Cartoon Stars Who Also Rock

Even if you’ve dedicated your life to the rock, chances are that most of us still need a day job. For some that means guitar teaching. For others it’s working in a studio, or as a luthier, or in a guitar store. But while most of us clock on, sit at a computer and zone out for eight hours while we daydreaming of riffs and picks, a select few musos clock on in the wonderful world of animation. As a kid who obsessed over both guitars and cartoons, I can think of no cooler double life than that. And here are six fortunate folks who have lived that double life.

Some of us know Billy West as the voice of Phillip J Fry and Zap Brannigan on Futurama. Others know him as Ren (and occasionally Stimpy). Others still know him as the red M&M. And my four-year-old knows him as the voice of Ellyvan, the blue elephant with wheels on Jungle Junction. West is also an accomplished guitarist, leading a band called Billy West and The Grief Counselors, and if you listen to the commentary tracks on the Futurama DVDs, you might catch him sneaking in some guitar-related trivia (including complimenting the animators on the hand-sync of a scene involving psychedelic folk troubadour Donovan). Check out this video of West talking about his various voices – Fry, Hubert Farnsworth, Dr Zoidberg – and groove on one of my personal favourite Fry moments here.

It’s hard to imagine Tim Burton’s movies without Danny Elfman‘s music. His incidental music is characteristically evocative, and his themes are instantly recognisable. Not only that, he also composed the theme for The Simpsons. But Elfman’s not just an award-winning, mega-talented composer. From 1976 he was the songwriter and vocalist for new wave/alternative band Oingo Boingo, a band founded by his brother in 1972 as a performance art group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. You can hear quite a lot of Oingo Boingo vibe creeping into Elfman’s songs on Tim Burton’s Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, and you can hear him as the singing voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before ChristmasHere is a great interview with Elfman from when he was writing the music for The Nightmare Before Christmas, in which he goes into his songwriting process. And here is the video for Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science.”

If Eric Stefani‘s surname rings a bell, don’t be surprised: he’s the big brother of one Gwen Stefani, and was a founding member of No Doubt. He played keyboards with the band as was with them through their big breakthrough album, Tragic Kingdom, before stepping aside in 1995 to focus on his animation and illustration work, which included work on a little show called The Simpsons. He’s also worked on Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Mighty Mouse and Ren and Stimpy, and he continues to be musically active as a solo artist. Here is No Doubt in their Eric Stefani era playing “Trapped In A Box,” and here is his 2008 short Frisbee.

Britta Phillips is one half of the duo Dean & Britta (with husband Dean Wareham), her former bandmate in dream pop band Luna. Britta is a talented singer and bass player, and her vocal chops were put to good use in the 80s cartoon Jem & The Holograms, about a pink haired (and truly outrageous) pop star who lead a double life with the help of a sentient hologram named Synergy. Obviously. She supplied Jem’s singing voice, alongside Samantha Newark, who provided Jem’s speaking voice. Britta also voiced various characters for Moral OrelHere is an interview with Britta about her work on Jem & The Holograms. Check out the awesome rock majesty of Jem & The Holograms with “She’s Got The Power” here, and see the video for Dean & Britta’s “Words You Used To Say” here.

With Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh recently released one of the strongest albums of his career, Something For Everybody. In the 70s and 80s he made it cool to be a little bit nerdy, well-read and offbeat. When he’s not donning energy domes and jumpsuits, the Devo legend also composes music for TV and cartoons such as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Rugrats, as well as contributing music to the Crash Bandicoot video game and even hosting a regular drawing segment on kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba.Here is the video for “Fresh” from Something For Everybody, and here is Mark showing you how to draw an elephant on Yo Gabba Gabba.

Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small is one hell of a metal axe shredder, in addition to making some of the coolest animated shows of his generation. Sure, Metalocalypse is badass and deserves all the accolades it receives, but check out his previous show, Home Movies, as well. Small’s guitar style is heavily influenced by classic metal and thrash, and the live incarnation of Metalocalypse band Dethklok features Mike Keneally on guitar, Bryan Beller on bass, and Gene ‘ The Atomic Clock’ Hoglan. Check out Dethklok’s “Bloodrocuted” here. Small also shows off one of his wild licks on Guitar World’s Betcha Can’t Play This here, and check out some clips from Home Movies here. And if that’s not enough for you, check out my interview with Brendon about his new signature Gibson Explorer guitar here.

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