Mr. Grohl’s Cabinet of Wonder

(Photo by Nathaniel Wood)
(Photo by Nathaniel Wood)

By Chris Martins
Spin
Wednesday, February 20 2013

With the wild-eyed exuberance of a teenaged obsessive, Dave Grohl continues his quest for the ultimate Rock Supergroup, and along the way, tells the remarkably intimate tale of a legendary recording sanctum and its sacred totem – the Neve 8028 console. And oh yeah, Stevie Nicks stops by to sit a spell.

So, this happened: Stevie Nicks, microphone in hand, accompanied by Dave Grohl on acoustic guitar, performs “Landslide” to a packed house in Park City, Utah, while snow banks pile up against the building’s outward-facing walls, as if stretching to see inside, only to wither into water at Nicks’ heart-melting voice.

In honor of his Sound City documentary on the Van Nuys, California recording studio of the same name, first-time director, former Nirvana drummer, and full-time Foo Fighter Dave Grohl had called forth, on this brisk night, his incredibly star-studded new band the Sound City Players — including everyone from Stevie Nicks to Rick Springfield to Slipknot’s Corey Taylor. In honor of the Sundance Film Festival, they played for three-and-a-half hours straight, with Grohl onstage the entire time, usually backed by the Foos.

“Can you imagine?” gushes Grohl the next morning in the guts of the Park City Library, where his film is presently screening. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that in one evening I’d play Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’ with John Fogerty, Fear’s ‘Beef Bologna’ with Lee Ving, and Masters of Reality’s ‘Blue Garden’ with Chris Goss. It was like my ultimate mixtape.” Pause. “Live.” Pause, now quickly: “And I’m in the band.”

In most cases, the concept of “living the dream” has been reduced to a garishly tawdry, ubiquitous vision — a Cribs episode, a Mötley Crüe memoir, a sex tape. But Grohl’s dream is still flush with the cheek fat of youth, imbued with the bong water of a thousand high-school rips while others were doing homework, light on excess (sex, drugs), heavy on awesome (loud music), and built around a music geek’s teenage bucket list. It’s basically a rock’n’roll fantasy camp.

“I love to play,” he says, shifting his six-foot frame on the small couch like he hasn’t figured out what to do with this man-body. “And fortunately, I don’t know a lot of musicians that suck. I know a bunch of really good ones and they’re always up for playing.”

But Grohl is clearly the only reason that the smoky voice of Fleetwood Mac and the guy who refined the SoCal desert rock sound are sharing a Sundance stage. What’s more, his ability to pull off such a strange feat has everything to do with his impossible enthusiasm, which is always saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to whatever comes along, regardless of possible payout. Dave Grohl is as Dave Grohl does.

All of this began when he discovered that Sound City was closing up shop. Having recorded Nevermind there in 1991, he not only felt nostalgic for the funky old place, but knew of its most beguiling charm: the Neve 8028 console, a rare and powerful sound board that had offered its warmth to Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album, six Tom Petty albums, Ronnie James Dio’s Holy Diver, Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut, Tool’s Undertow, Weezer’s Pinkerton, etc. Grohl asked after the gear and won the bid.

He got the idea to make a short clip documenting the Neve’s journey from its original home to his own Los Angeles-area Studio 606, so he called his pal Jim Rota, a producer who helped manage workloads for the Narnia films, and Rota pulled together a skeleton crew to get the job done. And they did. When Rota got home, he says he received a text from Dave: “I think we need to interview some of the people who recorded on this thing.” By the next morning, Grohl had outlined a feature-length documentary in a sketchbook.

“He didn’t just write one e-mail and BCC everyone,” says Rota by phone. “He wrote each person individually explaining his vision for the movie and asking them to do an interview. Every single person wrote back saying they were in. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the e-mails would come in, and he’d be like, ‘Holy shit! Neil just said yes! Eddie Vedder is in! Holy shit! Rick Springfield!’“

The more they dug, the more stories they discovered: Mick Fleetwood first met Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham at the studio; Springfield met his wife working behind the front desk; the first Heartbreakers jam happened there. Those who recorded at Sound City loved the place for both its quality sound and unsound qualities. In the film, musician after musician describes it as a dump, a shithole, an ashtray, a piss pot. At one point, producer/exec Jimmy Iovine is seen telling Petty, “Somebody should firebomb the place.”

