‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’: A love story

Michael and Ashley Kohler on work, romance and the show that’s to blame

Business partnerships are like a marriage, but what if you combine the two? And what if a crazy and beloved show like Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force was at the center of it all? Well, for one couple that’s exactly what happened.

Atlanta-based Ashley Kohler (Awesome Inc. and Bluetube) and Michael Kohler (Bluetube) might never have fallen in love if it wasn’t for this quirky cartoon, which had its season finale this summer after 15 years on the air. Recently this happy couple sat down to reflect on romance, meatballs and the perfect marriage of sound and picture.  Recently, we just let them chat, share and reminisce.

The happy couple.

The happy couple and collaborators.

Ashley: Michael and I met prior to my becoming director of on-air promotion at Cartoon Network, and we worked together on a number of projects over the course of about seven years. When I left the network, we discussed starting our own studio. One lunch became two, and two lunches became dinner, and dinner became a date. And Michael’s cool motorcycle didn’t hurt. Michael was just getting started on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie and he was so busy that in order to see each other I would spend time in the studio. He’d put me to work, jingling keys and making background noises, and finding casserole dishes for just the right clang. It was a unique courtship.

Michael: No one has ever been advised to start a company with someone they’re dating, but we took it one step further and purchased a building to house both our companies: Bluetube for music and sound, and the animation studio Awesome Inc. In the middle of working on the Aqua Teen feature film we started construction on a new studio space, and Ashley took over the logistics of producing for my company Bluetube. Then we had the opportunity to go to Skywalker Sound, a place I had dreamed of visiting since I first knew I wanted to be a composer and engineer, for the final mix stage of the film.

Ashley: We are both are type A, and are passionate about what we do individually and together. Sure, we fuss and fight through it sometimes – I come in and tell him to pick up his metaphoric business socks, then we go home and he asks me to pick up my actual ones.

Michael: It takes every bit of effort, day and night, to nurture our businesses, and we never take it for granted. We work for ourselves, making crazy animated shows and commercials.

Ashley: For many seasons Michael created the audio for Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF), then years later Awesome became the animation studio for the show. It has proved to be such an efficient and creatively inspiring way to work – there’s no sending the animation off into the ether to wait for the unknown… being able to collaborate throughout the process with ideas for how to bring out the best in the work is extremely helpful with tight deadlines. Awesome and Bluetube don’t work on every project together, but it is great when we can.

Michael:  I like to be involved from the beginning and to get visual elements as inspiration for the music and sound. When I work on the same projects as Awesome, I can run upstairs and talk to the animators while they are in progress. I can provide a click track for timing, or demo music early in production so that it evolves together. We really benefit by being so close in proximity and, in the case of ATHF, part of small team that creates the show.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force- African Background ATHFF_summer-preview


Ashley: We are all together, as a family — in our case, literally.

Michael: Ashley is an exceptional producer, she knows how to bring out the best in people – me included.

Ashley: This is going to sound really corny, but I am genuinely in awe of Michael’s talent. I sometimes feel sad that I am the only one who gets to sneak in the middle of the night and watch this interesting and amazing process unfold. There is so much that can be conveyed though music and sound. In the case of the Cartoon Network mnemonic that he created… just five powerful notes. It inspires wonderment. And if he stays at work all night, I don’t wonder where he’s gone. I know he’s in the studio making magic — or sounds for a meatball.

Michael: Clearly our lives are wrapped up in work. From the friends we’ve made over the years, to the conversations at the dinner table. We talk about the day to day, our plans for the future, our dreams.

Ashley: Although the work plug gets pulled when our four year old says, “You can talk later.” That’s our cue to play a game or go for a walk.

Michael: Aqua Teen has followed this arc of our lives for a decade. For me, it’s been 10 years of making music, smashing stuff and building things like a giant potato gun all in the name of getting that perfect sound. Most of all, throughout every damn episode we laughed. Matt and Dave are so uncommonly funny that – well, let’s just say there are a lot of memories.

Ashley: Like being animated into the shows?

Michael: We’ve been immortalized in animation. For better or pinheads.

Ashley and Michael’s cartoon selves.

Ashley:  By surprise I found out that I was being included as a waitress in the finale. At first, I had this horrendous man body.

Michael: I cautioned her against saying anything — I mean, these are animators so you never know what they’ll do if you complain.

Ashley: They basically swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. I suddenly wanted my bad man body back. Luckily, we landed in a somewhat comfortable place. It’s embarrassing but also pretty fun —you can’t take it too seriously. Michael is in the final episode, as are the show’s creators.  There are a number of people in the last two episodes who have meant something to the show over the years. We’re all hanging out in the restaurant together or at a magic show.

Michael: It’s a nod to fact that the show is like a little hometown project that kept going and going. We’re all sad it is over, because we are also big fans of the show.

Ashley: You could throw a dart at the last decade and never hit a dull moment. I know when I look back I will remember how amazing the movie experience was, being at Skywalker and falling in love. The many episodes animated at Awesome Inc. — especially the final episodes — were a crazy, emotional time of unrivaled unity.

The pair is currently working on Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, Squidbillies and Carl’s Lock, along with a variety of commercials and promo projects.

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