From BMI (?/?/97)
The Composer Behind The Music Of
By: Jennifer Clay
"I think when they do the autopsy, they'll find the creative half of my brain will be pink and fill out the whole side of the skull. The part that's common sense and business will be atrophied," said Mark Mothersbaugh only half kidding.
Mark's being more than a little modest. He's a composer of commercial, film, television and interactive game music. He's a founding member, frontman, keyboardist and vocalist for the legendary, one-of-a-kind band Devo. And he's head honcho/owner of Mutato Muzika, a company that creates music for multiple mediums. It takes more than a creative genius to achieve what he has.
Wearing a black shirt and black parachute-type pants, Mark leans comfortably and confidently back in his black leather chair; His back is to the guts of his disc-shaped studio in the center of Mutato Muzika, a lime green circular building on Sunset Boulevard--just a drum sticks throw from the Whiskey and the Roxy. The odd-shaped building has been home to several business, including a plastic surgeon's office. "This room was the operating room," he says, gesturing to the area around him and the skylight above, which is now covered with a black cloth. "Women would pass out and wake up with smaller noses and bigger tits."
Such is Hollywood--city of a million would-be stars and a far off dream for five guys from Ohio known as Devo. "I was in the Midwest, a kind of cultural waste land," Mark remembers. "We knew there were things happening on the West Coast, the East Coast, and in London. They just weren't happening in Ohio. It was really frustrating to look at a picture of Sunset Strip in Life magazine and know there were really cool places--and it's not here."
The brain child of Mark (an avid experimental music fan) and Gerald "Jerry" Casale (a blues lover), Devo took shape in the early '70s. "We had this Jetsons/Flintstones thing going early on," he says of their musical differences. The two recruited their brothers--both named Bob--and drummer Alan Myers. "We were totally insulated. We developed an aesthetic and wrote our songs totally in isolation of the rest of the world. We were watching the news and that's about it. We were not in sync with anything else," explains Mark of Devo's outlook and yellow plastic chemical suit outfits. Much of their influences actually came from soundtracks and TV commercials, which he viewed as "a really interesting, subversive, pop art form." Mark even went so far as to quote his favorite Burger King commercial in Devo's "Too Much Paranoia." Going with a gut feeling, Devo whipped up some serious yet fun sonic creations.
Approximately 10 years later, several albums and a "bad record deal," Devo was put on hold and Mark started composing music for what initially inspired him: TV commercials--Hawaiian Punch being his first. He had come full circle. Within six months, he was hired to compose the title theme for the television show "Pee Wee's Playhouse." Both the commercial and the show won numerous awards. Mark continued scoring numerous commercials (from Toyota to Nike to McDonalds) and TV shows (from Fox's "Strange Luck" to MTV's "Liquid Television" to Columbia Pictures Television's "Beakman's World"), and then branched out into CD-ROM games and interactive media (from Inscape's newly-released "Devo Presents Adventures of the Smart Patrol" to Sony Playstation's "Crash Bandicott"). Gradually, Mark fell into composing for film--recent pictures include "Happy Gilmore" and "Bottlerocket," along with the not yet released "Breaking Up" and the just released "The Big Squeeze."
For "The Big Squeeze" (starring Lara Flynn Boyle), Mark and his brother/partner Bob "tag teamed" on the project, meaning Mark wrote the underscore and Bob wrote the main title and a couple songs (something they do occasionally). The love and loot movie called for a similar musical vibe. Mark describes it as a "Las Vegas grind meets Los Lobos meets early Devo. B-movie rock 'n' roll from the '50s and '60s." For the underscore, he went for a slight Brazilian Big Band vibe with a lot of percussion.
Generally, Mark does the bulk of his work on his synthesizers and keyboards, then employs L.A. session players--from quartets to sextets--to flesh out the music.
His natural slide into film has also in a sense brought him full circle as Devo began as a multimedia event--the first to truly use film and music simultaneously as part of their act. "We were the pioneers that always got scalped. We did films before there was a venue for them," Mark says, referring to films like "The Truth About De-Evolution," which was basically two music videos: "Jocko Homo" and "Secret Agent Man."
Q: Almost 20 years after their first record ("Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!") was released and fresh off the Lollapalooza summer tour, where is Devo now? Are they going to reform and tour?
A: "It's at a nice place," Mark begins. "I would not be interested in any mini tour. If I were to do anything, it would be to do Devo's version of the $110 million KISS tour. I would do the big theater thing. I would take the technology that we use to play around with a long time ago and bring it up to 1999 standards; fuck with people's minds and show them things that nobody else is doing now."
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