The first 60 minutes of Sound City lovingly chronicles the unlikely hit-making haven, in part as an allegory about the demise of analog methods and person-to-person music-making. But rather than dive too deep into the shallow end of the authenticity pool — per his 2012 Grammys EDM rant — Grohl uses the final 30 minutes to show rather than tell. He has several of the film’s subjects over to his studio where he plays Lord of the Jam, demonstrating the might of skilled humans doing things in a small room with other skilled humans.

The Nicks session is impressive and the Trent Reznor-Josh Homme-Grohl mindmeld is transcendent, but the crown jewel, as everyone knows, is the part where Nirvana’s surviving members — Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic, and touring guitarist Pat Smear — reunite with Paul McCartney at the helm and grind out some “Helter Skelter” gnarl, which becomes the song “Cut Me Some Slack.” (All of this is available on the Sound City — Real to Reel album.) There’s a great bit toward the end where Grohl says, “Why can’t it always be this easy?” and McCartney quips, “It is.”

“You can do no wrong when you’re making music with that guy, because anything goes,” says Grohl. “What I find in jamming with people from that generation is that they’re a lot more loose when it comes to vibe. They appreciate the energy of something chaotic. You look at Paul and think, ‘Wow, well, he’s obviously brilliant and he’s a master of melody and has made some incredibly delicate music.’ But he’ll strap on that Cigfiddle guitar through a tiny distorted amp and do a raging slide solo that sounds like a jet airliner.”

But it didn’t end there. While the so-dubbed “Sirvana” went on to play the 12-12-12 concert for Hurricane Sandy relief and Saturday Night Live to boot, the star-studded Sound City Players took shape, debuting in Park City, hitting up L.A. and New York, with plans to play London, Berlin, Sydney, and possibly Austin. Grohl knows he’s asking a lot of everyone involved, but “yes” is apparently contagious.

(Photo by Nathaniel Wood)
(Photo by Nathaniel Wood)

Asked what he likes about Grohl, Sound City’s producer Rota unwittingly explains what everybody likes about his friend: “In high school, there’s the guy who gets excited over sports and then there’s that dude who when you’re listening to ‘Achilles Last Stand’ by Led Zeppelin air drums the fills perfectly. That’s Dave. He’ll stop mid-conversation, slap you on the arm and then drum, to perfection, whatever is playing. That’s a certain kind of dude. Plus, he likes to drink beer and listen to music really loud. People horde together by their passions. If yours is giving a shit what amp somebody used on an album, you hang out with Dave.”

“Are we getting that shirt?” says a shrill voice not once, but twice. “Are we getting that shirt?” The red carpet for Sound City’s Sundance premiere is a tented, bifurcated runway of chaotic bustle with the stars passing through at their leisure while the other half of the makeshift reception hall is a roiling bolus of reporters with their cameras and microphones and stupid hats vying for attention. My tiny recorder captures the fibrillations of two such people all too faithfully.

“Is that Stevie Nicks?” says one. “Oh my God, I’m gonna die,” says the other one. “My mother-in-law is going to too-tahl-leee fuhh-reeek out.” Like the following night’s concert, we witness a veritable smörgåsbord of radness and unlikelihoods. To wit, here’s Nicks, in a fur coat with sunglasses: “I never want to be a movie star; it’s not in my veins. But this is all very fun.” Fear frontman “Lee Fucking Ving” (as indicated by a strip of masking tape on his jacket lapel) speaks eloquently on the “heart and soul” that went into the production. Rick Springfield mistily recalls some studio memories, his wife standing a few paces behind him. Corey Taylor from Slipknot is a bundle of charisma, hopping from mic to mic to talk about his experiences with ghosts (he’s writing a book). Chris Goss simply looms like the desert-rock ghoul that he is.

