Naz & Maalik, a film by Jay Dockendorf about two closeted Muslim teens being surveilled by the FBI post-9/11, is currently making the festival circuit, garnering accolades for its incisive premise and the draw of its raw, untrained leads. Though Dockendorf follows the two leads with a Richard Linklater level of focus, Los Angeles-based artist Dzang's soundtrack, a percussive soundscape that borrows from jazz, subway drummers, hip-hop, and Dzang's penchant for collage, lends an element of meandering surreality. Here, Dzang gives us insight into the collaborative process behind the film's soundtrack.
How did this collaboration end up happening?
DZANG: Jay is an old friend. We’ve hung out and played music together since high school and talked with each other a lot over the years about our various projects. When Jay told me that he was ready to make his first feature, I asked if I could make the music. He said yes—it was a no-brainer for both of us, or, at least, we really wanted to work together. Thats the beauty of independent projects. You make them happen with your friends.
How collaborative was the soundtrack?
Writing the music for the film was very collaborative. Once the first assembly was ready, Jay and I holed up in a studio in L.A. for two weeks and pumped out a rough score. We’d watch the movie and throw together ideas that might work. He would play piano, and I would play everything else. If something was really working, then I’d beef it up with more production. By the end of those two weeks we had written a full score together, but it wasn’t exactly what ended up in the film. There were some major re-shoots, so I did a lot more writing as the edit changed, but I’d say though that the vibe of this score was created together.
What were the challenges of working on a film, compared to a song or an album?
A track needs to be compelling for four or five minutes. A score has to work for 90 minutes and requires an internal logic that reflects action and change. There are themes that should develop and references that have to stay consistent. Where do you start? It can’t just be with a cool riff, as you would in a song. There has to be some understanding of where the score is coming from, what justifies it.
I really love collaborating with non-musicians. It almost always pushes the music somewhere unexpected. At the same time, it's probably the hardest part of working on a film. There are so many non-musical decisions that the music is obligated to reflect or adapt to: “We made this scene 4.3 seconds longer, can you stretch the music?” It's hard to comply with all the editing changes and still keep the integrity of a piece of music. Jay really knows music, though, so we could have specific conversations about how the edit and music would interact.
What does the film mean to you and how did you reflect that?
This movie brings together a lot of important topics: sexuality, surveillance, gentrification, love. To me, the films asks a big question: how does a modern person love another when there are so many contradictory ways through the world? Naz and Maalik’s friendship and romance is an extension of that, with Bed-Stuy serving as an illuminating backdrop. I find meaning in their connection and less through their interaction with systems of control. The score develops much more according to the state of the boys’ relationship than their affairs. It starts in a fun place and slowly breaks apart as tensions rise. Toward the end of the film, the music settles with some more groove-oriented pieces but with a much more impressionistic quality that reflects the complications in their relationship.
What is your favorite moment from the film?
Definitely the scene when the guys are walking through Downtown Brooklyn selling their lotto tickets and smell goods on the street. It's the most unscripted scene in the film and shows the city and feel on the street so well. Curtiss Cook Jr., who plays Maalik, just kills it trying to convince people to buy his stuff. There are times when he’s basically freestyling and so I made the song “Selling” to reflect that hustle. I was listening to a lot of Pusha T at the time, and I asked Henry Kwapis (Harriet) to come in play some drums like “Numbers on the Boards.”
How long did it take to complete the soundtrack?
It depends on how you measure it; there were tweaks until the end. The soundtrack was only finished when the movie was finished. All in all, maybe six months of intermittent work. When something takes a long time it's usually hard to stay interested, but this was an amazing learning experience so I felt good throughout. I mean, the 300th note is inevitably something annoying but it's all worth it in the end.