My Favourite Game
The Sword & Sworcery composer and indie musician discusses composing on PS1, ‘anti-game music’, and Resident Evil 4
Musician Jim Guthrie talks PS1 demo discs and Resident Evil 4
Award-winning Canadian musician Jim Guthrie is a prolific solo artist and has recorded as a member of Islands, Human Highway and Royal City. He has also created or contributed to the soundtracks of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Planet Coaster and Indie Game: The Movie, and is scoring Xbox One title Below. His game career, though, had its beginnings on PlayStation kit… Before Sword & Sworcery’s dark electronica, you were a rock/folk artist. How did you make that leap? A friend gave me a PS1, but I was so broke I used to play a lot of demos from Official PlayStation Magazine cover discs. One of them had MTV Music Generator on it. I still have a PSOne with a folding screen that I use to compose music on from time to time. Craig Adams got in touch because he was a fan of my music. I ended up sending him a CD of music I’d made on the PlayStation, and he really dug it. We stayed friends and then maybe six years later he asked me to work on Swords & Sworcery. He loved those recordings so much we ended up using them. I’d had the opportunity to do ad work, scoring a film and a few other things, but games gave me my first opportunity to stretch myself as an instrumental composer. That visual and aural aesthetic has become quite fashionable now. Yeah. I remember when I did Sword & Sworcery I was shocked that there weren’t more people from indie rock and other places making music for games. The more we can mash that up, the better. Composing for videogames wasn’t always in your sights, then? I think if I knew I could compose music for games when I was 16, I would have gone in that direction. But when you’re 16, that stuff just seems out of reach. How has the process of composing for Below felt different? It’s a slightly different group of people – it’s still with Capy, but Craig’s not there. Kris Piotrowski is the creative director – he likes what I do, and I love the way he thinks, so it’s basically him trying to please me trying to please him. The soundtrack is very different to Sword & Sworcery – it’s much more droney and atmospheric, and there’s not really beats as much, and not as many melodies you can hold on to. We’re trying to set moods that aren’t spoonfed at every moment – it’s more like we’re laying out these blankets and you just lay on them and roll around a bit. Planet Coaster feels like a surprising addition to your CV. [Frontier’s] Janesta Boudreau got in touch and knew my indie and folk stuff from way back when, and was like, “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I know you’ve done games in the past and I’m working on this thing – I think you might be a really good fit”. As a self-employed guy, I’m always up to hear about a new job. Basically, when they said they loved my stuff, they had me right there. And I’d been making so much dark, scary music for Below that it was really fun to just strum on an acoustic again. The way they pitched it to me was that they were going to have this kind of game music that happens on the rides, but then I would create other stuff which is almost, as they put it, ‘anti-game music’. It’s a really easy sell if you say, “You know that thing you’ve been doing for the past 20 years and not making that much money doing? Just do that some more, but here, we’ll totally pay you to do it.” It’s like, “Are you kidding me, you just want me to be me?” That’s a huge compliment, and hopefully it’s a huge compliment to them for me to recognise that I think that it’s a little risky or weird, in a way, to put that in there.
“I still have a PSOne with a folding screen that I use to compose music on from time to time”
So which game is your personal favourite? Well, I’ve spent just as much time playing MTV Music Generator as any other game, so it’s either that or Resident Evil 4. I’d played RE1, but then didn’t play any of the other ones. And RE4 really stuck out in the catalogue of what was available on the Wii. I played a whole lot and I thought about it all the time – I loved the combat, the weapons and the music. And the totally ridiculous dialogue. I’ve probably finished it 20 times – there was a lot of replayability. And it wouldn’t make you feel like a jerk if you weren’t good at it – it was monitoring how accurate your shots were, and how well you were doing, and if you weren’t very good at it, when you got to the harder levels it wouldn’t throw more people at you.