Interview with Adam Turman for The Star Tribune and

"Bars, Bikes and Beers" by Adam Turman

Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii

It's Thursday night and poster designer Adam Turman is in his screen-printing studio, drinking a beer and laying down layers of yellow and blue in a fervor. You've probably seen Turman's work at some point -- two-color or three-color images of Minneapolis landmarks, busty pinup girls and shiny bikes. On this night, he's making wedding invitation posters, and getting ready for the busy spring art season, which for him kicks off with a solo show at FrameUps Gallery this month and leads to group shows at ArtCrank and Art-A-Whirl.

Turman's career started out like most professionals who leave the University of Minnesota with a graphic design degree, but after a few job switches and layoffs, Turman began focusing more on getting his own art out there. Friendships with local designers like Steve Tenebrini of Squad 19 and DWITT led Turman to the world of gig poster design.

"Gig posters are like the absolute perfect little design project because there's a deadline, limitations and you're designing something for a band," Turman says.

Eventually, Turman found that bike enthusiasts were just as eager for art as the local music scene. "The bicycle is a thing of pure beauty," Turman explains. "In my mind, it's one of the most well-designed machines. There's a simplicity to it, but you can make it so unique and so you."

Turman's has since whittled down his poster motifs to what he calls the "four Bs" -- bikes, beers, babes and burgers. But while his blend of Americana and cycling has made him one of the most popular illustrators representing Minneapolis, his cityscapes may be playing the largest role in his growing fame. There's a sense of wide-eyed awe in the urban prints, as the angles render the landmarks larger than life. On his "Grain Belt Sign (Version 3) Red," his often muted use of color takes a turn for bold reds that challenge the serenity of the scene. That image, and prints of the Ritz Theater and the Gold Medal Flour sign, have sold so well that Turman plans to embark on a nationwide road trip to capture the icons of other states.

Turman bounces his ideas off his wife, Sara, a speech pathologist for the Hopkins school district, to see if they have potential. "She's not artsy-fartsy-minded like I am," he says. "She'll tell me what's what." The couple have two daughters, Ada, 5, and Mae, 3, and Turman hopes to cultivate their artistic talents. "My oldest, she's taken to art," he says. "I try and support her. Pretty much every holiday or birthday I just get her art supplies."

To be close to his family, Turman built his printing studio in the garage of their St. Louis Park home. The space is cozy and bright, with a speckled red floor and inspirational prints along the walls and ceilings. Some are by friends, some by heroes, and one of his favorites, an oil painting of a tiger, is by his grandma. "She gave it to me at 7, and it's been in every studio I've ever had," Turman explains.

Up next for the designer is a foray into the art of letterpress, as well as a continued expansion of his brand through his website. His latest design, a poster of Portland, uses giant bike tires to display the city's status as a cycling haven. But his loyalty to Minnesota bikers still shows.

"We would kick Portland's ass if they had a winter," he jokes.

Notes on this story: I wanted to interview Adam Turman because my sister and her husband are huge fans of his bike posters. Of course I got lost on my way to his house and he was very patient in giving me directions. In no way is Turman a tortured, fussy artist. I hung out at his studio for a couple hours, transcribing away, and like most stories, only about 1/15th of the material made the cut.

Yo Gabba Gabba! article-fest in The Star Tribune

Nickelodeon's oddball series "Yo Gabba Gabba!" is a hit among its target audience: preschoolers. So why is it also finding fans among college kids, twentysomething tastemakers and hip parents? Featuring guest stars ranging from Snoop Dogg to Of Montreal to Sarah Silverman, the three-year-old show is eye candy for toddlers, but also doubles as a sort of pop-culture yearbook for people raised on "Wishbone" and "Reading Rainbow."

The show's success has spilled over into a national touring stage show. Host DJ Lance Rock and his crew of bright, furry friends are bringing their dance-happy hour Saturday to Target Center in Minneapolis for what "Gabba Gabba" co-creator Scott Schultz calls "your kids' first rock show."

The Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! Tour got its tagline -- "There's a party in my city!" -- from "There's a Party in My Tummy," one of the show's many infectious jams. The skit promotes healthy eating, as the unibrowed, acid-green monster Brobee finishes a plate of peas who are sad to be ignored by a hungry child.

Schultz got ideas for many of Gabba's catchy songs by watching his son, who's 9 now, during the show's development.

"I'd follow him around with a little notebook and write songs I'd want to sing for him," he said. Schultz now has three young sons and a girl on the way.

He and co-creator Christian Jacobs never imagined their show would grow to have such a wide appeal.

"We're lucky we were able to make a pilot on our own, and Nickelodeon let us make it how we wanted it," Schultz said, "We were just dads who just wanted to do a really awesome music show for our kids."

On tour with the show is hip-hop old-timer Biz Markie, whose segment is called "Biz's Beat of the Day." The beatboxing skit has spawned its own YouTube phenomenon as parents tape their bouncing babies dancing along and spitting into their hands to try to make their own beats.
Parents may recognize Markie as the singer of the 1989 song "Just a Friend," but also as one of the first hip-hop artists taken to court for using a sample without permission. The lawsuit resulted in tighter regulation of sampling. Still, Markie said, "it hasn't affected my career."

