Devo keeps it weird, plays Sunrise Mall

Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh feels no whiplash

<b>One of these guys is Mark Mothersbaugh—at least that’s what they tell us.</b>

One of these guys is Mark Mothersbaugh—at least that’s what they tell us.


Devo performs Friday, September 14, with Blondie at Sunrise MarketPlace, 5912 Sunrise Mall Road; $39.50-$82.50;

It’s been 40 years since a group of Kent State University art students formed an early version of the arty punk band Devo. The band’s name is taken from “de-evolution” and the concept that mankind is regressing, not evolving. Devo embodied this aesthetic via eye-popping visuals, social commentary and songs that challenge and energize listeners with herky-jerky rhythms and earworm melodies. The band’s biggest hit is, unarguably, the 1980 classic “Whip It,” but over the years, it has established itself as nothing short of an iconic cult band. Founding member Mark Mothersbaugh talks TV, corporate logos and making art in the Internet age.

Hey, how’s it going?

Great. I’m sitting in [my studio] on the Sunset Strip … working on a score for the TV show Enlightened.

You do a lot of film and TV scores. How did you get into that line of work?

Devo signed a bad record deal back in the ’80s. We let that run its course and then signed a deal with Enigma Records, but three months into it, they went bankrupt. My friend Paul Reubens asked me to score a film for him [the year before], and the timing wasn’t right, but then, the next year I said, “Yeah, I can do that.” [Enigma’s] bankruptcy jettisoned me into working in TV [on Reubens’ Pee-wee’s Playhouse]. I got hooked on the process.

What about it did you like?

The downside of making a proper album is you do one a year: You spend three months writing and then one month recording, then you rehearse and go on tour, and then come back and repeat the process. The most exciting part of that process for me is writing the songs. With [Pee-wee’s Playhouse] the [producers] would send me a tape of the show on Monday, I’d write an album’s worth of music on Tuesday, record it on Wednesday … and by Saturday I’d watch it on TV. The instant gratification—the adrenaline is gratifying. Over the years, I’ve [expanded] into film.

How has all this other work impacted Devo?

Devo is at the center of everything in my life, no matter what else [I’m] doing. When we were earnest young men in Akron, Ohio, trying to make sense of the world, [Devo] gave us a vehicle and a way to articulate the thoughts going on in our heads. And that’s definitely still the case, whether I’m working on [TV or films]—it all has some basis in the way I created in the earliest days.

Warner Bros. Records dropped Devo from the label in the 1980s but then signed with them again in 2009 only to part ways in August. What happened?

We put out a record with Warner Bros. [2010’s Something for Everybody]. I attribute that to early onset of Alzheimer’s [disease]. It was really not pleasant before [in the ’80s] when I’d say stuff like, “We [should] put a corporate logo next to each song on the album to designate who sponsored it.” Then, everybody said, “Mark’s crazy.” But now, it makes more sense. And it also makes more sense to finance things independently. I celebrate the demise of that industry, because it’s giving birth to new possibilities.

What kind of possibilities?

I remember sitting in Ohio, looking at pictures of the Beatles and thinking, “How do you get through that gate, over that drawbridge?” It seemed like an insurmountable problem, and I never had any idea how to overcome it. Now, a kid can be inspired by something, and there’s more power in their cellphones than the Beatles ever had at Abbey Road Studios.

How did you first envision Devo?We thought we were going to create art and make theatrical shows and put bands out. When we were sitting in that crummy house in Ohio, I remember dreaming we’d have our own TV network, and we’d send [other] Devo bands out on the road—not unlike Menudo. We imagined five or six Devos touring the road at a time, playing the truth of de-evolution. That was a hard sell.