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In this installment of Creative Inspirations, we meet music composer and DEVO founder Mark Mothersbaugh at home at Mutato Muzika, his studio on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. This is where he and his fellow spuds (Mutato combines mutant and potato) create some of film and television's most compelling music.
Mark reveals what drives his projects that have ranged from Clio Award-winning commercials, to Emmy Award-winning music for television, to soundtracks for popular video games. Mark shows us his stunning paintings and drawings that have been shown in galleries around the world, and shares his motivation behind being an artist working in various media, his fascination with mutants and symmetry, and using Photoshop to manipulate his work. He also discusses how the unique DEVO sound, look, and philosophy first came together, and why after a 28-year break, they came back together with a new album and tour.
Mark Mothersbaugh: The first TV show I ever scored was Pee-wee's Playhouse. A friend of mine, Paul, had asked me to score his stage show and I was busy with the DEVO and then he asked me to score his film, his feature, and I was on tour. I was going on tour and I really didn't really see how that was going to work and then he asked me to score his TV show and then at that point DEVO had just signed some horrible deal with Enigma Records and we were turning into an enigma and I said, "well, yeah, I could do the TV show." So I started. The first thing I did for TV was write the theme song for Pee-wee's Playhouse, then we had Cyndi Lauper sing it.
(Music playing) (Pee-wee: Arghhhh!) (Female singer: Come in and pull yourself up a chair.) (Pee-wee: Like Chairy!) (Female singer: Let the begin, it's time to let down your hair!) (Female singer: Pee-wee's sure excited, 'cause all his friends have been invited!) (Pee-wee: That's you!) (Female singer: To go wacky at Pee-Wee's Playhouse! (Pee-wee: Arghhhh!) It was interesting. I had never scored for TV before and it was kind of fun because they had send me a tape on a Monday. Tuesday, I'd write the music for the whole show, Wednesday I record it, Thursday I had to mix it and send it back to them and then Saturday morning we would sit and watch it and that was kind of cool because I had been in a band up to then pretty exclusively where you wrote 12 songs, went out on tour for six months, came back and started it all over again.
So about every year I get to write 12 songs, which was kind of that was the fun part been in the band and then all the other stuff was just work to support and sell those songs. The idea that I was writing a half hour's worth of music every week was really exciting for me and it was like you didn't have a lot of time to sit there and like play with it and try different version. Because it was kind of thing where you would look at the scene, you decide what you want to write, you do it really fast. You couldn't really do a lot of different alternative takes. You just had to just like get it out and something about that was really exciting, how immediate it was. It was kind of scary in a way too.
So I don't know. That show was a success so I got offered more TV shows and that's pretty much how I got started. But the ridiculous part about it is I didn't go to school to be a composer. This was totally an afterthought. This was something that I hadn't thought of when I was younger or even had much thought that I would ever be in a position where I would be able to get a job doing that.
So I was just kind of all my own and I remember at the end of the first season, talking with the editor of the Pee- wee show and he said, "lock your tapes up with the video, because for you it would be best." And I go, "how do you do that?" And he goes, well "SMPTE time code." And I was like, "what's that?" I remember being in shock that there was an easy way to do it, rather than just watching the film and like, as you get closer, you go one, two, one, two, three let's go!! And then you would have like five people playing and you'd try to start it at the right time and you go, oh no, I started it a little late. Let's do it over again, then we go oh, we got to pick that up? But once I found out, it's like I have found out how to write music for a picture on the job, is basically what I am saying.
So I did it the hard way. It's like I wish I would have gone the school for it. I would have made things a lot easier for the first five or six years of my scoring career.
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