Mark Mothersbaugh is a founding member of the Ohio-born art-rock/New Wave outfit Devo -- proponents of the idea of human de-evolution, and of generally impish pop-culture trickery. He spoke with City Paper via phone about the state of our de-evolution, the music industry and the band's new album, Something for Everybody, its first in 20 years.
You've been talking about de-evolution for over 30 years now. Do you think evidence has cropped up in that time to prove your theory right?
Yeah, I think, unfortunately, no one took heed to our concern and our warnings, and we're now in a place where our species may have a major re-sizing soon.
Do you think that has to do with how we handle natural resources? Or how we treat each other?
I think it's basic math. I think 4.6 billion people are great, but not on this planet at one time. It's too many at once and we're going to double that number, and something's going to happen -- if it's not overtly from our hand, it'll be from our lack of being able to control our survivabililty. We were just a little too successful as a species.
Do you endorse any particular ideas for how to deal with the problem?
Stop having babies.
Force people to stop? Convince them?
I don't think you can force people to stop. I have two kids; I adopted two kids in the last five years. I figured that's not going against my belief system, because I'm not making more, just helping with the ones that are here. The moment I saw these kids, a door opened in my brain that I didn't even know was there. It took me over 50 years to understand what it was about that made people want to load this planet with more people. I totally understand it now, it's hardwired into you. It's a reptilian thing to be a parent.
For your new album, you hired an ad agency to do focus groups to shape your album and the Devo "brand." What was the impetus for that idea?
Three years ago if you said "You're going to sign with a record company," I'd have said you're insane, that could never happen. But something about the way things had devolved, the old way of creating and presenting sonic art has changed so radically since the Internet came about -- it kind of made me think, this is what we were looking for back in 1976 when we first were thinking about being on a label. This is what we were hoping for. Something where the playing field is leveled and it becomes about ideas.
We met with people from Warner Brothers and I walked into the same building in Burbank that we walked into in 1977 and the people there were of a totally different mindset. They were saying, we know we'll be extinct in a few years; the only way to change that would be to change the way our company functions. And that's why we're pursuing you -- we could work together and you might have some ideas for how we could be around for another five years. We said we'll sign with you, but we want to have an ad agency do our marketing -- what do you think? And they said let's try it.
Do you think that will translate to mainstream success like you had with "Whip It"?
Probably not. But it can't be like "Whip It." People don't sell that many records now. At one point, "Whip It" outsold every Beatles and every Michael Jackson record that had ever been done, in the Southern California area. Now people can be No. 1 on the charts selling 10,000 or 20,000 copies of a record. It's not the same business -- and I don't think we're looking for the same business.
Even though it's been 20 years since the last Devo album, the new record's very classic Devo-sounding. Is that an intentional aesthetic choice, or just what comes out?
That's just what we are. It's just how we do things. The way we write songs and think about lyrics, it's all the same. From a technological standpoint, every album, we progressed, and it would've been disingenuous to try to go backward in time, we had to go to the place where Devo was going to be. I think working with producers and being accepting of their input brought a lot to the picture, and it might be one of the best records Devo ever did.
Devo. 7 p.m. Fri., July 9 (6 p.m. doors). Trib Total Media Amphitheatre, Station Square. $30-100. 800-745-3000 or tribtotalmediaamp.com