With its flea-bitten couches, rising damp and dubious air quality, the Van Nuys, Calif., recording studio Sound City wasn’t the kind of place you’d immediately associate with artistic inspiration—even for artists comfortable being identified with the word “grunge.”
“We got there and walked down the hallways and saw all those platinum records,” says Dave Grohl, former drummer for Nirvana, recalling the band’s arrival at the squalid studio in 1991 to record Nevermind. “It was kind of surprising.”
Despite the studio’s acoustically imperfect rooms and decades-old Neve analog mixing console, Nevermind went on to become, well, Nevermind. And with its success, another smash record was added to Sound City’s résumé, which included albums by everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Metallica.
Eventually, bugs and cigarette burns became the least of Sound City’s worries. Ever since the advent of digital technology, the tape-based recording employed by the studio had been inching toward oblivion. And when Sound City closed in 2011, the fate of its legendary Neve console was uncertain.
So Grohl bought it. His decision to assume ownership of this gigantic technological throwback was not entirely sentimental: The Foo Fighters frontman is convinced the board can continue to produce hits, and to this end he installed it in his own studio, just outside Los Angeles.
Grohl’s efforts to acquire the board, meanwhile, led to his making a documentary about the history of the famous studio, the recently released Sound City. It was followed by an all-star album, Sound City: Real to Reel, recorded by some of the musicians featured in the film, including Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Trent Reznor.
“I didn’t think there was a director inside me,” Grohl says. “But making the film was a pleasure and, honestly, I thought it was easy.”
He goes on to admit that he did receive a little help along the way. “The person most responsible for the arc of the story was my mother, who was a creative-writing teacher,” he says. “She said, ‘Don’t give it away that you have the board. Tell the history of the studio … then it closes, then you get the board and then you make the record.’ I was like, ‘Huh. Thanks, Mom.’” ALBUM OUT MARCH 12 —SAM POLCER
On Trent Reznor: “He’s a brilliant, brilliant musician who doesn’t need technology. To see him sit down at a piano and play a piece of classical music is jaw-dropping, because he has incredible feel and time and a wonderful sense of tonality and composition.”
On Muse: “That band could come into a studio with a board and a room like Sound City’s and make an album so powerful it would change the world.
I don’t think Muse have to rely on anything but their own hands and their own hearts to make great music.”
On being Wii-less: “You know, the pingpong table at my own studio might be as old as the Neve console from Sound City. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty old-school when it comes to pingpong.”