The first time Steven Van Zandt worked with “Sopranos” creator David Chase, it was on the HBO drama, where he played Silvio Dante, consigliere — top adviser and counsel — to mob boss Tony Soprano.
In some ways, the part was modeled after his role as guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
“I think the ‘Sopranos’ role was probably based on my real-life role with Springsteen as lifelong best friend/consigliere, someone you bounce ideas off of, someone who watches your back,” Van Zandt says. “It’s the real-life version of the Silvio and Tony relationship, but with slightly less criminal activity.”
For “Not Fade Away,” Chase’s first feature film (and first post-“Sopranos” project), Van Zandt combined elements of his real-life bond with the Boss and his fictional one with the Soprano crime boss.
“You could say I was music consigliere here,” says Van Zandt, the film’s music supervisor and one of its producers. “I like that.”
“Not Fade Away,” opening Friday, is the story of a New Jersey drummer named Douglas (John Magaro), who plays in a ’60s-era garage band that tries to make it big. Douglas and the band’s story plays out alongside the social and political upheaval of the decade, with Tony Soprano himself — James Gandolfini — playing Douglas’ unsupportive father.
Van Zandt, who came of age in that era, was responsible for creating the sound of fictional band the Twylight Zones, which covers songs such as the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side” and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
“We had to be very specific, year by year, even month by month sometimes, about what the band would sound like,” he says, “how in tune or out of tune should we make them.”
Van Zandt doesn’t act in the film but was involved from its earliest stages, as Chase came up with the idea (based on his own experience as a drummer in a garage band) near the end of “The Sopranos’ ” run in the mid-2000s. In fact, the one original song the Twylight Zones perform in the movie, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” was written for “Not Fade Away” before Chase had even finished the script.
“David heard the demo [for the song] and that was when he made the connection to the film,” Van Zandt says.
Like the movie, which tracks Douglas’ relationship with his girlfriend, Grace (Bella Heathcote), through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, the song mentions all of those holidays and lyrically follows a similar through-line.
“[Chase] said, ‘You finish the song, I’ll finish the script and it’ll all get hooked up,’ ” Van Zandt recalls. “Several years went by, but we got it made.”
Garage-Boogie Boot Camp
To make sure the garage band in “Not Fade Away” looked authentic, Steven Van Zandt spent four months in his studio rigorously teaching the actors how to play their instruments. “By the time the cameras rolled, they were literally a band that could play,” he says. “They could play a gig right now in a bar.”