Having grown up with storytelling in his blood, composer Federico Jusid was drawn to music at the age of five. “With my dad being a filmmaker and mom an actress, storytelling per se was up in the air in my home,” shares Jusid.
The composer delivers an Emmy-worthy score to Amazon Studios’ “The English.” The series is an epic chase Western from award-winning writer and director Hugo Blick. It follows aristocratic Englishwoman, Lady Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt), and a Pawnee ex-cavalry scout, Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), come together in 1890 middle America to cross a violent landscape built on dreams and blood.
Both Whipp and Locke have a clear sense of their destiny, but neither is aware that it is rooted in a shared past. They must face increasingly terrifying obstacles that will test them to their limits, physically and psychologically. But as each obstacle is overcome, it draws them closer to their ultimate destination—the new town of Hoxem, Wyoming.
Jusid spoke to Awards Focus about his impressive work on the series, collaborating with Emily Blunt as a vocalist and producer, and his family history in the film business and his inspiration.
Awards Focus: Growing up with in this business in your blood, did you always feel drawn to storytelling through music? Did you ever consider performing or directing as a path for you?
Jusid: I was drawn to music very early – I was 5 or 6 years old- and with my dad being a filmmaker and mom an actress, storytelling per se was up in the air in my home. I remember my dad joking with his students: “We should feel like Sherezade, whose survival depended on her storytelling skills!” And although I did consider acting and directing at some point, my love for music was way more profound.
Awards Focus: I know you were encouraged to write at the age of five, do you remember your earliest influences musically?
Jusid: Oh! They were quite eclectic: Beethoven, The Beatles, Bach, Genesis, Chick Corea, Tom Jobin… even Nicola Di Bari!
Awards Focus: The international film landscape is very artist friendly, and that is not always the case in Hollywood and America. What differences have you observed from your experiences in different countries as a composer?
Jusid: I understand your point. And those differences between Hollywood and European cinema were certainly pronounced a few years ago. However, today, maybe thanks to globalization, those contrasts are not so defined anymore.
You might be working on a feature or series in Spain where you must go through screening test processes, talk to many creative voices, and “be careful” not to risk much. And you might find yourself working in a US movie where you find the artistic freedom you mentioned. And the other way around too. The contexts have changed.
Awards Focus: With “The English,” you have an outstanding cast and story paired with your great work, which we’ll dive into specific tracks very soon. With your process, do you like to write to picture or start to sketch cues after reading the scripts?
Jusid: I like to dive into my projects as soon as possible. And write to whatever I have available: script, storyboard, conceptual conversations with the filmmakers… Then, later on, I continue my process with the first available assemblies. And sometimes, I find that the previous material I had composed to script is not interesting or pertinent anymore. But more often than not, those first ideas have something quite valuable.
On the other hand, those early suites or pieces shared with the filmmakers provide them with another narrative voice that can come into play in their general construction. So, not only I am allowing myself a lengthier and richer journey but I am also giving the score an opportunity to become part of the early creation of the movie.
Awards Focus: Do you feel a particular connection to any theme that you’ve written for “The English,” and did you make any instrumentation choices that readers might find interesting or particularly inspiring?
Jusid: I have a particular connection with the motive from the opening credits, mostly because of its journey. It’s a theme associated with Cornelia and Eli’s personal connection.
So the theme goes from a subtle and fragile appearance in “And Yet Here We Are”, to a more passionate one in “My Home Is Here With You” or to a more self-confident play in “Coming For Eli Whipp”.
Of course, the orchestration changes on each occasion. Maybe it’s on the “Opening Credits” or in “Coming For Eli Whipp” where the hybrid orchestration of orchestra plus ethnic percussion and electric guitars, brings a more peculiar sound to it. Something contemporary yet traditional.
Awards Focus: You’ve mentioned that Eastwood music tracks were on the playlist Hugo Blick sent to you. Was “You Cut Her Hair” on that playlist as well? I’d love to know more about the musical back and forth between you and Hugo.
Jusid: That particular track was not on the playlist but it was actually licensed for one of the episodes. Our playlists were quite heterogeneous. From Copland to Mahler, with stops in Jonny Greenwood and John Barry. Each track would bring a quality that we thought was relevant. Hugo added a few of Eastwood’s pieces for their beautiful simplicity and symmetry that were appropriate for some of our characters.
Awards Focus: You mentioned not wanting to have a modern synth sound with a horse carriage for example, how did you manage to blend synth with orchestral so well with this?
Jusid: I didn’t want the electronics to stand out or to distract the audience. All the contemporary elements of the score are usually blended into the instrumentation. And although they are electronically and heavily processed, they come from an acoustic source.
My team and I spent quite a bit of time banging on pieces of furniture, junk, broken instruments; you name it. Those raw materials would later become an electronic pulse or an indecipherable atmospheric pad.
Awards Focus: What was it like collaborating with Emily Blunt, was she as comfortable as any other vocalist you’ve worked with?
Jusid: Emily was a great champion of our score and, as an executive producer of the show, a great supporter of Hugo’s and my ideas. I am deeply grateful to her. And as a vocalist, she solely performed her lines on episode one sublimely, and I just had to build my score around her.
Awards Focus: “Coming For Eli Whipp” is just a majestic, gorgeous track and I love the strings, brass, and bell that makes an appearance. It flows like an ocean wave challenging various emotion and energy. Can you walk me through sketching out the track and then building this gorgeous orchestration around your theme?
Jusid: Well, thank you so much for your words! Narratively, that cue plays at the peak of Cornelia’s might. In episode one, she’s rescued by Eli, but in episode five she is the one coming to his rescue.
Here, she feels powerful and self-secure. The motive is the same as that of the opening credits. It is material that has been growing and unfolding throughout the show but does not reach its full scope until this cue, precisely when Emily’s character reaches her maximum power.
Awards Focus: I think John Williams would be floored by the track “‘Soon’ has come.”
The track is something that could fit into the greatest films of all time… you could drop into Star Wars, ET, and it would work to picture beautifully and elevate the material. You have a real orchestral gift and I’d to hear more about writing “‘Soon’ has come.”
Jusid: This is deeply flattering, gracias! Thank you! I would already feel honoured if Maestro Williams didn’t feel bored by it! This was undoubtedly one of the most complex cues in the entire show. It is a 10-minute love scene with all the ingredients you can name. Sorrow, frustration, desolation, and at the same time, hope, promise, and an immense tenderness.
The characters, and the music along with them, go from one emotion to the other, when not feeling them all at once. This cue has been one of the biggest challenges of my film-scoring career.