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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: Mutato, it had a name, even when it was just me. It was Mutato Muzika, because I didn't want it to be Mark Mothersbaugh and I didn't want it to be DEVO. I wanted to be able to do a wider, have a wider palette. So I wanted something that meant nothing to anybody in a way, other than it was just an odd name. So Mutato is a contraction of mutant and potato. Muzika just sounded like it was like foreign, and later on I found out that is how you say music in Hungarian apparently.
I realized that DEVO as the band could not score movies, because we were used to 12 songs in a year. What happened when it came time for a film, we had like a month or six weeks or something to score one of these movies. But we would sit there and like as a band it was going over and everyday like maybe we get one queue done, which is like what would happen if you went into the studio. You'd spend all the day and you'd maybe get one song recorded and not even mixed.
So everybody felt like they're on schedule. I'm looking at it and just realizing there is no way the amount of queues we had to do we were going to finish in time. At a certain point, I just had to start writing and scoring the film without the band, and then it was... So we did two of them and it was just kind of after that I just decided well I should do it on my own. The first two things I did, once DEVO kind of went into cocoon/siesta/ hibernation in the 80s, was I did Pee-wee's Playhouse.
Then I did a Hawaiian Punch commercial. Both of them won a lot of awards. In the Hawaiian Punch commercial, I kind of designed. It was all real sound design music. (Music playing) So a kind of was really fresh sound at the time.
And both of those things brought me in a lot of work without having an agent or a manager. I hired someone to answer the phone after a while when I had four shows and I couldn't be on the phone talking to people and writing music at the same time. So I hired a secretary, but it was just still me until a woman who had produced most of the Pee-wee's shows said to me, "Mark, I'm doing a show for Disney now." "I need 100 episodes scored in two years." I'm thinking okay that's an episode of week. No big deal.
I said "I can do that." She goes, "okay." "But I just want you to know, I also want you to write four original songs that are script-based for people with lyrics, for people in the show, and guest performers to come on and sing." I went wait a minute. So you want me to write 100 episodes of TV in two years, but you want me to write 400 songs in two years also. She said, "Yeah!" I said "I can't do all that in that short a time period." She goes "well, you must have some friends that you work with, or other guys that you collaborate with that would want to work on this with you." I was like "yeah." So I started asking people to work on that show with me.
My brother Bob was one of the first to sign on. I ended up with about 25 people that worked on that project. So at the end of the two years, we had a couple of dozen Emmy nominations and everybody was all excited about it. They wanted to do more. It was the only show I had that was that big. But I said well, if you want, I will look for more big projects. That's kind of how this company started. It went from being just one guy in a bedroom to be in a whole bunch of people around the city.
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