Art by Lauren Keeling
Some people merely like music, movies, and books. Then there are those of us who live that Shelf Life. We examine your spines, flip through DVD shelves, and pick through crates, hoping to get even a little bit of insight into who you are based on what media you consume. This monthly column digs into that impulse by speaking with artists about the life of their shelves and looking at the connections between what we love and who we are.
We consume media for countless reasons. There are songs you listen to because they hit a soft spot in your heart and connect with strong emotions. There are movies you watch because they challenge your preconceptions and make you think in new ways. And then there are records that we listen to almost out of habit, books you know like the back of your hand, movies that act like a warm blanket. These are frequently the things that make their way onto shelves, there and ready for repeat consumption. Hell, I’ve known people to go so far as to have a movie designated for falling asleep to, unable to drift into dreams without the opening strains of the DVD menu playing in the room.
These habits, perhaps unsurprisingly, tend to form in high school, in adolescence. I listened to The Smashing Pumpkins’ discography relentlessly and repeatedly, anywhere and everywhere I could. It’s been theorized that we feel things a little more intensely then and that those extreme feelings engender a stronger connection to artists’ work, which is specifically designed to play off the emotions of the consumer. And if you caught on that I was religiously re-listening to Billy Corgan, you can guess I won’t argue with that theory. And, to this day, I have my Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream CDs stacked on my shelf — not to mention the Office DVDs that got me through some dreary college days and the copy of Crying of Lot 49 that I read every year.
And while my shelves are stacked with things I have or will have re-consumed, the core of that repeat habit comes from the constant comfort provided by cartoons. There were plenty that were important in my childhood, but the one that sticks out most clearly in my adult re-watching comfort-blanket methodology is Home Movies, itself an ode to obsessive consumption of media. I would spend each evening looping a couple of episodes while doing homework, getting to the point that I could narrate the show without looking up. In the past few years, that spot has been succeeded by cartoons of other levels of intensity and ease — from the intense narratives of Venture Bros. to the dada inanity of Sealab 2021 to the easy-breezy but brilliant lovability of Bob’s Burgers, all shows which I’ve purchased every available DVD and stacked them at the ready on my shelf for repeat viewing. But since college, I’ve had a cartoon obsession, the thing that I’ll watch from episode one til’ the most recently aired episode, and then start at the beginning again, a Möbius strip of good, comfortable feelings.
There is, it seems, a good portion of adults who hold cartoons in that special place in their heart. I’m no analyst, but I’d guess it has to do with accessing something simpler while surrounded by the troubles and difficulties of adult life. Bob’s Burgers is particularly adept at dealing with those struggles in a way that makes the story fun and feel as easy as a standard sitcom, though entirely intelligently and without dumbing anything down. Sure, it’s a brightly colored, goofy, song-singing, hilarious cartoon, but it’s also one of the best written things on television, as densely packed with emotion and clever storytelling as it is jokes.
When I first heard D.R.A.M., I recognized a fun-loving streak, yet also a willingness to tackle the serious problems of life with that same open heart — the exact sort of thing that I get from the best cartoons, the kind that work equally well as comfort food as they do serious food for thought. You know, like Bob’s Burgers. It should have come as no surprise, then, when speaking with D.R.A.M. that we gravitated together towards cartoons and Bob’s specifically.
Do you have a few favorite cartoons? Are you more the type that goes back and re-watches stuff from your childhood, or do you dig into new cartoons?
I definitely have love to watch any type of the cartoons that I grew up with, but I’m not really able to, being on the move so much. Most of the time we just in the hotel room, so I just turn on the Cartoon Network and watch what’s current there. I don’t watch any other cartoon station. Only Cartoon Network. Right now on that station, number one is Clarence. I’m also a huge fan of Gumbo, and I also love to watch Teen Titans Go!. Okay, so now look, now if we’re talking when it turns into Adult Swim, that turns into a whole other part, the adult cartoons. My hands-down new favorite is Bob’s Burgers. I love that goddamn show. Goddamn, I love that show.
I remember we were in the hotel room, everybody in my room last night, everybody got into talking. I saw that burger piling up on that white background, I was like, “Yo, hold up, hold up … Bob’s Burger’s.” And I could watch reruns and it’s like a brand-new episode. I also love Family Guy, of course, American Dad. I’m really a big fan of the Seth McFarlane productions. I don’t really like it when it gets really, really weird, though, like extra-demonic. It can kinda miss me with that bullshit. Even though I don’t turn the channel. I usually just go to sleep or mute it. But yeah, that’s all I watch, the Cartoon Network.
Have you found that the streaming culture changes your relationship with what you watch? I know I can get through 10 episodes of Archer without even thinking.
During my downtime, I had a good two, three months where there wasn’t much activity going on with me being on the road, so I was able to steam more. I was really into Netflix. I just got into Hulu. But I’m not able to binge-watch as I would like to. Maybe I could get that done during, like, Thanksgiving break. But I kinda dig it, ‘cause I don’t wanna keep waiting a whole three, four months just to get to the middle of this show. If I’ve got the time for it right now, lemme just get it up on out the way. I’m still gonna rewatch it, ‘cause I like details. I might wanna rewatch something to see if I can, “Oh that’s why …” But as of right now, the way I’m moving, the only time I get TV time is turning on that basic cable in the hotel room.
If you could enter the world of any cartoon, take the place of any character, which would it be?
I think it would have been really cool to have been Skeeter on Doug, the blue dude, Doug’s best friend. He was so fucking cool, and he was just always there to be, like, an uplifter. He wasn’t on any fuck shit or whatever. He just was cool. He always had the cool stuff, the cool skates. He had the jokes. Shout-out to Skeeter.