Then, in comes Novoselic. “I get a call from Dave: ‘Krist, do you want to play with Paul McCartney?’ And I live in Washington, so I’m like, ‘Dude, I’d walk there.’ Paul shows up and he starts doing this badass slide guitar, so I did this old grunge bass trick where I tuned the E string down to a D to get that rattly sound. Dave is on the drums, Pat is playing and we’re making all kinds of sounds and then we had a song! It was magical how it came together.” He repeats proudly, “We had a new song.”

Would he hit the studio with the old gang again? “I might be open. I’m always willing to play. I want to make a lot more music this year.” Smear has arrived too and also seems happy to be anywhere. Does he object to the words “Nirvana reunion,” asks one reporter. “Nah, I don’t care what you call it. I’d do it either way.” He’s soft-spoken, smiley and looks like one of Fred Armisen’s middle-aged Portlandia peaceniks. “So if Dave calls, you’re there?” asks the reporter. “Yeah!” Nearvana attained?

His rock’n’roll justice league assembled, Grohl appears just in time to be ushered through the swarm by a Sundance official. But the grinning grand poobah leaves himself enough time to drop Sound City’s thesis, reimagined as a call to arms: “Buy a fucking guitar at a garage sale and start a band with your neighbor and if everybody is as passionate as I am about this, there will be a wave of radical garage bands!”

Amen, Brother Dave.

“I think it really started with Queens of the Stone Age,” says Grohl, back in L.A., far from the blinding white snow, surrounded by manly hues. The office of his movie company, Roswell Films, is stocked with hides and leather furniture, plus lined with classic Sound City LPs and the aroma of coffee. I’d asked him when, exactly, it was that he became the Supergroup Guy. Circa 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, he guesses. Makes sense he’d return to the desert for QOTSA’s new one.

“The musicians that move in and out of that band are all really inspiring. We’re conditioned to think that bands are a specific combination of people and that you can’t deviate from that. The Beatles or U2 or whatever. Simon and Garfunkel.” Beat. “But that’s not as much fun as it is to be a total musical whore and jam with everyone… Nick Oliveri is one of the best bass players I’ve played with in my entire life, solid as a rock. Josh Homme is a creative mastermind with a wicked sense of improvisation. [Mark] Lanegan is just… Lanegan. That record let me stretch my wings and do stuff I had never done before. Nirvana was such a meat-and-potatoes band that I was basically playing disco drums. A lot of the drum fills I did I took from Cameo and the Gap Band. I’m not kidding.”

He lifts his elbows and air-drums a fill like Rota said he would, mouthing “crack-uhn-crack-uhn-crack-uhn-crack.” Unsurprisingly, he also says collaboing with QOTSA reminds him of the older kids he looked up to as a Virginia youth — high school burnouts who lived in 420-friendly communal jam dens stocked with shitty drums, basses, and guitars. At Friday’s show, he relayed a familiar anecdote about how for his 13th summer, he and his sister moved in with family in Illinois, and he discovered his raison d’être.

“My cousin came down the stairs and she was suddenly punk rock,” he told the audience. “She played me a record, The Record, by Fear, and that changed my life. It made me want to be a musician.” Now it occurs to him that one of his biggest influences was a music documentary — L.A. punk paean The Decline of Western Civilization — which not only featured Ving, but made music-making less daunting and fueled Grohl’s zeal for the spirit of collaboration.

After his staggering performance on the Queens record (not to slight Tenacious D’s debut LP) reminded the ear-having world that, oh yeah, dude is still a monster drummer, the calls came in. Killing Joke. Nine Inch Nails. Garbage. And when he realized what he was capable of, Grohl made the Probot record (2004), wrangling his favorite metal singers (Lemmy, Wino, Snake, Cronos) from his salad days as a teenage hesher.

