Video game soundtracks have long been revered. From the iconic 8-bit chiptune bleeps and bloops of the NES, to the intricately crafted ambient and orchestral works of SNES games like Donkey Kong Country or Final Fantasy VI, or even the punk and hardcore laden collections in games like the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, there are a plethora of instances of the soundtrack elevating a video game to a whole other level.
Soundtracking is an intimate, and exploratory musical endeavour, and Toronto-based singer-songwriter Jim Guthrie knows this all too well. Having not only soundtracked the game Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, but a handful of TV ads and films as well, Guthrie has a special talent for being able to immerse himself in something and come out the other side with a gorgeous musical tapestry.
His latest project with frequent collaborator and bandmate JJ Ipsen is a whimsical, upbeat and inspiring swath of instrumentals ranging from raucous rock to sweet, plaintive acoustic pieces titled You Me & Gravity, and it’s the soundtrack to an upcoming whimsical and wondrous theme park management game called Planet Coaster.
“I was approached by Janesta Boudreau [of Frontier] about potentially working on the game,” says Guthrie.
“They were looking for real, authentic sounding acoustic based music which sounded right up my alley, and a very welcomed change at that point. I had been making darker sounding synth music for a game called Below for a bit and was very excited to pick up a guitar.”
Eventually, Guthrie thought it wise to bring on JJ Ipsen, his frequent partner and fellow appreciator of classic video game soundtracks.
“Jim had messaged me last winter to see if I was available to play some instruments on a few tracks. I had no idea that it would turn into something so involved and collaborative,” says Ipsen.
“Game soundtracks were some of the first tunes I learned as a kid taking piano lessons. I had a whole book of Mario classics, which exposed me to satisfying harmony and melody in a way that you wouldn’t typically associate with what was available to a ten year old in the mid-‘90s.”
While neither have an extensive knowledge or interest in modern games, aside from Guthrie’s recent forays into soundtracking them, – “I’m certainly not a gamer but I dabble all the time. I guess now it’s under the guise of “research.”” – both have a serious appreciation for the classics, and that’s definitely influenced the tracks of You Me & Gravity.
“I came to the gaming age somewhere between the release of SNES and N64, and was super into both systems through my mid-to-late-‘tweens, but largely left gaming to pursue the many other trappings of a teen growing up in small-town Ontario,” says Ipsen.
“I was more of an ‘arcade kid’,” says Guthrie.
“In the ‘80s and early ‘90s I would go to the arcade with 5 or 10 bucks in quarters and spend hours playing the latest machines.”
You can clearly hear their penchant for that kind of quirky, joyous and smile-inducing video game music in the soundtrack straight away. There’s a mirth-like quality to the soundtrack; it flows like a full-on celebration of potential and opportunity. Guthrie notes that what started as a simple request for a theme quickly spiralled into a wealth of ideas that became the sprawling soundtrack.
“It started off with a commission to do a theme song (“The Light In Us All”), which had great direction from Jim Croft and Matthew Florianz over at Frontier. They really gave us a lot of room to explore different ideas,” he says.
The ever-evolving process of writing the soundtrack also seemed to spark a new, more fruitful era of collaboration for the two.
“It was a process of riffing off of each other’s ideas from the outset,” Ipsen says.
“But I think that we became better collaborators with each other as the process went on. Something shifts in communication, and ideas can be fired back and forth quicker. I can’t really describe it, but it’s really exciting when it happens.”
Guthrie is quick to echo the statement, praising Ipsen’s extensive contributions.
“He started layering strings and extra guitars that added a dreamy sophistication to everything,” he explains. “It was clear we worked well together so we kept it going. JJ rules.”
Guthrie and Ipsen have been so kind as to give us another sneak peak into the lovely, layered magic of You Me & Gravity with this exclusive stream of the wonderful title track “You, Me & Gravity,” which you can check out below:
Planet Coaster and its accompanying soundtrack are set to be released on the 17th of November but for those who just can’t wait, if you pre-order the Thrillseeker Edition you’ll get an exclusive advanced stream of Guthrie and Ipsen’s labour of love, as well as early beta access to the game.
If you’re so inclined, you can get your copy on Steam.