Wednesday
Jul212010

March 21, 2008

Spare Times: For Children

By Laurel Graeber

 

Ready for a new kind of mellow yellow? Hailing from the Sun and looking like an animated drop of butter, Gustafer Yellowgold is the creation of the illustrator and composer Morgan Taylor, who is now presenting Gustafer in his Off Broadway debut. Like Gustafer’s other appearances, this run includes live music, slides and narration. 

Saturday
Jul102010

September 10, 2006

New Dr. Seuss Reimagines the Musical

By Celia Barbour

 

HARMONIZING Rachel Loshak and Morgan Taylor have been fixtures on the downtown rock and folk music scene for years. Their 750-square-foot co-op on Grand Street is decorated in a style best described as artistic flotsam and jetsam.

FOUR canisters stand in a row on the kitchen windowsill of the apartment where Rachel Loshak and Morgan Taylor live. The canisters are empty of the yeasty Twiglet snack sticks they once held (“I expect you have to be English to like them,” Ms. Loshak said). Now they are full almost to the top with coins: quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies.

WHERE CREATIVITY LIVES Rachel Loshak and Morgan Taylor have turned the entrance hallway of their apartment on Grand Street into their office. The living room is filled with guitars, records and CD’s.

They bought a laptop with the loose change they saved up in Twiglet canisters.

“We paid for our laptop saving change like this,” said Ms. Loshak, 34, a musician.

“And the air-conditioner in the bedroom, and the couch,” added Mr. Taylor, 36, who is also a musician, as well as a sound engineer and an illustrator.

As the repurposed canisters indicate, this creative couple are free spirits only insofar as their work is concerned; when it comes to managing the practical details of their lives, they are old-fashioned, thrifty and industrious.

Mr. Taylor and Ms. Loshak have been fixtures on the downtown rock and folk music scene for many years now; they met and married at the Living Room, a Lower East Side club known for its support of local musicians.

So it is not surprising to find that their own living room is dominated by musical instruments. A pile of sound equipment and 13 guitars (acoustic, electric and bass) take up one entire side of the room; a Lowrey electronic organ from the 1970’s fills much of the other. Across the third wall, on plywood shelves that Ms. Loshak built, their 1,000 or so records and CD’s are lined up, neat and tight as sardines, along with DVD’s, books and board games.

“Rachel is a plywood carpenter,” Mr. Taylor said. And a quick tour of the apartment proves him right: her handiwork also includes a rather large open closet-and-shelf unit in their bedroom, a side table and an extensive desk in the entrance hallway, which serves as the couple’s home office.

Her do-it-yourself ambitions once stretched even beyond plywood. “I bought a sewing machine when I first moved in here, thinking that I’d make curtains,” she said. “But I haven’t made a single curtain.” Instead, fabric is draped loosely over the curtain rods.

This 750-square-foot co-op apartment on Grand Street is decorated in a style best described as artistic flotsam and jetsam. Empty picture frames hang on the walls along with old grade-school maps, assorted postcards, faded Kodachrome photographs, and a display of what Mr. Taylor calls his “found art”: playing cards, many of them muddy, scratched or bent, that he has stumbled across on the streets and sidewalks of New York over the years.

“I’m trying to assemble a whole deck,” he said.

The couple’s blend of creativity and diligence has served them particularly well over the last year, while they have been at work developing a new kind of musical show.

It is called “Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World,” and it features Mr. Taylor and his band playing original songs live while an animated story is projected onto a movie screen behind them. The story is illustrated entirely by Mr. Taylor.

The show is a cross between “Yellow Submarine” and Dr. Seuss, filtered through the lens of the Lower East Side (view segments at gustaferyellowgold.com). It has been performed at children’s birthday parties and in rock concert halls.

In fact, last March Mr. Taylor’s troupe opened for Wilco, the highly regarded indie-music band. They are also negotiating a contract with the V2 label’s new children’s imprint, Little Monster.

To dedicate himself more fully to the Gustafer project, Mr. Taylor recently stopped staying out late after gigs. He gets up early every morning to draw.

“Morgan can sit and do art all day and night,” said Ms. Loshak, who has devoted much of her time over the last year to helping manage bookings and publicity for the shows.

“I never wanted to do anything else except draw when I was a kid,” said Mr. Taylor, who grew up just outside of Dayton, Ohio. “I always felt very free with my creativity.”

When he was not bent over his drawing pad, he recalled, he was sneaking cigarettes, playing in a rock band, working in a record store or experimenting with homemade pipe bombs (he still has a scar).

For him, coming to New York City was a revelation. “New York totally just rocked my world,” he said, remembering his arrival in 1999. “I loved it. It was such a creative awakening.”

Ms. Loshak, meanwhile, had come to town somewhat more reluctantly two years earlier. She had grown up in England, in an old house with an apple orchard in Suffolk. “My father was born in the basement of our house, during an air raid,” she said. Four aunts lived nearby, and the family business produced Copella’s Fresh-Pressed English Apple Juice, which was sold all over the British Isles. As a child, Ms. Loshak played classical piano and violin.

“My intention was to move to San Francisco,” she said, “but the cheapest ticket available was to New York. There was one relative in Brooklyn I stayed with for a week, then with a friend of my brother’s. I never planned to live here.”

A year later, back in England, Tropicana bought Copella’s Fresh-Pressed English Apple Juice from the Loshak family, and her father decided to invest part of his profits in New York real estate — specifically in a decent apartment for his daughter. Until then she had been living in shared rentals she could barely afford; they were “gross,” she said.

The apartment on Grand Street was the third one she saw. “I knew immediately that I wouldn’t find anything else like it,” she said. “The building is from 1929 and apparently is copied from a building in Paris. It is shaped like a square doughnut, with a little green area with trees and a fountain on the inside.”

She settled in, continued to write and record her own melancholy music, and became a regular performer at the Living Room, where Mr. Taylor had found a job as a sound engineer. “She came through once a month or so,” he said. “On Jan. 27, 2000 — I always remember what year everything happened to me in my life — she stayed after her gig, and we talked, and all of a sudden the sun was coming up and we were kissing on a street corner.”

They were married in 2004 and had a party in the apartment after their reception. The neighbors came up to complain just once.

But they haven’t had much cause to gripe lately. “We haven’t had people over in ages,” Ms. Loshak said. “As the years go by, I’m just working harder and harder.”

“Our free time is less and less,” Mr. Taylor agreed. “We’re trying to build something that doesn’t exist yet.” But he admits that there are payoffs to finding a new calling and the energy to pursue it.

“It was harder to be 34 and still struggling in a rock band,” he said of that earlier time. “As soon as I changed what I did, I stopped feeling old. As soon as I got my head around the idea of being the new Dr. Seuss, I felt really young.”