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.
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.
So 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.
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?