Over these years he's refined his unique cut-up musical style and quirky illustrations to the point where he has arrived at current triumph Space Cadet, a wordless and wonderful graphic novel with an equally wordless and wonderful "still picture score" soundtrack CD.
Kid Koala spoke to Spinner about being a dad, cutting his own vinyl and why one-eyed Muno is so scary.
Tell me about the genesis of Space Cadet.
You'll notice that if you find an interview from 2003, I'm already talking about this book. I just sort of chipped away at it for ages and now here we are. The story has evolved a little bit, but the plot's pretty much the same.
What's it about?
It's a story about a guardian robot and his daughter who he raises to become a celebrated space explorer. Underneath, it's a story about family and the feeling of isolation that you can get, both when you're alone and also when you're in a crowd of people. But there is a sort of connection between family members that kinda rises above it.
It's interesting that you started the story so long before you had your own family.
Exactly. I think that while I was writing it I was projecting what I think it would have been like to be a father and in the process of that, I became a father. It's like the power of suggestion.
It was like easing your way in.
Yeah. Once my daughter was born, I flashed back and flashed forward quite a bit, in terms of remembering fond childhood memories, how my parents raised us and then also flashing forward to "Oh no, my daughter's going to be asking for the car!" It was about realizing that time is moving all the time and to try to capture those moments and distill them either musically or visually -- that became really imperative for me.
Were you wary of becoming a father beforehand?
It is a massive life change but I found it actually quite focusing. In my early twenties, when I didn't have the time restrictions or other responsibilities, I might toil over something musically for ages and ages and refine it and refine it, but almost always to the point where there's no feel.
Whereas now, feel is everything and you're like, "Why do I care about the sound of this snare drum so much when really I could be hanging out with my daughter and making some memories?" Not to say that you're not interested in making a nice-sounding snare drum, but it all falls into perspective pretty quick when you become a parent.
Parenthood is not that interesting to your friends that don't have kids. Did you find that isolating in a way?
We were actually surrounded by people all kinda going through the same thing. But the isolation themes of the book really kind of date back to when I was first writing that book. I was spending maybe 90 percent of the year on the road. In a lot of ways, the stories I was writing were kinda -- not to sound like, woe is me -- but they were kinda like my only friend. Often I would be working on one of the panels of this book and I would just be in a random hotel room somewhere, and I could find some sort of centralizing, meditative peace working on the panel even though I'm in the 19th city of a 36-city tour. That feeling is in the book, for sure.
Having a little kid is really epic. How did that infuse into the book and the music?
For the music, I guess the ideas were always there. Obviously, the idea of family comes from your own upbringing and how you forge that into developing your own life -- and the things that you remember and were special to you, you kinda treasure. And you kinda see it again. I think for me, the one thing that's changed since she was born and now [is that] sometimes she'll travel with me.
Chicago's O'Hare airport, going from terminal to terminal, has an actual pathway you go through with psychedelic lights on the ceiling. I've kinda done the whole Lost in Translation float through on this conveyor belt barely awake and all of a sudden, you're there with your three-year-old and you can actually transport yourself into the mindset of "Can you imagine what this would be like if you were experiencing this for the first time with no point of reference?" You've seen a car, you've seen our house, but you've never seen this crazy place -- and it really brings you racing into the moment. All of a sudden, you're right here going "Wow."
Yeah, I get that same thing when I take my son to the art gallery or the Science Centre, or to see Yo Gabba Gabba.
Maple's actually afraid to meet them in person. She thought they were too big and scary. I guess she's used to watching them on an iPad or something where they're manageable. But when you're actually standing next to a six-foot Muno when you're two... she just ran away.
You know the one thing that made Maple's life was seeing the suits with nobody in them. That she could handle. It's true 'cause they all blink; when they're walking toward you and their arms are reaching toward you -- it can be really scary.
I took Emile to a comic convention and he was checking out this R2D2, which then turned around and beeped at him. He bolted like a rabbit.
You've scarred him on 'droids for life.
What was it like performing with Yo Gabba Gabba?
That was a lot of fun. I mean, those Aquabats guys are just really great. It's like they have a little family thing going on there. It's a really big production; I didn't quite realize that, but they have a four-tour-bus caravan. And I was like, wow, the biggest of rock bands do that. But there's obviously that entire set to build every day...
Muno needs his own tour bus...
Yeah, exactly, he's such a diva now, eh?
So was Biz Markie on the tour or were you doing that role?
He was. I think he's on all the tours. So he kinda does the beat of the day thing and then it depending on what cities they're in or what you sign on for. I just did Los Angeles and Montreal.
So you and Biz didn't do a little scratch-off or anything?
No, actually. We could have. He actually DJs.
So how does Maple like your music?
She doesn't. She likes, you know, Outkast. She likes upbeat music. I know that. And I never said this was a kids' record. But I don't know: I think if she really thinks, like, way back, she'll probably remember when she was a month old and I wrote most of it, so maybe it will calm her, in that sense. But I think if it were up to her and that was on the jukebox, she'd most definitely go for [something other than me].
Yeah, kids like beats. Do you ever do special DJ sets just for her?
Naw, she likes Mary Poppins and those kinds of musical numbers. She likes "Chim Chim Cher-ee" or whatever. And "Spoonful of Sugar" and all that stuff. All day.
My kid's obsessed with Robyn. I guess 'cause it's got beats but it's still really melodic and poppy.
Right. That's pretty hip, actually. No, I would say she's more a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan. Like, what's that one, "Doe a Deer" or whatever; is that the name of the song? She's all over the Julie Andrews stuff.
Most of your cut-up Kid Koala records are kind of melancholy.
Yeah, there are moments of extreme introversion, I understand. [Finding all the source material] requires a lot of alone time and therefore, if your music were to reflect your reality, it would have moments of darkness. I find myself under this mountain of records and I can't get up.
I wonder how many people are still putting records together the way you do, considering modern technology.
[Long pause] Me too.
Are you the last? The last samurai?
I have a record cutter now; I cut my own vinyl. So, um, that's pretty nerdy, I'll admit it. That's almost like fashioning your own horsehair bow if you're a violin player or something. To get into something to that level where you're kinda like down to its elements.
Do you ever consider just loading up all your samples into a computer and sequencing them together and calling it a day?
Naw, I'm too lazy to do that. If there was an intern who wanted to do that for me, I might consider it. But right, now, it's just the format. I know this format, I know how to quick-cue on records, I know how to label them. People laugh at me because I actually have to bring a crate or two of records and go to a gig and I'm like, "Dude, this is the only exercise I get on tour."
I guess when Maple's old enough to be your intern you can make her load up all your samples.
Right. Although I'm hoping at that point actual vinyl will be in vogue again. But who knows? I can't be a DJ and not like technology. I love technology. I love what digital can do. It's just, for me, when it comes to the actual interface of a crackly, scratched-up broken record that I have to learn to cue around, there's something about that. It's just like, "It's just me and you, record. Here we go."
You bringing your family on tour?
The cool thing about this tour is that it is a bit more of a production so we actually install for multiple days in a city, because we have this whole science fair, black gallery and then the concert and it takes at least a day and a half to set up. So normally my tour schedule is like 10 hours in a city and it's a little intense to have a toddler on that, but if we're somewhere for a week or something, it's a little more fun for everybody.
Cool. And she deals well with going from city to city?
She loves it, yeah. My daughter kinda knows what the deal is. It's cool.