Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mark Mothersbaugh Interview in The Believer

If you've never read The Believer magazine, the September issue would be a good one to pick up. It's packed with good pieces on a wide variety of topics. However, the most relevant here is the interview with Mark Mothersbaugh; former Devo frontman.

I was never a huge Devo fan but always respected them for sounding and doing things a little different than everyone else. Regardless, I don't think you have to be a Devo fan to find the interview interesting. Here are some highlights:

Regarding a Halloween concert Devo played with Sun Ra in '75:

MM: And someone brought along a tank of nitrous oxide. Devo came out, wearing janitor outfits. And they just didn’t think we were funny. [Laughing] We looked like a clean-up crew. And then we had songs like “Jocko Homo.” [Example lyrics: “God made man / But he used the monkey to do it / Apes in the plan—we’re all here to prove it / I can walk like an ape, talk like an ape / I can do what a monkey can do!”] It was in 7-4 time, and those people just didn’t go for it, because it wasn’t the kind of song that went along with the natural flow of your body. When we got to the end of it, when it gets into 4-4 time, they thought we were going to let them off the hook—until they realized we were going to chant, “Are we not men? We are Devo!” for about twenty minutes. Or however long it took for them to get really angry. We went at it for a really long time until one of the DJ’s—the local radio station was hosting the party, which was in an empty auditorium—grabbed the mic and made an impassioned plea. “These guys should be stopped!” he said. “This isn’t music! These guys are making fun of music.” And there were a lot of people in the audience who agreed with him. They felt what we were doing was dangerous. So all of a sudden, drunk mummies were shaking their fists at us. Draculas were shouting obscenities at us. That made us even happier, and pissed them off even more. It turned into a bit of fisticuffs. It was a mess. But it made us feel we had to be doing something right to get so many people pissed off.

Regarding the impact that the CD format has had on albums:

MM: And with vinyl you had twenty-two minutes per side. CDs came along, and you had sixty, seventy, eighty minutes and people felt like they had to fill them up. They were like those Fuji apples from Japan. They look like perfect, super-gigantic versions of American apples. But when you bite into them, they’re tasteless. They taste like foam. That happened to artists. Instead of writing forty-four really great minutes, honing it down, people let their waistbands out and threw the kitchen sink into their albums. You thought you were getting more; in reality, you were getting less. That was the dilemma of the ’80s, if you ask me.

Regarding writing music for Pee Wee's Playhouse:

MM: Yeah. And at the time Pee-wee’s was airing, there wasn’t anything with an edge for kids. Simpsons, King of the Hill—they hadn’t come along yet. The network was kind of freaked by how loose the show was, but it showed up at a time when it was perfectly needed. And for me, the creative cycle moved very fast. I’d get a tape of the show Monday night or Tuesday morning. I’d write the music Wednesday, send it back Thursday—and by Saturday morning, the show would be on. I’d think, “That’s nice.” I’d just come out of the rock world, where there would be a whole year of working on just ten or twelve songs. For Pee-wee’s I was writing just about an album’s worth of music in under three days. It was a whole different kind of animal. It was really exciting. You’d hear some stuff and think, “I don’t even remember writing that,” or, “That’s pretty bad.” But sometimes it would be like, “Hey, that’s pretty good!”

As I said before, there are a bunch of other good essays and interviews in this issue. Davy Rothbart has a funny piece about promoting his book, Found, on the morning talk shows. Sarah Silverman is amusing as always in her interview. And Nick Hornby is entertaining as he rips in the Believer staff. It's a good issue to pick up.


Sarah said...

Oh, Hell yes! I got hooked into The Believer after reading Hornby's collection of book reviews that was published seperately. Fortunately, Bear Pond Books carries the magazine. Thanks for the reminder!

Jim said...

I think he's exactly right about the CD format ruining the album to a certain extent. There are way too many CD albums out there today that include songs that would have been cut under the old 45 minute vinyl format. Some of the best albums that I've heard in my lifetime are short and sweet (40 minutes and less).