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Tuesday
Apr212015

A Thousand Things

Double vinyl reissue available now on Bandcamp

I've left this to the last minute but deep down I know it's was kind of on purpose.  I'm officially rereleasing a lot of (mostly old) music and it's kind of overwhelming.  It's a lot of music (5 or 6 hours) that no one asked for but if there was ever a time I should do this - it's now.   It's also just a little confusing (even for me) to try and explain and package it all into a tasty little sammich that's easy to digest.  Maybe it's not confusing.  Maybe it's just the over 20 years of thoughts and emotions that surround it all.  Either way I'm going to give this little sammich a shot and I've asked a couple people to help me explain so let's get started.

Alt album cover pic taken in 1998-ish


The first thing I want you to know about is I'm reissuing my first CD, A Thousand Songs on double 180g vinyl.  I've also recorded 11 new versions of songs found on this record (digital only) and I'm super exited it's finally on vinyl.

One of the reasons it seemed like a good time to reissue is because I've also had a book written about me (!?) which perhaps gives this album greater context.  It also explains the fact this album was made up 4 previous cassette releases that not many people have heard.  It was 20 years ago this summer that I released my first cassette and to celebrate that I'm also releasing these 4 cassettes on Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-can thing.  Oh and the book also has a mix tape that comes with that also acts a companion to the book that I've also made available for free download HERE.  So do you follow?  Let's take it one at a time:   

The Reissue

Another alt cover idea

So yeah this album was sort of a "best of" my previous 4 cassettes (which I'll get to in a second) with some other (at the time) unreleased stuff.  There's so much I could say about this but I've got things to do so I asked my good friend, Michael Barclay (who's also interviewed in the book) to say a few words about it.  He reviewed A Thousand Songs in Exclaim magazine when it came out in 1999 and he's been a fan ever since.  He's managed to sum a lot of what I'm trying to say here - but way more awesomer:


Jim Guthrie released his first cassette 20 years ago. I was living in Guelph, Ontario, and had a campus radio show; so did he. He was friends with Aaron Riches and Nathan Lawr and Nick Craine; so was I. But we didn’t know each other, and I didn’t know his music. Then I heard 1999’s A Thousand Songs, which compiled tracks from four self-released cassettes. Now, of course, the world has recognized the genius of Jim Guthrie, a book has been written about him (Who Needs What, by Andrew Hood, out this month on Invisible Publishing), and the label that was formed to release A Thousand Songs, Three Gut Records, is universally acknowledged as a catalyst to the sea change in Canadian music that made the likes of Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire possible (both those bands—of course—are big Jim Guthrie fans).

 But at the time, I thought something along the lines of: “Who is this time-frozen freak who wants to stay home and listen to Mel Tormé, rides bikes without chains halfway around the world, and has dreams of dirty fingernails? The guy who’s as ridiculous as Ween but as heartbreaking as Elliott Smith but with more bottom end and soul than either (“shit yeah, I can dance”), is he some kind of lo-fi Lindsey Buckingham hooked on video games, subsisting on a diet of something known only as “curry toast”? Is this what would have happened if Paul McCartney ditched Wings to join German weirdoes Can? Did some tracks from a Ry Cooder soundtrack for Wim Wenders get thrown on here by mistake? Seriously, what the fuck is going on? There’s no way this could be the sound of a small-town guy who only picked up a guitar a year or two ago.”

 And yet it was. And it was magical. And it was leaps and bounds ahead of anyone I’d heard in Guelph—or anywhere else. “Hey there, High Fidelity record-store clerks, I see your Beta Band’s Three EPs and I raise you A Thousand Songs. Get ready to fold.” Before I heard Guthrie’s music, I assumed his pals were hyperbolic when they hyped his genius, or were at least merely using the local teen punk scene as a low-bar benchmark. They weren’t.

 There are tracks on A Thousand Songs where Guthrie sounds like Carl Sagan trapped in a black hole with Blade Runner synths swirling around him, or perhaps like one of Alvin’s chipmunks fucking around with a toy piano. There are times when he gets downright slinky (“Sexy Drummer,” “Wear in the World”) and even freaks out for the DJ booth (“Focus on Floor Care,” which could have been a 12” on Ninja Tune). Some tracks should be on a Hal Hartley soundtrack. Or Friday Night Lights. Many are full of interruptions: a phone ringing, the sounds of schoolkids next door, even a toilet flushing. A Thousand Songs conflates tiny moments of perfection and imperfection and dares you to tell the difference. It’s profound and profane. Most of all, it’s profoundly curious. Sometimes it’s just a guy screaming into a crappy microphone: “Wama-lama-ding-dong-wooooo-EEEEEE—woooo!!!!” Much like life itself.

