Texas landscapes are cinematic. Wondrous and vast, they deserve their own film scores. That’s where Justin Sherburn comes in.
And right now, Sherburn needs to make some thunder.
With less than a week to go before the premiere of his latest multimedia concert, The Living Coast, Sherburn grabs a heavy-gauge sheet of galvanized aluminum. Then he gives it a good shake. “Oh yeah,” Sherburn grins as thunder rolls off the wobbling metal. The sound is worthy of any Gulf Coast squall. “That’s it,” he says. “We’ll put a mic to this.”
Sherburn, a composer, writes soundtracks for such natural treasures as Big Bend and the Texas shoreline. He performs them with his orchestral rock group, Montopolis, as panoramic videos of those Lone Star locales play on a big screen behind his band.
The thunder will echo August 2 at the Stateside Theatre in Austin. A Montopolis show is like a night of beautiful chamber music, but with electric guitar and the twang of pedal steel giving a Texas kick to the keys and strings. A narrator occasionally interjects, telling stories about regional history such as a Big Bend-area train robbery or the infamous Galveston hurricane of 1900. Sometimes prerecorded interviews play. The music, imagery, and spoken words come together in a fitting tribute to the beauty and contradictions of Texas places.
Sherburn, an Austin resident, Fort Worth native, and former member of the indie rock band Okkervil River, describes Montopolis as an orchestral rock group. And Montopolis has been busy this year: The Living Coast follows on the heels of The Legend of Big Bend, which debuted just five months ago.
“Big Bend is mostly presented as static, gorgeous vistas in their glory and grandeur,” Sherburn says. The coast, by comparison, is teeming with life. “We interviewed one guy at a bait shop, and in ten minutes he caught like three fish, one after the other.”
People fish and surf. Shrimp boats troll the bays, and oil refineries operate at water’s edge. All of it feeds Sherburn’s inspiration. “There’s motion, there’s activity, birds everywhere,” he says.
When The Legend of Big Bend debuted in February at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, the show’s imagery provided a solid introduction to the vistas of far West Texas but didn’t entirely rise to the majesty of Sherburn’s score. Happily, The Living Coast reunites Sherburn with skillful cinematographer Anlo Sepulveda, the codirector of Yakona, a breathtaking documentary about the San Marcos River. Sherburn composed the score for Yakona, which won an audience award at SXSW in 2014.
Following its Austin debut this week, The Living Coast will travel to the Midwest next spring, with support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A spate of Texas shows will follow. Montopolis is actively touring for The Legend of Big Bend, meanwhile, with several upcoming concerts around the state:
- September 21, Discovery Green, Houston
- September 22, Levitt Pavilion, Arlington
- September 26, San Angelo Performing Arts Center, San Angelo
- October 13, The Queen Theatre, Bryan
- March 8, The Crighton Theatre, Conroe