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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: To me music was invented to torture me. That's what I had come to the conclusion of. I started taking my music lessons right about the time I got my first pair of glasses. There was this woman, Mrs. Fox, who would come over to our house and we had a little Skinner organ in the living room. She was trying to figure out how to get me excited about my music lessons and so they found this book of TV theme songs. I remember learning 77 Sunset Strip.
I remember deliberately playing it really slow because she was going "77 sunset strip," while I was playing on the organ. But at that time it was just like, it was painful. It was war between her and me and I hated music. Then one day I am 12 years old it's dinner time and our families all there and we were five kids in the family. We were sitting around the dinner table and we had a little portable black-and-white TV setup in the kitchen.
We were watching TV while we were eating and the Ed Sullivan Show and then he said "okay from the Liverpool, The Beatles." (Girls screaming) I was just kind of like nailed the chair. I remember thinking "that's why I spent my whole life learning how to play an instrument so that I could do that." Because that's what I wanted to do. I was 12 years old. There were girls screaming at the Beatles on TV.
I said that's what I wanted to do. So I called my friend Ronny Wyszynski. He was with an accordion player. So, we went to Woolworth's. They had like 4 or 5 Beatle's albums and they were all $3.99 and there was one with $1.99 and I bought that one. I got it home and I started listening to it and like I don't recognize any of these songs and I am like playing the album for like for the third time going, "this isn't their good album" and I am looking at and I am looking at the album and all of sudden I realized I'd bought an album by The Bugs. I didn't buy the Beatles.
So, I go oh my god I got the wrong album! So, I had The Bugs and I was really pissed and there was a song and you know when I am listening, I am trying to get into it, and the best song on the record was this one that goes: You got me bug, bug, bug, bug, bug. Hey! Little lady bug you belong.. And I am like "this is hideous." This whole album is so uncool. So I had The Bugs. That was the first album I've ever bought. But, I went back Ronny and got like a book of Hard Day's Night sheet music so we took it home and I am on the organ and it's showing you playing the chords like this like duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, it's been a hard day night.
Ronny sitting there with on a accordion going like this and we were taking turns trying to play the melody line to figure out who should be playing what part and accordion and organ weren't making and it was horrible. Then so then when they go my dad's going oh! You know the Beatles they are back on Ed Sullivan again tonight And I am like I know. I am like watching it all and they go, "And stay tuned because the Beatles will be back with one more song after this statement!" So, they come back and this time no. Something's totally weird.
One of the Beatles is sitting down. He is not standing up and he is sitting at a keyboard. I am like oh, what's that? It's an organ sound and it's the craziest organ I ever saw because this organ it was a Vox Continental and they were popular in the 60s. The white keys were black and the black keys were white and I just, I remember my eyes bugging out, looking at that on the TV screen, going "that's impossible!" I've never seen anything like that, that's crazy and then like in the middle I am down it comes to the solo and John Lennon he's playing something really kind of wild on the organ. I'd never seen anything like that and I am watching him and he start to playing with his elbow and I am like, Mrs. Fox never told me you could do that.
I just remember calling Ronny Wyszynski up and like over the phone I was so happy, I was really rubbing it in that the Beatles used in the organ. They didn't used an accordion. So, I knew I was going to say goodbye to Ronny Wyszynski. I knew he was going to be left behind in the gutter while I took off into the world of rock-n-roll. So, at age 12 I wanted to be an artist. I was sure I was going to be-- at the time I thought I was going to be a painter but now all of a sudden I was going to be musician too.
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