Interview with Gustafer Yellowgold Creator Morgan Taylor

by Amber on March 20, 2010

Gustafer YellowgoldA couple of weekends ago I had the awesome opportunity to talk to Morgan Taylor, creator of the animated music project know as Gustafer Yellowgold.

If you haven’t heard any Gustafer songs or seen any of the videos, you’re really cheating yourself. Stop right now and visit Gustafer’s website where you can watch videos from the new DVD.

Are we all caught up now? Good.

As you know, Gustafer Yellowgold is an explorer from the sun who came to earth to find out what life was like on our cooler world. He lives in the woods in Minnesota with his friends, Forrest Applecrumbie the pterodactyl and Slimothy the eel, just to name a few. He observes, he learns, and he interacts with nature. Not a bad life!

There are so many aspects to the Gustafer experience. The songs themselves are phenomenal, but when you pair them with the slow-moving animation you reach a whole new level of art and music.

Translating this to the stage is yet another adventure as you watch the musicians create the songs alongside the images being displayed on the screen. It’s a very multi-sensory experience and it appeals to both kids and adults (and ages in between). Really very cool.

Gustafer songs are mellow in the best meaning of the word. You can relax to them, but also dance. You can find yourself both excited and at ease at the same time. I’m sure this is partly due to the french horn that finds it’s way into many of the songs. My son, Ivan, actually enjoys listening to Gustafer Yellowgold at meal times. When I told Morgan this he laughed and asked, “Does he ever punch cheese or jump on cake?” No. But I bet he’d take a bite out of a pinecone if given the chance!

I started the interview by asking how Gustafer came into being…


Boston Children’s Music: Did you always intend Gustafer to be something for kids?

Morgan Taylor: When I wrote the music that started it all, I wasn’t thinking of kids. I had a rock band and I wrote songs. But then I moved to New York and I had a sort of creative awakening. I had always written songs, but suddenly I felt really inspired, like I was lifting the barriers of any kind of creative block. I felt like I got into a groove and really found my voice.

I was still writing songs for the band, but I was also writing fun songs for myself. They weren’t for anything but for the enjoyment of creating and oddly enough those are the ones that ended up as Gustafer music.

BCM: When did you start combining that with the animation?

Morgan: Around fall 2003 I started drawing these pictures. The band I was in had broken up and I wanted to do something else and my wife, Rachel, suggested I work on the kids’ book I had been thinking of creating.

So I go into it thinking “this is going to be a kids book” and I take the lyrics from some of these silly songs I had written and start illustrating them. Most of them are sung in first person, but I knew it wasn’t me saying these things, so I thought “I’ll use that pointy headed yellow guy I used to doodle back eight years ago as the main character.”

Gustafer YellowgoldOnce I saw him on the paper his world started forming and I began to figure out his story. So I was looking through my songs to see which would work for this project and one of the songs was I’m From the Sun. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I just happened to write this.” So I used that song and it became the nucleus for the whole thing.

The other cast members or characters are also from fun songs I had written earlier. So it blossomed from there and all of a sudden we’re thinking, “How can we do this live? How can we sing and have the images at the same time and have it in sync?” It took a few months of doing shows to figure out the technical aspects. People started getting really interested in it right away.

BCM: Were you surprised by the response?

Morgan: Yeah, it was crazy. It was really a lesson for me because it turns out that the music I’m finally having success with—well in my terms having success—is the music that is the most me. It’s the music I’m creating just to create.

BCM: So do you feel now that you’re writing for kids, for families, or more for yourself?

It turns out that the music I’m finally having success with…is the music that is the most me.

It’s the music I’m creating just to create.

Morgan: Now that we’ve established it and have three DVDs out and now that I see what it is and see people’s reactions and know what people like about it and I’m writing on purpose for it now—yeah, now I know I’m writing for kids.

But I’ve also been able to set my own standard so it’s actually quite easy to both write for an audience and for myself because it’s my own standard.

BCM: And it appeals to so many people. Even my super-cool twenty-three-year-old hipster brother loves Gustafer.

Morgan: The humor in it is weird enough that people that age can get it. It works on many levels. Gustafer looks like a preschool character, the music is easily accessible because it’s basically just pop (I want to write catchy melodies, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do anyway), but the humor is my sense of humor and leaning toward the absurd.

Of course, I don’t want to make it so weird that it’s inaccessible—I want everyone to enjoy it—but I want it to be full of a bunch of inside jokes, too.

BCM: It’s complicated enough.

Morgan: There’s depth to it and also some subject matter that I’m finding out is not normal for kids’ music.

BCM: For example, in Sunpod Gustafer says he’s in “pursuit of poetry.” That’s a great line. Is that why he came to earth? Why did Gustafer get in that space ship?

Morgan: Well, the sun is a great place—it’s exciting and different—and he had an established life there, but he always wondered what earth was like and he just had to find out. He had to know what it was like to touch snow, to feel the greenery, to experience cooler climates. He just had to know. So his brother built him the Sun Pod and Gustafer just went for it.

BCM: Was he expecting to go back? To get back home to the sun?

Gustafer Yellowgold LiveMorgan: I don’t think he knows. He’s just going. In a way his life is a bit of accidental tourism. He’s often a passive observer, taking things in, but always having fun with it.

BCM: You have plans for a new Gustafer CD/DVD. Can you tell me about it?

Morgan: Yeah, we’re recording now. The music is mostly finished. I’m just starting the process of the animation. The drawing actually takes a lot longer than the recording. It’ll take me probably until the fall to finish the drawings.

BCM: Are you introducing any new characters?

Morgan: Yes, there are some new peripheral characters. There’s new adventures. This is going to be the first DVD that is plot-driven, that tells a full story. So something happens in the beginning and Gustafer has to figure out what’s up and it’s solved by the end. It’s very silly but also possibly spiritual in places.

BCM: So wait… If you’re going to finish the drawings in the fall, it won’t be out until next year?

Morgan: Yeah, we’re aiming for next January.

BCM: That’s a long time!

Morgan: It’s a long time for me, too. It just takes so long to draw. If I were just recording the music, I could put out an album every six months. But it’s the art that makes it special, and that takes time. Also, we spent all of last year touring so I didn’t have the time to work on anything new.

BCM: How many shows do you think you do in a year?

Morgan: At least a hundred shows a year. We did our 400th show recently in Philadelphia. So we’re up to about 435 now.

BCM: One last question. I was checking out the Gustafer website. It’s very cool! Did you put that together yourself?

Morgan: I drew everything by hand and we knew how we wanted things to function.

BCM: It’s very interactive. It’s almost like a video game as you walk through and explore Gustafer’s house.

Inside Gustafer Yellowgold's houseMorgan: Basically I wanted it to be like looking through someone else’s medicine cabinet. You get to look through this guy’s stuff and you can click on something and then realize, oh, that’s the radio, and it plays music. And there are little hidden videos all over the place.

There are multiple ways to get to certain things, so if you don’t want to hunt and peck you can go straight to the link that says “videos.”

We just wanted something that would be fun and it’s not super animated, like the rest of Gustafer’s world.

BCM: It’s like you’re walking into his house, but he’s not there, so it’s OK to poke around.

Morgan: Oh, but he is there! He’s just always in the other room.


Thanks to Morgan Taylor for taking the time to talk to me. To learn more about Gustafer, visit his website, www.gustaferyellowgold.com, or join him on Facebook, www.facebook.com/gustaferyellowgold.

And be sure to check out his three CD/DVD sets: Wide Wild World, Have You Never Been Yellow?, and Mellow Fever.

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