Ask The Artist: Bob Mothersbaugh (DEVO)

by
Jillian Burnett
-
July 25, 2017

One of the most influential new wave bands of the 70’s and 80’s was DEVO who began their group in 1972. With songs like “Whip It!” released in 1980, making it to the top of the Billboard charts at number 14 in mid-November that year and was DEVO’s biggest hit. Over the years DEVO consisted of different band members including Jim Mothersbaugh and Alan Myers, as well as Josh Freese as a permanent member. Primarily DEVO included two brothers Mark Mothersbaugh and Robert Mothersbaugh and the Casale brothers, of which all had long music careers.

DEVO was an artistic vision combined with unique outfits and songs that fought for justice. In a time during the Vietnam war, they wanted to make progress in human beings and decided it was time to say something. After the shootings at Kent University in May of 1970, Mark and Jerry knew they had to stand up for injustice and encourage fans to wake up through music. Their new wave music in a time of Disco and sense of style were noticed on and off stage. The memorable yellow janitorial suits with black plastic coated paper saying D-E-V-O and the red plastic hats will be remembered in music history.

DEVO
‍Photo byJay Spencer @idolphamine

Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing DEVO’s very own Robert Mothersbaugh about his DEVO experience, some of his past stories as well as his current projects including Rugrats and Motown. As we like to call him, Bob took us through a witty interview about his journey working in the music industry. Bob grew up as just another kid in Akron, Ohio. He had odd jobs like working at an ice cream parlor and took piano lessons from his church pianist. He eventually picked up the guitar and became a guitar player, eventually joining DEVO with his brother Mark. Following DEVO Bob got involved in recording for TV-shows, commercials, and movies.

For a number of years and 150 episodes later, Rugrats was one of the many shows Bob worked on. He also worked on projects including ‘How To Eat Fried Worms’ and the Hansel and Gretel movie. Bob also had the opportunity to write underscores for ‘Beat Bugs’, a 52 song Beatles cartoon available on Netflix, as well as a new Motown project that has yet to be released. He has had the pleasure of working with young and talented musicians for that project.

Interview:

 

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Well, I had some part time jobs that were: busboy at an ice-cream parlor. For my first real job, I operated a rock-crushing machine at a sand and gravel pit out in Kent, Ohio. They fired me because I wouldn’t check the oil in the machine daily.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST START IN MUSIC?

My first start in music was piano lessons by the church pianist at my parent’s church. It was Mrs. Fox and I had two brothers and sisters and we all had to take piano lessons every Saturday. I was the one who would hide so they couldn’t find me. But then they would eventually find me and drag me into the living room to sit with Mrs. Fox for half an hour.

WHAT OTHER INSTRUMENTS DO YOU PLAY? I KNOW THAT YOU’RE A GUITAR PLAYER.

I am a guitar player and I play, well, with midi I play about just any type of instrument in the world.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GUITAR?

My favorite guitar is an Ibanez. In 1979 my band was on tour in Japan. Ibanez approached me and said they wanted me to endorse their product. And I said: “Well, what kind”? They said they would give me a guitar. I said let me see what you got and I looked at their catalog and said: “Nah I don’t want any of those ”. So they said they would build me one so I took a sharpie and I drew around a guitar that was in their catalog. and I said: “Here, cut it out like this so it would look like a potato and paint it brown. Then 6 months later, they sent me this beautiful guitar but they had an artist design it. It was shaped like a cloud and painted blue. That was kind of my favorite guitar, I used it on the Freedom of Choice album and on several tours.

CAN YOU SHARE SOME FUN MEMORIES OF TOUR?

No tours are horrible. We used to wear these yellow suits that we found in a janitorial supply. it was with for working with dangerous chemicals. It was plastic coated paper and we put D-E-V-O on them. We were in new york city and the first time we were there…playing at CBGB and Maxis, Kansas City… this photographer wanted pictures of us. So we were out on the streets in new york city with these things on and there was this little boutique store with some Italian fashion designers who saw us and they invited us in for champagne and caviar and was like “Oh you look fantastic” this is amazing. The whole time we were laughing.

DO YOU STILL HAVE THE HAT FROM THE “WHIP IT” VIDEO?

Not the same one. They are plastic and they get broken pretty easily.

CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE WORK YOU HAVE DONE SINCE DEVO?

I did Rugrats for a number of years. Maybe 150 episodes and they had a spin-off called All Grown Up that I worked on and they had a series of Ronald McDonald cartoons that I worked on (the same company). I did a lot of TV commercials and Hansel and Gretel movies, how to Eat Fried Worms movie. Then a year or so ago, I started working on a cartoon called Beat Bugs where they got the rights to 52 Beatles song and I did the underscore for that. It is on Netflix if anybody wants to see it. And the same company got the rights to 52 Motown songs and I’ve been recording the songs and next month I’ll start by doing the underscore

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RECORDING YOUR BAND VS RECORDING TV SOUNDTRACKS AND OTHER PROJECTS YOU HAVE DONE?

My band is a bunch of idiots when we’re in the studio. We fight a lot. You know, there were two pairs of brothers so there was a lot of in-fighting. Everybody on a different day hated somebody else in the band. What we did with DEVO, we always had a rehearsal space and on a four-track we would actually record demos of all the songs before we went in the studio and we would just torture whoever was producing us by saying “No make it sound like this”, the sound on the four-track and they would be like “It doesn’t work that way”. But, the songs I’ve been recording for this Motown project was a lot of fun because there was a lot of young really talented musicians who just came in and read charts and could play with feeling and it was fun every day.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING AT NRG?

The fun part about recording the Motown project here was that we were recreating Motown songs and I wanted the feel of a live band, so I wanted everyone to play the same time. But, the sound editors for the show were going to take the songs and cut them up and you know, for different places for the songs, have different instruments playing each time. I needed a lot of separation so this (NRG) is a perfect place. it has a big live room and it also has a lot of iso rooms. it was just perfect for what I needed. One of the other things I loved about recording here was all the gear. I mean for the musicians it was like Christmas for them to come in and go like “Oh I have a 59 P bass I could use” and then they would be dragging in old Fender amps and Supro amps and just have a lot of fun with the stuff that is out in the hallway.

IS THERE A FAVORITE GUITAR OF OURS THAT WE HAVE?

On you mean the one I took last week? When Patrick walked out of the room for a minute. Hmm, I kind of like Les Paul with the P90 pickups.

WHICH STUDIO DO YOU PREFER? DO YOU PREFER STUDIO A OR B? AND WHY?

I like A because it has its own kitchen right next to it. Otherwise, both rooms sound amazingly similar to me. We recorded in both studios and I like them both. The Moroccan feel is kind of a nice touch. One other thing I really like about Studio A is the piano. the grand piano. It’s like longer or something. It is longer than a regular grand piano and it just sounds amazing

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CLUB/BAR IN LA

Well, we liked the Star Wood. Which was in Santa Monica and Crescent Heights. We played there a lot. It was actually the first place we ever placed. Uhh…we really liked the Star Wood and other than that. I can’t really remember.

 

We want to thank Bob for taking the time and sharing some of memories and experiences over the years. We’ve been a fan of DEVO since they first started and it’s been great to see Bob’s music progress to what it has become today. It’s been a fantastic experience working with him at NRG. If you like these interviews and would like to see us doing more of them, let us know who we should interview next.

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