January 2, 2009

Gustafer Yellowgold is a star - and he's from one.

By Sam Wood


A pop singer who's quite animated, he's the unlikeliest star in the burgeoning universe of children's music.

A pointy-headed alien who hails from the sun, Gustafer Yellowgold is a tiny animated chap with two DVD/CD collections of delightfully melodic pop already under his belt and a third due for release in the spring. Gustafer - and a menagerie of his similarly unusual buddies – will appear tomorrow morning at World Cafe Live. (Their images will be projected on a screen as the real musicians play on the stage.)

The saga of young Gustafer began in 1995, when his creator, Morgan Taylor, was working in a record shop in Dayton, Ohio.

"I was in charge of writing up the new releases on a blackboard - 'the new Tori Amos, Everclear arriving on Tuesday!' - and I'd added a little fella with a teardrop-shaped head to dress it up," Taylor recalls.

In 1999 he moved to New York City, intending to become a professional illustrator. After he shopped his portfolio, and collected a small mountain of rejection letters, his wife, Rachel, made a life-changing suggestion: "Why don't you do the kids' book you've been thinking about?"

Taylor, who had been gigging in a series of rock bands, looked over the songs his band mates had rejected.

"I'd written a bunch of weird songs for the fun of it," he said from his Brooklyn studio. "Then I remembered the pointy-headed guy I'd created. It all clicked. I already had a song called 'I'm From the Sun.' I had been inadvertently building this entire fictitious realm."

Among the other characters in this surrealistic world: a poker-playing pterodactyl, a mint-green bee, and an eel, all of whom would become Gustafer's best friends.

Taylor chose the name Gustafer because "it sounded friendly and soft," and Yellowgold for its "warm, ethnic connotations." He ran the names through Google to make sure he wasn't infringing on anyone's trademark, and began working on a book with songs.

"Then I ran into someone who said it would be easy to animate, and the rest is history," he said. "But it was not like we set out to to make a new Spongebob."

Gustafer couldn't be more different from that frantic cartoon hero; for starters, he lacks Spongebob's manic, sugar-fueled energy.

"I set out to create the aural equivalent of comfort food," Taylor said. "So it all comes from a soft-rock place. The groups Bread and America are to blame for a lot of this!"