Tuesday
Nov162010

Interview

November 10th, 2010

By Stefan Shepherd

 

I tend to think to think of Gustafer Yellowgold as a real character, with thoughts and feelings just like any other person. Which is a mistake, of course, because as most readers of this site know, he's actually from the sun and he's a fictional, animated character. Credit for this feeling really goes to Morgan Taylor, the musician and animator behind Gustafer, who in three DVDs has imbued his yellow creation with a three-dimensional character space via song and animation that exceeds many cartoons.

The fourth Gustafer DVD, Gustafer Yellowgold's Inifinity Sock, will be released on February 22, and in addition to letting us see the DVD cover, Taylor recently talked to us about AM radio, Gustafer's origins, and how evidently I'm not the only person who thinks of Gustafer as being real.

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Morgan Taylor: I remember the A.M. radio always playing when we were getting ready to go to school in the mornings. It's funny, when I recall the mornings, I remember it being cold. This would have been spanning around 1974-1980? The radio was a safe and constant home thing. Besides that I remember that before I could read, I knew which songs were which of our old 45s that my older brother and sister had collected. I knew from the designs on the paper rings, what song it was. I used to love playing, and drawing and making stuff while listening to records.

Were you an artist or a musician first?

I think my artist side emerged earliest. But by the 4th grade I knew I loved singing and started getting singing parts in school and church musicals and stuff. I spent the following 20-plus years doing one or the other in some form. But it wasn't until 2004 that I figured out the effect of combining the two. Plus, my mom has now finally stopped saying "I wish you would do more with your art..."!!

What was the inspiration for Gustafer? Did you (do you) come up with the songs separately and fit them into Gustafer's story, or were they (are they) written specifically with him in mind?

He was just a doodle at first, really. I drew him two or three times on some marker boards in a record shop in Dayton, Ohio back in 1997, and he stayed in the back of my mind until I started a book & CD project with my wife Rachel, many years later. It was backwards, because I wrote all these first-person, absurd story-songs with no one specific in mind. Then I realized the old doodle was actually "the guy".

Do you think of him as I have just there -- as a character that you actually know?

I've made enough content and material now that the aspects of his personality are all quite established now. At first I was just pulling together these random, weird songs and making the world fit the music I had already written. Basing the world ON the music and lyrics. Now it's the other way around. He exists. He has favorite foods, hobbies, wants and needs and aspirations and influences.

Has the animation/DVD production process changed since the first DVD?

Yeah, when I started, I was just drawing one flat image per lyric line. But now I understand the animation process better, so I can give the animator an image file with multiple layers. I want to stay within a certain set of bounds, because the limitations of the animation are what gives it much of it's feel. We want to keep that intact, but take new steps creatively at the same time. We're just finishing the fourth DVD and now have it down to a pretty calculable process. Some of it is creativity on a deadline, but I secretly love having the pressure to create.

What's been the coolest thing a child's said to you/written to you about Gustafer?

Just hearing kids talk about Gustafer as if he's real, and say their own creative thoughts about what Gustafer could do. We've also gotten some flat-out inspirational letters from fans/families who thank us and tell us they enjoy how it brings the family together. Mind-blowing for us, because we never really think about that side of it while we're making stuff. We see the people at the shows who are having fun, but for some folks it goes even deeper.

Will future Gustafer DVDs have somewhat more of a narrative arc than the initial disks?

Yes, the next DVD called Gustafer Yellowgold's Infinity Sock is a full, real story. With (hopefully) suspense and everything!

What's next for you?

Considering the length of time it takes to create content, my mind is already on DVDs #5 & 6! I feel blessed to be able to do this for a living and I hope we can keep it going for a long, long time.

Tuesday
Oct122010

My Favorite Kids and Family Albums of 2009

February 16, 2010

 

Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever -Gustafer Yellowgold: This was the point at which I started to realize just how good the year was for kids music. This was probably the best of the three Gustafer Yellowgold CD/DVD sets.

Thursday
Jul222010

A Fa and a La Review

November 22, 2009

By Stefan Shepherd

 

I've been resisting the urge to post winter holiday-related videos and stuff because I'm that grumpy old man who gets irritated when hearing Christmas carols the day after Halloween.

Rest assured, I'll get to them eventually (maybe after Thanksgiving), but I'll make an exception for this new video from Gustafer Yellowgold. It's mellow (natch) and neatly captures the warmth that the Gustafer-se generates and ties it to the season. Add some chords, and perhaps you could carol that thing.

 

Wednesday
Jul212010

Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever - Review

April 2, 2009

By Stefan Shepherd

 

It's a sign, I think, of how popular Gustafer Yellowgold has become that I don't feel the need to spend much time explaining the character or the whole concept in this review. A lot of readers will probably be familiar with Gustafer and his fellow characters and the "moving picture book" style of animation developed by the songwriter and illustrator behind Gustafer, Morgan Taylor.

It's actually that familiarity that Taylor uses to his advantage in Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever, his third collection of Gustafer tunes and animated videos. Instead of focusing mostly on Gustafer, some of the songs/videos here focus on other characters, almost to the exclusion of Gustafer. "Sugar Boat" (which features Wilco's John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and a soaring chorus) revolves around Gustafer's biggest fan, Wincey the ferret. Sisson the blue worm is the focus of "Quite Easily Lost," animated to a gentle pop duet between Taylor and Lisa Loeb. It's no longer necessary to have Gustafer be the protagonist all the time. Indeed, the funniest track on the collection, "Panther Stamps Pants" features the pterodactyl Forrest Applecrombie and some excellent whistling.

