Dave Grohl & Stevie Nicks: The Old Dreams and New Realities of Rock and Roll
Nicks is a luddite. She readily admits—nay, announces—that she doesn’t have a cell phone, never visits the Internet and certainly doesn’t spend any time on social media platforms. This stance is something of a double-edged sword for her: On the one hand it has provided blinders for her to focus more intensely on her craft than some of her peers, while on the other, it has left her ill-equipped to discuss the merits of technologies such as Spotify. Indeed, much to Grohl’s amusement, I found myself struggling to explain what Spotify was to her. For Nicks, the digital age and, most notably, the Internet, have created a domino effect of irreparable damage to the music industry: Music piracy means record labels have less money to support artists, which means fewer budding bands get heard because the labels can’t afford to financially nurture them. And, don’t forget, albums sales from Fleetwood Mac’s catalog could still make the band good money if consumers were still buying physical records and CDs versus streaming them or “illegally” downloading them. The new paradigm in which Fleetwood Mac makes fractions of a cent through royalties every time one of their songs streams on a service like Spotify or Rdio is a reality she doesn’t care to invest herself in. For Grohl, living in a digital world is simply a fact of life. He emails. He posts funny YouTube videos. He tweets. With regard to the aforementioned digital technologies, he’s aware of their various functionalities and shortcomings but he seems generally unfazed by their existence. In this way and others, Grohl and Nicks share something of a common attitude: I’m a musician and I make music for a living. How it’s being disseminated doesn’t really matter. What is important is how it’s created and that people are hearing it, consuming it and experiencing it.
One of the main issues addressed in the film Sound City is analog versus digital. To a degree, it rails against computer-based programs such as Pro Tools. Toward the end, you have Trent Reznor’s perspective of how you can use digital technology as a tool versus a crutch. Is it also fair to say that Pro Tools has democratized the recording process in that a kid in their bedroom now has the ability to suddenly create professional sounding music? Isn’t that a good thing?
Dave: That conversation is misunderstood a lot [as is] Pro Tools’ place in the movie. Pro Tools and the accessibility of digital recording equipment—technology—is, without a doubt, one of the reasons why a studio like Sound City couldn’t survive. anyone can make a record at home. Nobody really needs a big old studio and a big old Neve [console] like Sound City had. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s inspiring that anyone can make a record at home. When I was 14 years old, if I had that laptop and that microphone and that program, I would have recorded a box set worth of music before I was 18. It would have been amazing. you know what I used to do, I had...
Stevie: Cassette to cassette to cassette to cassette—me too. 30 cassettes to cassette. It’s like ping pong.
Dave: A boombox and another boombox. you record your guitar on this cassette, practice it...
Stevie: Then you play along to that on this cassette, then flip that over, put the new cassette in. you keep going.
Dave: It sounds like a lot of trouble to go through.
Stevie: But it came out great because then it kind of mixed itself. you know what I do when I’m sequencing my records, I sequence from the CD onto a cassette.
Dave: That makes sense.
Stevie: I listen to it on my big-ass speakers and that’s how I sequence because that’s how it sounds amazing. Of course, it goes back to digital because I can’t do anything about it. But the sound of the cassette is so far superior to me.
Dave: I like the sound of cassettes, too.
Stevie: You go on the road [now] and [the record label] get[s] one extra room [where] they set all [the recording equipment] up. The fact is record companies can’t do much for you—your chance of getting a record deal is like a snowflake’s chance in hell. Getting anybody to help you or believe in you or not want to change you completely [is unlikely]. If you don’t have a hit single or if you do have a hit single and don’t have another one 15 minutes later, then you’re dumped, anyway— it’s like, well, maybe all this digital crap works. For us, the elite bands, we’re lucky because we can go on tour and make tons of money. But it’s [also] sad for us because we deeply would love for all these talented kids to be able to rise above and we would love to see a new Led Zeppelin come out of the wall. By the way, I’d really like to be in the buzzard group, too, just so you know.
Dave: The Vultures? [Them Crooked Vultures is a group consisting of Grohl on drums, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme on guitar and Alain Johannes, who’s played with the Queens, also on guitar. Founded in 2009, the group has released one record and looks to release a follow-up at some point in the future.]
Stevie: I just met John Paul Jones at the premiere of the [Led Zeppelin] movie [Celebration Day] and I’d never met him. I know Jimmy and Robert, but I’d never met John Paul Jones.
Dave: John’s cool.
Stevie: I fell in love with him.
Dave: He’s great; he’s a sweet dude.
Stevie: Oh my god, I want to be in that band.
Stevie: Watching him play in that movie, I had no idea. I never saw them live. [Fleetwood Mac] were always right ahead of them or right behind them. I never saw Led Zeppelin play. I was going to see them, I got sick, [and John Bonham] died. I didn’t get to see them. So I never realized how important [John paul] was until I saw that movie.
Dave: He was the sharpest tool in that shed.
Stevie: My god, he was. I kept telling [my assistant] Karen [Johnston], “Will you please remind me to tell Dave that I would really like to be the girl singer in that band?” Sorry, back to the other thing.
Dave: The wonderful thing about Pro Tools and digital recording technology is that it’s accessible and available to everyone—that’s awesome. The double-edged sword is that places like Sound City can’t necessarily survive. The whole sonic issue of digital versus analog, for me, goes out the window because I’m fucking deaf as a post. So if you were to A/B something that was analog and digital, I could probably tell you which was which, but ultimately, the thing that always bothered me the most about digital recording was the manipulation of performance. Once they realize, “Wow, the advantage of digital technology is you have all these ways that you can manipulate the performance. You can tune a vocal that’s out of tune, you can grid some drums that are out of time,” Things like that. That’s when people started [trying to] make it perfect. To me, that sucked a lot of the personality out of the music. When computers started showing up in studios, it took us a little while before we started using them, but everybody knew this was the future.
Stevie: It’s like Photoshop.
Stevie: Which is another thing I hate. It’s like photoshopping music.
Dave: And ultimately, it takes a lot of the personality out of the performance. It’s not the computer that makes these things happen. Computers don’t kill music; producers kill music.
Stevie: It’s the people.