Back in July, we recapped a panel from San Diego Comic-Con about The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia by Martin Olson – which has since shot to the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list. While we were at the show, we also got to talk to Olson and his daughter Olivia about their collaboration, on-screen and off, and finally have a chance to bring that conversation to you here.
Adventure Time fans well know that Olivia Olson is the voice of Marceline, and that her dad Martin also voices Marceline’s Dad, Lord of Evil Hunson Abadeer. But their collaboration goes further than that – in addition to Olivia doing the recurring character of Vanessa Doofenshmirtz on Disney Channel’s Phineas & Ferb, where Martin’s a writer, they’ve just collaborated on a CD called The Father-Daughter Album of Unspeakable Beauty, a collection of recordings they’ve made together over the years, which is now available onCDBaby or on iTunes.
With the CD, along with Olivia’s EP Beauty is Chaos now available, we wanted to share some highlights of our conversation with the Olsons about everything from the CD to the book to Marceline’s fan base.
Newsarama: So, you two have quite the collaboration – on this book, the CD, on Phineas & Ferb and Adventure Time. How did you start working together?
Martin Olson: Actually, it’s unprecedented, except for…Genghis Kahn had a daughter (Olivia laughs), so they did collaborate on some of their pillaging.
Olivia Olson: In seriousness, it all sort of happened accidentally, I feel like. We just got thrown together, and luckily enough, you know…
Martin: We’re both musicians – she’s been writing songs since she was a child, and then became the singer (of “All I Want for Christmas is You”) in Love Actually. So since then, we actually made a deal with her not to get into showbiz until she turned 21, and she just turned 21.
Nrama: So, she kind of jumped the gun on you a little bit, doing all these cartoon voices the last few years…?
Martin: Sort of! Doing the voices of cartoons is…
Olivia: It’s behind the scenes, so…
Martin: It’s showbiz lite.
Nrama: So Olivia, has voice acting been more like a transitional thing for you…?
Martin: Well said.
Olivia: Um, I think we’re gonna have to wait and see on that one. It’s definitely been a really awesome learning experience, working and learning voices. And I get to work with some of the best, genius voice actors on the planet, so that’s really awesome.
And I feel like by learning off of them, it’s actually helped me open up in different ways in my singing – like, inflection and going outside the box of what I can do with my voice.
Nrama: You’ve had some great songs on the show, and I was curious about Rebecca Sugar, who wrotemany of the best Marceline songs (“Fry Song,” “I’m Just Your Problem,” etc.) leaving the show – has that been a bit of a blow to you?
Olivia: Yeah, she’s so, so talented.
Martin: She is such a genius, in my opinion. Olivia and was so thrilled that she could sing her songs –
Olivia: Yeah, we really have been able to play off of each other. She’s like, “I just love writing the songs for Marceline because I know that you’re going to take them to the next level.” I think that we worked really well together in that respect.
Martin: If you get the chance to talk to Rebecca, do it.
Olivia: She’s super cool.
Nrama: Are you going to be doing some stuff on Steven Universe?
Martin: I don’t know. Rebecca is a treasure.
Nrama: (to Olivia) I just noticed – is that Marceline’s axe-bass on your wrist there?
Olivia: It sure is. It’s not finished yet. It’s just the outline so far. When we have a full version, we’ll put a picture online.
Nrama: So Olivia, was it your idea to have your dad play Hunson Abadeer on the show?
Olivia: It was Pen (Ward, the creator of Adventure Time)’s idea, actually. (to Martin) You guys had been buddies for a while. My dad wrote a book called Encyclopedia of Hell, so he basically has taken on this role as a Satan-like character, and who else better to play the Devil but you?
Martin: Pen liked my first book, and asked me if I had a SAG card. I said “No, I’m not an actor.”
Nrama: I was wondering if you’d done voice-acting before.
Martin: No. Pen asked me if I could play (indicating Olivia) her father on the show, and I said, “Pen, I’m not an actor.” He said, “We can tell you to do when you’re in the studio.” So I said yes.
Olivia: And by the way, he did an awesome job.
Nrama: You were talking on the panel about your collaborative process in the book – how much of Hunson and Marceline’s relationship carries over from your relationship in real life?
Olivia: It’s definitely cool to be father/daughter and play father/daughter (Martin laughs), because when we recorded the episode, we were kind of yelling at each other, and I got to get out some of my pent-up anger.
Martin: That’s right. We were screaming at each other.
Olivia: We had a duel to the death.
But, with the book, it was cool because you researched all the episodes--
Martin: I was just utterly amazed.
Olivia: It was cool because you’d call me up and go, “Okay, let’s talk about this character…” And it was kind of awesome, because it was like the notes Marceline wrote out in the book were some of my notes going, “No Dad, you can’t put that in there, because in that episode…” It was cool.
Nrama: (to Martin) Are you getting recognized more now because of your role?
Martin: No, but it certainly is fun that fans like the book, because people think it’s funny.
Nrama: Certainly, you’ve got a lot going on with Phineas & Ferb, but have you ever thought about writing an episode of Adventure Time, or an issue of the comic book?
Martin: No, but I love Bravest Warriors as well and am pitching a sequel to The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia to CN, Abrams and Pen Ward.
Nrama: There you go. It’s all on Pen. (Olivia laughs)
Martin: He certainly added a lot of fun to our lives. Getting to play Olivia’s father has been a wonderful, beautiful plus for us – to be able to play an evil father and daughter on TV.
