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Mark Mothersbaugh

Mark Mothersbaugh
From DEVOlution to technology revolution

As a young child in the 1950s, Mark Mothersbaugh could scarcely imagine the mystery and magic that inhabited a recording studio, the domain of deities like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Recording an album seemed like an impossible dream. But as Mothersbaugh co-founded provocative rock band Devo, he became part of the first generation to experience the power of personal synths by Moog and ARP—and the subsequent innovations that enabled musicians to start creating and recording on their own. Today, Mothersbaugh has 13 Devo albums under his belt, as well as hundreds of music video, television and film projects such as The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Inspired by the decline of the traditional record industry, Mothersbaugh is now working on a new Devo album with the help of the next-generation creative tools including Way Out Ware’s TimewARP 2600 and KikAxxe virtual synths.

Describe your creative process when you compose for a film or TV show.

I’ve collaborated with all kinds of different people, and they all have different needs. I’ve done all the original music for the first four of Wes Anderson’s movies. He always came into the studio early in the process, but sometimes I get hired and have two weeks to score a film. In general, I tend to overwrite. I write for a scene and then think of another way to do it. I came upon a copy of a Jimi Hendrix 16-track recorded in LA, and I heard how he played “Crosstown Traffic” and “Foxy Lady” with the band, then went back and performed totally different guitar and vocal parts using different cadence and melodies. For every Wes Anderson movie, there’s actually twice as much music as you see on screen, that’s my personal style.

As one of the first American acts to fully embrace and perform live with a synth-based setup, what are your impressions of today’s virtual synth emulations?

I’ve worked with a lot of synths, Devo has owned just about everything. I have a combo of fond memories and thoughts of “my God, wasn’t it difficult, think of all the compromises we made back then.” All the tools available for artists now are incredible. It’s great, it really inspires me to make music.

How would you compare products like TimewARP 2600 and KikAxxe to their hardware counterparts?

I play KikAxxe and it goes so far beyond its inspirational model—it’s so much more powerful and also so much more affordable. It not only replicates what the original did, it goes around to different companies from that time and pulls the best qualities from all of them. It skips through time zones to bring you a ton of amazing features. It works in many situations, and it’s a very critical sound in the new Devo record. It’s an essential piece of gear.

I like also really like the TimewARP 2600. I had an original 2600, and you were always doing a lot of patching, it was a difficult beast to get a great sound out of. The TimewARP 2600 sounds identical to the original 2600, but Way Out Ware added so many other powers. I used both TimewARP 2600 and KikAxxe in the score for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and many other TV shows.

What do you find most exciting about the decline of the traditional distribution model and the next phase of the music industry?

We were tired and uninspired by the old business formula, and disgusted by it—we’d had enough. But now, the idea that we can get music out in creative, different ways intrigues us enough to go another round with Devo. Now there are more choices. There are some stumbling blocks—the Internet makes most music free, whether you want it to be that way or not. But in some ways it’s better, because it eliminates people who aren’t in it for love of music. People should be in the business who care enough and are dedicated enough to write something great.

Look for Mothersbaugh’s work on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (in theaters fall of 2009) and other projects at mutato.com.