Published May 09, 2013You may not recognize the name — or at least, you may not have heard it in a while — but chances are you've heard Jim Guthrie's handiwork. From scoring video games, TV, and film, to playing in indie rock notables like Human Highway and Islands, Guthrie has been making noise since he was a beardless Guelph teenager in the '90s. Now, exactly a decade removed from his last solo album (2003's near-masterpiece Now More Than Ever), the prolific singer-songwriter/composer is back with Takes Time, another understated gem of an album, chock-full of Guthrie's trademark artisanal pop. With stand-outs like "Taking My Time," "Difference a Day Makes" and of course "Bring On The Night" (a track so gorgeously cinematic it had me writing Garden State 2 in my head, just so I could include it in the soundtrack), Takes Time will have Jim Guthrie rightfully returning to the spotlight. We caught up with the man at Nova Era Bakery on Bloor Street in Toronto to discuss finding success in music, writing for non-traditional mediums, and the importance of taking one's time in art.
You originally started recording Takes Time in 2007, but had to put it on the shelf for a while when you got side-tracked with other work. Are you happy with the album despite all the delays?
I made a lot of choices toward the end of the process that I think made it infinitely better. A lot of things started to click and that's how I got it done, I hit a stride. It's amazing what you can do when you get on a roll. And it's crazy because it was overwhelming how far I felt from being done, but sometimes you just hit a point and it all comes flooding in, and if you have the wherewithal to jump on the train as it's rushing by amazing things can happen. I managed to finish like 60 percent of the record in maybe ten months or something. So I definitely think the record is way better for having been ten years in the making. I probably would've made a really crappy record had I rushed it.
So what was the inspiration that helped you get so much done in those last ten months?
Honestly, it was friends. I really felt out of the loop, I didn't trust myself. And then I just started sharing. at first I tried to be like "no, I'm going to work on it all myself until it's done and then I'll show people; I'm not ready to share yet." But then I realized how stupid that was. I need feedback, even if it's just people saying "that sounds cool." That was a big turning point, I started letting people in more and it made it easier to finish.
One of the first things that struck me about the album was how anachronistic the music felt. To me, part of it sounds like early 2000s indie pop, part of it feels more classic-rock influenced, but it no way does it resemble what's currently in vogue. Did you make a conscious effort to make an un-trendy album?
The sound of the album definitely wasn't at all calculated. I guess I have my own tastes and preferences. But at the same time, I kind of felt like I didn't have the luxury of dictating how cool or not cool I wanted it to be, it was just a real struggle to finish it. Sometimes I would have a song in mind, or something I was inspired by, and it goes from oldies to metal. There's even a Faith No More reference in there. The cheerleaders in "Don't Be Torn" who say "be assertive" — the original is "be aggressive" and so it was kind of a tip of the hat to that band. But I never set out to sound a certain way. A lot of these songs are just kind of old now. I started writing some of them in 2003, so the songs are almost retro just by virtue of the fact that they were written so long ago.
But in a way it's kind of refreshing to hear a record like that, something that doesn't going out of its way to sound cool.
Totally. It's kind of weird to think about it that way, but they are just really old. I was writing them when the Postal Service were big. When I was really into the Toronto scene and listening to Owen Pallett's band Les Mouches. None of my stuff really sounds like that, but the point it, it was a different indie environment. I don't know exactly what indie rock was like in 2003 but it was a totally different landscape of bands.
On several occasions throughout the album, "Don't Be Torn" and "Never Poor" to name a couple, you seem to embrace your life experience by offering advice to the listener. You urge them "don't be so angsty" and "be assertive." There's a suggestion that things will get better. Does this speak to a new level of maturity you have reached?
I think so, but it's all advice to myself. Those are all words to me. I think I even say in the first song "give and take my own advice until my demise." I have a lot of self-referential lyrics. I'm constantly aware of what I'm saying and how it can sound really preachy, but ultimately I'm trying to get my own self going. I'd just feel like a jerk if I was offering advice to other people, I'm too introverted and self-involved. So yeah they are words of advice but they're definitely for me. If they mean something for other people though that's great.
Musically, you've had a lot of different creative outlets over the years. How does the process of writing for mediums like film or video games differ from making albums?
Each one sort of informs the other. I really feel like wouldn't have been able to do music for film and TV if I had not had a scrappy indie rock career or done all these things with other songwriters. I was sort of getting myself ready for something I didn't even know I'd be doing. Music has always been an emotional things for me. Not to the point that I'm a basket case but I've always just kind of responded to the emotional weight behind the song, so for me, even doing jingle work, I learned early on that I couldn't not try to put my best foot forward. Even doing ad music, you have to put all of yourself into it, because if you don't, you just make really bad, shitty music. Of course I wouldn't write the most heartfelt love song for a jingle, because that's not my intention, but I'd still have to try to make it the best piece of music I could, because if I did anything else that would be selling out. That's my definition of selling out. When you do something with half a heart just for the money. But I've always loved ad work. I find it really challenging.
After such a long time in the game, how do you measure success? Is it something you think about and consciously strive for?
I have a distinct memory of saying when I was a teenager if I could just have a room full of so many instruments and I could just get up and make music every day then I'd be successful. I have a basement full of junk to make music with and I get to wake up and do that every day and I make a living creating sounds. So I don't take it for granted. I really feel like I'm lucky. I think the biggest hurdle for me was accepting that it's not going to be from selling millions of records and touring the world. But that wasn't even a big leap. You know that's just something in your head when you're young, that that's how you're going to make a living, you're going to be in a popular band where you're the product, but it's just as much of a pipedream in some ways.
What are some of your non-musical interests at the moment? Any podcasts, TV shows, pastimes you'd like to endorse?
I'm mostly just obsessed with being online. I'm online 14 or 15 hours a day, so a lot of whatever I consume is online purely. I'm pretty obsessed with gadget sites and gear sites right now. I'm really into theverge.com, I think they have great writing and a lot of great articles. I've been watching a lot of old episodes of Q right now. And I've reading a book by Nate Silber — the stats guy. I've been super into numbers, probability, and stuff like that.
What's next? Any plans to tour?
I'm kind of the worst at my own career. I'm putting out a record but I'm not really playing any shows right now. I just finished a film Manor, it's a crazy, touching, dark, funny, heartfelt doc. I was really busy so I knew I couldn't do all things I needed to do. I couldn't practice and then go on tour right when the record came out so I decided to not start playing shows right now. But I'll play Hillside [Festival in Guelph, Ontario] at the end of July and then towards the end of the summer into fall I'll do a little tour then, but right now I have a couple of other things I'm working on. Hopefully I'll be working on a new game soon and another film but it's all kind of too soon to start talking about that. But even though I'm not touring there's still a lot to do for this record online. I manage and sell a lot of my own stuff online so I'm also wearing that cap. I'm pretty busy just maintaining all the odds and ends that life is throwing at me now. But it's good I've been non-stop since [scoring the videogame] Sword and Sworcery. I haven't really vacationed or been off the internet for more than 6 or 8 hours. It's about time I slow down a little bit and took some time for myself. Honestly, for me it certainly doesn't really feel like it's been ten years. Time just speeds up the older you get and it just whips by. It feels like three years ago or something I released my last record, Now More Than Ever. I'm still a little stumped as to how it took ten years, but I don't have any regrets.