What inspires you and what keeps you motivated?
I’m inspired by everything. I get very inspired when I feel I’m on the verge of understanding music in a way I’ve never considered. Almost like I’m uncovering a secret. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand what makes a piece of music intriguing or worth anyone else’s time and that, in of itself is somehow motivating to me. I try not to write the same song twice. Hearing new music I’ve had a part in making is all the motivation I need.
Do you have any tips on how to move past rejection and competition?
I just get over it. Not sure how else to put it. Don’t take yourself too seriously, have some humility and work hard. Also, take a moment and consider the fact that your ideas might be crappy? I have so many projects going on at once that if a piece of music doesn’t work in one context it will surely work in another at some point. The moment you put all your eggs in one basket is the moment you’re gonna be miserable.
What advice would you offer other young artists and musicians hoping to make a living off their talent/passion?
Just work, work, work. Spend as much time as you can at whatever it is you are trying to do with your art and things will happen. The more time you put in the better chance you have of achieving your goals. If you do this and don’t get better, then you should do something else.
As you’ve mentioned, you’ve done some projects that have been big departures from your solo and band efforts as a musician – for example, recently doing the soundtrack for the innovative videogame iPhone app that was built around your music – an EP titled Sword and Sworcery, The Ballad of the Space Babies. This no doubt allowed you to explore a different side of yourself. Succeeding when you’ve stepped out of your element may have provoked some anxiety but ultimately been exciting and rewarding?
Sword & Sworcery has been hugely rewarding on every level. It was exactly what I wanted to do at the time that it came up about two years ago. I always loved soundtracks, instrumental music AND video games so this project was a dream come true. The fact that this game was completely grant-based and self-funded also meant that we had complete creative control and only had to answer to each other. I’ve never considered S&S stepping out of my element though.
I’ve always made cracked-out instrumental music – maybe even more than regular songs!? In many ways writing pop-rock music has always felt like more of a stretch for me than tinkering away at instrumental music. I love pop music but I’ve always struggled with it, but I think that’s always been part of its appeal as well.
I love a musical challenge and doing music for film, TV and video games seemed like a totally natural progression to me considering the challenges that come with it. If you told me when I was 18 or 20 that I’d be doing music for film, TV and iOS apps at 37 I’d probably first ask “what the hell is an iOS app” and then I’d probably think yer nuts and go back to recording on my cassette 4-track.
Back then, being in control of four whole tracks of audio to record a tune with was the ultimate challenge and hugely rewarding for me. Now, I’m scoring arty / beautifully designed interactive video games. It boggles my mind.
You recently worked on the National Parks Project – where Canadian musicians and Filmmakers were sent out into the wilderness to convey nature through art. Tell us a bit about this experience.
Again, here’s another unbelievable project that I never could have dreamed being a part of. How often do you get to go out to the furthest reaches of the Canadian wilderness with other musicians and filmmakers to get inspired and make art for a week? It was unlike any trip I’ve ever taken or will take again.
We got to go to Gwaii Haanas National Park and it was super reenergizing. Making music is probably the easiest way I know how to get back in touch with nature. Sometimes it’s a little tricky to slow things down in the city but it was pretty easy to just ‘be’ once we got settled in the park.
I’ll always remember the moment on that trip when I first really got to just sit and listen to the glorious silence that fills that park. It was all the inspiration I needed.
This is a big question I think – I have a lot of friends who are musicians that have struggled with the possibility of making music for commercials etc., fearing it would be ‘selling out’ or that it is a threat to their integrity as artists – did you struggle with this? How would you frame it to others questioning whether it’s the right thing for them to do or not?
I’ve struggled with it in the past but the older you get the more you realize how juvenile and misguided the notion of “selling out” really is. Not to say all morals go out the window when art and commerce join hands but it’s a little more grey then my 18-year-old self once thought.
It’s all well and good to shout the words “sell out” from the comfort of your parent’s basement but it’s the difference between making art and making a living. It turns out they aren’t that different from one another. The important thing for me is to understand the difference between writing for someone else and writing for me. It’s a job but it can absolutely also be “art” and vice versa. Not all ad gigs are winners but they are always a challenge.
The challenge is to not write shitty “ad music” in the same way any other creative field strives to not produce uninspired garbage. That my friend, is selling out. Selling out can also mean working a shit job that is killing you or it can come in the form of singing a song on stage when you fucking hate it. So many ways to sell yourself short but the important thing is to know yourself, know your craft and never get comfortable.
Updates for Sword & Sworcery are always in the mix. I’m really trying to finish a new solo record in the next 6-8 months and I’m currently doing the music for an amazing new indie doc about being an indie game developer. It’s called Indie Game: The Movie and it’s being made by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, out of Winnipeg.
I also just co-produced a new album with Marc Morrissette aka Octoberman and we hope to get it released later this year. I also just finished another project last month with the NFB that is an interactive web doc about the crumbling high rises here in Toronto, and urban planning. I’m actually super busy.
When all is said and done.
In this economy, all professions need to rely on various projects to contribute to making a living. As exemplified by Guthrie, to succeed as an artist, as in many other professions, it is crucial to not only move forward, but to branch out. The key today is being open to the unexpected, maintaining contact with other artists and finding that perfect balance between art as pleasure and art as practical.
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