“Highway One” is a film that danced in my mind long after seeing it. When I viewed the final cut, I saw a symphony of personalities, colors, absurdity and moments of humanity.
The above quote comes from my initial feelings after watching Jaclyn Bethany’s film “Highway One” back in 2020. It is interesting how I grasped the visceral aspects of the film before anything else. I felt the same way when I listened to the music on the soundtrack for the film composed by dream team Dalal Bruchmann and Maesa Pullman. Like an independent filmmaker, they are scrappy in their process, using what is in front of them to make their music together. I got to speak with them about how they both accidentally got into composing and how their relationship with “Highway One” director Jaclyn Bethany serendipitously brought them together.
Their music cannot be defined by any genre. They are explosive together, and have crafted a kaleidoscope of sound and beauty. The soundtrack is now available for listening on Spotify (see below). It’s an eclectic immersion of sound from Russian classical beats, to 90s grunge to psychedelia, and it all works within the constructs of the film. “Highway One” is now playing in select theaters, and is coming to streaming soon.
How did you get into composing?
DALAL BRUCHMANN : I think it was a natural progression, in a way, for both of us. I started in classical music and went over to pop, then gospel, back to classical music, pop, and then EDM. I always loved different genres, and never liked being stuck on one thing. I loved to try out different ways to approach music, and the best opportunity for that, I feel, is film. Through film, there are so many different stories in different eras to explore. I got into composing by accident because somebody needed a credit song for a documentary, and then it was used to score the whole documentary. I had so much fun because it was so different than what I had been doing before. Jaclyn introduced me to Maesa at one of her performances in LA, and that is my story of how I got into composing by accident.
MAESA PULLMAN: Coming into composing was an accident for me as well. I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to score movies. I had been making my own music as a singer/songwriter and had performed with bands. Like Dalal was saying, it’s such a rich experience to get into a story. Composing is a different beast than just a three-minute song, you know? The long-form of scoring for a feature is a totally different thing. Before I met Jaclyn, I did work on some short films with friends, but it was more specific. It was thanks to Jaclyn Bethany that I was introduced to Dalal. Once we met, it just got my wheels going as a composer.
How did you meet Jaclyn and what began your collaborative relationship?
DALAL: I reached out to Jaclyn first because I found out she was directing a movie about the Romonov sisters for a short film. I had just read a book about the Romanovs and I have always been interested in their history and what happened between 1917 and 1918. I reached out to her about lending her a piece of music or collaborating in some way. I ended up sending her a score, and then she came back and said, “I’m working on a feature, and I want you to meet someone. I really feel you’d vibe well together.” And that person was Maesa. That’s how we met.
MAESA: I met Jaclyn through a photographer in LA. We first collaborated when she brought all of these amazing women together to make a magazine called Constellation. The magazine was meant to be just a one-issue. During that time, I feel we talked a lot about vibes of music, and she told me she was going to be making a film about mermaids in New Orleans. I don’t know if that project ended up happening, but I was like, “yes, that’s definitely my thing.” I made a song for her short version of “Indigo Valley”. Then I met Dalal, and it just opened up so much.
Can you talk about your process of working together, specifically with “Highway One”?
DALAL: At this point, our process has really evolved, and it has a structure in how we approach what we’re doing, and how we are doing it. But it always flows. We are always adding things and are led by who gravitates towards what. We’ve realized we just enjoyed the process. At the beginning, it can be overwhelming. There’s all these directions you can go in. Jaclyn usually has very specific ideas for her scenes, and she has a good collection of music in her head of things that she likes. That’s always helpful for us. But then she also gives us moments of “we don’t know, you guys just do it, and figure it out.” Which is also great. We’ve had other projects where it’s basically just a blank slate, where we needed to find the sound and the voice to compose in a short time frame.
MAESA: I really appreciate Jaclyn’s trust in us. It’s just a perfect recipe of ideas, and free rein too. Different things about each project we work on will draw me or us in. Sometimes I’ll just start with the lyrics of a song, or the landscape of a moment, or a relationship between two of the characters. Then that gives me something to hook on to.
How did your two styles of music organically flow together?
MAESA: I’ve learned so much from Dalal, she really is a genius with composing. To begin with, we had the elements of the instruments. We would go into it with one vibe, and then as the scene changes, we would take it to another. Also, Dalal is brilliant with the string arrangements. When the string players come in and they need it all written out, Dalal can speak that language. And sometimes we’ll co-write pieces together by sitting at the piano. Other times it’s like you take this, and I’ll take that.