 Since then, Guthrie has released three more proper albums (Morning Noon Night, Now More Than Ever, Takes Time) and written plenty more material for ad agencies (“Hands in My Pocket”), indie films (Indie Game: The Movie), and odd collaborations (the most high-profile being Human Highway, a duo with superfan Nick Thorburn of the Unicorns and Islands). His work for video games like Sword and Sworcery have introduced him to a whole new audience; old fans will be surprised to learn that his gaming work is infinitely more popular than any of these classic albums he’s re-releasing now.

 To celebrate the 20th anniversary of his first cassette—which included “I Don’t Wanna Be a Rock Star”—Guthrie is giving A Thousand Songs a re-release on 180-gram double vinyl with updated artwork. But that is not all—oh no, that is not all. With it comes a Bandcamp download code for 11 new re-recordings of songs from the album, made with his current live band and recorded by long-time confidant Andy Magoffin. This summer, Guthrie will also make available on Bandcamp all four of his early cassettes (only some of the material made it onto A Thousand Songs): Home is Where the Rock Is, Victim of Lo-Fi, Documenting Perks Part 1, Some Things You Should Know About Sound and Hearing). Finally, Who Needs What author Andrew Hood has compiled his own mix tape as a companion to the biography, available as a download with purchase of the book: it’s a career-spanning mix of Guthrie’s greatest non-hits of the past 20 years, including a full version of his Capital One ad, Hands in My Pocket, never before available. Indeed: who needs what? Take what you want, take what you need.

 Twenty years on, A Thousand Songs no longer seems like such an aspirational, grandiose title after all.


The Cassettes

 All four cassette covers released from 1995 - 1998
So yeah like I've already mentioned this summer will mark the 20th anniversary of the first cassette I ever released called Home Is Where The Rock Is.  I would never call it an album because it was 60 minutes of me fucking around in my basement but it was a big deal to me at the time.  It was just a local release (100-ish copies) and I never really thought of myself as a "recording artist" or a "singer songwriter".  I was too wrapped up in learning more about where it might take me and coming out of a shell that that my childhood had put me in.  

I then released a cassette every year for the next 4 years - Victim of Lo-Fi, Documenting Perks Pt1 and Some Things You Should Know About Sound and Hearing.  They were all kind of a mess.  They were the sonic manifestation of over sharing.  It was me finding myself and recording almost every idea and musical breakthrough I ever had.  Sort of like when a proud parent takes 4 million pictures of their kid transforming from an uncoordinated blob of flesh to a walking and talking little person. I use this comparison because I realize that at times the music on these cassettes is just as boring and ubiquitous as all the babies that ever learned to walk and talk but it's none the less, my story.  I could also go on forever about this time in my life but again, I gotta eat and poop and stuff so I had Andrew Hood, the author of my bio, 'Who Needs What' to write a something about it instead:

If you were in and of Guelph in the 90s, you probably know about these four tapes: Home Is Where The Rock Is, Victim of Lo-Fi, Documenting Perks Part 1, and Some Things You Should Know About Sound and Hearing. Maybe you owned them at one point and have subsequently misplaced them over years of moving house, or you accidentally left them to melt on your dash and are still kicking yourself, or you’re a preservationist/hoarder and still have them but don’t have a deck in which to jam those Jims. If any of the above is the case, then you’ll probably not want or need to read anything some random dude has to say about said tapes. Probably you’ll want hop into the time machines that they are and blast back to the halcyon time and the place you were first listening to them. Thanks for reading this far.

