Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, the California-based musician specializing in kid-friendly hip hop, is enjoying a break-through year.
Skidoo, also known as Cactus (his real name is Joel Sullivan), won a Grammy last month for Best Children’s Album with Infinity Plus One. It was his first win; he was nominated in the same category in 2015 for Perfect Quirk.
In another coup for Cactus, Hollywood movers and shakers announced that a song from the Perfect Quirk record, “Imaginary Friend,” would serve as inspiration for a new animated movie. Deadline.com reports that actor Jeremy Renner and actor/writer Don Handfield are producing, with development and pre-production starting this year.
It’s all great news for a musician who started his musical journey in Asheville more than a decade ago and who remains firmly rooted the mountain metropolis. During his Grammy acceptance speech, Cactus took time to specifically note the importance of the Asheville music scene on his career. Cactus recorded the record at Echo Mountain Studios and a slew of Asheville musicians, including Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, played on it.
“You can never replicate the circumstances of the environment that created you,” Cactus says in a recent telephone interview. “I’m so glad I’m rooted in Asheville.”
Cactus, who visits the mountain metropolis on a regular basis, will be returning this week for a big EP release show on Sunday at The Orange Peel. In yet another musical collaboration, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo worked with the Asheville Symphony to record an EP titled Mozartistic. The release comes as the symphony celebrates the Asheville Amadeus Festival all this week with a series of musical events around town.
Cactus says he had fun researching the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a child prodigy who started his musical career at the same age as Cactus’s daughter, Saki, a regular collaborator on Secret Agent 23 Skidoo songs. Both were 7 when they hit the stage, he says.
“Mozart was a child prodigy and when he would go out to play, grown men would try to battle him,” Cactus says. “Mozart would just wax ’em.” The Secret Agent 23 Skidoo songs on Mozartistic use those origins to put the classical musician in the hip-hop vernacular. (Pianist Orion Weiss and Asheville’s DJ Marley Carroll collaborate on the EP.)
Noting the symphony’s other collaborative work with Asheville musicians, Cactus said he jumped at the chance to do the same. The EP was recorded at Echo Mountain Studios, says Cactus, where he worked alongside engineer and co-producer Julian Dryer. “I really love working with him. I respect his opinion so much,” Cactus adds.
Whether it’s hip-hop, classical, klezmer or some other genre, Cactus remains ready to take it on. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo’s “musical schizophrenia” reflects the Asheville music scene he came up in.
“There’s all that and more in Asheville. I think Asheville is ahead of its time in some ways because of that,” he says. “There aren’t new genres of music emerging. There are new combinations of genres. The culture is eating itself so it can have the power for the next big leap.”
Cactus says he’s taking the Grammy win and the movie deal all in stride. And he’s excited about returning to Asheville to connect with friends and play the EP release show at The Orange Peel.
“I’ve got a good trajectory going,” Skidoo says simply.