The last time Morgan Taylor brought his animated alter-ego, Gustafer Yellowgold, to Memphis, he played a Rock-n-Romp at the Center for Southern Folklore. My family had been listening to his music for several years, and so I was totally starstruck when, after the show, I brought my toddler, Solly, and 6-year-old, Gus, up to have a CD/DVD set signed. (It’s true that I bought Gus his first Gustafer Yellowgold CD, Wide Wild World, because we called him Gustafer, too, but the music and videos kept us coming back.) Taylor and his wife and collaborator, Rachel Larshok, were running the merchandise table, signing stuff, while tending to an extremely cute baby. I would have forgiven him distraction, but he was lovely.
On Saturday, November 9th, his show returns, this time to the Germantown Performing Arts Center. The singer/songwriter won’t have his wife and kids along — there are two boys now, Harvey, 5.5, and Ridley, almost 3 — as touring with a larger family is too much. During our interview, I asked him about this change.
“At first, Rachel would wear Harvey on stage in a pouch,” he tells me. He’d fall asleep onstage as his mom sang and rocked him. But one day, he woke up in the middle of a show “and yelped into the mic.” It was, he noted, the end of an era.
At home, life has changed, too. The kids attend preschool now, so Taylor finally has time alone for work again. I wonder whether it’s hard to keep ideas fresh with a character he’s been animating for almost a decade, but Taylor says, “I have so many ideas and thoughts, I can’t keep up physically.” He has two or three CDs already conceived, and videos to follow. His next release is set for 2014.
Gustafer Yellowgold started long before Taylor became a dad. He’d always been a cartoonist, but in 2005, he began drawing for picture books, this “yellow, pointy-headed guy” to go along with some funny songs. He thought Gus was a friendly name (I agree), and Gustafer just kind of followed. Yellowgold was simply tongue-twistery fun. And the backstory, in which Gustafer falls from the sun? Taylor chose to have him land in Minnesota because it’s so normal, so not New York City, where he was living at the time.
Though Taylor’s been playing with the likes of The Autumn Defense and Duncan Sheik for years, he went full-time with Gustafer in 2008. Recently, he’s been taking his character into schools with the Gustafer Yellowgold Arts Enrichment Program, which provides art residencies. “The unexpected twists are fun and rewarding,” he says, and, at the risk of sounding corny, he’s gotten to live out the old truisms: be yourself, and find your own voice.
Maybe it’s Taylor’s openness to growth and experience, as well as offering a variety of media that makes his music so fresh. I’ve been caught listening to GY CDs on my own. Gustafer’s website has coloring pages, games, and videos, some of which feature art by Harvey, Taylor’s older son. There’s also an app called colAR, that allows you to print coloring pages that your smartphone or tablet will bring to life when done. Clearly, Taylor understands something fundamental about kids, because he shares it with them, a desire to “enter the zone of imagination.”
Morgan’s Family Favorites
Caspar Babypants • Dog on Fleas • Frances England • The Okee Dokee Bros. • The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Wings
Gustafer’s Discography • CD/DVD sets
Gustafer Yellowgold’s Year in the Day (2012) Gustafer Yellowgold’s Infinity Sock (2011) Gustafer Yellowgold’s Mellow Fever (2009) Gustafer Yellowgold’s Have You Never Been Yellow? (2007) Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World (2005)