SinOmatic recalls Sound City days

“Sound City,” Dave Grohl’s documentary about the legendary southern California recording studio of the same name, earned about $180,000 in limited release in its first four days, and it was the top-selling documentary on Amazon.

I loved the movie. One constant in Grohl’s career has been his desire for collaboration – whether its his numerous side projects, his work with his idols or even sitting in with local band Love Turns Hate during the dedication of David Grohl Alley in 2009 – and the documentary captures his passion and his belief that something magical and unexpected can happen when a bunch of musicians get together in the same room to make music.

I did a full review of the documentary in my blog on the Tribune Chronicle’s website, but Warren native Grohl isn’t the only local connection to Sound City.

SinOmatic, a Trumbull County band signed to Atlantic Records in late 1999, recorded part of its 2001 major label release at the studio where Nirvana recorded “Nevermind,” Fleetwood Mac recorded its mid-’70s hits and Tom Petty recorded much of his catalog.

While Sound City was renowned for its custom-made Neve soundboard and its ability to capture drum sounds on tape, the studio itself was a dump, according to the movie, and SinOmatic guitar players Bryan Patrick and Rick Deak remembered it the same way in separate interviews.

“We’re paying a ton of money to be here and it’s … uh … not aesthetically nice,” Patrick said. “It was just funny. You’re standing in this room, and this studio that’s done very well, and no attempt has been made to make it look nice. It was like it was decorated it the day it opened with carpeting, a couch and ’70s paneling and they hadn’t done anything since.”

Deak, who plays locally with The Barflies and has been sharing some of his own music on Reverbnation, said, “It was pretty grungy. It definitely was a place that was lived in.”

But it lived up to its reputation for recording drums. That why producer Eric Valentine (who had produced platinum-selling albums for Third Eye Blind and Smash Mouth) picked the studio for the SinOmatic sessions.

“He took a kick drum and tried to find the sweet spot in the room,” Patrick said. “He would kick it, listen to it, hear what it’s doing in the room, and then he would move it a foot and do it all again until he found the sweet spot.”

“Doing drums is tedious,” Deak said. “It’s a lot of time setting up the drums, micing drums, tuning up the drums. Eric Valentine is a drummer himself, and he was very particular about the drums.”

In addition to SinOmatic drummer Matt Lawrence, Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle, Guns ‘N Roses, Sting) also played drums on some of the sessions, Deak said.

In a 2000 story when SinOmatic opened for Creed at Gund Arena, lead singer Ken Cooper talked about a Sound City engineer telling stories about Nirvana recording “Nevermind” there.

“This is the couch Kurt Cobain was shooting up on,” Cooper said he was told.

Patrick remembered the same stories.

“He told us, ‘I was at those sessions and they were no different than any other band. We didn’t realize they would be the biggest band of the ’90s. They were just another band using the studio’,” Patrick said.

Patrick, who owns Jungle Studio in Cleveland and occasionally still plays with Graphic Pink, said there were always famous people coming in and out of the building. Queens of the Stone Age was recording there at the same time as SinOmatic, and the two band shared a hangout room.

Both Deak and Patrick said they didn’t know much about the place before recording there, but the gold and platinum albums lining the walls provided a fast education. And Patrick said they recreated the back cover of Tom Petty’s “Wallflowers” album with Deak standing in the same spot in the studio with the same pose as Petty.

Both also gave the documentary thumbs up.

“I wish it was made before we recorded there,” Deak said. “It definitely inspired me to look for some of our old photos.”