The mild-mannered, soft-spoken demeanor of David Chase belies stereotypes about a man who created one of the most exciting and violent pop culture phenomenons of all time, television’s “The Sopranos.”
During a recent interview in Boston, Chase sat with his hands and legs often crossed, pondering his answers before vocalizing them. It’s an unexpected demeanor coming from a man who spent eight years writing out gangster-laced tales of both morality and mortality for HBO.
When Chase did begin to light up in conversation, it was regarding the music of his youth; the rock ’n’ roll revolution that outlined his late teens and early 20s, and eventually led to the crafting of his directorial debut, “Not Fade Away.”
Now in his late ‘60s, Chase is delivering his long-awaited, big-screen debut about a young adult named Doug (John Magaro), who tries to form a rock band during this very eventful period in music history.
Chase recently sat down to discuss the generous background of music that is the driving force behind his film, the passion that fueled its creation, what creativity means to him, and why his generation of music is simply the best, no contest.
Eagle Tribune: So million dollar question: Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
David Chase: (Straightfaced) Both.
ET: You can’t choose?
DC: I mean, I really like them both. I find myself listening to the Stones more. There’s more there — more albums. But I really love them both.
ET: Fair enough. So it’s easy to see that music is important to the film. I was wondering throughout the film, how much of the budget was music rights? The soundtrack is just the ultimate mix tape.
DC: About 15 to 20 percent.
ET: So it was really important to you making this movie about the music? Or more about the people inspired by it?
DC: I really wanted to do a movie about the music. I love the music from that period. I didn’t want it to be about the personalities from the period, but first and foremost about the music they are trying to learn. I wanted to make a movie about all the people who have tried to make real life rock ’n’ roll bands and failed. And there are a lot of us.
ET: Does this include yourself?
ET: So how much of the film is autobiographical?
DC: A lot of it’s personal, but not really autobiographical. I guess the stuff with the father is.
ET: James Gandolfini does a great job in that role. How important was it for you to illustrate that father/son relationship between Doug and his father?
DC: There was a really disconnect those days between that generation of parents and their children. After they had done so much for their children, and had such high hopes, to see them turn so aggressive towards the middle class way of life, must have been very painful.
ET: That idea of family seemed pretty prevalent in “The Sopranos” also.
DC: Maybe this is the theme of “The Sopranos” too, but I really feel that this movie states a basic human dilemma or conflict of interest, which is the pull of security versus the pull of freedom. We all want to be part of something, be part of a family, have a place we can go back to where it is warm, and people open the door for us to give us a hug, and all that. At the same time, we want to be lone individuals — in charge of our own destiny, and nobody can tell us what to do or who we are or define us. And those two things are constantly pulling, and that’s what I see in this film in terms of the family dynamic.
ET: The film also seems to be a lot about art itself. Doug goes from music to eventually studying film. Was this a big part for you?
DC: To me the story is about a guy who, maybe he doesn’t become a rock ’n’ roll star or a rock ’n’ roll artist, but he becomes an artist of a kind. Rock ’n’ roll is his gateway into the whole thing of creativity and the art world.
ET: So what appeals to you about movies and music?
DC: You can read a book and you can put the book down and come back two days later. You can look at a painting, stop looking at it, go away and look at something else then come back. But music and movies, theoretically, to really get it you need to start at the beginning, go through it, and then it comes to an end. And I just think it’s interesting that the two are so… I believe it was Stanley Kubrick who said that movies are a lot more like music than they are literature. And I just love that.
ET: Going back to the music. You have Steven Van Zandt (Little Stevie) and Max Weinberg of the E Street band helping out on the soundtrack and original music for the film. How big was that involvement?
DC: (Stevie and I are) close friends, similar music taste, and he’s a huge Stones fanatic. And he’s a fountain of info; I could listen to him for days. So I talked about the script with him before it was even written. After the first draft, it wasn’t really working for me and I was ready to quit, but he sent me this demo of his song called “St. Valentine’s Massacre,” which is in the movie. And I liked the song so much and it said so much about rock ’n’ roll, I thought, “Don’t give up on this. You owe it to rock ’n’ roll, it is a great subject.”
ET: The film especially seems passionate about this particular period of music. This revolution is shown to be extremely important, and people often forget that. So are you hoping to get that across to audiences?
DC: I don’t know if they know that, that is what this movie’s there for. It puts that across. I thought that was worth restating. I don’t know if they come into the theater with that knowledge, but I hope they leave with that knowledge.
ET: So what you’re saying is that your generation of music is the best? Why is that?
DC: Because it is, and you know it as well as I do.