The best banger of 2016 was released by a fictional band of teens living in ’80s Dublin. “Drive It Like You Stole It,” from John Carney’s underrated Sing Street, explodes off the screen with imagination and potential. An earworm of epic proportions, the track is at once a singalong from a bygone era, the greatest bar song that never was, and an aching ode to reckless youth. With Sing Street now a Golden Globe nominee for best musical or comedy and its songs in the thick of awards season, EW spoke to Carney (Once) about his new classic.
“When I first heard it, I played it for my niece, who was 16 at the time, and I asked her if I was crazy to think this song was totally commercial,” John Carney says of “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which is one of a number of original songs on the film’s ’80s-infused soundtrack. “She listened to one bar and was like, ‘No, you’re not crazy. It’s fantastic.'”
Starring a group of newcomers as well as some recognizable veterans (including Transformers: Age of Extinction star Jack Reynor and Game of Thrones‘ Aiden Gillen), Sing Street focuses on a lonely Irish teenager (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who starts a band in an attempt to woo a local girl with aspirations of becoming a model (Lucy Boynton). “I wanted to make this film appeal to families and kids and school kids and not seem like it was the reality of the situation, which was some old guy preaching to the younger generation about his era,” Carney says. But the trick of Sing Street is that the band — also called Sing Street — is actually good, and improves steadily throughout the film.
“It struck us as quite important to sort of try and tell the story through the songs. So they’re naive to begin with, and as the year goes on in school, clearly the lyrics become more interesting and experimental and less naive than they are at the very beginning,” Carney says.
The peak of that evolution, “Drive It Like You Stole It,” was written by famed British musician Gary Clark, with input from Carney. “I gave notes to Gary on that one. I told him where the band was in terms of story at this stage, and he just got back to me a week or two later with a demo for the song,” Carney says. “It was really the most amazing submission to an idea I’ve ever had, in a sense. That’s exactly what that song needs to do. It’s all about serving the greater good. He did a fantastic job on the song.”
Throughout Sing Street, the band creates lo-fi videos for their songs, inspired by acts of the day like Duran Duran. But during the Sing Street performance of “Drive It Like You Stole It,” the film turns into a technicolor dream sequence of possibility, taking Sing Street from drab Ireland to 1950s post-war America.
“That was a classic Formica, bright, colorful, vibrant fun time, certainly visually,” Carney says of the sequence, which shows the way lead singer Conor wishes things were at that time in his life. “It was a lot of fun doing that sequence and entering fully into the fantasy world of our lead character. Which is what I think a lot of those ’80s videos were. They came out of the heads of young working-class guys in England, who had an unlimited budget and were fueled by record labels who had huge amounts of money and big coke habits. You don’t have budgetary restrictions in your head when you’re 16 years old and you imagine yourself in a video. It had to appear like we had an enormous amount of shots.”