Dave Grohl on His Film Tribute to the Studio That Gave the World Nevermind
At 606, the 44-year-old Grohl -- sporting distressed jeans, a gray hoodie and turquoise flannel, as well as his trademark dark beard and mustache -- acknowledges that he's nostalgic for Sound City "because the 16 days we spent there making Nevermind changed my life." He also wanted to make the film, he says, because he believes "that the room and the board of any studio is just as instrumental to the sound of an album as any of the instruments that are played on it."
"It's something that people don't take into consideration -- these old studios and these old rooms and these old desks have a life of their own," Grohl says. "And unfortunately, a lot of them are closing because they're obsolete. People don't need this board to make an album anymore. They can buy a digital recording device and do it at home. It's a lot more accessible and available than something like this."
Sound City is credited for pivotal moments in rock history: bringing Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham into Fleetwood Mac; serving as the proving ground for artists like Rick Springfield. It also was the recording site for Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Damn the Torpedoes, Pat Benatar's Crimes of Passion, Rage Against the Machine's self-titled album, Weezer's Pinkerton, Johnny Cash's Unchained and countless others that probably made it to your car stereo.
"There is a studio-nerd element to the movie that, as we were making it, I knew that any of my engineer friends were just going to get raging studio boners for this film," Grohl says. "But, of course, we wanted to broaden the appeal or the message so that everyone could relate to it somehow. Part of the intention of the film is to show people that music is a human practice or a process."
And thus the "human element" that Grohl is known for promoting. At last year's Grammy Awards, he famously said that making music is "not about being perfect, it's not about sounding absolutely correct, it's not about what goes on in a computer. It's about what goes on in [your heart] and what goes on in [your head]." He was lambasted by critics, including the Weekly's Dennis Romero, who wrote, "Pop has evolved with the help of technology, from Kraftwerk to Giorgio Moroder, Herbie Hancock to Radiohead. It's childish to blame the tools of the artist," adding, "... Grohl has been living off the ghost of rock & roll his entire career. People like Rick Rubin (who started a techno label in the mid-1990s), Tommy Lee and Diddy have long understood what the future holds."
Grohl responded with a letter, writing, "That thing that happens when a song speeds up slightly, or a vocal goes a little sharp. That thing that makes people sound like PEOPLE. Somewhere along the line those things became 'bad' things, and with the great advances in digital recording technology over the years they became easily 'fixed.' The end result? In my humble opinion ... a lot of music that sounds perfect, but lacks personality. The one thing that makes music so exciting in the first place." Grohl signed it Davemau5, a reference to electro/house music DJ and performer Joel Thomas Zimmerman, who's better known by his stage name, Deadmau5.
Today, he says,"I played on the last fucking Prodigy record. I'm no stranger to electronic music and the digital world of recording." Nor is Grohl immune to the addictively catchy power of Psy's "Gangnam Style," although this might be in part because his 3- and 6-year-old daughters know all the words and have made it hard for him to escape it. ("I also don't believe in guilty pleasures. ... Just fucking own it," he says.)
The Foo Fighters also played a show at Apple's unveiling of the iPhone 5 event (mind you, it was acoustic). A computer printout of a photo of Apple CEO Tim Cook showing Grohl the phone is taped up in the recording studio.
So technology isn't bad. But ...
"Because a human being hit the power button on their laptop and then made a song, is that the human element of music?" Grohl asks. "Where does it begin, where does it end?"
Plus, he says, easier doesn't always mean better.
"The last thing you want to do is tell your kids stories about how you walked to school in three feet of snow every day, or scream at kids to 'get off my fucking lawn,' " he says. "But at the same time, to appreciate the practice or craft of doing anything is healthy. Of course there's an easier way of doing everything, but really?"