Gustafer Yellowgold (And His Creator, Morgan Taylor) Are Pure Musical Gold

Kids music has come a long way, and that’s in great part due to Morgan Taylor. The creator of the beloved character Gustafer Yellowgold, Taylor has tapped into a musical masterpiece that combines cartoon characters, and songs that speak to both kids and adults. The Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter spoke to Celebrity Parents about making music that matters, working with his family, and why it’s so important to him to get home in time to see American Idol.

Back in the 90s when I was living in Ohio. I had him floating around in my head as sort of this character that I could possibly use for something. I didn’t know what his story was; I didn’t know anything about him except the way he looked from my drawing.

At the time, I had a band called Morgan Taylor’s Rock Group. Obviously, it was all my stuff. [laughs] I released an album that was reactionary. I was tired of being in a band. I had been through the industry and was really, really trying to get a record deal. Now that I think about it, what we were trying to do then (which we wound up doing with Gustafer), was to be on major television. I really wanted to do a music video for the rock band, but we were being guided in a way to try and fit in the mainstream box. It was squeezing out the quirkiness.

I reached an end point with that, and I was thinking that I needed to do something different. I thought, “Maybe I just want to do nothing.” And Rachel said, “Well, why don’t you take a break and then work on something else?” She knew that I had these funny songs that I had been collecting on the side. I took the songs, and I started illustrating lyrics. I thought of using my drawing of the yellow guy, and all of a sudden, I just saw this world forming, just based on the other songs that I could use. It was literally by accident that this got created. It was basically this little autobiography and I realized that we had found a nucleus. From that, the songs and the characters started multiplying.

We had immediate opportunities to perform for large audiences who were mostly families. We got a very cool reaction from both parents and even teenagers who were really into it. We decided to pursue it as a business because we saw the potential. I make all the T shirts by hand, and we do all the administration — every single part of it ourselves. It just keeps snowballing; every year we play more shows, and we had an Off Broadway run in 2008. The fact that I was having a career from using these songs has given me such a personal satisfaction.

But as you mentioned while we were shooting the cover, it hasn’t been an easy road to getting Gustafer into mainstream audiences.

One time, there was a TV producer who wanted to turn Gustafer into a show. We were really excited about it and we came up with a couple of scripts to do the pitch. Very early on in the process, he said, “Okay, well, we need to make this for 2 and 4-year-olds.” Although there are preschool-ish elements to it because the music is easily accessible and catchy, it’s not just for a younger audience. He said, “You can’t have Gustafer jump off of furniture onto cake,” and I said, “Well, that’s what he does.” And we couldn’t have a dragon breathe fire.

All of a sudden, we realized how sterile an environment that the kids’ media has to be squashed into and that it wasn’t going to work. Parents appreciate the music because it’s not any of those things. The lesson we’ve learned all along this process is that since we’ve developed all the characters and the concepts, we were past the point where anybody could mold it into something else.



Now how did you come up with his name?

I came to a point where I had to draw the cover of the book. And I thought, “Well, okay, I gotta call him something.” I wanted something that might slightly come from history or maybe retro. I wanted it to be evocative, and I love words, so I thought of making the name based on two different shades of yellow. I didn’t want to make too big of a deal out of it and I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to call him this.” Because I knew that naming a band; you can get so hung up and overthink it, right?  The music and the art have to transcend beyond the name.

What are the shows like?

Well, the show is me with the video screen with the animations on it. We’ve devised a way that I can perform and sing live. It’s like you’re watching the DVD, but with me singing it live. And then, between every song I talked about Gustafer, I explain his life, make jokes, and do interactions with the kids and adults. It’s like a humorous commentary that weaves the songs together into a show. And I’m pulling songs from all the different DVDs, playing songs that I know are crowd favorites; there are 5 or 6 songs that I know I can’t do the show without. The show is a multimedia experience. We also do a version of the show that has a full live band with five or six people on stage.

Now, how would you describe Gustafer?

He’s curious and fun loving. In a way, he’s a passive observer. He creates his own situation where he can observe but then he’s enthralled with new surroundings. And I think because he’s an outsider, he’s able to appreciate smaller details that we might take for granted. He’ll watch the ants crawling around on the windowsill or the carpet. He’s mischievous but in a way like, “What would happen if I jumped on this spot?”


What are your hopes for Gustafer?

We have to keep reaching, playing for bigger audiences and continue to make good entertainment so that it can reach its creative potential. Then we would love to become big enough that we can do more fun things with it like video games or a line of fun, unusual toys. I think that the ultimate thing would be a movie. Obviously, the rules are different for a movie, but we want it to be a whole family event. It’s not just for preschoolers or 10-year-olds — it should be something that everyone can enjoy that’s fun and intelligent. And because of the live element to it, we also want to see it develop into something like a live theater production.

It’s so interesting how your former rock star career led you to Gustafer Yellowgold.

At that point, I had been playing in rock bands for 23 years, so you reach a point where you need to reassess And being in my mid 30s still struggling to try to make it in a rock band, I began to rethink things. And once I realized that instead of trying to be a rock star, I was going to try to be the next Dr. Seuss, I felt young again. Because Dr. Seuss peaked in his 50s so I thought, “Well, hey, if I’m fine that, well now I’m young.” [laughs] It was going from feeling tired to a place of full creative rejuvenation.


We talked a bit about your wife, Rachel. What is it like to be business partners?

I think we work well together because we each bring something different to it. She’s much more organized than I am in terms of the administration of it, following up, maintaining relationships, those kinds of things. I’m the creative part of it, the drawing. She is the second set of eyes, and I think because of that, she is the reason that we succeeded to the degree that we have. It’s a family business so I don’t think we could hire someone to do the job she does. We do have a lot riding on this and we’re making sacrifices.


It’s really cool how you guys have blended work and family.

We didn’t expect the lifestyle that we’re currently living. When we started, it was this fun, cool thing, and then it turned into this traveling circus. But we saw the potential, and so we invested in this. For the first year of Harvey’s life, Rachel was on stage with him in a pouch while she was singing harmonies. Eventually Harvey got too big for that, so now he’s offstage. He helps me plug in the wires and stuff.

In its current formation, it works, and we’re pretty happy. And then there’s another percentage of the time where we can’t believe how stupid we are to do this. [laughs]

As a father, I know how lucky I am. The really cool thing is that all our shows are in the daytime. So, we drive at night, and we can still make it to the hotel in time to see American Idol. And isn’t that what life’s all about?

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