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.”