Search The Line of Best Fit
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Behind the French Door: Best Fit speaks to Jason Zumpano

Behind the French Door: Best Fit speaks to Jason Zumpano

27 February 2013, 14:30

Sadly, it wasn’t until late last year that we heard French Door, the second album from Cyrillic Typewriter, the latest project from Vancouver’s Jason Zumpano. We’ve been making up for lost time, however, as the record has been in constant rotation ever since. Released as a limited edition vinyl album on his own JAZ imprint, the record is packed full of insistent, playful melodies that call to mind the sweeter moments of the Elephant 6 canon.

Not often straying over the 3 minute mark, these songs rarely do what you expect: the lilting harmonies are just as likely to give way to piano drones, gently picked guitar, cello chugs or howling saxophones at any moment. The album also features collaborations with Zumpano’s former Destroyer bandmates Dan Bejar and Scott Morgan, as well as a mournful take on Devo’s ‘Gates of Steel’.

The last time we spoke to Zumpano, he had just begun work on the soundtrack to the movie Cartoon College, a movie documenting the students of the Centre for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, as they work their way to a Master Degree in fine art in the ramshackle town of White River Junction. However, it transpires that all did not go as initially planned, as he explains: “I didn’t know much about the film when I was asked to provide music for it. Just the basic premise. Therefore I submitted ‘cartoony’ music they described as “Peanuts-on-acid”. I took that as a compliment and awaited their first edit. After several more of those edits they seemed to be at wit’s end. The tone of the movie was changing with every cut and it looked as though a reshoot was on the cards. With this development, the music previously provided either didn’t really fit or was reminding them of their artistic hardships. I was then asked for a new score. At their request it was a bit more pop oriented. Guitar, percussion, more keyboards. It was completely different. Well, as different as I could make it, as it still sounds like something I would record.”

The passion of the students in the film was something that Zumpano himself recognised – the process of writing, producing and releasing material out into the world for the enjoyment of others. “I didn’t go to school for but I understand the drive and frustration of that way of life, not to mention the opinion from certain friends and family that such a career path is foolish as it is not always that lucrative. I didn’t always produce and release my own stuff, in fact it’s quite new, but it is extremely satisfying. I would hope the same could be said by the cartoon college students.”

The writing process for soundtracking differs minimally from his other projects. “It has to be spontaneous. As far as collaborating with directors, in this case, after supplying a bunch of material, I was given further instruction for specific scenes with a tone or kind of music they were keen on. Will I do more film work? You’ll have to ask those future filmmakers, and mention to them that I am indeed interested in more of it. It’s a great way to write and have your work appreciated.”

Work on the Cartoon College soundtrack clearly fed into the production of latest album French Door. Having played drums in Zumpano (the band, signed to Sub Pop) and then released a series of more piano led records (as well as playing keyboards with Destroyer), French Door features a lot more guitar work than previous records. “I liked where I was going with the electric guitar for the film, not to mention the various keyboard parts. I thought that those two tracks from the film [‘Vato’s Gold’ and ‘Costigan Manor’) fit the record so I added some vocals so as to separate them from the movie. Basically everything I do influences what I do next.”

Many of the songs on the album build around repeated musical phrases, or drones, with Zumpano then layering or delayering around them to curate textures out of which harmonies burst. The result can be quite hypnotic. “It’s hard to articulate exactly how my thought process works but essentially I will come up with layers in no particular order, whether that be a drone, phrase or melody. Once they are in place I do like to repeat them over and over, then stop, and then start up a different section altogether.” With much of the record coming in at under 3 minutes, I ask if he believes in the ‘three minute rule’ of pop (the idea that 3 minutes was the perfect length for a pop song), and whether he deliberatly tries to keep songs short. “Never. I just get anxious to finish up the initial first layer so I can get on with the rest. I guess at around 3 minutes I get bored. I should probably work on that.” Nothing if not honest.

Zumpano was a member of Destroyer during the Streethawk: A Seduction era, and two of his former bandmates appear on French Door : Scott Morgan and Dan Bejar. Zumpano has worked with Morgan frequently over the years, often contributing to Morgan’s Loscil project. Here, Morgan returns the favour on the sinister ‘Paris Churchyard’, built around heavy drums and swirling electronic drones. “When I work with Scott on Loscil material, it’s him giving me songs to play with or on top of. With this I gave him the percussion track and told him to come up with something droney. His speciality. I suppose it’s a similar dynamic to our Loscil collaborations, just reversed.” As for Bejar, he contributes vocals on the aforementioned ‘Paris Churchyard’, as well as ‘Visions of Daniel‘, the first time they have worked together since Streethawk. How was it working with hime again after such a long time? “It was pleasant. He’s a good sport and an old friend. However, any reluctance on his part can usually be manipulated into compliance with wine and olives.”

What does the future hold? No doubt Zumpano will continue to follow his own path, one that, like his music, will continue to take unexpected but ultimately rewarding turns along the way. “Right now I’m writing and recording a soundtrack album without an attached film. I think it’s a horror. It’s tricky. It has to have a movie-like feel without it relying on the context of a movie to keep it compelling. Another Cyrillic Typewriter album? We’ll see. I probably I have some more guitar picking in me. You think I should?”

On the evidence of French Door, the answer is an unqualified yes.

French Door is available now via JAZ records on limited edition LP or via Zunior for Digital.

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