JIM GUTHRIE opening for Rainer Maria with the Carnations at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 9). $8. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
listen to what jim guthrie's done since the year 2000. Does this sound like a dude who took his first airplane trip last year and until a year and a half ago had never been away from his Guelph home for more than a week?He's launched Three Gut Records, one of Canada's coolest indie labels; his debut solo album made many best-of-2000 lists; he's a pioneer of PlayStation music; and he's a core member of critics' darlings Royal City.
When I meet him at the Green Room on a miserable, blustery day, Guthrie comes across as your average 20-something philosopher, a meek and scruffy boy toting a copy of Herman Hesse's Gertrude. He's the kind of guy you'd be more likely to run into searching for obscure art-film soundtracks and Marxism tomes in Seekers bookstore than rocking clubs across the country.
Then again, he did write a song called (unironically) I Don't Wanna Be A Rockstar.
"I fight to live in obscurity, 'cause that's where I feel comfortable," offers Guthrie.
"It's kinda like the lottery. I buy a lotto ticket once in a while, and I want to win, but I don't want to win. If I won, my life'd turn upside down and I'd probably wreck everything. If someone dumped everything in my lap all at once, I'd feel like I didn't have to work for anything. I think there has to be a natural progression."
Guthrie's first album, A Thousand Songs, rocketed him into the spotlight. The disc, a warped fusion of bittersweet four-track acoustic guitar and drums -- complete with squeaky toys, glockenspiels, slide whistles and nutty video-game samples -- showed up on countless Canadian best-of-2000 lists. The CBC kept Guthrie's Sebadoh-meets-Super-Mario masterpiece in constant rotation on their edge-of-mainstream Brave New Waves show.
The album was also responsible for bringing together the collective that eventually became Three Gut Records (see sidebar). The name came out of a brainstorming session between Guthrie and label co-founder Tyler Clarke Burke. They hit on Three Gut from the schoolyard taunt "Jimmy Three Guts," which kids used to yell at Guthrie.
But after recording fellow Guelphites Royal City's debut disc, At Rush Hour The Cars -- in the same bedroom studio where he'd produced his own record -- Guthrie decided to run with the pack. He dropped his own act and headed out on tour, with Royal bandleader Aaron Riches at the wheel.
Three Gut mastermind Burke says Royal City was Guthrie's way of stepping out of the spotlight.
"Jimmy had this band, and people were really starting to pay attention to him in Toronto a couple of years ago. But he dismantled the band and focused on Royal City.
"We all felt he could've blown up. My suspicion is that he doesn't want to be the star of the show, and I don't think he could deal with what was starting to happen."
"I'm just so much more relaxed when I play with other people," agrees Guthrie. "It's really different when it's your own heart on the line. If something works out you feel really, really good, but if it doesn't it can totally wreck you."
His heart's going to be back on the line soon enough, since Guthrie's been working on a new album that's slated to drop in the next few months. He says the new stuff is similar to A Thousand Songs, albeit even more scattered. Guthrie's had to squeeze in impromptu recording sessions around Royal City's hectic touring schedule.
His infamous Sony PlayStation-composed tracks -- a major component of the first album -- will be front and centre on this disc.
"Doing stuff with the game system is the only time I shut myself off from the world and create music while time stands still."
He's fascinated by the idea of using video games to make art.
"It's like saving someone's life with a shoehorn," he says, adding that the limited capacity of the program allows him to stretch his creative wings.
"I can navigate a lot of the ideas better in a smaller space. That's why I liked the four-track -- I have to make everything happen in four tracks as opposed to, say, 64. So if I wanted to hear a certain note or another keyboard line in there but couldn't fit it in, I'd take off my shoes and socks and play this one note on my keyboard with my foot while playing guitar."
As for his rising star, Guthrie is characteristically low-key, claiming everything happened by accident. He had a cult radio show on the University of Guelph college station, where he spun his friends' home-recorded rock and sometimes dropped in one of his own tracks -- anonymously, of course.
"My show ran from 2 to 3 pm on Wednesdays, and I heard stories about teens who'd listen to it on their Walkmans at the back of the classroom. Kids would come to the station and give me a song they'd finished a few hours earlier, and I'd play it that day. I'd like to think that I helped the scene along a bit."
He relocated to Toronto about a year and a half ago, when things started taking off with the label and Royal City, and set up camp in a tiny corner of the Three Gut headquarters -- a house just off Queen West that's been ground zero for a bunch of Guelph bands, dating back to King Cobb Steelie. Right now it's home to Guthrie, a couple of Constantines and assorted other label-related folk. Riches recently decamped to Guelph to finish his master's degree.
Guthrie says the biggest shock was adjusting to the pace of life in the big city.
"Guelph is more my speed. I still walk at the same rate here, about three miles per hour or so, and I'm happy about that, but everyone else whizzes by me. I actually like feeling lost in the masses of people. I can go out and not bump into anyone I know. I can live in the shadows. It's almost voyeuristic."
So forget about Jim Guthrie becoming a Constantines-size phenomenon, using Three Gut Records as a stepping stone before exploding into the big leagues.
Jimmy Three Guts still doesn't wanna be a rock star.
"No! Three Gut is where it's at for me. I just want to be on some weird little label, trying to sustain a lifestyle by making music, and hoping that nobody loses their shirt over it."email@example.com three gut
The Three Gut Label story already has legend status. Jim Guthrie was working on cover art for A Thousand Songs and approached Tyler Clark Burke (who was then dating Royal City bandleader Aaron Riches) for layout assistance. The two came up with the Three Gut moniker, and the rest is history sort of.
Pre-Royal City frontman Riches had moved to what is now the Three Gut house in Toronto, and was frustrated by the lack of interest in his music. He convinced Guthrie to turn the clever name and logo into a full-fledged label, and released At Rush Hour The Cars with Royal City soon after.
Burke called up Lisa Moran, Riches's manager, who'd worked at indie label/store D.R.O.G. (Dave's Records of Guelph, a musical institution in that city, home to the Rheostatics and assorted Guelph folkies) for years. The two clicked.
Burke says it was a grassroots effort from the get-go.
"We started making posters and putting them up around town, and thus was born this notion of a record label."
Since then, Three Gut's morphed from a shaky collective focused on art installations to a solid label, run by Burke and Moran, churning out great discs by Guthrie, Royal City and Gentleman Reg (another Guthrie-involved outfit). They signed Fugazi-esque phenoms the Constantines (their first outside-the-family band) last year and recently snagged country-punks Cuff the Duke.
Their hands-on philosophy and wacked-out aesthetic have won them respect across North America. Now they're trying to figure out how to deal with their success.
"We feel like we've outgrown our label," admits Burke. "Three Gut got the bands to a certain point in terms of notoriety, but now everyone needs to move to the next level."
SLGuelph scenemaker makes his playstation go pop By SARAH LISS photo by STEVE PAYNEJim Guthrie