Music supervision on films or TV series can be a thankless gig. Outside of T-Bone Burnett or Trent Reznor, few of the men and women who recruit, license and generally oversee this painstaking administrative and creative process get their due. After all, what would Boardwalk Empire be without its decorative ragtime swing or Tin Pan Alley standards? And how would The Royal Tenenbaums have transcended all that deadpan melodrama without the cool warmth of its plucky-punky soundtrack? In both cases, among scores of others—ranging from Skyfall and Spring Breakers to The Hangover and Velvet Goldmine—Randall Poster has matched sound with his director’s vision.
Over the past several years, his highest-profile collaborator has been Martin Scorsese. The two paired up for both The Aviator and Hugo, and now, along with co-conspirator and former The Band frontman Robbie Robertson, they’ve assembled The Wolf of Wall Street’s aural ingredients. The soundtrack hits streets January 7, a bit after the movie began dizzying audiences with its tale of corrupt 1980s Wall Street brokers run amok. For Poster, the biggest question was how to maintain the Wolf’s breakneck pace and evoke its era’s excess without repeating past cinematic clichés or being too on the nose.
Fortunately, he took a few minutes to explain just how one works under such a legendary boss’ auspices, in addition to how he nurtured an independent aesthetic that led to new and old contributions alike from Sharon Jones, Romeo Void, Howlin’ Wolf et. al., all while absorbing inspiration from Robertson and Scorsese.
What was your musical mindset going into a movie about men behaving badly?
The work I’ve done with Marty [Scorsese] has been generally period-oriented, so the first thing really, even though it’s the more recent past, is you’re talking about a period piece. And so what you try to do is gather material from the era, and then, in terms of where Marty directs you, the precedential musical elements that might come to bear on the film. So not everything in the movie is from the year that you’re seeing on the screen. And that’s really the way we start. It evolves and becomes more scene-specific, but there was never a [discussion] of, “What’s music for men behaving badly?”
So how do you avoid the clichés of soundtracking a movie about 1980s excess?
It’s important sometimes that you have counterpoint to some of the spot-on period music, but I think when you’re working with a director the caliber of Scorsese, sometimes you have the confidence to not avoid the obvious. You sometimes want to be a bit on the nose, but you avoid cliché by virtue of what you’ve surrounded it with.
Is there one moment for you in Wolf of Wall Street where the music and images together feel iconic?
For me, [Jimmy Castor’s] “Hey Leroy” is the most sublime use of music in the film. That’s where [Leonardo DiCaprio as] Jordan [Belfort]’s at the peak of his powers inducing his legion of brokers to go all out to sell the Steve Madden IPO, and it’s just sublime.
Do you think Wolf will have an iconic, seductive pull for women as much as men?
It will be curious to see, but the response to the film from my point of view hasn’t been along gender lines. I think the film has been more broadly and generally secudtive.
A Scorsese movie must be quite different from working with your other frequent collaborator, Wes Anderson.
It’s funny, because to tell you the truth, in a way they’re very similar, because Wes is oftentimes not bound by conventions. What I appreciate in both of their film-music identities is that they play music really loud and allow you to have the kinetic response to the music. And both are willing to use music in ways that are inventive and all their own, and I know both [Wes and I] share a film-music foundation that is built largely on our response to Mean Streets. So there’s a real straight connection between the two.
If anything, there seems to be a different kind of rugged masculinity in Scorsese’s films than Anderson’s.
It would have been interesting to get Marty to do the sequel to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I think Zissou would be a good Scorsese character.
Does Scorsese come into a movie like Wolf of Wall Street with a musical wish list?
He’s very specific, and he’s very prescriptive, so you follow his lead and gather all the things you think would fill the bill. And it’s very fluid. Sometimes you go in there, and there’s a DNA path that starts to emerge, so things start to line up and the songs start to relate to one another and you start to build this great musical mosaic. But he really is both the guiding light and the shining light in terms of the musical direction.
And you guys are primarily serving the movie, not worrying about the soundtrack’s commercial performance.
Right. My thought really is you bring the right music to bear and then a soundtrack will be there that hopefully reflects the storytelling. With this soundtrack, if you play it, it’s my hope you can sense the essence of the story.
Was it at all intimidating to enter into this longstanding creative relationship between Scorsese and Robbie Robertson?
I got a very gracious invitation to participate, so it made me very comfortable in terms of doing my thing and having a voice. Marty is the wellspring of creativity, and he inspires us, and we just do what we can to keep up with him and to amuse him and entertain him, and it seems to all work out quite nicely for the filmgoers.
What were the primary insights you gleaned from working with two luminary men like Scorsese and Robertson?
Be fearless. Always be fearless.
Buy the soundtrack to The Wolf of Wall Street on iTunes here.