Jesse Zubot is a man of many talents.

It’s not enough that he plays a mean violin: his versatility stretches from recording JUNO Award-winning albums with Steve Dawson (as folk duo Zubot and Dawson), to bluegrass jazz concoction Great Uncles of the Revolution, and post-rock instrumentalists Fond of Tigers. He’s a touring sideman to Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq and producer of her 2014 Polaris Prize-winning album Animism and 2016’s Retribution, and has also hit the road accompanying Dan Mangan, Hawksley Workman, and Stars, among others.  Zubot has also been hired for session work with Destroyer, Mother Mother, and Alan Doyle, to name a few.

Lately,  he’s been pursuing another passion.

“I felt many years ago that I wanted to eventually focus on film scoring,” says Zubot, who’s especially earned praise for his score to the movie Indian Horse. “I just naturally evolved into the area of creating soundscapes, and working a lot of ethereal, surreal effects into my album and session work. With Tanya, I started creating this sound that seemed like a good direction for scoring.”

“I just naturally evolved into the area of creating soundscapes”

Zubot said he let acquaintances know that he was interested in pursuing the pastime, and was hired to provide some short film soundtracks. “My first big feature happened when my friend Dan Mangan asked me to help him arrange and create the score for Hector and The Search for Happiness,” says Zubot. “A pretty big thing, because the lead actors were Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike. That catapulted me into a new realm.”

The film’s producer, Christine Haebler of Vancouver’s Screen Siren Pictures, liked what she heard, and helped Zubot secure scoring duties for other feature films, including Two Lovers and A Bear, starring Tatiana Maslany and Dane DeHaan, and directed by Academy Award nominee Kim Nguyen. Zubot has just finished scoring Monkey Beach, based on the Eden Robinson novel, and The Whale & The Raven, a documentary directed by Mirjam Leuze. Other projects in the pipeline include an NFB documentary on Tagaq. “Right now, I pretty much have a score or two going at all times,” he says.

For Indian Horse, a film that chronicles the life, within the residential school system, of an aspiring indigenous hockey player – loosely based on former NHL player Reggie Leach – Zubot employed three singers: North Vancouver Métis singer-songwriter Wayne Lavallee;  Squamish First Nations Shaker Church Minister and Cowichan Tribe member Eugene Harry; and Toronto Anishinaabe singer Marie Gaudet.

“I scattered their work throughout the film to make sure that there was some real indigenous content,” says Zubot. “That was a challenge – to create music for a story about the residential school system that supported the story, but didn’t overtake it. Subtle, but spare, it gave me the space to do what I do.”

Directed by Stephen Campanelli, Clint Eastwood’s longtime camera operator, Indian Horse – based on the Richard Wagamese novel and executive-produced by Eastwood – has a score largely determined by extemporization.

“Usually I’ll get a script three or four months beforehand, slowly make my way through it and get a subliminal feeling of the story,” says Zubot. “I’ll try not to think about it too much. Then I’ll get some first drafts and different scenes from the film – even if they’re not colour-corrected or fully edited – and start improvising to video.  I’ll create and let what I’m feeling about the story combine with what’s onscreen to guide me when I improvise. I’ll create the initial sketches and build things from there. It’s about emotion and feel for me.”

With numerous scores under his belt, Zubot is now eyeing Hollywood. “I want to spend more time in Los Angeles, and work with U.S. filmmakers that I respect.”

Naya AliWith Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude), the first part of an album to be released in a few months, Naya Ali reminds us that good things come to those who wait.

The adage is well-known, sometimes even overused, but the Montréal rapper lives it to the fullest, with utmost sincerity in (almost) every one of her songs. Her philosophy remains unaffected by the current global crisis, even though all her promotional plans – including a record launch concert that was supposed to happen at SXSW 2020 a few days ago – have been scrapped. “We’ve re-visited the execution of our strategies. We didn’t have a choice and at this point, even next summer is up in the air. But I trust in the process. . . Je fais confiance à l’univers,” says the Anglophone Ethiopian rapper, whose spoken French has greatly improved since we last interviewed her in January of 2019.

The very existence of her new double-album is one more manifestation of those universal forces that make things happen in due course. “Initially, I wanted the album to be a single track,” Ali says, “but for reasons I’d rather keep to myself, we changed our approach. Ultimately, with everything that’s going on, it’s a good thing, because it’ll allow the album to get a second wind later in the year, when we release the second part of it.”

That will likely be in the fall of 2020, two years after the release of her first EP, Higher Self, which saw her explode onto the Québec rap scene, and one year after the deadline she set for herself for the release of her first album. “I had such a big summer out on the road!” sjhe says. “It was basically impossible to find the time to create something that had any kind of consistency. I have to admit, also, that I had a tough time finding producers, initially. Some of them ignored me or didn’t take me seriously because I was a newcomer. Now they all want to work with me…”

Others, like Chase.Wav, Kevin Figs, Benny Adam, and Banx & Ranx, had a nose for good material, and participated in the creation of this prelude to Godspeed: Baptism. “It was quite a challenge, because I’d only ever worked with one person up until now,” says Ali, referring to Kevin Dave, the producer of all six tracks on Higher Self. “He was in L.A…. and it’s really important for me to be in the physical presence of the people I work with. Getting beats over the internet is not a way to work, for me. I want to create songs from scratch, together.”