Although he doesn't have kids of his own, Markie has many nephews and nieces who like to visit his house in L.A. because he's "got every video game," as well as a ridiculously large Beanie Baby collection. The children in Markie's family are adamant fans of the show. "They love it," he said, "I'm like Barney, the new one."

Schultz declined to reveal the identity of another hoped-for Minneapolis guest star whose appearance isn't exactly set in stone. "It will be a surprise for all," he joked.

Up next for "Yo Gabba Gabba!" is a full-length film to be released in theaters. While the script is still being written, Schultz expects it to resemble "The Muppet Movie" in being packed with adventures and guest stars. And the soundtrack? "It will be the best of the best," he said.

For now, the "Yo Gabba Gabba!" crew is drawing hipster parents and stylish babies out of their hovels to dress up like monsters, improv a few beats and do the dancey-dance.

Rebecca Lang is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

The School of Square Pants

In order to reassure us that they aren't simply turning our youth's brains into gooey piles of Smucker's and Go-Gurt, most kids' shows have some kind of educational message. Here's what children might be able to learn from some of TV's best-known shows for young viewers.

"Sesame Street": Shapes, letters, numbers, an eventually exploitable interest in vampires, diversity, colors.

"Bozo the Clown": How to develop a phobia that will make you more fascinating and able to enjoy the works of Stephen King.

"Wishbone": The connection between literature and everyday life, dogs work for less than actors, the perils of time travel.

"The Magic School Bus": Thermodynamics, outer space, the disappointingly gross view from inside the human body, photosynthesis, bird migration, how to ignore a know-it-all.

"Bananas in Pajamas": Absolutely nothing.

"Dinosaurs": Eating too much sugar will make you grow a horn.

"Blue's Clues": Increasingly obsolete technology (mail), how to be patient when smarter than grown-ups.

"SpongeBob SquarePants": Caution: Encrypted messages about religion and sexuality via burger-flipping sponge and lobotomized starfish.

"Teletubbies": An elementary crash course in the modern science of gaydar, your teen brother's interest in this program is directly proportional to his use of mind-altering substances.

"Yo Gabba Gabba!": Beatboxing, indie cred Cliffs Notes, the joy of veggies, how to dancey-dance.


Minneapolis designers on the 'Gabba Gabba' trail

In a storefront studio in northeast Minneapolis, just a short walk from the Bulldog, a few animators are working away on "Yo Gabba Gabba!"

In a storefront studio in northeast Minneapolis, just a short walk from the Bulldog, a few animators are working away on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" The Los Angeles-based show contracted Minneapolis creative firm Puny Entertainment to carry out its web design ( and a portion of its animation.

Puny Entertainment, formed in 2007, specializes in interactive programming and other types of design for clients ranging from Cartoon Network to the New Yorker to Cadbury. Their aesthetic is characterized by a juicy color spectrum and an inventive playfulness, which also can be seen in the kid-friendly exhibits at their neighboring gallery, the Pink Hobo (507 E. Hennepin Av.).

Designers at Puny are proud to be working with "Yo Gabba Gabba!" As owner/co-founder Shad Petosky puts it, "It's the most fun we ever have." Last summer they organized an art exhibit at the Pink Hobo called "The Art of Yo Gabba Gabba!" which featured their sketches and memorabilia from the show.

How did the Minneapolis crew score the contract to work on DJ Lance Rock and his "Gabba Gabba" crew? "We really worked to make [our animations for "Yo Gabba Gabba!"] as traditional as possible," Petosky said. "To have that level of craft, that old-school animation ... and make it look a lot more alive."

Petosky plans to take his 1-year-old son, Demitri, to the show. "That'll be his first live concert," he said.

Up next for Puny are animations for Aveda and developing their Pink Hobo space to have regular hours, more frequent shows and to sell goods by futuristic design store ROBOTlove.


Minnesota Teens Get a Place in the Spotlight

Photo by Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

At state high school tournament time, a stellar speech from a Molière comedy will never send fans into hysterics like a three-pointer or a puck in the net. Doesn't matter. For the hundreds of Minnesota teens who participated in last week's State One Act Play Festival (SOAPF) finals, the play is the thing, and they were, for one day at least, the kings.

Entries in the two-day event, held at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul, are split into Class AA for larger schools and Class A for smaller, mostly rural schools.

Unlike the high-stakes contest in the performing-arts TV series "Glee," SOAPF is designed to recognize 16 acts chosen at smaller events statewide. Teams get a trip to the Twin Cities and a chance to perform for a panel of judges.

"There's no first or second," said judge Mark Quinlan. "That's why it's a festival."

Performers have 10 minutes to prepare their sets, props and lights and 35 minutes to perform. Judges confer after each play and give the teams constructive feedback. At the end of the day, standout performances receive recognition in the form of stars.

