Gustafer is a friendly creature who came to Earth from the sun and has an unusual magnetism for making friends with some of Earth’s odder creatures. His best friend is Forrest Applecrumbie the flightless Pterodactyl. Gustafer and Forrest built a small cottage-style home on the edge of an uncharted wooded area in Minnesota. He has a pet Eel named Slim (short for Slimothy) and a pet Dragon named Asparagus who lives in his fireplace and loves corn on the cob. Gustafer’s pals, the Mustard Slugs practice their math under the shrubbery.
Where did the name Gustafer Yellowgold come from?
I started drawing picture books illustrating the lyrics of some of my more humorous songs and I got to the point where I had to draw the cover for the book. I had this yellow pointy headed guy I had been drawing. I wanted his name to be unusual, slightly tongue-twistery, and warm-sounding. I love worldplay. Gustafer Yellowgold was fun to say and sounded friendly, and projected a confident image. I chose the name and googled it just to make sure it wasn’t taken!
When was this?
It was in the winter 2004, going into 2005. It began with the songs “Tiny Purple Moon” and “Pterodactyl Tuxedo.” I had already written them but they fit in with what I was doing with Gustafer. I looked over the songs I had and asked, “Which songs would fit with this project?” I had been subconsciously creating this whole fictitious world. I had a number of humorous pop songs sung in first person. I knew it wasn’t me, though. They were created in these moments of creative freedom. I had this character but no story around him, but there was something that I always doodled, and then I said “Okay so I’ll use that guy.” I had this “I’m From the Sun” song. Wait a second, the guy is from the sun!
Now I have used up all of my old songs. Four on Mellow Fever are the last of those. The songs for the fourth DVD are all new and almost totally written already.
You have a new baby. Is he your test audience?
He is just turning 11 months and he really perks up when we have the music on. He was there during the mixing and editing, sometimes on my lap. He is just now starting to realize that it’s something; he picks up the doll and looks at it.
Where does Gustafer’s mellow, laid-back sensibility come from?
It comes from my taste in music and song-writing. It is therapy in a way to think about that question and about the genesis of the creative process. When I am creating something, especially music, my creative nucleus exists in about 1976-78. My mom always had the radio on in the kitchen, a soft rock AM station. I think about how I felt at the time getting ready for school, interested in comics and music and filled with creative inspiration. I gravitate toward those feelings, chasing that feeling of safety, oblivious to everything except the immediate surrounding, when I am creating something.
You have some unusual collaborators including some of the people from Wilco and Lisa Loeb helping you with the music. How did that come about?
When I moved in NY in 1999 from Dayton, I met every musician, singer-songwriter in NY and made a bunch of new friends. One of the guys from Wilco was getting ready to tour and asked me to recommend a bass player. I said, “Well dude, I play bass!” “Oh really?” So I toured with them and I guested on their last record. I asked them to come in and mash harmonies for Gustafer. I also played bass on a band that was opening for Lisa Loeb. She became aware of Gustafer and came to our off-Broadway shows and we worked on a couple of songs together. I said, “Hey you want to sing on the new Gustafer record?” There was a song with a counter-melody that I thought would be good for her.
What do kids learn from Gustafer Yellowgold?
They learn the power of imagination, some abstract thoughts, they learn to read because all the text is on the screen, they learn to stop and appreciate some small things, the details in nature, they learn about relationships with people of all different backgrounds and colors. His world is kind of a little melting pot of weird personalities.