Although we’re still just getting into 2013, there’s no doubt that this year has been a successful one for Dave Grohl. With the release of his recent documentary Sound City and the corresponding album and live performances with the Sound City Players, Grohl’s name has appeared in headlines across the music industry for months.
On March 14, 2013, Grohl continued that streak as he kicked off the music portion of the South By Southwest Conference in Austin, TX as the keynote speaker. His address focused around the idea that each musician is unique, and that by acknowledging your own creative voice, you can create great music.
To support this, Grohl highlighted his own music career, starting with his first experiences attending rock shows where he discovered his passion for music. This passion would lead Grohl to experiment playing and producing music in his bedroom, the method which he demonstrated in the speech with the help of two cassette recorders, where he would mix his own songs through a tape recorder, playing each instrument separately and then re-recording the next instrument along with the previously recorded track.
“I was multi-tracking songs in my bedroom all by myself,” Grohl told the audience.
Through these first experiences mixing his own music (which he said was typically themed around his dog, his bike or his father), Grohl said he realized that creating his own music was a real possibility, and thus started his career in music.
Of course, Grohl talked about the years playing drums for Nirvana and his first time recording at Sound City, the studio that is now the star of his documentary film.
“I instantly understood Sound City’s legacy,” Grohl said. “That room, that old Neve board, captured something we never heard before…it was the sound of three people playing like their lives depended on it, who waited their whole lives to have this moment recorded on a reel of 2-inch tape.”
Grohl also discussed the death of Kurt Cobain and the impact it had on him.
“When Kurt died, I was lost. I was numb. The music that I had once devoted my life to had betrayed me,” he said. “I turned off the radio, I put away my drums. I couldn’t bear to hear someone else’s voice sing about pain, joy. It just hurt too much.”
But eventually, Grohl started feeling that itch to create music again, and he rented out six days at a studio to experiment again.
“I recorded 14 songs in five days, with one day to mix” he said. “I played every instrument, running from drums, to the guitar, to the coffee maker…Here I was again, left to my own devices…multi tracking all on my own. After all that had happened, deep down I was still the same kid who realized I could record my own album.”
Grohl said he made 100 tapes out of this experiment and labeled it “Foo Fighters” to give the illusion that it was a whole band playing, instead of just Grohl playing each part. This tape would later bring Grohl back into the music world, starting up the band with the same name.
Grohl ended his keynote with a plug for his documentary, and how it centered around the studio as well as the coexistence of new technology and the human element of music, and how even with all the new technology we have access to, musicians should still emphasize on that uniqueness of their own voices.
“What matters most is that it’s your voice,” he said. “Every human is blessed with at least that and who knows how long it will last.”
To watch Grohl’s whole keynote address, visit http://www.npr.org/event/music/173331505/dave-grohls-sxsw-2013-keynote-speech