Plus, with the Foo Fighters…wait, how have we not mentioned the Foo Fighters? Oh, because you can talk to Grohl all day about all manner of projects and forget that he’s not only the puppet-master-slash-pulse-pounding beat-keeper to a dozen concurrently active rhythms, but that he also has a highly functioning full-time group who’ve made a respectable seven albums in 18 years and have done strange things like record with Norah Jones.

(Photo by Nathaniel Wood)
(Photo by Nathaniel Wood)

“I’m the luckiest person in the world because everybody in the band is so talented and ready to go,” he says. “So when I call and say, ‘Hey, I know that we’re taking a break right now, but we need to learn 50 songs in the next 10 days and we’re gonna do shows all over the world,’ they just go, ‘Okaaaaay.’“

Oh, and Them Crooked Vultures. Yeah, that too. 2009. Dave Grohl. Josh Homme. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. We’re out of breath. Please, Dave, say something.

“What am I trying to prove?” That’ll do. “Why am I doing this to myself? I think my wife [Jordyn Blum] has asked me that question a million times. I don’t know. My mother was a public school teacher for 35 years and she got up at five in the morning and went to sleep at fucking 11 at night her entire life and didn’t complain once.”

In each of our two talks, Grohl references a shitty job that he doesn’t have to do anymore. In Utah, it’s “pushing a wheelbarrow around to build someone’s patio that they’re just going to walk on and never going to think about.” In L.A., it’s working “at that furniture warehouse.” He’d rather produce an EP for Swedish metal enigmas Ghost or direct a Soundgarden video (“By Crooked Steps”) any day of the week, and the reason he can do all this owes, in no small part, to the studio that gave birth to Nevermind.

Grohl’s is the first voice you hear in the film:

“We were just kids with nothing to lose and nowhere to call home. But we had these songs, and we had these dreams, so we threw it all in the back of an old van and started driving. Our destination? Sound City.”

He doesn’t need to say who “we” are. We know. Dave Grohl. Krist Novoselic. Kurt Cobain. Like, Nirvana. For his next bit of narration, he transforms our nostalgia for a thing we never witnessed, but whose reverberations we so wholly felt, into a reminder of not just how fleeting the innocence of youth can be, but also how fickle fame and fortune and favor and, yes, life itself so often are.

“When you’re young, you’re not afraid of what comes next. You’re excited by it. We were driving a van that could break down any moment, going on tours that could be cancelled at any moment, and playing music with people who could disappear at any moment. We had no idea that the next 16 days were gonna change everything.”

I ask him what he’d tell that young Dave who didn’t yet know anything about the everything that was to come.

“Oh God, I don’t know,” he smiles. “I wouldn’t change a fucking thing. There are certain obvious things that I regret, of course.” He pauses. “I regret that we didn’t take any fucking pictures of the making of that album. I think we had three photos and we used all of them in the movie. Nobody cared. You know, when I was young and in Nirvana, before we made the album and after it came out, I wasn’t very relaxed. I was super hyperactive.”

Ahem.

“I know,” he laughs. “I’m happy that I have my family, and I’m happy that I had Virginia, where I grew up, to retreat to any time I felt overwhelmed. Whenever there were times when I felt like the rug was being pulled out from under me and I was floating in this crazy space, I would stop and go back to that neighborhood and realize nothing’s changed, really. The world hasn’t changed and I’m the same person, I think. But I don’t know.”

But he is older now — 44 as of January 14. He’s married with two daughters: Harper Willow, 4, and Violet May, 7. He spent the previous Sunday with Violet eating pizza and watching Lord of the Rings films, which he enjoyed immensely. He’s aware of his legacy and the wider world that he’s a part of — otherwise Sound City couldn’t exist — and if Novoselic and Smear seemed a little bit moony on the red carpet, they weren’t alone.

“You know, as people, as friends,” says Grohl, “our history together is pretty deep. We’ve been to weddings together, we’ve been to funerals together. We’ve been through incredible highs and incredible lows. That comes out when you pick up an instrument and play with each other. Your personal history is a part of what happens with your hands and your head as you play music. So when I look up at Krist bouncing around the stage and I’m beating the shit out of my drums, it’s hard not to remember and reminisce. You look up and smile, like, ‘Oh my God, first of all, we survived, but also we’re still playing.’ It’s like getting back together with an old girlfriend, but minus the drama. It’s fucking great.”

