Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh on Subversion and the Power of Music

In his Guest DJ set, Mark Mothersbaugh shares boundary-pushing pop, some influential score music and explains the lessons he learned about subversion from an unlikely source.

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We don’t usually feature musicians on the Guest DJ Project, figuring why miss the opportunity to have them play live for us on Morning Becomes Eclectic!

But in some cases we make an exception, especially when that guest has led a number of different lives, as is the case of legendary Devo front man Mark Motherbaugh.

Best known as a member of that groundbreaking punk/new wave band, he is also a renowned visual artist, with dozens of gallery exhibitions over the decades; an acclaimed composer of film scores (including many of Wes Anderson’s films); and he even has a line of designer eyewear!

All that said, I find Devo’s influence to be immense, so it was a pleasure to talk music with him.

Mothersbaugh’s biography parallels many important moments in pop music history, from watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (which accidentally enticed him to buy an album from a lame tribute band), to attending Kent State during the terrible shootings in 1970 and how that affected the artistic community in their search for ways to change the system (in Mark’s case it was a random encounter with a Burger King commercial that quoted from Pachelbel’s Canon that led to a life-changing realization!).

The world of international cinema blossoming in the 60s opened his eyes to the dynamic range of composers such as Fellini-collaborator Nina Rota, which surely planted the seeds for his own later work in the field.

And his discovery of boundary-pushing pop musicians, from Captain Beefheart and his chaotic rock band to the otherworldly sounds of electronic music pioneers Perrey and Kingsley, further inspired him in his own experiments with sounds.

After the session, I even got the inside scoop on his working with Brian Eno as a producer, and meeting David Bowie and Iggy Pop while recording the first Devo album!

It was a fun and informative conversation, and you can check it out yourself below.

ERIC J. LAWRENCE