There's also more backstory to Gustafer than we've had before, which provides some of the more moving moments on the disk. "Butter Pond Lake" should've been a hit on AM radio 35 years ago, telling the story of summer family vacations back on the sun. "Sunpod" obliquely tells the story of Gustafer leaving his home on the sun to live on earth, and while it's not depressing, you can't tell a story like that using humor. (And, hey, the tinge of sadness that runs through some of the Gustafer songs is one of the things that sets it apart.) The story of his arrival is carried on in a later video for "Underwater Stars," and it's that unity in the disk (shown also in "Constellation Pies," which is essentially an instrumental recap of the songs that have come before) that make it the most solid disk yet. If there's a downside, it's that I didn't like the songs overall quite as much as I did on Have You Never Been Yellow?. The songs are good, they just had slightly less "oomph" for me overall compared to its predecessor.

The disk is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 8. You can watch videos at the Gustafer website or on YouTube. The package includes both a DVD and a music-only CD, so you can whistle along to "Panther Stamps Pants" at work or in the car. The DVD also includes a mockumentary "Looking For... Gustafer Yellowgold" which will completely mystify your kids but bring a chuckle or two to the adults.

Three albums in, I think Morgan Taylor is just now scratching the surface of what he can do with Gustafer Yellowgold. Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever is another collection of strong indie-pop songwriting from an increasingly confident storyteller and illustrator. Can't wait for the fourth set. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday
Jul212010

October 17, 2007

Have You Never Been Yellow? Review

By Stefan Shepherd

 

I have come to think of Morgan Taylor, the creator of Gustafer Yellowgold, as the exemplar of the Kids New Wave, the term I have coined just now to encompass the genre and the artists responsible for its resurgence, especially in the past five years. A background in making music for adults, the unplanned shift into making music for kids, the occasional difficulty in figuring out where the distinction lies between the two -- the New York-based Taylor fits all of these categories. By no means is Taylor the only artist these apply to, but he's done a great job creating a musical path all his own, on his own terms.

Taylor's second foray into the world of Gustafer Yellowgold, the DVD/CD set Have You Never Been Yellow?, released this week, is every bit as wonderful as the debut Wide Wild World and shows that Taylor has a fabulous career ahead of him.

What distinguishes Taylor from many other talented kids' musicians is his visual artistic skills, which are obviously on prime display on the DVD. If you're not familiar with the Gustafer "animation," I can try to describe it, but it's easier to just show you. Here's the leadoff clip from the DVD/CD, "Pinecone Lovely"

As you can see, it's animated in only a minimal sense -- the camera pans and scans, zooms in and out, and various components of picture move around, and that's about it. But it's very absorbing to watch. Taylor does the drawings but does get some help with animation aspects. While the animation on Wide Wild World was fine, the pictures and animation here are crisper and sharper -- the difference is small but noticeable.

Of course, the animation could be done by Pixar and if the music (and images) were dull, you wouldn't care. Luckily, that isn't the case. As a group, I think the songs are stronger here than on the debut. "Pinecone Lovely," with its ode to nature ("Pinecone Lovely / To thee I sing") and sing-along chorus, I think finally fulfills the promise of the karaoke audio option that is once again present on the disk. "Beard For All Seasons" has a touch of Beatles to it while "The Bluebird Tree" gives Ralph Covert's "Hideaway" a run for its money for the title of "Best Song About Needing Time By Yourself." There are some tracks I think are only OK musically, but there's definitely no filler. Pop and power-pop, well-played, with some brass instruments providing some sonic boost, particularly on the closer, "Dream In Green."

And the images are strong, too. The aforementioned "Bluebird Tree" has some of the most stunning visuals (the title is literal) on the disk, while "The Mustard Slugs" pairs amusing images with the silly math story. And, yes, "Punching Cheese" is the sequel to Wide Wild World's "I Jump On Cake" and every bit as funny. In fact, the whole disk feels ever so slightly lighter than the original, if only because the videos here seem a little more like vignettes rather than part of a story (Wide Wild World has a slightly stronger narrative drive). That's neither good nor bad, just that if you're looking for something with a concrete beginning/middle/end, you'll be disappointed here.

I should also note that the DVD comes with, yes, an audio commentary. Morgan Taylor does the honors, of course, and it's definitely worth a listen for an adult Gustafer fan (or older child with the patience to listen to someone talking over the music for 30 minutes). Finding out which Steve Martin movie helped inspire "Aye, Aphid" or which '70s band "Dream In Green" apes was a cool bonus. Repeating spins probably aren't necessary, but it's worth at least one run-through.

Kids ages 2 through 7 are most likely to enjoy the animation (and songs) here. In addition to "Pinecone Lovely," you can also watch the clip for "Birds" here. (Gustafer's two YouTube pages are here and here.) Or listen to "Beard for All Seasons" and "The Mustard Slugs" at his Myspace page. For being from the sun, Gustafer's adapted quickly to our modern technological modes of communication, no?

Gustafer Yellowgold's Have You Never Been Yellow? is a fabulous DVD/CD set. Taylor has a gift for memorable images both visual and musical and I'm looking forward to many more images from him in the years to come. This set is highly recommended