But if these tapes are news to you, if you come to Jimmy Guthrie through his soundtrack work, or his high-pop-water marks, then a bit of context might be helpful. To begin to fully appreciate what these tapes are and where they come, we’ve got to back to – bear with me – the twilight of the 19th century:

At the dawn of the technology, the pioneers of sound recording had differing opinions about what exactly they meant to capture. What kind of literal record were they making? Was it the live performance that they were documenting or was it the piece itself? With the former as the goal, the time and the place and the performer should be secured, blemishes and boners and all in an unaltered reflection. Favouring the latter, though, fidelity would be to the piece of music itself, to creating a sort of ideal version and an ideal space. Over a century of sound being gouged into wax, or being zapped onto magnetic tape, or converted to 1s and 0s, recording has mostly sought perfection. These days, records are rarely those literal records anymore, but more craft than performance.

Thanks to further monkeying by the likes of Les Paul, the original catchall recording techniques opened up to recording multiple tracks, so the live-ness of a recording could be fudged. One person could jam with herself all of sudden. Building on this newfound freedom, recorded music moved further away from being conventionally live, producing early tall poppy examples like The Beatles, who strove to create music in the recording studio that had no relation to live performance. As the technology got more slick, became more digital and less analog, capturing a live performance became less important. The song became more built than performed, sort of in the same way that oral storytelling was gradually corralled into structured, honed narrative prose.

But as mainstream music embraced this sonic perfection, a subset of artists eschewed polishing all together, for both economic and artistic reasons embraced a type of record-making much closer to that original avenue of document making, of making a record of a time and place and people, and the unique result of those convergences and combinations. An offshoot of the DIY punk surge of the late 70s and early 80s – more recognizably kin in spirit than sound necessarily – this type of scrappy, basic music-making could be done by anyone. The making became more important than the product. Just so we don’t get too soaked in specifics, we’ll pop up the lo-fi umbrella over this movement.

These four early Jim Guthrie records are record-records. Put to tape between 1992ish, when Jim had only been playing music in his basement for a few years, and 1998ish, when he had become something of a figurehead in the local music scene of Guelph, Ontario – this is between the ages of about 19 til 25 – these are documents of personal, creative, and technical growth. But they also double as a record of a specific time and place, of the maturation of a sound and an experience of that mid- to late-90s home rock movement in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Recording for Jim started out as just a literal record his progress. Any time he successfully transitioned from a D to C chord, he’d hit record on the pink boombox he started out with. Eventually, he got a Fostex X-18 4-track, which would allow him to, as the name implies, record 4 tracks of himself. Now that every Mactop comes with GarageBand, it might be a bit difficult to understand how revolutionary home recording technology like the 4-track was. They amounted to a pretty cheap learning tool, offering a fairly idiot-proof way to break down songs are learn how they’re constructed. For the most part, they’re a tool for demoing songs, sketching them out, before heading to the studio to create that perfect version. But early stand-out lo-fi acts like Sebadoh, They Might Be Giants, Pavement, and Ween set a precedent for having the moment of creation come as close as possible to the final product. Lo-fi elevated the learning and fumbling process, argued that an original sketch is as good, if not better, than the final painting. So yes, Jim is sloppy and awkward on these early albums, though less and less so, but working in that lo-fi comfort zone, there’s an aplomb to that inelegance. If nothing else, listen to these albums for that gusto.

Like a lot his lo-fi contemporaries, Jim is all over the map on these tapes, experimenting with random instruments and random genres, throwing anything he can get his hands and interest on at the wall to see what’ll stick. when you’re working with the idea that there’s a worth to everything you try, this permission gets created to try anything you want. With this in mind, these four tapes become a sort of Cradle of Civilization for Jim’s career. These tapes are full of tangents and tests, of Jim trying a little bit of everything. He doesn’t always succeed, but he often does. I’m no rock doctor, but I’m willing to diagnose Jim’s continued success as a product of his adaptability. Over the time period of these albums, Jim tries a bit of everything: field recordings, pop songs, jingles, slow-burn post-rock, noise collages. In his twenty years of making music, Jim’s dipped his creative wick into a bit of everything. If you’re a fan of a particular instalment of Jim’s many interests, you can find the early, primordial experiments on these tapes.

Read the rest of his piece HERE 

  
The Book

Cover by Craig D Adams

If you're still reading at this point then I should really buy you a beer.  Last but not least we have my first (and probably only) biography - Who Needs What by Andrew Hood and published by Invisible Press.  I am super grateful for what Andrew has managed to pull together for this book.  I recently tried to express my gratitude in a wee Twitter rant and this is what I had to say:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is really so much more to say about all of this and so many more people to mention and thank but I should really go feed the cats. xojim

Wednesday
Dec172014

One of These Days I'll Get It Right

New remix album on Bandcamp!  One of These Days I'll Get It Right is a collaboration with Toronto producer Solid Mas. A selection of instrumental work from Jim's back catalogue.  GET SOME!

