Q&A: Gustafer Yellowgold Creator Morgan Taylor Talks Food Violence and Justin Bieber on Vinyl
For those DC9 readers who don't have young children, Gustafer Yellowgold is the main character in a children's DVD series created by Morgan Taylor, an artist who has performed Gustafer's live show at Polyphonic Spree and Wilco concerts.
Gustafer is a yellow cartoon sun dweller who landed on earth in Minnesota, and his adventures, four DVDs' worth, are accompanied by indie-pop songs written by Taylor, who also does all of the artwork for the series. Interesting thing about the songs: They aren't aimed specifically at kids. So, parents with tastes in music that lean toward indie rock will enjoy the series as well.
Gustafer's most recent DVD Gustafer Yellowgold's Infinity Sock follows Gustafer through the great outdoors as he searches for the end of a sock that grew in the dryer one day. The existential journey takes Gustafer through a snake prom, a beehive where a rock band of bees is playing, a clothing store where everything is made of cheese, and several other quirky scenarios. We got to talk with Taylor in advance of his concert and craft party tomorrow at noon at Good Records.
Hit the jump to read our Q&A with Taylor.
First of all, my wife and I are big fans of Gustafer, and I think my one-year-old son is, too. He just sort of hangs out when it's on. Do you think it's just as important that parents enjoy the music as much as kids do?
I think there's more to kids' music than having the parents be able to tolerate it. Somehow I just found this niche that the parents can enjoy it just as much as the kids. It's meant to be enjoyed together as a family -- best taken in with your kids, as opposed to being a thing where you set your kids in front of it and go type a paper. There is so much of the stuff that's tolerable, but I think it should be enjoyed by everybody.
Yeah, we'll find ourselves with the songs in our heads for days sometimes.
I think the reason that it's like that is because a lot of the music that I used to start the Gustafer project was just my regular music that I played in my band and it wasn't for kids. I just wrote these quirky pop songs with weird subject matter and then about six years ago, I got this weird idea to make a kids' book out of a couple of the songs. And then it just blew up into this DVD and live show project, and all of a sudden it was a career. We saw the potential right away because of the reaction. It was a positive reaction from people and it really inspired us to pursue it. So we've figured out a way to make it all we do.
You mentioned earlier that the music is meant to be enjoyed together. Another interesting aspect of it is that it can be enjoyed repeatedly. Is that something you think about when you write?
I don't think about that. I've always wanted to write catchy music my whole life. I just want to write pop songs. But, I have a self-edit and I try not to make it too candy so it gets annoying. I feel like I have a good enough editing system where I can just keep it cool. (laughs.)
Speaking of self-editing, a lot of the content is much heavier than the stuff you would normally hear in kids' music.
Right. The "I'm From The Sun" song was kind of the first a-ha moment, and that was a song I had written a couple of years before I had started writing kids' songs. And at the end of the song the character references his own mortality, and I thought 'Wow, I'll just keep that in.' I didn't even really think about it. But there was a moment on the third verse where he mentions going back to the sun and having his soul light up in Heaven or oblivion. It resonates with people because it's surprising for the genre. And that's the thing. It's like, yeah, I just added cartoons to my regular pop music and it sort of all of a sudden became this kids' thing. But because the content was pre-existing, I got to do some stuff that maybe I would have been too self-conscious to do had I planned it all out as a kids' things. So all of a sudden I was taking risks that I didn't think were risks when I was writing. And then I just left them in and it just set the mood and set the tone for the rest of the series.
Do you ever find yourself editing stuff out that might be too heavy for kids?
I discovered with the third DVD, that, I didn't even realize it when I was doing it, but half the songs have the characters crying in videos. I didn't realize it until someone pointed it out. The third one, Mellow Fever, is certainly the most melancholy. But who knows; maybe it was an emotional year. Some of the stuff ends up coming out autobiographical in odd ways.
