April 26, 2007

WITH THE KIDS; Drawn to a yellow alien; Morgan Taylor shares the stage with his cartoon characters.

By Michael Berick


SINCE arriving on Earth from the sun, Gustafer Yellowgold has lived by a Minnesota lake. He has a pet eel and a dragon, and his best friend is a pterodactyl named Forrest Applecrumbie.

Yellowgold and his tuneful world are the fancy of Morgan Taylor, a Manhattan-based musician and artist who has evolved into something of an accidental children's performer.

For years, he was a sound engineer at the Lower Manhattan club the Living Room, along with making his own music and gigging with such indie acts as the Autumn Defense and Joseph Arthur. But he came to realize that he had accumulated a bunch of "orphan" songs -- quirky tunes about purple moons and tuxedo-clad dinosaurs -- that didn't fit into his regular repertoire.

Encouraged by his wife, fellow singer-songwriter Rachel Loshak, Taylor, a lifelong illustrator, wound up making a pair of picture books/CDs based on a cartoon character that he had drawn years ago. He dubbed this yellow flame-like figure Gustafer Yellowgold. "I looked at him long enough and [the name] just kind of rolled out," Taylor says from his Manhattan apartment-office.

The twist Taylor has given his Gustafer Yellowgold project is that he combines the music with pictures. He actually performs the songs live to animated cartoons that are projected from a laptop computer. In fact, Taylor can control the images so he is playing along with (not playing to) the visuals.

Because these songs weren't initially written for children, Taylor's whimsical, lightly psychedelic musical world forms an interesting bridge between adult and kids' music. Taylor wants his tunes to be "a little different and more thought-provoking than chew your broccoli or five monkeys jumping on a bed."

His gentle pop draws much inspiration from bands such as Bread and the Beatles -- music passed down from his older siblings. "I was much more interested in playing 'Sgt. Pepper's' than the Chipmunks," he says. The Dayton, Ohio, native also is a huge fan of his hometown heroes Guided by Voices, and he shares its tendency to write short tunes. "One advantage with kids' songs is that they don't have to be long," he says. "You have an idea, flesh it out a bit and move on. You don't need a third verse."

Taylor, however, doesn't limit himself to just to the kiddie crowd. He has performed the same Yellowgold show for adult audiences, opening for the likes of Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree. His show can be a little disarming for a grown-up -- one blogger commented that the Yellowgold tunes were stupid yet admitted that he couldn't get them out of his head.

Although Gustafer Yellowgold was "born" only in 2005, he has had a busy life. His first CD/DVD, "Wide Wild World," was recently released on Little Monster Records, and a second one is being made, complete with new characters.

Taylor, who would like to fill a shelf with 20 Yellowgold titles, feels "the sky's the limit." Although, considering Yellowgold's origins, maybe the sun is the more appropriate celestial image.