Going to 'Sound City'

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz

Dave Grohl Honors the Studio, Console That Helped Launch His Career


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Producer Butch Vig at the famous Neve console in Studio 606.

Producer Butch Vig at the famous Neve console in Studio 606.

Brown set up dozens of mics, to cover the ever-changing musical lineup. “The brief from Dave was, ‘Be ready for anything,’” he says. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to spend a ton of time getting sounds, so it became about creating a one-size-fits-all system. We had a drum kit miked, tuned and ready to set levels as soon as anyone picked up a pair of sticks; we had a bass cabinet miked and ready; we had four guitar stations with mics routed to tape and ready to slot in whatever amp we wanted; we had four live vocal mics; we made provisions for keyboards, ready to patch, and so on.”

In the preamp department: “The Sound City console took care of drum, bass and guitar recording; an extra 8-channel lunchbox of Neve 1073s took care of the vocals and acoustic guitar; and 16 channels of Pat Schneider custom preamps took care of keyboards and percussion,” Brown explains. “We also had a full backline rig in the live room with Ian Beveridge on hand to mix monitors, and a slew of Mackie headphone mixers waiting for balances to be dialed in if that was the preferred method of monitoring. We tried to be all things to all men and women.”

Brown miked live vocals with Shure Beta 58s. He says that, with wedge monitors in the room, he appreciated the 58s’ tight pickup pattern. “Those would go through a 1073 pre/EQ,” he says, “and then get compressed to tape using an Empirical Labs Distressor; I like that you can smash a vocal with it without it getting too sibilant.” For re-recording or overdubbing vocals, Brown says he would switch to a Bock 251 mic, also through a 1073 and to another Distressor or UREI Blackface 1176.

To capture the multitude of electric guitars, Brown says, “I like pairing a condenser with a ribbon; you have two very different, and two very complementary, sounds to blend, regardless of whether you need an amp to sit above or in a track. Two amp stations had a Josephson E22 and Royer R121 each; the third had a pair of Butch Vig’s RCA BK5 ribbons to cover harsher-sounding amps; the fourth, a pair of Shure SM57s. I also had a Sennheiser 421 on hand in case I wanted a more scooped tone. All of these mics were handled by the console preamps, and they would get some light limiting on their way to tape using UA LA3As.”

As would be expected of the talent roster on this project, the soundtrack recordings rock hard, with a lot of spontaneity and heart. “The McCartney/Nirvana session was a highlight for all of us; not just in a career sense, but in a life sense,” Brown says when asked about memorable moments. “How many people do you know who can tell their children they were in the room when the Mozart of our generation wrote a song?”

However, Grohl points out in the film that, to him, almost as important as the human element is the unsung hero of these sessions and so many others: the Neve 8028 console that Tom Skeeter paid twice the price of his own house for in 1972. Obtaining the Sound City Neve must have been bittersweet for Grohl; he’s one of many musicians who found it hard to say good-bye to the studio. But as long as he’s got that board, Sound City lives, in a way.

“I think they knew I wasn’t going to bubble-wrap it and stick it in a warehouse,” Grohl says in Sound City. “I was going to f--king use it. A lot.”

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