How much does your relationship with your two kids affect your writing?
Not in a literal or direct way, but we have to make this work, because this is our job and we want to be able to feed the kids. That's more the inspiration. I have a three-year-old and a six-month-old, and my three-year-old is definitely into it. He's starting to really conceptualize a little bit. It's interesting to hear what he's picking up on.
Does your six-month-old respond to it?
Yeah, he just kind of sits there and kicks his legs to it.
Was it initially strange when bands like Wilco and Polyphonic Spree took an interest in what you were doing?
It was surprising because playing shows with Wilco was a goal of mine when I was playing with MTRG. Not literally a goal, but that sort of stuff is what I aspired to when I was a musician gigging. The biggest lesson for me was that people responded because it was the most honest thing I'd ever done, and the most creatively pure, no pretense, it was just kind of a pure outpouring of creative fun. And it was just the most me I could be. After 20 years of playing in a band, I was finally being myself. All of a sudden, people saw that, I think. I've always been a cartoonist, and I've always been a musician, and I've never thought to combine them. My sense of humor is a big part of my personality, and something I've always had as a coping mechanism, so this project is all three of those important things. There's just enough weirdness to it to where the parents really react to it. It is OK for adults. It's for everybody. No one is excluded from this music.
It's like indie rock for kids.
Is there a kids' alternative music yet?
What's next for Gustafer?
Right now we're just beginning out summer tour. I'm working on the next DVD which will hopefully be out next spring. The music is written and halfway recorded, and I have half the songs drawn. As soon as we get off the road, I'm going to crank out the rest of the drawings.
What will the theme be?
It's mixed with a theme of Gustafer going through the different holidays and seasons of the year. Kind of a twisted Gustafer view of all these different holidays. There's a Groundhog Day song with Gustafer philosophizing with a Groundhog about shadows. There's a New Year's Day song. It's not a U2 cover; It's a song about optimism. It's not like "fill your Easter basket with jelly beans." It's nothing like that.
I'm doing one for Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day. It's going to be another Gustafer food violence song called "Pancake Smackdown." I want to accumulate enough of each of Gustafer's main elements. Like there's food songs like "Punching Cheese," "I Jump On Cake, and "Pancake Smackdown." A few years down the road we can start putting out compilations of just all the violent food songs and call it Gustafer Yellowgold's Food Fight: I Jump on Cake and Other Greats (laughs). I really want to do it, but what it really boils down to is having enough time. Here, we've got two boys. Neither of them are in school full time, so it's a real juggle for Rachel and I to get everything done. She does all the booking and the administration. It's pretty much impossible to do it on the road. We can give each other an hour and a half here or there.
But you're both working from home trying to make it all work with the kids in the house?
Do you have any plans to get back to a full-on rock project again?
I think I will. Rachel and I want to make a duet album, where we're singing together. That's kind of on the 12th burner of the stove. I would like to do a non-Gustafer music record again at some point. But I only want to do it if Gustafer gets us to a point where people would care about it. I put out a lot of records before I started doing Gustafer, and people do ask me, "Do you do regular music, too?" Well, I don't need to. Gustafer's everything I want. But I get to be doubly creative with it. I have a lot of songs that don't fit into the Gustafer realm that it would be fun to record someday. I'd like to say I hope people care, but I would do it anyway. If Gustafer could afford me six months off to do something myself.
Is there anything Dallas fans can look forward to at your Good Records performance?
It's going to be kind of a unique experience. I'm going to make Gustafer Yellowgold crafts with kids. Like paper puppets with construction paper, and I'll help kids draw Gustafer. It'll be a little craft party and concert event.
With the rising popularity of vinyl, do you think Gustafer will ever release an LP?
We want full vinyl with gold discs (laughs). You remember those old Disney storybook records from the '60s? That would be cool. In a day and age when you walk into an FYE and you see a Justin Bieber vinyl, it's like, "What's going on?"