At last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, Jason Zumpano received plaudits for the soundtrack he contributed to the documentary Cartoon College. Twelve months later, he’s sitting in the Slocan Pub on East Hastings talking about his latest score. The difference this time is that Custodian—which Zumpano released on vinyl last month—isn’t actually attached to a film. It’s advance music for a movie that evidently exists entirely in the composer-musician’s head. It has quite the plot.
“I don’t even know how to explain this,” he begins, promisingly. “It’s actually not about being a janitor, but the guy happens to be one. There would be aspects of him doing his job, with no one around, and his world is crumbling around him. It gets a little supernatural, sort of, and it’s a tad Taxi Driver, a little Travis Bickle in there, not much dialogue, bad neighbourhood. Maybe he wants to make a difference. All these bad things happen to him. His mom dies. Someone leaves him, or some bullshit, and something à la David Lynch happens and he goes through the wrong doorway and comes out with a different personality. ‘Do things happen, do they not happen?’ I love those movies when you don’t know what’s up.”
The Straight feels the same way about interviews. A little more seriously, Custodian is the latest of three beautifully packaged albums Zumpano has issued as the Cyrillic Typewriter, on his own JAZ Records label. Frequent collaborators like cellist Christina Rzepa and double bassist Megan Bradfield make a return visit, but this time they’re adding texture to a project that’s more about mood than the experimental, small-scale orchestral pop of previous efforts.
Custodian is also concerned with creating a movie in your head. Opener “Somewhere” could have been culled from any synth-drenched Canadian tax-shelter thriller from the ’80s. The more percussion-based “Steps” is like Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes) in his more avant-garde moments. The tense strings and piano of “Blackout” recall Bernard Herrmann. Naturally, these names all come up in our conversation, along with a host of other greats like Angelo Badalamenti, Nino Rota, Goblin, and John Carpenter.
It was, in fact, a vinyl copy of Carpenter’s “super-cheeseball” score for Prince of Darkness that provided inspiration for the project. Zumpano also cops to a slightly more gimmicky and definitely more practical reason for the existence of Custodian. “I like instrumental music, and I’ve been doing it a long time,” he says, grinning. “This seems to be a way to get people to actually pay attention to it.” Since JAZ Records has recently begun releasing music by other artists, including a 7-inch from loscil (aka Scott Morgan)—who did time in Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, as did Zumpano—the label boss is starting to think a little more like a businessman.
The guy is doing press, and not only that, Zumpano is emerging from his womblike home studio to make a quasi-live appearance for the first time since performing in previous outfit Attics & Cellars at the Western Front in 2008. On Saturday, he’ll be spinning soundtrack music at a Vancouver video store. Potential producers and/or directors interested in taking on a film about a possibly psychotic janitor who goes through the wrong doorway after his mom dies can introduce themselves. David Cronenberg and Lars von Trier needn’t bother, he states (we don’t want to waste anybody’s time), but Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke?
“Now he’d make a good candidate,” says Zumpano, totally seriously.