Interview: Key Wilde and Dean Jones ("Doug the Digger")

Doug the Digger logo

Doug the Digger logo

I'm a big fan of musician/illustrator Key Wilde and musician/kindie uber-producer Dean Jones, so when I got word that the two had teamed up for a new project, I was super-excited.

Especially when I heard it was, unexpectedly, not a musical pairing, but a podcast pairing.

The podcast is called Doug the Digger, and it's the story of a resourceful groundhog named Doug and a couple of humans, Nick and Una who make his acquaintance.  You can listen to the first four episodes now (here's an iTunes link to make it easy for ya), and while you're waiting for the episodes to download to your family's favorite podcast app, you can look at this brief video interlude.  It's silent, but the gentle pace of the video matches that of the podcast itself.

Want to know more?  Read the interview with Key and Dean below, all about storytelling, the genesis of the show, and the challenges a couple of musicians faced in developing the podcast.

Zooglobble: What is your favorite way to receive a story?  (i.e., words, pictures, sounds, etc...)

Key Wilde (KW): My paternal grandmother was a wonderful storyteller with an endless repertoire of material ranging from fantastic tales to anecdotes passed down from the Civil War. She grew up in Alabama and was extremely proud of her southern heritage. Our family gatherings usually featured two events: large group sing-a-longs and listening to my grandmother tell stories. Also as a child I was mesmerized by my mother’s ability to make up stories on long road trips. So although I love novels and picture books there is something about the oral tradition deeply ingrained in me.

Dean Jones (DJ): I love reading. And reading to my kids. And as a family we listen a lot to audio books and podcasts. It’s more fun for me when we’re all listening together. Also, I really love unusual combinations of mediums, like Brian Selznick’s books, where parts of the book are all words and other parts are all pictures. And I love Laurie Anderson and Marvin Pontiac (John Lurie), and things that are music and story mixed together. 

What are your favorite stories?

KW: That’s a tough question because there are so many. Candide by Voltaire is an all time favorite. The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes was published anonymously in 1554 in Spain and is considered to be the first picaresque novel. I was assigned that in school and read it countless times. Huckleberry Finn. William Steig’s picture books - particularly The Amazing Bone, Sylvester and The Magic Pebble, and Dr DeSoto.

DJ: I love Italo Calvino’s “Baron of the Trees”. I ended up expanding on that story and telling it as a bedtime “saga” for years. I’ve also recently been loving anything by Louise Erdrich, who writes for both kids and adults. 

How did the idea for Doug the Digger come about?

KW: I have a friend, Rich Hedden, who is a cartoonist – his obsession is comic books and we have worked together for years developing concepts for a publishing company. He helped me create a little comic strip for my Pepito character and over the years we have talked about doing our own projects together.

He came up with the idea of a picture book featuring a traveling prairie dog popping up in various locations. I loved the basic premise and we agreed to work on it together. We started comparing notes and coming up with names and locations and I wrote a song called “Doug The Digger” that Mr. Clarke and I almost included on our album Animal Tales.

The character was coming to life but our book project was going nowhere because Rich and I could absolutely never discuss it at the office and we could never seem to get together outside the office. I was determined to keep the character alive so when Dean and I decided to create a spoken word project the story of Doug The Digger seemed like the perfect subject. Although I took the character in a different direction with the audio treatment I still think he would make a wonderful picture book or graphic novel.

DJ: When we were brainstorming ideas it was really fun to imagine a groundhog who talks and a kid who generally doesn’t. There’s lots to work with there!

How long did it take you to develop the series from idea to appearance in podcast player?

KW: Dean and I started discussing making a spoken word recording together in the summer of 2015. A few months later in November we actually sat down and mapped out the idea and agreed that a podcast might be a good format. So I would say roughly two years.

What are the challenges you faced in putting together Doug the Digger as someone who’s done more work in the visual and musical field?

KW: I tend to think visually when creating both stories and songs. If the song is about a specific character I usually have a visual image of that character in my mind. Writing something down that is going to be read aloud is very different. Too much descriptive detail will be hard to follow. You have to leave a little space between the sentences. Also with a single voice delivering the narrative there is very little dialog whereas a graphic novel is almost entirely driven by dialog.

DJ: Probably the hardest thing I find is to make each episode the right length, getting enough of a story, but not too much. We also want to create a mood, and let listeners feel like they are entering a different reality. That’s almost as important to me as the story. 

Doug, Nick, and (to a lesser extent) Una all get some sort of storyline in the first 4 episodes.  Was it hard trying to weave those characters’ stories together?

KW: You have to decide how much interaction you want to have between the characters and that is not an easy decision. Hopefully you will build up interest and expectations with the listeners but not reveal too much too soon. We learn less about Una who remains somewhat of a mystery but you have to keep the listeners interested in knowing more about her. 

What do you hope kids get out of the story?

KW: I loved watching cartoons when I was a kid but I found the stuff offered to my own kids unbearable. It wasn’t so much the artless, static animation – it was the relentless barrage of chattering dialog that drove me out of the room. The creators seemed to assume that kids have no attention span whatsoever and will lose interest without constant stimulation.

We wanted to create a quieter, more reflective experience and gently stimulate the listener’s imagination. Give them some space to think – to create their own vision of the events unfolding. Perhaps there is no time or space for that kind of experience in our over-stimulated world but my hope is that kids might find it to be a welcome, soothing break from the noise that surrounds us.

DJ: Yeah, I agree with Key. There are a lot of different compartments in the brain; this podcast is just right for one of them. 

What are your hopes for the podcast?

KW: I just hope we can build an audience of listeners looking forward to the next episode.

DJ: Part of my goal in life is to keep connected to people I like by making plans to do something creative. That’s why I reached out to Key. It’s fun collaborating and I’m hoping we get to do more of it. And yes, an audience would be fabulous!