What draws you back again and again to the character of Marvy Monstone in terms of writing music for him?
Just like everyone else, I love strange, funny, compelling characters. I've been creating them since I was a small child, pretending with my toys, and then drawing them and making stories about them, and then songs. I always wanted a set cast of characters with their own world – my own Peanuts gang, Pogo gang, my own Marvel universe. I wanted a team that I could write and create for that could be put into any situation I cared to put them in and that I could always count on being who they are – real, reacting in real ways – where they could/would pretend or play another role in a realistic way if the situation was fitting.
In addition to this, I've always made puppets. I have boxes and bins filled with my puppet creations in various states of completion. Jim Henson was an enormous inspiration for me. When my son was born I just happened to naturally entertain him with my bare hands. I actually talked characters to him with my puppet-less fingers and he was enchanted with it. They'd pop up when we'd be in a long line, or when he was at the doctor, or before bedtime. These two characters eventually became the voices and personalities of Marvy and Finch.
When he got a little older we made a big purple monster puppet and made a goofy little song with him. It came out quick and it made us all laugh. We grabbed a cape, superhero mask, and Marvy and went to the beach and made a quick little music video. For some reason that little bit of fun was a revelation into how nothing was quite as entertaining as pure character. When Easter was rolling around I got an idea to take out Marvy again and quickly laid down a track with my daughter. We went outside with the iPhone soon after and made a little video to go with that track.
That bit of quick fun turned into a hit and opened up a world of opportunities. It became something so special to so many people that I still get teary eyed whenever I think about it. It was no longer only ours and that is beautiful. I keep going back to Marvy Monstone, Finch, and Larry because I love them. My family loves them. They are family. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface on all the things we're going to do with them.
You've also had a series of artistic partnerships, some of which haven't even surfaced publicly - what was the impetus behind starting them all?
Yes, there are so many beautiful, creative, like minded people in this burgeoning community of family music. I really owe so much to Jeff Bogle for sharing my music with Morgan Taylor (of Gustafer Yellowgold fame). I was a little blown away at this as I had been fascinated with Morgan's stuff and how much I felt like we had in common – the whole thing, aesthetically, musically – I just knew that we were coming from the same place. As it turned out, we were. Morgan and I turned out to be like brothers. I love the guy.
From there the whole idea of harnessing the amazing technology available to us opened up all kinds of possibilities. We're able to create “together” sitting in our own creative spaces thousands of miles apart. Now, when I listen to some music that I love I can not only consider the possibilities of what it would sound like to mash up my thing with it, I can actually do it. The creative back and forth is so exciting and full of energy.
The spirit of sharing, of openness, and learning how other people work is fascinating. Making trippy music and cartoons with Todd & Cookie, making lovely, sweet piano music with Lori Henriques, going deep down the pop tunnel with the Pop Ups, have all brought me to new places and influenced my own music. These adventures have also brought some of the most interesting and wonderful friendships of my entire life.
How do you stay organized between all your projects, artistic or otherwise?
I think I've developed pretty solid organizational techniques over time as I've always thrived on having too many balls in the air. I enjoy exploring the potentials with technology and art. Google Docs, Dropbox, and a couple of different project apps pretty much make up the current organizational toolbox for me though. All of the “Todd McHatton” stuff I do is completely self-made, from the writing, performance, and recording, to the artwork and distribution. We've turned it into a beautiful little creative business. Everyone in the family participates in some way and it's a total blast. I also highly recommend the new book from Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc., for anyone obsessed with the glories of harnessing creativity.
What's your favorite Harry Nilsson memory?
I have to name a few. The first time I heard The Point and then, soon after, saw the cartoon, were huge moments for me. I listened to that album for much of my life. Then, seeing the last live production of The Point in Hollywood. Harry was a part of it and it was just before he passed away. My wife and I were newlyweds and I was overwhelmingly excited to share my passion with her. The next was a surprise birthday gift from my wife of actual animation cells from The Point. And the last is the first time I saw the premiere of Who Is Harry Nilsson and Why Is Everybody Talking About Him? and actually talking to Richard Perry, the producer of Nilsson Schmilsson, and various old friends of Harry. It was an amazing evening. I visit Harry's gravesite occasionally and lay my gratitude out to him and the universe.
What's next for you?
We're having a blast putting together videos and comics for Super Audio Sunshine right now. We're working on a series of shows featuring Marvy and the other monsters along with some of the new characters from the album. Morgan and I are going back and forth on a new Underbirds album and there's a new Todd & Cookie EP and cartoon on the way as well.