DALAL: It’s funny because the more Maesa and I work together, the more we think similarly. I feel like I know where she is going to go intuitively, and she knows where I’m going. We learn how to weave our styles together. I think that Maesa is such an artist. She comes to the work and it’s so in her, it’s in her heart and it’s in her soul. There’s a lightness to that that’s really great.
MAESA: We feed off of one another and we get so energized from the work. In the process I’m like, “this is so great”, like “oh my god, this is amazing.”
DALAL: There’s a lot of great back and forth energy. Maesa comes from the band and the life, and there’s patience in that. It’s been such a fun process. Sometimes when we sit at the piano and then one of us comes up with an idea, adds to it, and then goes to the organ, and with another instrument, it organically starts happening. And then sometimes, like Maesa says, there’s a piece from me, and then a piece from her, and then we realize that’s where we are both going, which is perfect.
MAESA: It’s really bringing me back to the making of “Highway One.” We were really utilizing what we had in front of us. We were pulling on so many different kinds of instruments. We even played this instrument that my brother made. It was like a piece of irrigation, like a pipe, shaped in a loop. And we played a harmonium and accordions. There are so many different kinds of things we could utilize.
DALAL: At Maesa’s, there’s a moment I remember very fondly when we were just trying to get unstuck, and then I found this mandolin. It had strings missing, but it was so beautiful. Then we started talking about how being limited in resources can actually widen your creativity in so many ways.
MAESA: It’s like the most fucked-up mandolin. (Laughing)
DALAL: I know, but it was great. We used it in like three pieces, or something like that. There’s literally a piece where the main instrument is this mandolin and we were only using two strings or three strings. I don’t really play the mandolin, so I was just trying to find things that worked. And it worked so well.
DALAL: We were doing all of this in a house, so you’re kind of limited in what you do with the people you have around. So there was a beauty to finding things in the room to utilize, and then there were strings missing (laughing).
MAESA: We had to be creative. Music is playing the entire time in “Highway One”.
MAESA: Because it’s a party.
DALAL: There are so many different kinds of music in play, from European Russian, to Pop Euro from 1992 to grunge, and so on.
I love that!
Something else I love are the individual songs you brought to the film, Dalal with “Paper Queen”, and Maesa with “Time got Wide”, and “Warm Shadow”. Can you discuss that process?
DALAL: “Paper Queen” is more about the end when everyone is settling down. It’s kind of like this twinkly fantasy. The lyrics are about being a paper queen, and not a real one, just a queen made out of paper. “Highway One” is about people who have crafted their own story, their paper kingdoms with their paper palaces, paper worlds and dreams. None of it is “real” at the end. But maybe in that world, it’s okay. That’s really what the song is about, it’s the facade of the world we’re in.
MAESA: “Time got Wide” and “Warm Shadow” are two parts of the same story of the relationship between Nina and Maria. With Maria, I just got into her head during the moments that her and Nina were together. Their connection is intense. I might mention that my husband Jason was engineering and mixing and recording our work. With “Time got Wide” we were in our apartment with the harmonium and my tenor guitar. With “Warm Shadow” we had a drum machine. “Warm Shadow” is part of the same story of Nina and Maria’s relationship and love. “Time got Wide” is really the psychedelic mind-bending part of that relationship.
DALAL: I love the idea of two musical versions of one story. “Time got Wide” really got to me at first because I love that idea of time as a geometrical construct. People are always talking about time speeding up, or time slowing down, but the widening of how we experience time is a whole other concept. It kind of works with the constructing of the facade of these characters and this house.
What do you hope people see in your music for “Highway One”?
MAESA: I just wanted the music to kaleidoscope and bloom out of whatever is going on in the film and have this surreal, fantastical, and psychedelic party element. Also, to have these strands of relationships between the people be real and visceral and moving and vulnerable. I hope people see the movement between the kaleidoscope psychedelia party and then to the individual connections.
DALAL: I think it’s similar for me. I just would love for people to slip away and close the blinds for a minute and just kind of be in that house with these people. Just turn on that music, and go through the emotions. Because there are so many emotions, the feeling of grunge ballads of the 90s and then there’s a Russian waltz to spin you away to different dimensions hopefully.
MAESA: And just enjoy the ride.
DALAL: Exactly. It’s like a ride. You were mentioning the characters. There is just this romantic absurdity to a lot of these things. There is a piece called “Headshots” that is so weird and then it’s like a melody that goes to rap with a circusy kind of clarinet music. It’s definitely been like a colorful journey for us.