Whether he’s touring Europe, venue-hopping in Montreal, or trying out sounds at Vancouver’s own China Cloud, Joshua Zubot can seemingly always be found trying something new. He cites influences as diverse as Charles Ives string quartets and the communicative patterns of eagles, and his upcoming show at Western Front on March 23 is shaping up to be just as eclectic.
We caught up with Joshua to hear more about his music, his recent move to Vancouver, and what to expect from the all-star cast of strings he’s assembled for the show.
How did you assemble the ensemble for this show, and what’s it’s like performing with your brother?
I had the opportunity to try some new music at the Sawdust Collector series a while back and chose to do a piece for String Quintet. Choosing players was quite easy. Peggy, Meredith, my brother Jesse, and James are open to playing graphic/traditional written scores, and they’re all great players who improvise with their own sound. That show left me with great excitement so it was easy to get the group back together for a 2nd show! It’s not always you can find string players you can connect with to create new music and improvise.
It’s great to be able to play with Jesse on a more regular basis. It was hard to collaborate living on opposite sides of the country. Obviously we have a connection, and it’s always easy to play with him. We both bring an intensity to our playing! The most we’ve probably played together was many years ago back home on the farm. We would come home from school, go straight to the music room and start jamming. Jesse would pick up the guitar or bass and I would head to the drums. We’d never bring out the violins – kind of funny now that I think of it. This would happen almost every day. I think our collaborations are just getting started now that we are a lot closer in proximity to one another.
What can audience members expect to hear at the show?
You can expect to hear wide palette of sound textures/pitched notes/rhythmic variations, melodies, non-melodies, plus much more that can be created with string instruments. Some sounds might be soothing to the ears while some might be a rewarding awakening. The music will go from high intensity chaos to slow meditative drones. I would rather not give the music any type of name rather than just music for strings. However, this could all change at the time of the performance, as I cannot predict what everyone will play!
My writing involves traditional notation with a lot of graphic gestures mixed in. I have been composing in that style for a quite a few years now. I started hearing certain lines of music and thought it would be better realized with written gestures rather than notated notes. I definitely have my style but I’m always trying to broaden my ideas. The way I compose allows the musician to choose how or what notes they want to express at that moment in their playing.
You recently relocated to the West Coast from Montreal. What are you finding to be the main differences in the scenes here and there?
I grew up in Saskatchewan on a farm, spent some time in Calgary and mostly lived in Montreal. It’s a nice change to be able to come to a new city and develop relationships with new musicians, and it’s exciting to hear what these players are creating on the other side of the country.
I was fortunate to be involved in a very vibrant Montreal scene during my years there. There seemed to be a lot of energy and creativity happening all around me in Montreal. This also seems to be a good time to be in Vancouver for creative music. I was surprised with what’s happening around the city. However, Montreal and Vancouver are quite different places. It’s not so much within the art/music scene, but other aspects of the cities that make them different like the architecture, cultures, surrounding environment, and the weather to name a few.
But back to the music scene, Montreal does have a lot of venues that were in close proximity to each other. One could easily hop around to a lot of small music venues and see a lot of different styles of music. I think there might be more happening in general in Montreal, but I often say it is also a more populous city. If you put another million people in Vancouver would there be that much more going on? I don’t know!
To be honest, I’m currently living out of the city so I’m not fully in tune with every thing that is happening around Vancouver. In Montreal, I was living in a pretty central part surrounded by a lot of artists and venues in close proximity. I switched that for living on a mountain, in a small town just outside the city with a view of the ocean.
Who are your biggest musical influences right now?
I can’t list my biggest musical influences. I can just tell you I listen to many different styles of music. I will name some examples of how I would move through music. I will throw on some Leroy Jenkins large ensemble music, then head to some John Hartford playing fiddle songs, then move to some albums I received from likeminded musicians while touring in Europe. On comes some Jimmy Lyons, how ‘bout some Mississippi Fred McDowell. Oh look at that Charles Ives String quartet. Something’s laying over there, oh a Guitar album from Agadez, etc. etc.
Then there are the sounds all around me. These are always in my thoughts. I spend a lot of time on rivers so this is a great place for listening. I was really getting into the eagles communicating this fall. Birds are amazing.
Oh yeah, another great sound I am enjoying is the train coming through the town where I live. The sound echoes around the mountains across the inlet and back! What a massive sound.
What are the other projects you’re involved with currently? Anything coming up this year that you’re excited about?
The main project I am involved in is a group called In The Sea. It includes Tristan Honsinger (Berlin) on cello and Nicolas Caloia (Montreal) on double bass. We have been touring Canada, the States, and Europe for quite a few years and have another Europe tour coming up in May. Another studio album has just been mastered and will hopefully be out in the next year.
In Vancouver there are a few different projects I am involved in. In April I will be heading on a tour to Europe with the Now Ensemble run by Lisa Cay Miller. I have been involved with a couple of groups Dan Gaucher leads. One called Filthy Rich and also his Star System project. I have played a fair bit in various Tony Wilson groups. I just did an exciting show with Aram Bajakian’s trio ‘Kef’. I guess there are a few things happening. As for my own groups, I don’t really have any set Vancouver groups. Mostly just trying different combinations. You can often see me playing in improvising groups down at China Cloud or the Sawdust Collector series. I am still adjusting to the new environment and musicians.
Why do you make the music that you do?
I have always strived for something new in music. I don’t really know what that exactly means. I guess I’m still trying to figure that out. Music is a language that can continue to evolve. I have many questions about music myself. I don’t know what the questions are but I feel they are within the music and I have to keep playing and writing to try to find the questions and the answers.
I find it interesting to work on the relationship between improvising and written music. This has always been something I have focused on and will continue to. Obviously one has to improvise in all life situations so I think it is important to involve this in music.
When I play a concert or create an album, I want to give something to the listeners: something to take home. They don’t always have to love the music/concert/album but I want to maybe expand their creative thinking and just show something different and new. I do know that, as a player, music can take you to another place. And again, I don’t know what this place is. But it is somewhere. Maybe my performances and music can also take the listener to a different place for a small moment of their time.
You can catch Joshua Zubot and Strings at 8:00PM on March 23 at Western Front. Click here for more info and tickets.