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A Q&A with Mark Mothersbaugh


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  • Joshua Dalsimer

The bolded text that follows is an exact transcription of a recent Q&A interview with Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. The interview itself took less than sixty seconds. Robotic efficiency, that.

Q: Are we not legacy act?

A: We Are Devo!

Devo's co-lead singer and songwriter Mark Mothersbaugh somewhat jokingly refers to Devo's current iteration as a "legacy act." And indeed, given both their long life and status as fully loaded cultural signifiers (red energy dome hats, commands to "whip it good," cross-eyed and whip-toting mistresses) you could be forgiven for wondering if on their current tour with other potential legacy act Blondie they're not going the way of The Rolling Stones - trotting the hits out again for another payday.

Naturally, the "A:" to both "Q: Will not the Stones play "You Can't Always get What You Want" again tonight?" and "Q: Will not Devo arrive with red energy domes in tow?" is an emphatic "yes."

But, for Devo, there seems to be more to it than that.

Q: Are we not de-evolving?

A: We have de-evolved. We will continue to de-evolve.

Mothersbaugh says the band's music has always been driven by its "intellectual content." De-evolution, the absurdity of contemporary life, stuff like that. Though times have changed, Mothersbaugh believes Devo's intellectual content is as relevant as it ever was.

Speaking about what it would be like to be nineteen again and making music right now, he says, "We would probably still be talking about de-evolution like we always have, because back then we were just warning people about it. Now we're in the middle of it, all kind of wading through it."

Though the ideas behind Devo would still be the same, there are certain things he imagines he would do differently with the sound of the band.

"I love the sounds that all the DJs are using nowadays. I love their instruments. They've got stuff that just didn't exist when I was a kid," says Mothersbaugh.

He speaks fondly of the idea of melding the sounds of an artist like Deadmau5 with Devo, putting the two sounds into a "blender and mixing them up."

Q: Are not humans my friends?

A: Don't roof rack me, bro!

The band recently released a new single called "Don't Roof Rack Me, Bro!" The song, somewhat strangely, reaches back to the 1983 incident in which Mitt Romney's family dog, Seamus, rode atop the family car in a crate. At some point during the trip, the dog became ill, and defecated both on himself and the Romney vehicle. It's been a source of a small amount of sort of odd bad press for Romney in his two runs for president. (Editor's note: Indy's own Jack Shepler led a viral campaign to define "to Romney" as something tragically, grossly related to this very incident.)

When asked why "Don't Roof Rack Me Bro" came about at this time, Mothersbaugh says it was in part because Dogs Against Romney simply asked the band to write a song.

"Well we're all dog lovers, but what really prompted us to write the song was, Dogs Against Romney called us, and they begged and whined, they ran in circles and scratched at fleas, and we said, 'Ok, we'll write a song'."

Imagining himself in the position of Seamus the dog he wonders, "Humans are my friends! Or are they?"

Q: Are we not men?

A: We are composer!

Mothersbaugh doesn't limit his creativity to the confines of Devo. He also writes soundtracks for both television and film, contributing to everything from Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, to the Rugrats cartoons. When asked if he ever struggles for inspiration when making music so constantly he says, "writing for television and film is a whole different animal than writing an album."

He goes on to explain that the difference comes from the amount of time he allows himself in each context.

"Writing an album is kind of precious; everything is so important. It's like micro-sculpting."

On the other hand, contributing music to a soundtrack is, "more from your gut, it's more instinctual."

He says there are unique pleasures in each type of approach, though he really enjoys the fast pace of soundtracking, he allows that "there's something to be said for spending a whole year on twelve songs."

Regarding the fast pace of sound tracking television, he described the typical process of working on a show like Pee Wee's Playhouse in the late '80s.

"I would get the episode on Monday, I'd write it on Tuesday, record it on Wednesday, ship it on Thursday, they would lay it into the show on Friday and then we'd watch it on Saturday," says Mothersbaugh. "Something about the instant gratification like that was really satisfying."

When watching movies or shows he's composed for, he says sometimes it can be hard to pull himself away from the music in the background.

"I'll go and watch Hotel Transylvania in the theater, for example, and I'll think that I wish we'd used more horns when Dracula is walking through the basement or something."

This is understandable; in many cases he finds himself writing for a big orchestra, but he usually has to compose on a synth.

"I can't write and have a 100-piece orchestra there to just play it back for me," he explains.

As a result, when he's listening to the London Symphony Orchestra playing his compositions, for example, he'll find himself thinking, "This is the only time in the life of the music that I'll get to hear it played by a real live orchestra, after this it'll only ever be on a soundtrack or attached to the film."

Q: Are we not getting older?

A: Could you repeat the question, maybe a little louder?

With all of this overflowing creativity, it's hard not to wonder if Devo might not have another full-length in the works. Mothersbaugh says he can't rule out the possibility of a new Devo album.

Speaking about 2010's Something for Everyone however, he says, "We must have a little Alzheimer's, or else I don't think we would have ever signed that record deal with Warner Brother's again."

Any business regrets notwithstanding, he feels lucky to still be making music.

"I remember being 25 and thinking, 'I know I'm not going to be able to do this when I'm 30,' and now I'm double that and it's just kind of amazing."

After all this time, and despite any "complications or cynicisms," it remains satisfying to play for an audience.

"I hope that we'll get to do it a few more times before time ravages the machine enough and we're done for."


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