Your music videos often have elements that blend the surreal, almost like turning reality into a cartoon world. Do you see cartoons as an escape from reality, or do you see the colorful, energetic aspects as a part of life that people ignore?
Well, I love cartoons because it keeps the insides youthful, just internally, as far as vivid colors and stuff like that, you know, vibrance. Vibrance is like a sign of happiness, you know what I’m saying? Brightness, colorful, you know, it’s all good vibes. And I don’t really think I can be in a shitty-ass mood watching cartoons because of all the vibrance, and colors, and stuff. So, yeah, I had never put me watching cartoons together with my own visuals, but now that you mention it … it kinda goes hand in hand. How about that? [Laughs.]
Are the track and record art concepts, the promotional stuff, your ideas? It seems like you’re often drawn like a cartoon. Is it something that you’ve encouraged, or is it just something that people have picked up?
Yeah, I never encouraged it. So … [laughs] People definitely take on just my whole way of expressing myself. And then my look in general, my shit you know. Just a lot of people that drew me said they just felt drawn to draw me, no pun intended. So yeah, that’s just something that people decided to do. [Laughs.]
There’s a sort of excitement and unbridled passion that you have, a willingness to show how you care, which is often dampened in others by adulthood. Do you think that the cartoon love comes from a similar place of being open to feelings rather than being a jaded person?
Damn, like, for real, y’all are hitting me with these deep-ass questions, and it’s all stemming off of my love for something that the rest of the world, the rest of the adult world deems very, very primitive and childish in nature. But I feel as though kids are genuine, you know what I’m saying? Like, even when they say some mean-ass shit, they really said it because they meant it and they felt it, you know? I think staying youthful has a lot to do with staying genuine, as well. We all got a little jade in us. So, yeah man, I think it just keeps you fresh, keeps you youthful. You know, and being youthful has a lot to do with being genuine.
And even still, your stuff covers real-life things, not some cartoon world. How do you keep both that playful approach and face the often difficult world?
‘Cause I’m a grown-ass man. It’s like, think about Mrs. Doubtfire: Robin Williams loved the shit outta his kids, then all this extra crazy-ass shit, but, you know, you still a grown-ass man that had to keep a job. He knew what he had to do to stay afloat or whatever, as a man. I think just the beginning phase of how he was so into his kids and so youthful in nature, but he was going through a bitter-ass, hard-ass divorce. Like, I watch cartoons and shit like all the time. But over the times, you know, I still have real run-ins, relationship-wise, money-wise, just quality of life-wise. So I still touch on it because it’s things that I’ve been through. It’s things that I can relate to, and it’s a desire for other people to relate to my experiences.
There’s a Miss Frizzle reference in “Cha Cha”. Were you a big Magic School Bus kid? I loved the books but found some of the voices on those videos so annoying that I didn’t get into the cartoon. Do you have any favorite cartoon voices?
My favorite cartoon voice right now is Teddy from Bob’s Burgers. He sounds just like my A&R, Nigel, for real for real.
Personally, I find there are cartoons that open up my mind and make me feel deep emotions and others that just offer straight comfort. When I’m super stressed, I watch endless episodes of Bob’s Burgers just like a blanket. Do you treat it that way?
It’s not so much therapeutic for me. It’s more vital. Like, I just love to watch cartoons. Even when I’m in a good mood, you feel me? I ain’t gonna lie, that shit can brighten up your day, watching a good, ol’ affable cartoon.
In a Pigeons and Planes interview, you said you could see yourself directing a movie or writing a screenplay in the next five to 10 years. Would you want to get into producing a cartoon? If so, what would it be about? What about a soundtrack?
I’m real big on music setting the mood for what you watch, so in regards to soundtracks, it all depends on the kind of mood I would set. Like, Hey Arnold had the dopest soundtrack to the cartoons because it was in the city and real. The cartoon itself would have to come to life before I made the music to accompany it. And, yeah, I would do a cartoon. I would definitely want to do one for the kids that would play on Cartoon Network, and then one for Adult Swim. But I’m not gonna sit here and just give y’all some idea off the top of my head. I would think it out. But it’s definitely a strong possibility.
You’ve also cited Bootsy Collins and George Clinton as some of your favorite influences. There’s something cartoony about them too, wouldn’t you say? Such big extravagant clothes, huge performances.
Hell, yeah. I mean, even their voices. They had characters like Roto-rooter, the Disciples of Funk, Mr. Wiggles. Bootsy had the Casper the Friendly Ghost type of sound, or whatever. Yeah, their shit was definitely cartoony. The soundtrack to Chowder has a lot of funk influences in it, and it goes well with the aesthetic of that show.
You compared your music to MewTwo in an interview with Billboard, and “Cute” references Pokémon, too. Are you more of a fan of the game or the cartoon? What’s your go-to Pokémon?
Well, it’s definitely a blend. When I was first introduced to Pokémon it was through the cards and the video game on Game Boy, and I was on that for a solid year. And then, all of a sudden, Pokémon has a cartoon. [Sings] Pokémon, gotta catch em alllll. I love, love, love, love, love the whole combination. I could still watch Pokémon, even though now they’re talking about Pokémon I’ve never heard of or seen in my life. My go-to Pokémon would have to be a Blastoid. He’s the waviest one out of all of them, you feel me? And the cutest is Squirtle. What? That nigga mad cute. Evee and Togepi man … [character voice] Toge-toge-togepi. Of course Pikachu and Charmander.