Bright-eyed in daylight at the Chez Dominique espresso bar, Crowe relaxes and slurps a double-tall latte. He's talking about how crucial the music is to Singles, even though the tunes themselves are strictly secondary to the tales of mucked-up love. Dillon, whose rough-hewn rocker character is a hilarious archetype but who gets less screen time than the central couple of Sedgwick and Scott, wasn't sure at first that he wanted to play second fiddle. ''He was saying, 'I like the script, but have you seen my movies?''' recalls Crowe. ''I said, 'Yeah, you're great!' 'I'm kind of the star of my movies.' So I told him it's a role Jack Nicholson might have done, like in Terms of Endearment. He said, 'Ehhhh I dunno.'''
''Then I met Pearl Jam, and that sold me,'' Dillon says. ''I thought, okay, I know where I'm goin'. These guys are cool.''
''The kind of stuff I do is hard,'' admits Crowe, '''cause it's in the middle. It's not obviously bound for (the Sundance Film Festival at) Park City, Utah, nor is it bound for $100 million glory.''
Happily for Singles, Seattle rock was bound for commercial glory. When Crowe started production in March 1991 he'd been working on the script since 1983 only Soundgarden, his favorite band, had a glimmer of national recognition. ''The guys in Nirvana used to hang out at Soundgarden shows going, 'We're not worthy! We wouldn't be anything without you guys!''' says Crowe. And at the time Pearl Jam, whose members portray Dillon's band Citizen Dick in the movie, were as penniless in life as Citizen Dick are on screen.
Then in 1992, these unknowns suddenly conquered the nation's airwaves. Nirvana sold 7 million records practically overnight; Pearl Jam and Soundgarden are currently on two of the top five albums. And as suddenly, Crowe says, the ''65-year-old studio guys,'' who had tried to force him to move Singles to the beachside volleyball courts of L.A., were shouting, ''We've got a film in Seattle! Is Kurt Cobain in it?''
He's not. The working cut of Singles was screened with Nirvana's ''Teen Spirit'' on the soundtrack, but the song's success made it too costly. Bands who are seen or heard in Singles include Soundgarden, members of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney, and the truly grungy lead singer of the band TAD. Says Crowe, ''Singles just has that friends and neighbors feel.''
The film in fact has 87 speaking parts, most of them played by nonactors. ''It's slice of life, with long scenes so you're able to observe the twitch on a guy's face when he's talking to a girl,'' says Crowe. The characters are also reality-based. Crowe patterned Scott's hesitantly horny urban planner on himself, among others, and other characters are composites drawn from his relentless interrogations.
''He's a really easy guy to talk to,'' says Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam's bassist. ''He got me philosophizing about relationships. Give me more than two or three beers, and I ramble.''
To help plug Seattlistic reality into his fiction, Crowe took his six stars to the funky Off Ramp Music Cafe for an encounter session on Feb. 1, 1991. ''It was very uncomfortable at first,'' he recalls, ''everyone standing around. But together there was this new dynamic. Matt and Campbell threw themselves onto the floor, slam-dancing.'' Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, who sports Jesus-like locks himself, razzed Dillon about the long-hair wig he wears in the film. And, says Crowe, ''The cast was thinking, 'Whew, there really is something you can sink your teeth into here.''' Sedgwick left when kids started chucking beer bottles ''She said, 'I am a mother,''' Crowe recalls but Singles had passed a crucial test. ''We spent a lot of time going to dives, and everybody really got close,'' says Dillon. ''It sounds like I'm just strokin', but it's true, man.''
Crowe acknowledges that his direction is like his dialogue insistently uninsistent. ''I go for the small moments,'' he says, and he sweats the details. Pearl Jam donated grungewear to the cast. ''Matt was most comfortable wearing Jeff Ament's clothes,'' says Crowe, and the rocker character's icon-crammed room is also based on Ament's own. ''My character is not a cliched heavy-metal guy,'' says Dillon. ''We wanted to make it funny without making fun of him.''