"I'm a lot more comfortable doing instrumental music," explains Jim Guthrie. "I feel like I can say more without words." After getting his start in the Canadian indie rock scene, Guthrie has spent the last few years intimately tied to the worlds of film and gaming creating music for games like Sword & Sworcery and Sound Shapes and documentaries including Indie Game: The Movie and more recently The Manor. But a decade after his last solo record came out, he's returning to his roots with a new album appropriately dubbed Takes Time. "Like anything that's worth anything," he tells The Verge, "some things just take time. And if you can accept that it makes living a whole lot easier."
"If you can accept that it makes living a whole lot easier."
Though it's coming out now, much of Takes Time was actually recorded back in 2007, long before Guthrie became a "soundtrack guy" following the success of Sworcery. Early versions of the songs were recorded in a church in rural Quebec (the actual melodies and lyrics didn't come until much later), and after that they were left to sit. Following the success of 2003's Now, More than Ever — which earned Guthrie an award nomination at the Junos, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys — he wasn't quite sure if he could make another album that lived up to those lofty expectations. And then came Sworcery and the film and game soundtrack work that followed.
"I was just sort of dragging my feet," he says. "After doing all of this cool work with film and TV and video games, I've realized how much time you can actually spend making music when you're home all day working on a project. It's purely music making. When you're in a band, or when you're trying to do the indie rock thing, 23 hours of the day is spent trying to get to the next show, and doing soundcheck, and then you're on stage for an hour. It seems like a lot of wasted time to me. I just realized how much more music I can actually make.
"Sword & Sworcery taught me something about myself," Guthrie adds. "I learned a lot about music and what I'm capable of." It didn't hurt that the soundtrack was also very successful, even selling through a run of two thousand vinyl records and spawning a remix album featuring influential Japanese game composers like Akira Yamaoka and Michiru Yamane. It was even available on cassette. That success led to further soundtrack work — including an upcoming game that he's very excited about, but not quite ready to discuss — which in many ways helped Guthrie reinvent himself as an instrumental composer. "I just sort of let go of who I thought I should be and let myself do other work and be other things," he says.
"'Sword & Sworcery' taught me something about myself."
But those songs from 2007 continued to nag at him. Though Guthrie was enjoying making soundtracks, the solo album and its not-quite-fully-formed songs were always in the back of his mind. "They were like songs that I forgot the words to. That sort of haunted me in a way." When he finally got down to finishing up the album, he even managed to utilize some of the techniques he learned while doing soundtracks, including some "cool synth sounds" peppered throughout the album.
It may have been in the works for around ten years, but Takes Time is no Chinese Democracy or Duke Nukem Forever — it's a coherent album filled with catchy hooks and poignant lyrics, the kind of musical experience that works best when heard from beginning to end. Guthrie may say that he's uncomfortable with being a front man, but his voice lends the lyrics a certain weight that makes them feel all the more powerful. In fact, the protracted recording process might have actually helped make Takes Time a better album. "If I would've settled on some things back in 2008 it would've been not as good of a record," he says. "In a weird way it truly benefited from the time capsule that I put it in."
But it's also very different than the music he's become known for in recent years. And because of this he's not necessarily expecting Sworcery fans to buy the new album in droves. "When people buy Sword & Sworcery they don't necessarily buy my back catalog," explains Guthrie. "They're there for Sword & Sworcery, and they're in, they're out. I don't see a lot of crossover." Luckily, he's seen success in both worlds. "I've got a lot of love on both sides."
"They were like songs I forgot the words to."
Aside from the occasional synth sounds, Takes Time also features a few other nods to Guthrie's involvement in the world of gaming. For instance, several songs feature the piano work of Toronto musician Shaw-Han Liem, better known as I Am Robot And Proud and the co-creator of Sound Shapes. The cover art, meanwhile, was done by prolific graphic designer and illustrator Cory Schmitz who, among other things, created the logo for Verge sister site Polygon.
Video game fans might not flock to the new record, but Guthrie is still hoping to keep a foot in both the soundtrack and indie rock worlds going forward — he just hopes his next solo album doesn't take quite so long. "If I do make another solo record I hope it happens a lot sooner than in ten years from now," he says. "I just hope to do more of everything — more games, more records, more music. Whatever I can get my hands on."