Q&A: Dave Grohl on His 'Sound City' Doc and Taking Risks in Music
After debuting his film Sound City – Real to Reel and his supergroup, the Sound City Players, at Sundance last week, Dave Grohl is finally ready to celebrate.
"Sundance was always our goal," he tells Rolling Stone. "If we could make the deadline, submit, get accepted, this is where we would premiere the movie. [Last year] we got trashed in a yurt up in the mountains and were like, if we come back, we're having the party here. That was exactly a year ago, and it actually fucking happened."
The Sound City Players are scheduled to play their next show in Los Angeles on January 31st, with other dates "coming soon in cool places," Grohl says. "The musicians have all really jumped on after the [Park City] show. I didn't know if Stevie [Nicks] was gonna be able to do New York, and after we did this she was like, 'I'm doing New York.'" Grohl says he'll keep crossing his fingers for an appearance from Paul McCartney.
Rolling Stone sat down with Grohl in a mountainside condo overlooking Park City and chatted with the drummer and first-time director about the Neve soundboard, sharing a stage with Lee Ving and why the film is the most important thing he's ever done.
I have a theory that Sound City is actually your memoir.
Well, it's framed with three guys from Seattle getting in a van.
The great thing about the Sound City story is that it's not just one story. I'm sure each one of these musicians would tell the story the exact same way. Their love for the studio, how important it was to them as a person, how that place changed their life, what technology has done to the way we make music and what technology has done to Sound City and the importance of the human element in making music. I bet you Neil Young and Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks and Rick Springfield could all make the same movie that I did. Because even in that introduction where I say, "We were just kids, we had these songs, and we had these dreams and we threw them in the back of a van," each one of those people can say the same thing.
I always had a strong connection to that studio because Nirvana wasn't meant to be the biggest band in the world. We just weren't. So when we went there for 16 days, we weren't making that album with the intention that we were going to change the fuckin' world. We just wanted it to sound good . . . The fact that what happened actually, happened, makes me think there's something a more than just wires and knobs in that place. Personally, I have a strong emotional connection to it.
Musically, there's something magical about that place, and when I heard that they were closing I thought, "I have a studio, I make records every day. If I could be reunited with this piece of equipment that I consider to be the best sounding board I've ever worked on and the board that's responsible for the person that I am, it would be a huge full-circle emotional reunion for me." And that's why I made the movie.
You sort of isolated the Neve, the soundboard, as the magic. Are there other elements that you think were also significant?
The room where everyone recorded, it used to be a warehouse. It's where they made Vox amplifiers. It was never acoustically designed, it was just a room. But for whatever reason, if you put a drum set in this one spot, it sounded incredible. I'm not an acoustic engineer, and I could never design a studio mathematically, because it's crazy what people go through to build these acoustically perfect rooms. But Sound City just happened. And the board and that room, those two things together. That's why everybody went there. And it wasn't planned.
How much did the aesthetic of the space affect the sound that came out of there?
Tons. You didn't feel like you were at the Mondrian. You didn't feel like you were in a laboratory – you felt like you were back to the garage where you started as a musician, and in a way it would remind you that the most important thing is how it sounds. And the most important thing is how it feels. It doesn't have anything to do with the glitz or the glamour – it's all about being badass and doing something real. And they never bought a Pro Tools rig because they thought, well, you can bring one in yourself.