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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: DEVO, when we were starting as a band it was right after a shooting and not just at Kent but other campuses around the country there. Students were saying, hey! We don't want to be part of this Vietnam War. You know, we were watching it on TV and we are like who are we defending and why and why are we attacking people over there? They didn't do anything to us. What is the point to this war? It's not a good war. During that time period Jerry Casale who I'd collaborated with on a few visual things already that year, he came over and he started playing music with me and he was a bass player and he was playing in a blues band to make some extra money.
I was a keyboard player but I was playing like synth stuff and it was more like Soft Machine or something. It was kind of like more acidy and we were trying to figure out what is this sound we were thinking. Oh! It's like Flintstones meets the Jetsons. You know, like I was playing kind of space age-y kind of sounds and he was playing like kind of primitive bass sounds, blues, blues-y kind of things. We started talking about what was going on around us and then what was happening at school and what was happening in the world.
We came to the conclusion that what we were observing was not evolution but rather de-evolution. So, that's where we've got the name the De-evolution band and then the De-evolutionary army before we cut letters off the end and turn it into DEVO. De-evolution was sort of our platform. It became a way that we could talk about things that we were curious about, that concerned us and we could make fun of things and we could draw attention to things.
So, we looked at people like Andy Warhol for inspiration. We saw-- and not so much in his messages but in his techniques. We saw that was the perfect. He was about ideas and it didn't matter what medium he worked in. I'd liked the idea that he wasn't just locked into like playing guitar or to painting watercolors on a piece of paper, the same exact thing every time. He was into solving problems. So, we kind of wanted DEVO to be like that.
We wanted DEVO to be like an gait pop group in a way. We wanted to have unit services in Ohio and in Akron. We imagined our own version of the factory in Downtown in Akron where we'd have our music television network and DEVO's re-education TV shows. Then, you know the band had a philosophy and we had our own slang. So, it became like this phenomenon but then it didn't really-- Record companies couldn't figure out how that translated into record sales.
Record companies had enjoyed this long run up through the 70s where they didn't have to do anything. They just pressed a record and put it in a store and it would get gobbled up. When we first signed with Warner Brothers, a marketing plan with something like, we'd go and to meet with them and they'd tell us "okay! Here is our marketing plan for DEVO." And a guy would get up and he go, "we are going to build life size standup cut outs of the band and we are going to put it in all the major record stores around the country." Then he'd kind of smiled then everybody would be like, "yeah okay!" and that was it.
That was our marketing. That was our marketing campaign. I remember at that meeting that we went to where that happened, Gerald and I going well, how much is that life size standup cut-out is going to cost? They were like, "Well that's going to be like $5,000 for those cutouts." And we were like, "Can we have the money to make a film with?" They were like, "What? What do you mean make a film?" Well, we want to make a film of the song Satisfaction on our album and they go, "what do we are going to do with that?" I remember being questioned like. And we go "Well." "It will be like those other films we did, Jocko Homo and Secret Agent Man." I just remember the people at Warners going, "Okay?" "You want to give up the life-size cutouts and make a little film, go ahead." So, they gave us the money and we made the film Satisfaction and they just thought we were crazy.
(Music playing.) (Lead singer: I can't get no satisfaction.) By the time MTV came around, DEVO had already made enough films to do our first major compilation DVD by that point. So MTV, they gladly took our songs and put them on their network and we were in-- You saw a different DEVO video like every hour orevery half-hour in the first couple of years in MTV.
We came out on stage in yellow hazmat outfits that will be ripped off and we had like 1950's gym outfits underneath it. It just didn't look like rock-n-roll at all the people and it didn't sound like it. It was so strange. It was like everybody would say "well you got to see this band. It's really something different."
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