If you look at the amount of groveling you might have to do and the royalties you would have to pay to sample the songs of rock greats like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Fear, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, the Foo Fighter’s and the Beatles in a widely distributed documentary playing in theatres, “Sound City” would be a producer’s nightmare. Imagine paying for the songs and enticing their respective artists to star in your film? Even more unlikely, right?
But that’s not a problem if the producer is Dave Grohl — the Foo Fighters’ and Nirvana’s drummer. Grohl, who paid more than $75 thousand for Neve’s signature recording board, uses that piece of equipment to sign big name rock stars, including Paul McCartney, to appear in his documentary, “Sound City.” The 108-minute documentary narrates the rise and fall of Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Calif., throughout the 1970s to 2000s.
Sound City Studios is a dump, producers, studio managers and band members repeat again and again. “I would say you could piss in the corners and no one would complain,” producer Joe Barresi says.
But besides the fact the studio smells like beer, it has character. It’s the kind of place where Barry Manilow would pull up in his beat-up, run-down car with cops trailing him during the ’70s. It’s the kind of place where band members were half in love with the studio’s secretary, Paula Salvatore, asking her to sing backup vocals in their songs. It’s the kind of place that stubbornly recorded on analog tapes rather the emerging digital technology formats of the ’80s to present day. The place that’s saturated in history — from the records on the walls to the people who trudged through its doors.
Although “Sound City” offers insights into the character of the studio, the documentary becomes an extended commercial for “Sound City: Real to Reel,” Grohl’s collaborative CD with other artists who also attributed their success and stardom to the Van Nuys studio. With each person saying the same thing sound bite after sound bite, his or her words become redundant, making the film sound like an expensive public relations feature with a rocking soundtrack. While rock ‘n’ roll fans will appreciate Grohl’s tribute to the birthplace of Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog” to Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” others will see the documentary as just noise.