Friday
Aug012014

Poster & Shirt SALE

During the month of August if you load up your Bandcamp cart with any poster AND shirt you'll get 50% off when you enter the discount code 'postershirt' when checking out.  MIX AND MATCH NOW WHILE SUPPLIES LAST

Thursday
Jun122014

Ballad of the space Babies Shirt!

Pre order this 4-colour screen printed shirt over on my Bandcamp.  People have been asking for a while now and I'm pumped they are happening.  Shipping starts by June 24 (or earlier) if the supplier can knock them over quicker.

I'm also rocking 50% off IGTM double vinyl for the next three days to celebrate the film turning 2.  Just enter the sale code 'igtm_sale' when checking out.  GRAB IT HERE 

Or head over to Steam to grab this amazing IGTM Steam Bundle including games from the film and the Special Edition of the doc.  So much stuff for $9.99!

Friday
Jan172014

Now, 10 Years Gone

10 year anniversary remastered edition of NMTE available on Bandcamp

It was 10 years ago today that we had our CD release party for 'Now, More Than Ever' at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. The official street date of the release was November 18, 2003 but as usual, I didn't really strike while the iron was hot. I didn't tour that much for it either but despite my best efforts to undermine the release it was still warmly received by the press and was even nominated for a Juno. A lot of the credit goes to Lisa Moran and Tyler Burke at Three Gut Records who pushed the record in ways I never would have if it was left up to me. They worked harder than any of us and I'm eternally grateful for it. I'm also very grateful to the group of guys that helped me make this record. It was the first time I had really taken my own songs out of the bedrooms and basements of my 4-tracking youth and tried to make a "studio album". Working with Andy Magoffin on this album was also a huge pleasure. I had previously worked with Andy in 2001 when we recorded Royal City's second album, 'Alone At The Microphone', and I was excited to be working with him again. I remember Andy had recently bought his first Pro Tools rig shortly before we showed up to do NMTE. He was finally making the leap to computer-based recording and it was a pretty big deal to all of us. He also owned an 8-track reel to reel, so Evan and Simon laid the drums and bass to 1" tape before going to digital. Easily one of the best rhythm sections I've ever played with. There was also a DA-88 machine in there somewhere and it all seemed like some kind of magical format orgy and NMTE was the accident baby that pop out. In the end it all went to Pro Tools where we continued to add harmonies, hand claps, a banjo and woodwinds, along with the insane string arrangements by Owen Pallett.

Simon Osborne, Mike Olsen, Jim Guthrie, Evan Clarke, Owen Pallett

I had been playing with Owen for a couple of years at this point, both in Royal City and my own stuff, so I knew he was good. But aside from the arrangement he did on Days I Need Off from Morning Noon Night I wasn't fully aware of how insanely talented he was. Watching him layer track after track of (mostly improvised) violin and viola on NMTE was truly jaw-droppping. At times (during these sessions) what he was playing made no sense and sounded very dissonant and out of sync with my music. If you can imagine hearing the string arrangement at the end of Lovers Do, as a solo violin, in a quiet room (as Owen wore headphones) you'd think he was trying to ruin the song. Up until that point a lot of the songs didn't have these insane strings so I had no idea what he was trying to do. It sounded crazy, but as he and Mike Olsen layered each part it revealed itself in a way that left us all a little speechless. However, not everyone loved the strings on NMTE when it came out. Some found it a little much in contrast to my previous, (less ambitious?) home recordings. To me, it was heaven.

Three Gut Records Showcase SXSW 2003So here were are. Man, 2014. Since recording and mixing NMTE back in 2003, Andy Magoffin has gone on to record dozens of indie rock classics. He's also honed his ears to the point that I consider him to be one of the finest mastering engineers around. It seemed only fitting that I hand the original mixes back to Andy to remaster. Now, 10 years gone. Maybe it's just me, but I think it sounds amazing. I asked Andy to say a few words about it all:  

Way back in 2002, somebody finally convinced me that computers work pretty well in recording studios. I was recording my own albums at the time, and I was tired of punching in guitar tracks with my toe, so I bought a computer. 

