Today I would like to share a really cool interview I recently conducted with Jim Guthrie, Canadian singer/songwriter and musician extraordinaire. He has released critically acclaimed records on his own with the brilliant Now, More Than Ever and Morning Noon Night, as well as lauded releases with Royal City, Human Highway and Islands. We discussed his first forays into songwriting as well as some of his influences and stories behind his recordings…
BD: When did you start writing and recording music, and what was your setup?
JG: I started around 88-89 when I was 16-ish. I rented a really cheesy keyboard from a local music store and recorded myself on a little pink tape recorder for about 6 months. I remember trying to emulate crappy love songs I heard on the radio at the time but I had no idea how to play so I used the auto-chord function and the drum machine. Shortly after that I got an acoustic guitar and continued with tape recorders but I starting using two and I’d multitrack by playing along with prerecorded stuff on one deck and recording it all onto the other deck using the built-in mic. Then my life changed when I got a Fostex X-18 4-track cassette recorder. I started filling the tracks with any instrument I could get my hands on and taught myself how to play just about anything.
BD: Who were your favorite artists growing up and what inspired you to begin recording your own songs?
JG: I was really into a mix of stuff. Crappy pop songs of the late 80’s, Led Zeppelin, Nick Drake, Queen, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, oldies, random pieces of classical music, rap and hip hop from the early 90’s. It was all really stimulating and I saw the value in it all. As far as music that was current back in the early 90’s – I was into Sebadoh, Ween, Pavement and lots of other lo-fi indie rock dudes. Later I got into the Chicago / Louisville indie rock scene with bands like Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Palace Brothers and Slint. I never really thought of myself as a songwriter but friends would hear what I was coming up with and encourage me to write more. It was all so innocent at the time.
BD: What influenced you most while writing and recording your album Now, More Than Ever?
JG: That was a funny record in the sense that it was a mix of old and new song ideas spread over 8 years so it’s hard to say where the ideas came from. Around the time I was actually going to go into the studio to record it I remember being totally obsessed with production of the song ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. The drums and bass on that song are just so perfect. I was also pretty into OK Computer like, 5 years after it had come out and I think I was sonically inspired but that album as well. Lyrically I’ve always been a little scattered. I’m always scribbling down one-liners and by the end of a month I’d sift through it all and put together the pieces of my fragmented subconscious. I never just sat down and wrote a song from start to finish in one afternoon. Every song of mine is a winding vine that was planted years ago but pruned every so often along the way.
BD: Owen Pallett’s string arrangements on Now, More Than Ever are really incredible. Did you write the songs with his elaborate strings in mind, or did he write his arrangements around your songs?
JG: I hadn’t really met Owen at the time I wrote most of those songs. I had a lot of the music fully realized by the time Owen got on board but he really added to that record in ways I never could have imagine. It was a collaboration but I had strong ideas about things outside of the band arrangement. Owen wrote a lot of the string arrangements on the spot the morning of a session. He’s so unbelievably gifted and skilled. It was a total pleasure to watch him lay down track after track of mind melting harmony. There were times when he’d lay down a dissonant violin line and I’d be like, “Are you sure that works?”. After a few more overdubs the arrangement would come together and resolve in the most unexpected way. A very humbling experience.
BD: You’ve used the old Sony Playstation to make beats and music in some of your past music-and just scored another video game with your newest release The Sword and Sworcery LP. What are some of your all time favorite games, as well as video game music?
JG: I’ve loved a lot of video games over the years so it’s always hard to answer this question. I started off with playing a Commodore 64 over at a friend’s place to a Gemini (poor man’s Atari) then an NES then I skipped to a Playstation so there were a lot of hours spent on those consoles. I also spent a lot of time at the local arcade so I don’t even know where to begin. One of my earliest musical video game memories was the music from Friday the 13th on the Commodore 64. I was soooo haunted by one of the 8-bit melodies that came out of the tiny speaker on the TV we used. Later I realized that the tune I was hearing was a Bach organ piece called ‘Sleepers Wake’. I’ve actually gone and dug it up here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPx2OTcatJ8&t=1m28s
BD: The past few years have been pretty explosive in music recording technology. What do you use for your demos and recordings now?
JG: I record everything I do in Garageband. I know the program inside and out and I can get ideas down fast without the technology getting in the way.
BD: What’s your favorite piece of gear these days?
JG: I recently picked up an OP-1 and it’s capable of some crazy sounds although I haven’t had much time to really get inside it. I also recently bought a set of Roland V-drums (TD-4KX2) and I can’t get over how great they feel to play. I use Addictive Drums software sounds and it’s awesome.
BD: What all have you been listening to lately?
JG: When I look at my ‘recently played’ tunes in iTunes it seems I’ve been listening to a lot of Burl Ives, Bry Webb, Bob Dylan and Cass McCombs lately. To be honest most of the stuff I listen to these days are rough mixes of whatever it is I’m working on but I manage to sneak others in there.
BD: You’ve recorded and toured with so many artists over the years with Islands and Human Highway among others-do you have any dream collaborations down the line with people you haven’t worked with before?
JG: I’d die a very happy man if Daniel Lanois or Jeff Lynne produced a record of mine.
BD: And finally-when can we fans expect another full length LP from Jim Guthrie?
JG: I expect I’ll have something ready for consumption by Spring 2012. It’ll probably be self-released / digital only but I may do a small run of vinyl as well. I actually started working on this record back in 2007 but then got busy with….things.