Steve Burns (Steve from Blue’s Clues!) talks about performing and co-creating a magical world with unicorns, monsters, an intergalactically powerful cosmic rock goddess princess, and riffs kids will love in his new Audible Original ‘Foreverywhere.’By Abby WestAug 19, 2019 11:17 AM
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When Steve Burns and Stephen Drozd came together as StevenSteven to create their idea of a children's album the results were unsurprisingly epic. It helped that Burns is the original host of the hit children's show Blue's Clues and Drozd is the Grammy Award-winning musical mastermind behind rock band The Flaming Lips. Their friend and writer Gabe Soria created a script based on that album and thus, Audible Original Foreverywhere was born.
It's the story of a young unicorn, who is possibly the last unicorn, and his quest to form the best band in the fantastical world of Anyville. There's also a Giant named Rick, a spider named Betsy, and the guitar-shredding Princess Rainbow. And if you guessed that there's more to this story, you're right on track. Listen in as Burns talks with possible superfan editor Abby West about what Blue's Clues meant to him, his hopes for Foreverywhere, and what it meant for this accomplished voiceover actor to take on so many characters for this narration.
Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.
Abby West: Hi, I'm Audible editor, Abby West, and I'm particularly excited today to be talking with Steve Burns, narrator of the new Audible original, Foreverywhere, which was written by Gabe Soria, based on the songs and album that was created by Steve and Steve Drozd, for their 2017 album also called, Foreverywhere.
While you'll soon get to know this super fun and engaging -- as well as music-filled children's offering, you probably already know Steve from his award-winning and childhood-anchoring turn as the original host of Blue's Clues. Welcome, Steve.
Steve Burns: Hey! Hi!
AW: Hi! So, we're going to address the elephant in the room right off the bat. I had two children who were obsessed with Blues Clues when they were young. So, I'm one of those moms who watched you from most of your 1996 to 2002 run, and for whom you are still very much a bit of a celebrity. So, 17 years after you left the show, how are you doing with the whole Blue's Clues legacy?
SB: You know, it's really weird. Blue's Clues is being rebooted right now, and I'm super involved with that, actually. I'm just very close to the reboot, and it's allowing me to kind of finally, 20 years later, see Blue's Clues.
It is very wonderful to have been even a small part of so many people's childhoods.
I mean, when I was on the show, I shot that on a blue screen, and all I could see was a couple of lights and a camera. It all felt like a very personal experience to me. And just because of how incredibly neurotic I am, I never really watched it, you know? And so, I guess I really just wasn't present for the success of Blue's Clues, and I guess I never really allowed the scope of how many people were watching it to really hit me when I was on it. And it hasn't been until fairly recently that I've been able to kind of fully appreciate it. And it's very humbling, and just super awesome.
I still don't feel like a celebrity, as you said, but it is cool to have been-- cool is such an inadequate word -- but it is very wonderful to have been even a small part of so many people's childhoods.
AW: Now, you've been doing voiceovers. You've been doing children's music. Tell me a little bit of about how Foreverywhere -- which you first created as an album in 2017 -- how did that come together? And then how did we come to have this amazing Audible Original?
SB: Well, I forget, when. I think it was in the early aughts. Nickelodeon asked me to write a song about a groundhog. And I was like, "Yes, man, I can write a groundhog song. Coming up." And I happened to be sitting with one of my best friends, Steven Drozd, from the Flaming Lips, who is also my favorite musician and a multi-Grammy Award-winning musical wizard. And I said, "Do you want to collaborate on this?" And we pulled out a couple of guitars, and in 10 minutes we had a song. And we were having so much fun that we just said, "We got to just do a whole album of this." We didn't really even care about putting it out, so much. It was an excuse to hang out.
AW: That's great.
SB: And so, whenever he wasn't on tour, if he was in town, or if I was able to go to Oklahoma where he lives, we would just kind of chip away at this children's album. And with no other governing principle than that it would have to make us feel stuff, and just kind of allow whatever training I had as a kids' TV show host to kind of blend with his Grammy Award-winning strangeness, and see what happened. To this day, it's the most fun collaboration I've ever been a part of. It was just a labor of love, really.