Nrama: So the next Marceline episode (“Sky Witch,” unaired when this interview was conducted) is a Marceline/Princess Bubblegum one…I’m going to be very careful in my phrasing, but there’s certainly an…interesting fan base (Olivia laughs) that’s sprung up around those characters, and I’m curious as to what you think of that.
Olivia: Well…after the “What Was Missing” episode, the fans are actually the ones who came up with the whole lesbian possibility (laughs). I was talking to Kent Osborne –
Martin: – head writer of the show, and an old friend of ours –
Olivia: -- and we were just joking around, and I went, “Really? You made me a lesbian?” (laughs) And he goes, “No! That didn’t even cross our minds.” But so many of the fans were convinced that was going on that in a weird way, they’re maybe kind of banking on that a little bit.
Martin: They’re just letting the rumor be there, even though it’s not true.
Nrama: Well, the thing of the show – the characters are very, very innocent. It almost always seems to come down to holding-hands types of relationships.
Martin: It’s true.
Nrama: But there’s always these allegorical elements – like adolescent romance with Finn and Flame Princess, or interracial dating with Jake and Lady Rainicorn, or with Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig.
Martin: Right. That’s very insightful.
Nrama: So there’s that sense that anyone in the Land of Ooo could date anyone else. Jesse Moynihan literally did that recently with “All the Little People,” which opens with Finn wondering if Ice King would hit it off with BMO, and then these little figure characters all being paired up.
Martin: Jesse’s amazing.
Olivia: I think that’s also why it appeals so much to the LGBT community. They love it!
Martin: That’s right.
Olivia: With those rumors, and the fact that anyone can date anyone, and the whole effect of the gender-swap characters…I think that’s why it’s so huge.
Nrama: And there’s a slightly adult edge – you know, like Rebecca’s drawings, Natasha Allegri’s drawings, they’re cartoony and cute, but there’s also something slightly…sensual to them…not to get creepy, but there’s a very dreamy, romantic quality to them.
Martin: I agree, the style is definitely like that.
Nrama: So let’s talk about your new CD, “The Father-Daughter Album of Unspeakable Beauty.” You guys do a wide variety of styles in the songs I heard – some real wordplay, reminded me of Shel Silverstein.
Martin: One of my favorite songwriters.
Nrama: Very easy to forget he wrote “A Boy Named Sue.”
Martin: One of his greatest songs.
Olivia: I was obsessed with all his poetry books as a kid. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is like my favorite.
Nrama: I actually got a copy of that with a CD of him singing some poems. It’s…deeply disturbing.
Martin: Olivia and I are both songwriters and worked on “The Father-Daughter Album of Unspeakable Beauty” for 10 years. So on some tracks, Liv was 12 when we recorded them!
Olivia: He would go, “Oh! Liv! I just wrote this new Country-Western song! Let’s go throw some harmonies on it!”
Martin: -- and she’d write the vocal parts for them. And sometimes I’d just give her the tracks –
Olivia: -- and he’d say, “Do something with them!” (laughs)
Martin: Or I’d say, “Come up with a chorus for this,” and I’d give her the computer, and she’d record all of the vocal tracks. Like on “Sorry I Don’t Like Your Face” and “There Is in China.” So it was a real collaboration.
Olivia: And it was a lot of fun.
Nrama: “We Are Immature” sounds like something you might have done when you were younger—
Martin: (to Olivia) You were 14, right?
Olivia: Right. And you wrote that.
Martin: I wrote it and you arranged the harmonies and so on.
Nrama: So it took you 10 years for you to do this album – you have six months for your second now, according to the guy from Boston.
Martin: Olivia’s EP (“Beauty is Chaos”) is the culmination of our agreement with her. I mentioned the deal we made – after she sang the hit song in Love Actually, they wanted her to tour because she had such an extraordinary voice at such a young age. But we asked her to wait till she was older, because it’s not good to be a child star. And she agreed! Very wise for such a young age.
Olivia: There was an offer to tour Europe singing, and I said, “I want to go back to school and hang out with my friends!” (laughs)
Martin: When she was 18, she started cutting loose and working with producers and now at 21 produced her first EP. A collector’s item actually, because she hasn’t signed with a record company yet.
Olivia: The whole thing was pretty much done in a week.
Martin: She chose four of her songs, and then recorded them with the producer-composer Aaron Steinberg, aka Captain Danger, also one of my favorite soul singers. Luckily, he produced the record for her in a week to have it ready for Comicon. They’ll be redoing it as part of a full album, I hope, which I’m looking forward to.
Hmm, what haven’t we covered?
Nrama: Well, there’s one the Adventure Time fans will want to know: Why the hell did you eat her fries?
Martin: Well, I was hungry. And a little bit of me wanted to punish her for behaving rebelliously. Maybe part of me wanted to get into a fight with her just to get out my angst on her.
Nrama: Man, that is evil!
Olivia: Someone asked a similar question on the panel yesterday, I jokingly said that in real life, anything I left in the fridge that I wanted to eat later would be gone in two hours.
Martin: (cracks up) That’s the real story.
You can check out Martin and Olivia Olson’s album, The Father-Daughter Album of Unspeakable Beauty, on CDBabyor on iTunes, along with Olivia’s EP Beauty is Chaos on iTunesand on CDBaby. The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia is in stores now, and of course you can check out Martin and Olivia’s work on Adventure Time and on Phineas & Ferb!