There are easier ways to tell a coupla friends that you miss them than bringing in a guest Beatle, closing out a massive benefit concert, booking SNL, and flying them to some of the world’s most historic cities. But Grohl’s got his living dream to uphold — you wouldn’t expect him to send a card, would you?

“To be honest, it sounds so stupid, but this is one of my greatest insecurities,” he admits. “I try to keep my head above water because I’m afraid if I stop, I’ll sink. I start to think, ‘Oh no, I’m in everybody’s face too much, I gotta go away!’ And then, ‘No, don’t go away! They’ll forget who you are!’ It doesn’t make any sense, because at the end of the day, if it all stopped now, I would be completely happy. I’d still have to play, but if this were it, then fuck it, that was great.”

But that’s not it, of course. He rattles off his upcoming commitments: reviewing the video content for the L.A. concert; hosting Chelsea Lately for a week in which he’ll interview both Nas and Elton John; holding a Reddit AMA as if he hasn’t faced enough questions from a double-barrel of music and film press; bringing his Sound City Players to New York the following week; and delivering the keynote address at the SXSW conference in March, where he also hopes to throw another show.

“I’m just trying to get there,” he says, feigning an exhausted eye-roll. But he loves it and I know it because he hasn’t actually finished his sentence yet and it’s going to end like this: “…because I’m already getting inspired to make the next Foo Fighters record.” Now he does pause, like an exuberant high-schooler who’s just realized that he’s shared too much, tipped his hand too far to maintain cool, so he does the next best thing — he owns it. Dave Grohl shrugs and then says, “I’m a spazz, man.”

Foo Fighters, Stevie Nicks, Slipknot and Nirvana members play Sound City gig

Stevie Nicks with Dave Grohl's Sound City Players, 1/31/13 (Photo: PA)
Stevie Nicks with Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players at the Hollywood Palladium, 1/31/13 (Photo: PA)

The gig followed the LA premiere of Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary
NME
Friday, February 1, 2013

Photo: Photo: PADave Grohl’s Sound City Players last night (January 31) played a three-and-a-half hour set at The Palladium in Hollywood — watch footage from the gig below.

The all-star gig, which comprised 38 songs, followed the Los Angeles premiere of Sound City, Dave Grohl’s directorial debut. The film concerns the studio of the same name in Van Nuys, California, in which a host of classic albums were made. Joan Jett, Nikki Sixx, Butch Vig and No Doubt’s Tony Kanal were all in attendance, as were all of the performers at the Sound City Players show.

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine, Rick Springfield, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear of Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age collaborator Alain Johannes were among the performers on the evening. Foo Fighters played for much of the set, acting as a defacto backing band.

The show was split into sections, which each guest musician playing around four songs, including classic tracks and their contributions to the Sound City soundtrack. Each mini-set was introduced with clips from the Sound City film.

The evening started with Alain Johannes, who included Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Hanging Tree’ in his set. During the opening songs, Dave Grohl told the crowd at the sold-out gig: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna be here for a while, just so you know.”

The next guest musicians were Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine and Chris Goss of Masters of Reality, who played their contribution to the ‘Sound City: Real To Reel’ soundtrack, ‘Time Slowing Down’.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were joined by Grohl on drums for ‘Red Eyes and Tears’ and ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll’, with bassist and singer Robert Levon Been saying: ‘Its a great honour to be here and share the stage with these people.”

Next up was Lee Ving of punk band Fear, who played the specially composed ‘Your Wife Is Calling’, backed by Foo Fighters, including Taylor Hawkins on drums and Pat Smear on guitar, as well as 1978’s ‘I Love Livin’ In The City’.

Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana were the next batch of artists, playing a host of Cheap Trick numbers, including ‘Hello There’, ‘Surrender’ and ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, with Taylor on lead vocals.