There's a lot of tropes, and a lot of fantasy, children's clichés, that we deliberately tried to subvert.
We put it out and then Audible heard it. It is deliberately narrative in places. We did sort of try to do a bit of a Ziggy Stardust trilogy on it. And I guess they thought, "Hey, that would work in long-form." And that's what kicked it off.
AW: And it really does work. The album is "part concept album, part legend, all play, fun, and filled to the brim with the immediate music that kids will enjoy." And, Foreverywhere, the Audible title, is kind of about a lot of things. There's a unicorn. There are monsters. There's a princess. One very specific princess. And it's filled with all these really rich and engaging, enhanced sound design. It's a really immersive experience. What do you want people to take away from Foreverywhere?
SB: Well, one of the things that really informed the writing process of the album was, while we were writing it, people in the children's entertainment industry said, "You know what you need to do? You need to write a song for girls." And we were like, "What does that mean? We just wrote a song about a meteor. How is that not for girls?" You know? We just kind of balked at that.
And so, I said, "I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to write a song about unicorns and princesses, and all of that, and turn it on its head, 1,000%. And make the Rainbow Princess an intergalactically powerful cosmic rock goddess." You know? And like, "We're just going to do all of these sort of cliché swaps with it."
And so, that's something you'll hear on the record. There's a lot of tropes, and a lot of fantasy, children's clichés, that we deliberately tried to subvert. Or, at least show, in a more interesting light.
AW: I love that. There's a climactic scene that's kind of so incredibly bad-ass, and I really love.
SB: Yes, she is bad-ass. I mean, that's the point. Yes.
AW: Yes. I got to listen in and watch you while you were recording. How was that experience? I have a sense from watching how that experience was for you, but what was it like to narrate this?
SB: Well, a couple of things. It was really challenging. Even while I was doing Blue's Clues, my main gig, my whole career has always been voiceover. Blue's Clues was kind of my side hustle. And I was always just kind of a voiceover guy. So, I'm very comfortable behind a microphone, but I've never had to do anything that longform. And I've never had to do that many voices. So, I was amazed. It was definitely the hardest voiceover job I have ever had to do, exponentially, you know? But I enjoyed it.
Also, the stories and the scenes and the characters that Steven and I were immersed in and thinking about when we wrote the album, changed 1,000% when we handed that material to our buddy, Gabe, and said, "Run with it." You know? And he ran with it in ways that we had never anticipated, and completely changed the whole thing.
I sort of, in kind of a fun way, didn't recognize it when we got it back. I was like, "Oh, now it's kind of a Goonies adventure. That's interesting. I never thought of that."
So, it very much felt like working on someone else's project, right? Because, we gave it to our buddy, who's an extremely talented YA writer. And then, Audible had their input. And what came out of that machine was something very different than what Steven and I were thinking about. So, in that sense, it was really interesting to be working on something new, if that makes sense.
AW: It does. Because, what we've found is, a lot of the times works have new lives. They get like, second lives, third lives, fourth lives, as they change mediums. And that's actually kind of a beautiful thing. Sometimes you really don't want things to stay exactly the same across all, because it needs to fit the medium.
SB: Yes. Our album was deliberately, in a kid-friendly way, kind of mythological, right? The narrative takes place over eons, you know? That's why it's called Foreverywhere. It is a study of everywhere and forever at the same time, right? So, it was all these lofty, sort of abstract cosmic ideas. And Gabe humanized everything, put it in a town, and made it about very relatable characters. And gave it a whole new life.
AW: It felt like something every kid and every person listening could feel a personal connection to and see themselves in some character. Was that intentional?
SB: It is, yes. I mean, I think that the Lonely Unicorn's struggle is very relatable. And, you know, I'm not giving anything away, but the whole thing is a divorce metaphor. The entire story is sort of a metaphor of divorce, and dealing with that. And how that affects identity. And so, I do think there's a lot of very relatable themes in there. At least, I hope so.
