Dave Grohl on His Film Tribute to the Studio That Gave the World Nevermind
By Whitney Friedlander
Sami Ansari Dave Grohl
The lobby of Dave Grohl's Northridge-based 606 Studios has a Joan Jett book on the coffee table and a row of classic arcade games like Donkey Kong Jr. against one wall. On top of a photo booth sits an iconic "Moonman" MTV Video Music Award, festooned with a roll of toilet paper around the MTV flag.
What it doesn't have on this chilly Thursday morning in January are helicoptering publicists or managers restricting access -- Grohl is unaccompanied as he heads into the studio for an interview. And he has no intention of avoiding controversial subjects.
Grohl is here to talk not about 606 but about another studio in the Valley. The Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer has made a documentary, Sound City, that's a tribute to the eponymous dingy yet magical Van Nuys analog studio where he, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic recorded Nirvana's breakthrough album, Nevermind, nearly 22 years ago. The film, which debuted at Sundance, is a meditation on how computer technology is changing the music industry today.
Sound City had red, shag carpet walls, a worn interior and miraculous acoustics, a huge selling point for drummers like Grohl. It was home to a custom-made Neve 8028 Console, which seemed to make everything come to life -- no need for digital aids like the now-ubiquitous ProTools software. Grohl so credits the console for his success that he bought it when the recording studio finally closed its doors in 2011. And for the three and a half decades before that, Sound City was the essence of "old-school," or, as former studio manager Shivaun O'Brien says in Grohl's film, "where real men went to make records."
A companion soundtrack, Sound City: Real to Reel, will be released in March. It features songs written and performed by Grohl and others who cut their teeth at the studio -- and some who didn't (cough, cough, Paul McCartney). The appropriately titled "Cut Me Some Slack" is the song McCartney recorded with the surviving members of Nirvana and which the newly formed group (dubbed "Sirvana" by the press) performed at 12-12-12 The Concert for Sandy Relief. And, yes, controversy ensued. Some critics labeled the performance an ill-timed promotional stunt for the film, but Grohl argues, "In those moments, I wasn't so worried about what people were going to think. I was more worried about trying to raise some money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy." Besides, he says, McCartney was the one who suggested they play it. Who was he to argue with a Beatle?