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Sundance 2013: Dave Grohl's 'Sound City' Is a Love Letter to the Greats, Call to Arms for the Future

In his new movie about the famed Van Nuys recording studio, the drummer-turned-director goes beyond music and delves into something much deeper.

Sound City Grohl Directing - H 2013
Dave Grohl, right, and crew on the "Sound City" set

When Dave Grohl first sought out to make a film about Sound City Studios, a dilapidated recording studio in Van Nuys, Calif., he thought it would be a short film that would be distributed through YouTube. The final product ended up being a feature-length documentary that was less about the history of the studio and more about music’s inherently humanistic qualities and the role that this specific studio played in the production of that personalized sound.  

Since the Skeeter family opened the studio in 1969, music legends including Neil Young, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac had flocked to Sound City for its unique acoustics and its rare Neve mixing board, one of only a few ever made. In a press Q&A at Sundance, where the documentary premiered, the Foo Fighters frontman recounted the studio’s impressive clientele. “When we first decided to call out to the musicians to make the movie, I asked the head of the studio -- Tom Skeeter, the owner -- 'Can you give me a list of everyone that has recorded here?' And he just laughed.”

Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foreigner and Rick Springfield are merely a few of those who recorded at Sound City.

STORY: Dave Grohl's Sound City Players Tear It Up at Sundance

In 1991, Grohl was the drummer for a little trio from Seattle called Nirvana, who journeyed to L.A. to record their album Nevermind at Sound City. “I don’t know what would have happened if we recorded it at some other studio in the Valley," Grohl said. "It might not have sounded like Nirvana.”

With vast personal ties to the Sound City, Grohl was motivated to make the film when the studio closed in May 2011. “Sound City represented something to the small group of people that would frequent there," he said. "You know, it was really people that liked a nice, natural sound -- something that wasn’t manipulated, something that was real.”

The movie is not only a love letter to a studio that forged some of the greatest albums rock 'n' roll has ever known, it's also a call to arms.

“Making a movie about a dying studio and analog becoming obsolete, it can feel a little hopeless," Grohl said.

But he hopes that Sound City will inspire kids to look beyond the modern, digitized world of music and to seek out the tangible records of the bands that inspire them. While making the film, Grohl realized that “the appreciation of music will never go away, you just have to f---ing get it into their hands or their hearts, and that is where we started feeling like, 'Now we’re on a mission.' ”

STORY: Dave Grohl Sets L.A. Premiere For 'Sound City' Documentary

Sound City is scheduled for day-and-date theatrical and VOD release Feb. 1 via Variance Films. In reference to his documentary, Grohl had said, “If I sat here at this bar with you and had 16 beers and told you the story of Sound City, it would be an hour and 47 minutes long. It would be exactly what we showed in the film.”

He added, “What we set out to do was not only tell the history of the studio but explain what Sound City represented to us, which is celebrating the human element of music."