Haley Powell, 16, a junior from Bagley High School, said she loves being involved but wishes theater programs could get more respect -- and more funding. "All the money has to come from our pockets, the kids," she said, adding that when they performed the one-act play "The Freak" for their school, "a lot of the jocks did make fun of us, saying that it wasn't that great of a show."

The dark social drama by Angela Hill follows Monique, who after being called Monique the freak in high school finds herself in a circus-style sideshow. The actors all portray outcasts, with their eccentricities hyperbolized via snakeskin, clown makeup and sleeves of tattoos. A tiny, masked girl sits in a cage throughout the show, emitting the occasional scream.

"I got teased for being big; she got teased for being big, too," Powell said of her character, Lilly. "Acting lets me get that stress out." After temporarily leaving school to deal with bullying and seasonal affective disorder, she experienced breakdowns and lost friends. The principal decided to have the play performed for the student body, partly to address bullying.

Jean-Claude van Itallie's "The Serpent" was performed by students from Pipestone, Minn. Actors dressed in rags revisited the fall of man, assassinations and Nazi Germany. Connecting all this was the Serpent, a creature that danced and hissed. Thornton Wilder this was not.

For many of the Class A students, who traveled hours by bus, this was a rare chance to visit the Twin Cities. But it was a quick trip, with most of the yellow buses heading back home the same day.

Rebecca Lang is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for Star Tribune.

Interview with Bryce Dessner of Clogs, The National

A Clogs fan is someone whose Saturday afternoon plans might include reading Proust and playing "Guitar Hero." While the link between "Swann's Way" and "Slow Ride" may seem tenuous to some, Clogs' blend of classic strings with contemporary indie composition is catnip to listeners more attuned to the differences between Coke and Pepsi than between high and low culture.

The group's fifth and latest album (due March 2), "The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton," is one of the year's most novel, well-crafted releases. Its buzz stems in part from the indie cred of its contributors, including Matt Berninger, lead singer of the National; Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and eccentric folk darling Sufjan Stevens.

The band itself is composed of Australian composer Padma Newsome and Americans Rachael Elliott, Thomas Kozumplik and the National's Bryce Dessner, all friends since studying music together at Yale. They play two concerts this week at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

Clogs' sound mixes classical music with tight structures and glittering, folk-inspired moods to create something striking but inscrutable. Their theatric vocals, complex arrangements and mathematically precise method of musical storytelling is worth getting to know.

The opener, "Cocodrillo," uses the Italian word for crocodile in a wall of vocal sound that breaks down the phonetic components of the word amid Cathedral-like harmonies. "Last Song" features vocals by Berninger, who sadly repeats, "This was our last song" over horns and delicately plucked guitars.

Dessner, 33, has curated Cincinnati's experimental music festival MusicNOW, collaborated with Philip Glass and joined his brother, Aaron, in producing the AIDS-benefit album "Dark Was the Night." In a recent phone interview, he discussed Clogs' latest record as well as the much-anticipated May release by the National.
Q The new Clogs record and the National's "Boxer," from 2007, are so different. If each of those CDs were books, what would they be?

A I would say the Clogs record would be like a [Gabriel García] Marquez, almost like surrealist. It's pretty playful and colorful and stylistic. I think the National's "Boxer" would be something more like an American novel, like Cormac McCarthy or Steinbeck, or like [Kent Haruf's] "Plainsong" ... something that talks about everyday lives. They're apples and oranges.

Q The lyrics are minimal on the new album, but often repeated, which places a lot of emphasis on the word choice. How do you guys choose what to say in those important moments?

A The lyrics are all written by Padma. In the past, we've been primarily an instrumental ensemble. Padma's been writing songs forever. He works the way a poet would work where he's writing separately from the music. As for the repetition of certain phrases, certainly in a song like "Cocodrillo," the first piece, it's more this game. It sounds like a children's game, where they're just listing Italian words for different animals. So in that case, that piece is more of a choral piece, and the vocals themselves are in a wild place, almost like separate instruments.

Q You are known as an improvising quartet. How true is that?

A I think at the beginning it was really true. The four musicians all went to music school together. At that point in time, 10 years ago, I was playing a lot of rock. Everyone else's immediate surroundings were mostly classical. Improv wasn't part of what we were doing in school. On that level, it was a break from that tradition of classical ensemble. We wanted to develop collaboration and use that live. When we play there's still a fair amount of improv going on, but not in the way a jazz ensemble improvises. This new album is mostly composed, so there's very little that's actually improvised.

Q Which indie bands are you excited about right now?

A There was tons of awesome music this past year. In New York, Dirty Projectors were a band I've known for a long time and I was excited to see them do really well.
Q What else are you working on?

A We're finishing a new record for the National. We don't have a title. It's almost done but usually the title comes the last couple days.

Q Is there a theme to the track names?

A My brother, when he writes demos for our singer, often will have a running series of themes to different song titles. On the last, they were all named after months. This time, it's all Civil War battlefields. There's a song called "Fredericksburg," and "Truth Mountain." There's a song called "Blood Buzz," a song called "Runaway" and "L.A. Cathedral."