"People think I am Amish or something," says Dave Grohl. He is sitting overlooking the snow-capped mountains of Deer Valley, Utah (US)— a long way from Amish country, but still pure, unspoiled and usually thuddingly silent. Grohl's laughter when it booms out — like now —is enough to start an avalanche warning.
"They do think I'm Amish," he re-asserts. "Because I've been so vocal in the analogue-versus-digital debate in the music industry, they think I won't go near any modern technology. And now I've made a film that supports making music on tape."
Grohl, 44, lives under many labels — Nirvana drummer, Foo Fighters frontman, Them Crooked Vultures founder, Godlike Genius, Nicest Man in Rock — so perhaps it was only a matter of time before he added "film director" to the collection. He says that he "never intended" to make a documentary about Sound City, the legendary Los Angeles recording studio that finally closed its doors in 2011. But Grohl is like a happy magnet, irresistibly drawing good people and good fortune to himself, by virtue of his infectious enthusiasm. If he had a tail, it would wag.
Sound City, which had its world premiere at Sundance in January, is made for music lovers — Rolling Stone called it "an exhilarating documentary about what makes life worth living". In it, Grohl narrates the rise and fall of the studio, which once birthed albums by artists like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Arctic Monkeys and Nirvana, who recorded Nevermind there. But Grohl wasn't just content with a music lesson. He also persuaded a host of big names, including Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Rick Springfield, to duet with him and shows the results at the end of the film. The songs are now being released.
Sound City, Grohl recalls, "was a very special place where musicians went to get a natural sound in order to create a performance vibe for their album. Even as kids in Nirvana, we were aware of its reputation. You'd go there, plug in and just go for it. They closed because they mainly did analogue recording, and that became out of date. But those 15 days I spent recording at Sound City with Nirvana changed my life. If we hadn't achieved that raw sound with Nevermind, we may never have sold that many albums, and the chances are I wouldn't be sitting here today.
"And that mixing console of theirs was as important to me as any band I've ever been in, and I was heartbroken when I heard the studio was closing. I said 'if you ever want to sell that mixing desk I'd love to have it.'" The film started as a tribute and went from there. Grohl moved the Neve console – one of the few in the world – into his own home in Los Angeles, "and then I invited a few friends to come and jam with me".
Thanks to a musical pedigree which includes spearheading the grunge movement, Grohl's "friends" are more high-profile than the average documentary maker's. "I am lucky in that I have a lot of friends in the music business, and they know that I am energetic and enthusiastic when it comes to playing. So I can say to Rick Springfield, 'dude, let's do a song together', and he'll come over."
Did he approach McCartney in the same breezy manner? Grohl guffaws. "Yeah, exactly those words." Of all the sessions captured in Sound City, McCartney's is the most interesting. Nirvana producer Butch Vig is at the mixing console, with Grohl and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic also present. It's like watching Macca take a personal training session. They coax a performance out of him until he sweats. The result is a track called — ironically — Cut Me Some Slack — McCartney at his most raw in years.
Other collaborations on the album are diverse; from Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor, and Slipknot's Corey Taylor to Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. Whilst Grohl's church is broad, it is fundamentalist — growing up in Springfield, Virginia, he played in bands from the age of 12, teaching himse