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Inside the subversively creative mind of Mark Mothersbaugh (subliminal messages included)

Devo front man and composer Mark Mothersbaugh doesn’t think of himself as an artist. He’s a social scientist—and he’s made some observations.

Inside the subversively creative mind of Mark Mothersbaugh (subliminal messages included)
[Photo: Daniel Benavides/Wikimedia Commons; rawpixel]

Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Play, or Stitcher.

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Don’t call Mark Mothersbaugh an artist—even though his vast career clearly suggests otherwise.

After his days as an 80s icon in the art-punk band Devo, Mothersbaugh seamlessly segued into the role of composer, scoring more than 200 titles across film, TV, and video games, including Thor: Ragnarok, The Royal Tenenbaums, Dawson’s Creek, Rugrats, The Lego Movie, Crash Bandicoot, Tiger King, and The Willoughbys.

Mothersbaugh has also made waves in the visual art space, most notably for his record-breaking ruby turd cleverly disguised as ice cream. Not only that, but Mothersbaugh has a penchant for repurposing items and materials to create his own symphony of bizarro instruments.

But remember—don’t call him an artist.

“I remember thinking I didn’t want to ever be called an artist because once I got to school [at Kent State University] and met people that call themselves artists I thought, ‘He’s a craftsperson—maybe,'” Mothersbaugh says on the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “I don’t want to be grouped in with those people. I used to think of myself as a social scientist even when I was a kid. I used to think, ‘I’m here from somewhere, and I’m observing life on planet Earth.'”

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And what he’s observed is that Earth has some work to do.

In this episode Mothersbaugh explains . . .

. . . his complicated relationship to the mainstream

“My favorite time of Devo was not after we got to Hollywood—it was before we went. It was purist. We weren’t trying to fit into a record company’s idea of what a band was.”

. . . his feelings about consumerism

“In commercials I’d put subliminal messages. It was so easy to, in the middle of a Hawaiian Punch commercial, go, ‘Sugar is bad for you!’ underneath a drum beat.”

. . . why it’s necessary to dismantle the tools of your craft

“When you go up to a keyboard and it doesn’t go ‘dah, dah, dah, dah” if you go, ‘uh, err, ah, whoo-hoo, bop, eeh, clah-clah, e-ah, grr,’ it makes you think about music a whole different way. And you can’t play in that fashion that’s been ingrained in your brain.”

Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Play, or Stitcher.

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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