Rick Springfield played ‘Love Somebody’ before ending with his classic 1981 hit, ‘Jessie’s Girl’, backed by Foo Fighters, much to Grohl’s obvious delight.

John Fogerty joined the Foo Fighters for a host of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, including ‘Travelin Band’, ‘Born On The Bayou’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’, ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Fortunate Son’, the latter of which he shared vocal duties on with Grohl.

Speaking about the musicians playing, Fogerty pointed at Dave Grohl and said that as well as having all recorded in Sound City, “What we got in common is we all love that guy right there.”

Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks was the final guest musician, performing ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, with Grohl filling in Tom Petty’s role. She sang new song ‘You Can’t Fix This’, from the soundtrack, which she told the crowd was about her late 18-year-old godson, who last year died of an overdose at a frat party. “In our day, we made a pact not to dance with the devil,” she explained before the track. (Editor’s note: Stevie’s godson is her former manager Glen Parrish’s son.)

Nicks also sang Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ and ‘Landslide’. The evening came to a close with a near-10 minute version of ‘Rumours’ track ‘Gold Dust Woman’ — watch footage of it below.

Sound City review: Rock’s hallowed hall

By Walter Addiego
San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sound City Documentary. Directed by Dave Grohl. (Not rated. 107 minutes.)

What drew several generations of now-famous rock ‘n’ rollers to the Sound City recording facility wasn’t its unchic location in Van Nuys, nor the crummy building that housed it, and certainly not the awful decor of the studio itself (including shag carpeting on the walls).

The attractions were first-rate technology in the form of an expensive recording console designed by the much-lauded British electronics engineer Rupert Neve, and acoustics that, apparently by accident, had a highly desirable effect on drum sounds.

Soon after the studio opened in 1969, a couple of unknown performers, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, recorded an album there that drew the attention of Mick Fleetwood. Neil Young used the studio for “After the Gold Rush.” The floodgates were opened, and many big stars came to Van Nuys: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Rick Springfield were among Sound City’s eventual clients.

Of all the studio’s aficionados, perhaps the most smitten was Dave Grohl, who recorded there both as a member of Nirvana and with his own band, Foo Fighters. “Sound City” is Grohl’s first effort at filmmaking, and if it doesn’t break any ground as a documentary, it’s a heartfelt testament to a place he considers among the most hallowed halls of rock.

Grohl is such a fan of Sound City that, when it closed, he bought the Neve console and installed it in his own studio. He’s unearthed lots of fascinating archival footage and has gotten quite a few top names to talk at length: Young, Petty, Nicks and Springfield in particular are given major camera time.With sadness, Grohl recounts how the arrival of software like Pro Tools meant that anyone could achieve at least somewhat professional recording results at a very low cost, and the clock was ticking on analog dinosaurs like Studio City. Though the filmmaker is no fan of digital recording, he does allow one of the technology’s well-known supporters, Trent Reznor, to make a case for it.

The film ends with footage of some new material that’s been recorded on the Neve, including an impressively raw number, “Cut Me Some Slack,” featuring Grohl with two former Nivana colleagues, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic, and one of Grohl’s mega-heroes, Paul McCartney.

Walter Addiego is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: waddiego@sfchronicle.com

Copyright 2012 San Francisco Chronicle

‘Sound City’: Dave Grohl Makes You Come For The Studio, Stay For The People

By David Bauder
Huffington Post
Thursday, January 31, 2013

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Rock musician Dave Grohl set out to make a recording studio the subject of his first-ever film. He was intrigued not only by the studio but by a specific piece of recording equipment — a 1970s era sound board – that captured every note of music made there.

Geek city, right? It sounds like an idea any sane moviegoer would run from.

Instead, “Sound City” offers a colorful piece of music history, a candid examination of changes wrought by technology and a defiant statement about not surrendering the human element in creativity. Grohl’s rookie film made it to the Sundance movie festival, is being released theatrically Friday and is accompanied by an album featuring artists he interviewed.

