and his brief appearance seems to be mainly to say “Hey look, it’s Barry Manilow. Isn’t that funny that he recorded in the same studio as all these rock stars?” There are some aspects of the history of the studio and it’s difficulties that get glossed over. I feel like a documentary whose sole purpose was to concentrate on the history would have been more in depth. Who knows, maybe Grohl only made the movie and record to help finance the purchase and relocation of the mixing board. Or maybe he made it because he wanted to, and he could. Sound City does do a pretty good job of covering the broad picture of the studio and it’s multiple arcs in success and failures over time, and especially some of the personalities involved. If your a fan of rock and roll or recoding technology, regardless of the genre, you should watch it.

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