AW: It definitely comes across.
SB: And who really hasn't formed a band with a giant, you know? Most people do that, I think.
AW: I thought that was the most relatable part of it, honestly. [Laughter]
SB: Yes. Right.
AW: Was the recording difficult enough to put you off from it, or has it sort of sparked your appetite for this kind of work?
SB: Oh, I think that I am not a person who should be narrating long-form. I mean, I talked to the engineers and they said I did about as well as most people. But I think they were being very kind. It was like trying to ride a bicycle backwards, you know? It was really difficult for me.
AW: So, what is up next for you?
SB: I'm working much more behind the scenes right now in children's television, and that's keeping me somewhat busy. And also, you know, building my off-grid cabin in the middle of nowhere. This solitude and hermitude is actually a very involved process.
AW: Will there be any more StevenSteven albums?
SB: I don't know. We always talk about doing a Rick the Giant Christmas album.
SB: To be sort of like... Remember the David Bowie thing with Bing Crosby? David Bowie just kind of pops in on Bing Crosby on Christmas Eve.
AW: Perfect. Yes.
SB: It would be kind of that thing where Rick the Giant's just kind of hanging out, and, "Oh, who's at the door?" You know? And David Bowie shows up, or the ghost of David Bowie shows up, or the Flaming Lips show up.
AW: That reminds me to ask, what was your favorite voice to do?
SB: Rick the Giant.
AW: I thought so.
SB: Yes. Yes, I've had days where I've only been Rick the Giant. That's one of those characters. I think all actors have a character that they kind of go to, because it expresses some sort of part of them. And Rick the Giant, kind of the big, clumsy, well-meaning person, who messes everything up at all times, is definitely a fun go-to.
AW: I love that. Did you happen to base Princess Rainbow on anyone, in any part? You know, the cosmic rock goddess that you knew from high school, maybe, but, who else?
SB: No... On the album, the Unicorn is the last of his kind, right? That's the cliché, right? And we say on the album, "When you're the last of your kind, love is the most important thing to find."
So, he falls in love with her when she plays. And then a terrible storm separates them, and he spends the rest of forever, looking everywhere. Because, you know, everywhere is big, so it takes forever. So, he looks for that which he has lost, for the rest of his life, and finds her at the end of his life. And so, she sort of represents whatever that quest is in your life. You know what I mean? We all are searching, and whatever that quest is, she represents the kind of noble struggle to find it, right?
So, the short answer is, "No, she's not based on anybody, in particular." But in a music video we did, Steven's daughter, Lottie, plays her. Which is great, because she totally is a musical bad-ass.
AW: I love it.
SB: So it works really well.
AW: That's so fantastic. Did you have any qualms, or were you very mindful and intentional about hitting something so deep in a thing geared to children? You know, some people would go much more simplistic.
SB: No. And I think most people would go much more simplistic. And that's never been my approach to entertainment for children. I feel strongly that too often children get a lot of, "Yay." And they get a lot of "Aww." And that's about all we do.
I don't have children. I'm not lucky enough to have kids, but I have met about a billion of them, and they are emotionally rich people. I've met some very angry children. I've met some very sad children. I've met some very curious children. I've met children who have all of the emotions that we have. And our philosophy has been, "Why don't we sing to those emotions?" You know, "Why not?"
I remember being six years old and being truly inspired by the film Rocky. You know, kids can get these things. And I don't see any reason not to, as I say, sing to their expressive intelligence, you know?
AW: That's great. Well, I'm looking forward to this getting out into the world and having more people get to know it, differently. And, you know, that's the thing. It came out in one form; it's going to expand in another form. How does that make you feel? Is it exciting?
SB: It's interesting. It's definitely exciting. It's been a really curious process. I really just feel like Steven and I just kind of created the germ, you know what I mean? Like, we just kind of had an idea many, many years ago. And, as I said, this feels like someone else's cool project that we got to work on. You know what I mean? And it's much more of a collaboration at this point. And that's... That is really exciting. I'm very curious to see how it does, and I have great hopes for it.