His early career in Devo was inspired by film technology, he recalled. Mothersbaugh said that he was a student at Kent State and in the same anti-Vietnam protest that claimed the lives of several of his peers, and that Devo was partially a gonzo response to that. But the real crux of the band was formulated a few years later. "We saw a Popular Science magazine in 1974 and it said 'This Christmas everyone will have laserdisc,' " Mothersbaugh recalled, referring to the vinyl record-sized discs that predated DVD (they annoyingly had to be flipped over halfway through the movie). "And we thought, 'Wow, that's awesome – it's got music and visuals on the same disc.' " Inspiration struck the band. "We thought that we want to make content for that – and this was pretty far before MTV," he said. "So back then we'd make these little films and we'd go from Ohio to New York and we'd play CBGB's, and projected our films, and people were confused because we would show a movie of a song we were about to perform."
But as much as he loved soundtracks and movies, it still took Mothersbaugh a while before he dipped his toes into composing. "At one point a friend asked me score a film [that film would end up being 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure' and the score would end up being produced by another former member of an influential '80s art-pop band, Danny Elfman] but I was on tour all year," Mothersbaugh said. "And then a year later he asked if I wanted to score his TV show ['Pee-Wee's Playouse'], I was stuck with a record company which was going bankrupt, so I thought it was a pretty good idea." He loved the quick turnaround with television: "It was amazing because you'd score it on Monday and see it on the air on Saturday. It was a good process."
"I got a call from Sony one day about this really interesting filmmaker who is freaking out and he'll only talk to one person," Mothersbaugh said. And it's pretty easy to picture a young Wes Anderson, his eccentricities and neurosis yet to be accepted, demanding something totally bizarre. "I remember it was a screening of 'Bottle Rocket' and a number of people walked out. It was a screening for high school students and they were writing on the comment cards things like, 'She should have showed her tits.' " Not exactly the best experience for the audience or the studio, although Mothersbaugh had an inkling of what was there.
"Jim would try to help in the post-production process. And every time Brooks would listen to us talk he'd go to his office and tell his assistant to send us the score to 'Big,' " Mothersbaugh said, referring to the airy score by Howard Shore. "I asked him, 'What do I do with this stuff?' And Anderson said, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of Brooks.' "
"I've worked with a lot of directors, some of them you wouldn't really attach the word 'artist' to their name," he said. "There's this thing that Hollywood wanted to control directors, they'd pull people out of the commercial world. But I've worked with a bunch of artists, too. And Wes is one of those guys." This statement was particularly poignant given the often reportedly contentious dynamic of their relationship. Anderson's last three movies ("The Darjeeling Limited," "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and the upcoming "Moonrise Kingdom") have been without his early collaborator, although the nature of their purported falling out has never been completely illuminated, and wouldn't be answered here.
Like everything else Mothersbaugh does, we can't wait to see and hear the results.