“It honestly was more like a keg party with a camera than making a Hollywood film,” he said.

Grohl knew nothing about the Sound City studio in Van Nuys, Calif., when he and fellow Nirvana members Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic booked a session to make “Nevermind” in 1991. Their California record company wanted Nirvana nearby to keep an eye on them and time at Sound City was cheap.

It was in a nondescript neighborhood and looked like a dump, with tired shag carpeting. Then Nirvana noticed all the gold records on the wall from artists who had recorded there: Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Van Halen, REO Speedwagon, Guns `n Roses, Neil Young, Cheap Trick, Slayer, Rick Springfield and more.

After plugging in their instruments and running through “In Bloom,” Grohl and his mates discovered why. The sound, to their ears, was amazing. Nirvana had never been captured with such clarity and power before.

“You might have never heard of Nirvana if we had recorded in Hollywood with a fancy producer who made us sound like Def Leppard,” he said. “The fact that that (sound) board made us sound like us is what people appreciated. To be reunited with it, honestly, it was like meeting your real parents for the first time.”

Sound City owners bought the recording console designed by British engineer Rupert Neve for $76,000 at a time many houses cost half that. When Grohl inquired about buying it a few years ago, the studio operator then suggested she’d rather sell her grandmother. But Sound City closed and Grohl’s wish came true (he won’t say what he paid for it). The console is now in a studio that Grohl and his band, Foo Fighters, operate in the North Ridge section of Los Angeles.

Sound City became a hot studio after the modern incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was essentially born there, and Grohl’s film includes vintage footage of a young Petty with his Heartbreakers.

“It was our home away from home,” said Stevie Nicks. She recorded “Buckingham Nicks,” her album with then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham, at Sound City, and met her current backup singer there in 1972. Nicks and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac soon after, and the album that propelled the band to stardom was made on the Neve console.

Seeing Grohl’s movie, and the memories that came flooding back, made her cry, Nicks said.

Sound City struggled in the mid-1980s because technology led artists elsewhere, until Nirvana made it a mecca for a new generation. Now technology is so good that people can essentially record alone in their bedrooms, and they do. That doomed Sound City and many other studios.

As Mick Fleetwood says in “Sound City,” just because you can record by yourself doesn’t necessarily make it a great idea.

“When you get four different people, four different personalities, four different players in a room – that combination equals magic,” Grohl said. “You can get the Beatles and you can get the Rolling Stones and you can get AC/DC. That happens because of people’s imperfections and bad habits. That’s what gives music personality, and that’s what I think is exciting about music.”

Grohl spoke while sitting in his studio, in a room filled with guitars and overlooking the sound board he reveres. Homework assignments of songs to learn for an upcoming Sundance appearance were listed on a sheet of paper for when Foo Fighters arrived later in the day, including some by Nicks and John Fogerty. “Can you believe it?” Grohl said. “I’m singing `Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ with Stevie Nicks!”

There’s no hiding the excited kid in Grohl’s eyes when the film depicts him, Novoselic and Pat Smear jamming with Paul McCartney in the same studio. The collaboration resulted in a song, “Cut Me Some Slack,” that they performed publicly at the Sandy benefit and on the new album.

Many people have wrongly interpreted his film to be anti-technology, Grohl said. “I’m not Amish,” he said, noting he uses advanced recording equipment all the time. “Sound City” interviews Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor as an example of a technical wizard who still benefits from collaborations.

“The intention was to inspire people to fall in love with the human element and the human process of making music,” he said. “A lot of kids only hear music on their video games. A lot of kids only see singing contests on television. They don’t know that you can buy a (lousy) guitar at a garage sale, and sit in your garage with your neighbor and write a song by yourself and suck. And then become the biggest band in the world. It happens that way.”

Grohl’s 6-year-old daughter recently asked her dad to listen to her play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the violin. It sounded like someone strangling a goose while scratching nails down a chalkboard, he said.

To his daughter’s ears, it was beautiful music.

Judging by “Sound City,” it was to Grohl’s, too.