And then I told Jim that I'd just bought a computer and that I'd hoped to use it to mix his record. Which we were already working on with tape machines.

He said something like "Um - okay, I guess - as long as it doesn't, you know, get in the way or slow us down or anything."

And of course it did. It slowed us down good. Don't ever try to figure out software with a specific set of goals in mind. Especially with the paying clients.

But by the end, I think we came up with something that doesn't sound like a first try. Remastering everything after 10 years revealed no weird glitches, no bad decisions, nothing hard-to-handle. And the music holds up SO well….. Maybe being scared of screwing it up and therefore touching nothing is sometimes the best way to record somebody. As long as they're Jim....

 

I didn't really have any bonus content or B-sides to release with this edition (because I gave it all to a UK release of the album a few years back) but I had this crazy idea of getting Justin Nace, who also mixed the recently released Takes Time, to remix an entirely new version of NMTE.  Just for kicks.  Perhaps it would reveal elements in each song that were previously inaudible and provide extra ear candy to a seasoned NMTE fan?  Justin had the idea to call this refresh, More, Now Than Ever and it's included as a bonus with the purchase of the remastered edition. I think Justin did an amazing job.  He had this to say about the experience:

I remember the first time I heard Jim's music. I remember who gave it to me. I remember the brand of shitty media I received it on. I wore that Maxell out. I have since been lucky enough to work with Jim on a variety of projects. I have also by now had the good fortune to work with Andy Magoffin probably more than I've worked with anyone, which is a good thing as I would credit him with much hand holding and back patting. So when Jim spoke with me about new mixes for the 10th anniversary of this record I was thrilled and nervous. 

I decided before opening a single session that the idea wasn't to break the mold here. No major deconstruction, reconstruction, or correction. A polish and lift approach was deemed most appropriate. Deeper cuts, lower thresholds, automate this, leave that alone, effect this thingy more… you get the idea. All while trying to stay true to the original and my memory of the record but hopefully creating a slightly different and fresh listen. And to do it all without referencing the original mixes till very late in the process so as not to get caught chasing my tail.

When dusting off the old sessions if I found bits of tracks buried or low in the mix. Even if done with intent, I would bring those parts "out" a bit. Hopefully to highlight something new in the mixes for the listener without losing sight of the original record. This relates mostly to additional drums, percussion and synth. And there are some pretty sweet goodies to nibble on. Strings were also given priority in the mix, and much care was given to ensure their prominence while still leaving room for the other elements in these denser mixes. There are heavier (louder) crisper drums and less low mid action all around, which I know some people will love (such clarity!) and others will undoubtedly chastise me for (it just doesn't have the same feel).

It was a thrill to be given the chance to poke around a record I have enjoyed for so long, made by people who I have admired even longer. If you, in listening, feel a sliver of the pleasure I felt balancing this tiny behemoth of sound then that's icing on the cats pajamas if ya know what I mean. And I'm pretty sure ya do.

 

 

I also asked longtime friend and journailst, Michael Barclay to speak to the occasion. Here's an excerpt:

 

Now More Than Ever doesn’t sound like Jim Guthrie had just turned 30 when he made it. In fact, who knows who the hell made that record; it sounds like something that’s always been with us, soundtracking every stage of our lives: our first steps, our first snowball fight, that first smooch, that prom afterparty, that crippling heartbreak, the first time we packed up and moved to a different town and wondered what we left behind. 

 

You can read what he had to say, in full, on my Tumblr.

 

 

Logo by Tyler Clark Burke

 

It took me ten years to release my next proper solo record, Takes Time and once again, I hardly played a show, or really promoted it the way I maybe should have.  I don't know what's wrong with me.  I guess I'm not cut out for show biz?  Actually, I know I'm not cut out for show biz.  And when I say "show biz" I mean all the time you have to spend, not making music, to deal with the machine, to promote your work.  It's a tough racket.  I do know that when you surround yourself with people you respect and love it never feels like show biz.  Three Gut Records never felt like show biz.   Music is nothing without the people you make it with, or for. Now, More Than Ever taught me that.  So, it's now, ten years gone and I get to feel the love all over again.  Are you with me?

xo jim

 

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Now, More Than Ever is available now on Bandcamp