Not everyone who has success in the video game industry was necessarily planning on it. In fact for Canadian songwriter, singer, and composer Jim Guthrie, it was particularly surprising. Within the gaming community Guthrie is best known as the man behind the soundtracks for hit indie game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, and the documentary film Indie Game: The Movie. The 42 year old artist may soon be adding another game title to his portfolio, pending a successful Kickstarter campaign for the tactical space exploration title, XO.
While Guthrie’s work on game soundtracks has captured him a new fan base, the vast majority of his work extends outside of “video game music.” In fact, from his perspective the term “video game music,” is something of a misnomer. For Guthrie, music is music, and it has been that way since he started teaching himself how to play the guitar in his youth. We wanted to get a better sense of Guthrie, and hopefully piece together some idea of what may be in store for our minds and ears with XO.
JT: You’ve been a self-taught musician since you were a teenager, but what impact have video games had on your life?
JG: I have a spotted history with video games. I didn’t always have a game system or computer growing up so they didn’t have a huge impact. Not like music did. I’m 42 so my first system was an Atari, but the graphics were always better at the arcade so I probably spent more time and money there in my early years. I’m not even sure I owned an NES after that, but I did play a lot of Mario somewhere. Then I owned a PS1 long after they were desirable. I got it for free because by that time the PS2 had been out for a bit. I didn’t own a computer until I was in my late 20s but it was an eMac and they weren’t exactly pimped out for gaming. Video games have always seemed so mysterious and complicated. I never would have dreamed I’d be making music for them now.
Jesse Tannous: Your previous work on Sword & Sworcery, which garnered you a lot of attention and propelled your reputation in the video game community, was somewhat heightened due to the close relationship shared by the visual and musical aesthetic. Will XO be featuring some kind of unique fusion as well, or will the album be more about the music itself?
Jim Guthrie: We are in the very early stages of figuring all of this but I know we all want the music to play a big part in the game. I can’t really compare it to Sword & Sworcery because conceptually they are very different. The gameplay will be very different as well but I’ll do my best to create music that serves the experience we want the player to have. The guys at Jumpdrive have some great ideas and they really love what they do so I’m sure we’ll create something great.
JT: You’ve stated in previous interviews that you don’t consider your songs “video game music,” but rather that you create music that happens to be in a video game. Can you explain a little more about the difference you make between the two, and has this perspective shifted at all since your successes in the video game industry?
JG: Yeah, I’m not sure exactly sure what I said before but that sounds about right. Basically, it’s all music. From a composers POV the only thing that changes is its context/purpose thus changing how the music sounds and plays out etc. You wouldn’t want to hear death metal at the dentist office just like it would be a total buzzkill to play experiment drone music over the PA at a basketball game. The more you understand about the kind of experience you are trying to create for the audience then you can start to musically experiment with ways to get the desired response. Same goes with video games or any other a/v experience. Music is the secret weapon in all of it. Its ability to subconsciously manipulate how we feel is fascinating to me.
JT: Try and describe what it is like in your head while you create music. What is it like when you find yourself in that creative zone?
JG: I really try to treat everything I write like I’ve never done it before because in a lot of ways, I haven’t. Every project is different and so is the music. For that reason there is always a little fear involved when staring at a blank session. Once I get going, I’m all over the place emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, but mostly I’m curious as to where it’s all going. If I’m forcing it then it can be tough to come up with good ideas, but if I’m doing it right then the music leads me. At some point I’ll find myself in familiar territory – then I take control until I feel lost again (which is always welcomed) and it’s that back and forth that makes it rewarding for me.
JT: Do you find the music you compose for video games any more or less creatively satisfying? What helps keep the process fresh and interesting for you?
JG: I’ve been doing music for a long time now. I haven’t always made money doing it but I’ve always found it all incredibly satisfying. I have good days and bad but most importantly I get to have those good and bad days making music. I would rather have a shit day making music then have a great day working for someone else at an office job I ultimately hated. I’m also easy to please so I’d manage either way, but to make a living doing music is a dream.
Those interested in sampling some of Guthrie’s other musical styling should visit his official website. Otherwise drop by and support the XO Kickstarter in order to hear more of the musician’s music for games.
(Update) As of July 31, XO was successfully funded on Kickstarter