By Chris WhibbsWhen you first set eyes upon the cover art to Human Highway’s similarly alliterative debut, Moody Motorcycle, a look of confusion may dawn upon you. Dressed in appropriately retro ’60s and ’70s troubadour-ish clothing, and looking quite earnest, are Human Highway duo Jim Guthrie and Nick Thorburn. You smile at the blast-from-the-past motif not because it’s supposed to be a joke, but because it evokes a gentle earnestness that permeates the lovely vocal harmonies and laid-back folk-rock within. The art also does the job of separating this project from Guthrie and Thorburn’s musical day jobs. Guthrie released his last solo record in 2003 and used to play with the sadly defunct Royal City, but it was being a part of Islands that brought him in contact with Thorburn, who started Islands after playing with much-missed Unicorns.
Yes, there was kismet in the air when these two met. "The idea [for Human Highway] had crept up even before we’d even really talked about it,” Guthrie explains. "We were both thinking when we first met each other that we both liked each other’s music and then the project became more of a reality the more that we got to know each other and the more that we played together.”
It was in the middle of an Islands tour when they recorded an impromptu track together in a hotel room, but the project really only gelled when Thorburn moved into Guthrie’s house for week to write and record. "He came down for a week and he brought a bunch of half-baked ideas that he’d recorded on his laptop just using a mic,” Guthrie remembers. "He probably had one or two more than I did. I had some stuff that was already sort of recorded that really didn’t have a home, or didn’t have any lyrics or singing on it so I brought those ones in. Everything sounded really different at first but then as we worked on it more it found its shape. We could all see how it would fit together as one complete thought. But, it was a fragmented process, or a puzzle in that we had a bunch of ideas and we just made it work.”
The beauty of Human Highway comes from the fact that it draws upon Guthrie and Thorburn’s other musical projects, but not so overtly as to make it seem like they’re recycling discarded material. It truly it is a project to satiate similar musical interests. As Guthrie recalls, "We knew that we really wanted to sing together and to harmonize and we can’t really do that as well in a sort of a rock format so a lot of them turned out more folk-rock because that’s what felt right and that’s what we sang.”
The downside of a successful side project is the fact that there’s no certainty of a follow-up and, sadly, this may be the only thing they’ll do. Guthrie’s lackadaisical outlook on the future of Human Highway, though, gives some hope. "I think we’ll do it again,” he says. "It would be a bit of a similar thing or we won’t plan it too much. I like things to be a bit more spontaneous, or I don’t like things to look like they’re too laid out for me. I get depressed when I feel like it’s, ‘We’ll do a record, then we’ll do a tour.’ We’re keeping it really loose and up in the air and I like it like that.”