Scoring a feature length sports documentary is a first for me, but Scott Sterling and Kelly Gorham’s film Mavericks is pure cinematography gold celebrating the incredible legacy of Montana’s freestyle skiers, so I was definitely up for this challenge.
Given Scott’s credentials – he’s won an impressive 11 Northwest EMMYs – I wanted to avoid the type of cliched soundtrack often synonymous with action sports films. My starting point is always that I need to bring something fresh, a different approach to each project I take on. I felt this score should reflect both a sense of Montana as well as capturing the essence of these global champions who spend a lifetime perfecting their techniques and end up competing in the Olympics and World Cup Skiing events.
Both Scott and I wanted this film to be unlike any other sports documentary. Mavericks truly captures the struggles, victories, and unbreakable spirit of some of Montana’s most successful champions in a very unique way and I hope my soundtrack helps to tell their powerful story.
I felt from the outset that this score had to sound like a band, not my usual style it has to be said, but I had this vision of a bunch of musicians jamming in a studio as I watched some early footage, and slowly my tracks began to evolve. Each piece building in momentum as the story evolved on screen, creating music that was free, fluid, and rhythmic, reflecting the absolute beauty of these freestyle skiers in action.
Scott said: “Opportunities to make a film like ‘Mavericks’ don’t come along often. This film was as exciting to produce as it is to watch, and I’m thrilled to bring the incredible legacy of freestyle skiing in Montana to the forefront while celebrating our local athletes and inspiring future generations.”
Listen to ‘Grass Roots Kids’ below, this was one of the first themes that I composed for the film. It ended up being used for a scene early on in the film for flashbacks to the champions when they are young kids honing their skills on homemade ski jumps.
To create my unique Mavericks band, I reached out to some wonderful musician friends of mine. Top of the list was guitarist Mark Lavengood who has played on a number of my soundtracks. Mark brings to the table a beautiful playing technique and knowledge base of so many guitar styles I knew he was perfect for this film.
We began to experiment with his Scheerhorn Dobro (his ‘Cadillac of the studio’), Stiver mandolin, and Fender Telecaster, these vintage instruments are collector’s items which bring an authenticity to my music that I love.
I wanted to give the soundtrack an element of the magnificent mountain ranges for which Montana is renowned, so I reached out to the Moxie Strings fiddle player Diana Ladio who I had seen perform online during the pandemic for the Spread the Music Festival in Michigan. A few weeks later Diana was in my Michigan studio playing acoustic violin on the tracks which at that stage were in very rough form, with guide drums provided by some guide drum loops on RMX Stylus.
It was at this time that I sent some tracks to the production team for feedback and thankfully they liked my initial approach.
Freestyle skiing is all about movement and fluidity, when done correctly it looks effortless, so I wanted to create music themes that had this flowing elegance to create a cohesiveness for the film.
I knew the rhythm section of the tracks had to be solid, so I contacted London based drummer Matt Ingram and the following week we were working together in Urchin Studios as Mark replaced the guide drum loops. It was a magical session watching him play with such fluidity, I knew I was onto something very special. In the control room we were viewing a rough cut of the film at all times, and the juxtaposition of music and pictures was beguiling. It was very exciting pulling up each new theme and hearing what Matt could bring to it.
Back at my studio over the following days I ran off rough mixes and sent them to the edit. Scott was uncannily fast at replying with feedback as he pulled my rough music sketches into the cut: ‘a touch more attitude, while remaining grass roots’, ‘love how it plays homage to Montana with the guitars and violin’ and ‘I’d love to have a little more uncertainty and mystery in the piece’.
To address some of these points I brought in guitarist Barry Cadogan. Barry turned up at my studio with a 1963 Gibson ES345 and a guitar he calls the MK2 Custom that he designed and had custom built. He also used a 1962 Fender Super Amp with a pedalboard of his own hand-crafted guitar pedals, I knew immediately this would be a superb session and I was not disappointed. I generally do not record guitar with FX straight into Logic as I prefer to have the control in the mix afterwards about how much FX to add…but Barry’s FX pedals sounded so amazing that rule went right out the window! His processed guitar sounds complemented Mark’s natural sliding techniques perfectly.
The final part of the puzzle was replacing the guide bass parts with a real bass guitar, so I sent the tracks off to Kevin DePree in Los Angeles and he replaced them all with real bass. Kevin also added some drums and percussion on the tracks from his own studio.
Special thank you to Dan Cox at Urchin Studios for recording the drums; Dan Jeffries for the drum mixing; Jake Jackson (Air Studios Management) for final mixes; Adam Speck for assisting; Kevin DePree for orchestral programming and Mike MacLennan for supplementary orchestrations.
I will be releasing tracks from the soundtrack over the coming months on my YouTube Channel which can be watched here.
Mavericks can be streamed on this link if you are in the USA, or on PBS via the PBS app (USA only) or a web browser (USA only).
Directed by Scott Sterling. Written & Produced by Kelly Gorham.