The final result is vastly more diversified than its predecessor. Without going as far as turning her back on the raw and dark trap sound for which she first became known, she uses richer melodies, and uses her voice more like a harmonic instrument than a percussive one. This is particularly true on “For Yuh, a pop- and dancehall-tinged love song produced by Montrealers Clipz and Nomis. “It might sound surprising [coming from me], but it shows another side of me. I’m not uni-dimensional,” she insists. “It means a lot to me, because I wrote it a long time ago about someone very specific. The emotions are no longer the same, but the song still touches me, because it has evolved and is now on its own course.”

“Shea Butter” is another song with a special meaning for the young thirtysomething. The cloud-rap song is filled with light, softness, and growth, not unlike the fruit of the shea tree, which grows in her country of origin, and it required many re-writes and much re-structuring, alongside Kevin Figs. “We went through four different versions to get to this one,” says Ali. “I wanted it to sound like the musical universe of the movie Drive.”

The opposite was true for Godspeed (also produced by Figs): it came about very quickly, “just a bit more than two hours,” a sign that the rapper had a very clear idea of what the album-permeating concept of “divine speed” actually means. “It’s all about trusting the timing of things,” she explains, when asked to clarify the notion. “For years, I felt like it would take an eternity to find my own path… Right up until the day I turned 29, when I decided to turn my life around instead of staying on the safe path – meaning my studies and job in the field of marketing. I decided to focus entirely on myself instead of devoting my energy to working for other people… I chose to trust the universe, and, slowly, music became increasingly important in my life. From that point on, things fell into place at lightning speed.”

And although her ambition is very real, Ali refuses to put any kind of pressure on herself. Time needs time to do what time does. “I don’t have goals with set deadlines,” she says. “The universe will decide all of that. In the meantime, I focus on being the best artist and the best person I can be.”

Allie X is a Leo. As the most glamorous sign in the zodiac, Leos want attention. They want to be noticed. And so, for the bold, vivid, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Toronto pop artist, this scans. Allie X has always wanted to be seen. But her personal Gospel of artistry and performance were at odds with her realities as a teenager growing up in a suburban Ontario town. Here, she was faced with the unfortunate truth that other teenagers totally suck, and they’ll make life harder on you if you’re different in any way.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to be seen so badly, but I wanted to hide socially as well, she says. “I was willing to accept people being kind of cruel in exchange for just being acknowledged.”

These experiences are at the foundation of Allie X’s sumptuous second full-length record, Cape God. This project seems like, on the surface, like a bit of a departure from her others, especially so when seeing Cape God set against the bubbly-plastic EP Super Sunset. Sonically, she swerves, gets quiet, propels herself during what she calls a “party segment.” It is different, but isn’t that what we expect from her anyway?

It was time, Allie says, to confront some of the harder experiences from her youth, because she never had before. So much of the conversation around Cape God in other publications and reviews relies on the anecdote of Allie being moved by a documentary on substance abuse called Heroin: Cape Cod, U.S.A.. Certainly, Allie says, the documentary has some importance to this record, but more than anything, it was an emotional opening for her to be empathetic to a younger version of herself.

“What the documentary did was put me in a headspace where I was able to tap into old feelings, because of the characters [in it],” she says. “I just related to the fear, the desperation, and the struggle. The isolation and the difficulties connecting to the family, and the shame, embarrassment, and not knowing what the future holds, on so many levels.

Writing Cape God came, surprisingly, very easily to Allie. Of all the work she’s done, including writing pop songs for others – like a recent BTS trackCape God more or less flowed out of her. She didn’t strain, or re-write songs. Tucked away in Stockholm, Sweden, Allie worked on this record with a few people, but her primary collaborators were Swedish producer Oscar Görres and co-writer James Alan Ghaleb.

The record opens with the pulsing “Fresh Laundry,” a melancholic, nostalgic track for some ordinary vibes. Impressions of what regularity or “normal” is appear all over the record, as in “Regulars,” or on songs like “Life of the Party” or “Super Duper Party People.” The album closer “Learning in Public” is perhaps the jewel of the album: it sounds more like a tribute to herself, a nod to what growth looks and feels like. (Difficult, always.) It bookends the record with opener “Fresh Laundry,” and she saysit’s a sequencing choice of which she’s proud.

Cape God is a liminal space but it’s also, as Allie confirms, a safe space. It’s a container of her own making, where she could sort outfeelings about her youth. “I wanted to make a place that was beautiful and that I could control the aesthetic of,” she says. “It’s a place that I got to control, and to curate, and [that could] safely exist. I think that’s maybe why writing this was such a pleasurable experience, as opposed to, like, a painful one.”

Allie says this project documents a period of her life that she never felt equipped to deal with until now – when maturation, growth, and a little bit of experience could cushion it. What she’s done is provide a sympathetic, tender conversation from one person (Allie) to another (teen Allie) that almost every adult can understand.

It;’s confusing being young. You’re confronted with a lack of experience, but also told this is the very best part of your life, and expected to determine and drive culture. Being artistic, and authentically different on top of that, causes extra strain. Allie’s wish to be seen, to be heard, to do something of note in her life, is happening now – but she couldn’t reassure her young self that any of it would happen at all. She just had to grow up and see it.