Let the Good Times Grohl: Dave Grohl Talks 'Sound City: Real to Reel'

This is an excerpt from the June 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine. For the rest of this story, and more, check out the issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

Dave Grohl’s Sound City: Real to Reel is many things: a feature-length documentary that was the buzz of this year’s Sundance festival, a star-studded CD packed with great tunes and a series of historic concerts.

The monumental project brought together legendary artists like Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor, Tom Petty, Rick Nielsen, John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks and many others to pay homage to a now-bygone era: a time when rock music reigned supreme, record companies were solvent, analog multitrack technology was at its peak, and the gods of rock made world-changing albums in professional recording studios that were equal parts living room, playpen, sonic lab and artist’s atelier.

What nearly all of these artists have in common is a great recording studio: Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. Albums as diverse and influential as Nirvana’s Nevermind, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes and Metallica’s Death Magnetic were recorded there, as were groundbreaking discs from Fleetwood Mac, Rancid, Rage Against the Machine, Tool and Queens of the Stone Age.

A funky joint tucked away in a nondescript industrial building in a dicey part of the San Fernando Valley, Sound City was off the beaten track, over the hill from the big Hollywood recording studios and not even in one of the Valley’s trendier neighborhoods.

But it was blessed with a killer Neve 8028 console and a magic-sounding live room that was once used for assembling Vox amps. With the closing of Sound City in 2011, Grohl felt impelled to pay tribute not only to the studio but also to a whole way of life that is rapidly disappearing now that the world gets its musical entertainment from Disney and Pro Tools.

“I grew up in Virginia, right outside of Washington D.C.,” he says. “And every two blocks there’s a fucking plaque on the wall where there was some Civil War battle, or a statue to some politician or army general. So why we don’t get that for our monuments and museums—our recording studios? And because I’m connected with Sound City, I made this movie. But there are lots of other legendary studios that have gone under or are now facing extinction.”

Grohl has never forgotten the place where he made Nevermind, the record that changed his life and the course of rock music. But the Sound City story isn’t only his, which is why he had no problem recruiting revered artists from across the musical spectrum—from the aforementioned musicians to pop icon Rick Springfield, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Lee Ving of veteran L.A. punk band Fear, and members of Slipknot and Rage Against the Machine. All of them had worked at Sound City and had stories to tell.

“I reached out to each artist individually,” Grohl recounts. “I said, ‘Hi, my name is Dave and I’m making a movie about something you and I have in common: Sound City. I’d like to talk to you about your time there, but also about music and technology.’ And every single person agreed to get involved.”

The thing that had set the whole project in motion was Sound City’s legendary Neve 8028 console. A few years ago, Grohl heard it might be for sale. But when he contacted the studio manager, the initial response he received was “I’d sell my grandmother before I’d sell that board.” He backed off. But a few months later, he got another call from Sound City. The studio was indeed closing its doors and had to face economic reality.

FOR THE REST OF THIS DAVE GROHL STORY and more, including features on Epiphone's coolest/craziest guitars and Megadeth, Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal, Alice In Chains' Jerry Cantrell, Adam Jones of Tool and more, check out the June 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

Photo: Sam Ansari

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In a career that spans five decades, Alan di Perna has written for pretty much every magazine in the world with the word “guitar” in its title, as well as other prestigious outlets such as Rolling Stone, Billboard, Creem, Player, Classic Rock, Musician, Future Music, Keyboard, grammy.com and reverb.com. He is author of Guitar Masters: Intimate Portraits, Green Day: The Ultimate Unauthorized History and co-author of Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Sound Style and Revolution of the Electric Guitar. The latter became the inspiration for the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll.” As a professional guitarist/keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist, Alan has worked with recording artists Brianna Lea Pruett, Fawn Wood, Brenda McMorrow, Sat Kartar and Shox Lumania.