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Mark Mothersbaugh sets the record straight on the new Devo album -- and also makes rugs

June 12, 2009 |  3:08 pm

Artists of the world, take heed: Mark Mothersbaugh is your champion.

When the Devo frontman isn’t scoring Wes Anderson films (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tannenbaums”) and a litany of children’s TV shows (“Rugrats” and “Clifford: The Big Red Dog”), he makes visual art. Starting with postcard pieces he would create while touring with Devo -- he still makes at least one every day -- his output has grown to include canvas pieces and even rugs, all of which will be on display at his new gallery show at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, opening June 13.

“For about the last 10 years, I’ve been doing about 20 to 25 gallery shows a year,” he explains from the offices of Mutato Muzika, his Hollywood music production company. “I would find galleries in the classified ads of Juxtapoz magazine. They would be in deserted, industrial areas deep in Detroit, for instance. 

"Generally, they’d promote really great local artists but could never get any media coverage," he continues. "But if they did a show with Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo or 'Rugrats' or whatever, the local papers would suddenly get interested. It turned into a symbiotic relationship. When I get to go to these shows, I meet people that are still excited about art in the same way I was when I started Devo.”

But his artistic dedication comes with a price. Mothersbaugh is enduring what he calls “the most incredibly stressful morning” due to officials at his youngest daughter’s kindergarten school, upset with him for missing a Father’s Day event to tend to a litany of professional responsibilities.

“There was just no way to change all of the things on my schedule today,” he sighs. “In my defense, they never sent me any information about it ahead of time. I didn’t know. I was willing to blow everything off and go, but my wife talked me out of it. I just let my girl stay home today, so she doesn’t realize that she’s missing anything. She’s having fun running around in her robe.”

Pop & Hiss talks to Mothersbaugh below, discussing everything from the making of rugs to the status of the new Devo album. 

Do you still make at least one postcard a day?
Oh yeah, that’s the easiest part. It’s part of my routine, no different than brushing my teeth twice a day. A couple of the big 6-by-9 paintings in the show this weekend are actually enlargements of postcards, pieces I’ve repainted in giant size.

How did the rugs come about?
I’d originally had a logo rug made for my recording studio, which I loved. So I contacted the company in Kentucky that made it. They mostly make sports stuff, like football-shaped rugs. The only stipulation is that they get really busy during the NFL season, and I had to choose from colors like “Green Bay Packer” yellow. I sent them an image, and it came back within a week and was fantastic. I became obsessive with them, and all of a sudden I realized that I had a 12-foot stack of rugs.

Do you prefer they be used as rugs or hung as art?
I want them to be fully functional. Please walk on them. I like the idea of art not being so precious. I watched my baby daughter grow up, throw up and everything else onto some of my rugs. It makes for great memories. I had a director friend bring over his dog, and within an hour of putting down a new rug it had left a brown scar right across the cheek of the character on the rug. I was actually impressed.

Is there a secret to creating your large canvas pieces?
I just use bigger brushes. I’ve learned that it’s not any different. Is it OK to admit that I use an overhead projector? It makes it so damn easy. That’s what’s fun in my life these days. Well, that and taking a scolding from my daughter’s school for not being there for Father’s Day. It’s a really great school, but still.

Any progress reports on the new Devo album?
We have a lot of songs, with about six or eight of them sounding like they could fit into one of our first few albums. We even used the same instruments. I’m looking for some outside mixers and producers that might want to have fun with a Devo song in the way we did with the Stones. I would want them to be as deconstructive or reconstructive as they want to be. We’re in full recognition that we’re now older than the Rolling Stones when we covered “Satisfaction.” It won’t be a traditional album release.

You won’t work with a major label?
Of the labels I’ve visited to talk about this album, none of them are labels anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. If we sign with a label, it would be purely to see if they could help us get more radio play. That’s always been our weak point. We even considered Warner Bros. again. They have our catalog, and they know what they didn’t do before. It could happen.

There are rumors of Devo working with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
That was a total misquote. [Devo member] Gerald [Casale] had said we were searching for people like James to work with, which somehow turned into him helming the entire album. When we contacted him to apologize for the misunderstanding, he said he’d love to work with us. We played a Japanese festival recently between Justice and Fatboy Slim, both of whom said they’d like to work with us too.

Speaking of festivals, Devo seems perfect for Coachella. I’m kind of surprised you haven’t played it yet.
Tell them. Coachella would time out perfectly with the new record, and would be a great place to debut the songs. It’s too late to take a hand vote, but I wouldn’t fight it.

-- Scott T. Sterling

Mark Mothersbaugh’s art show “Postcard Diaries” opens on Saturday, June 13 at the Irvine Fine Arts Center with a reception 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. The show runs through July 25.

Photo credit: Johnny Brewton