Of all the hats Mark Mothersbaugh has worn, one stands out: The red flowerpot
helmet he showcased as the lead singer/songwriter of the seminal new wave band Devo. While
Mothersbaugh still performs with the band, he also writes music for film and television,
including the hit Nickelodeon Rugrats series and their first big-screen effort.
Sidewalk sat down with this energetic music man to talk about animated toddlers,
orchestral maneuvers and what exactly he did with his famous cap.
Sidewalk: When working on Rugrats, is it important not to talk down to kids?
Mark Mothersbaugh: Kids don't have all the information, so they need protection and education, but they are smart. You think they aren't, but they know things. They've heard the words Bosnia and mass murders and kiddie porn.That what's so interesting and smart about Rugrats. There are these two parallel universes where in one, they are dependent on and inspired by the adults, but also exasperated by them. And they have their own world.
SW: How did you get all of the artists (including Beck, Jakob Dylan, Patti Smith, Phife, Lenny Kravitz, Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, Fred Schneider) to contribute to the song in the film "This World Is Something New to Me?"
MM: We just started going through our Rolodexes to get people who, if they could sing one line, you would recognize them. Patti Smith said "My daughter watches the show. Can I bring her to the session?" Patti had all of these ideas. She was like, "I don't think that my character would be quiet. I think she would keep talking throughout the whole song." And she did and it turned out great.
SW: You worked with an orchestra for the first time during this movie. How did that go?
MM: The movie has a much bigger look, so they needed a much bigger sound to go along with it. Hence, the London Metropolitan Orchestra. I scored the show from the beginning, but I'd never worked with a 100-piece orchestra before. I prepared with insomnia.
SW: Did you see yourself as a film composer back in Devo's heyday?
MM: Being a band wasn't even something that we were obsessed with. We did films and we were visual artists. To us, Devo was a method for talking about things that you were concerned about at the time, and the music was just the biggest thing that we did. We talked about sound and vision and how we were going to kill rock 'n' roll and how audio visual artists were going to take over the world, but rock 'n' roll swallowed up sound and vision quite easily.
SW: Do you still keep your Devo hats around the house?
MM: We have Devo hats around for Jell-O molds and to shape the meatloaf with.
Jason Kaufman, Sidewalk