Mark Mothersbaugh Reveals Next Project at Billboard/THR Film & TV Music Conference

Mark Mothersbaugh 2014 P
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The Devo frontman is making the leap into television

After scoring all of directing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller's films so far — Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street and its sequel, 22 Jump Street — music legend Mark Mothersbaugh is making the leap with them into television with their new Fox series, Last Man on Earth.

It was announced earlier this year that Lord and Miller were developing a new show starring Will Forte as the last living human, but not until Wednesday at the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference had the team made any mention of Mothersbaugh's involvement.

"It’s a pretty interesting show; it looks pretty good," said Mothersbaugh. "You didn't have to watch the first episode to think, 'Maybe there are too many people here.' "

The news was leaked during a conversation on the composer-director dynamic moderated by writer/filmmaker Jessica Hundley, when Mothersbaugh made mention of some new musical instruments he's created with the project in mind: one that incorporates about 55 different birdcalls and another called The General, which he said looks like a "haystack" made out of an assorted collection of old organ pipes.

Mothersbaugh built a career around such offbeat ideas, both with his band Devo and with the countless film and television projects that have followed, starting with Pee-wee's Playhouse in 1986, followed by the Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats and eventually joining forces with Wes Anderson for a number of his films through the years. All this has made Mothersbaugh and his music production company Mutato Muzika film and television's go-to guy for an out-there score.

He told the audience that while he enjoys the average 90 minutes when he's performing with Devo, he can't stand the "22 hours getting to the next city." In contrast to the way touring and record cycles often delay musician's actual music making, working in film and television has allowed him to create prolifically.

"I like the idea of working in film and television so much more than being in a band, because you spend so much less time sitting in airports and more time writing music," he said.

Mothersbaugh continued, "You’re like the director when you’re making an album, but for me it was really a kind of comfortable shift, because being in a band with two sets of brothers, it always felt compromised over who had the best idea.… I love the idea of working with directors. To me it’s a very pleasurable experience."

Speaking about his getting his feet wet with Pee-wee's Playhouse, he laughed at his own inexperience, saying he didn't know what the SMPTE timecode that labels individual frames of video or film was until after he'd scored the entire first season.

"It made the second season much easier," he said.

Mothersbaugh said Pee-wee creator Paul Reubens then would give him directions like making the happy scenes "really happy" and the sad scenes "really sad." And this sort of broad direction is what he still loves about working with directors.

"Even with these guys," he said of Lord and Miller, "they speak in such abstract terms, you get to do what you want in music, and you just convince them that’s what they asked for."

Miller chimed in, admitting his and Lord's inability to express what they want in musically specific terms, "We just talk about what we feel or how we want it to feel, and that’s when we have our best direction."

"It's such an abstract art form to talk about," Mothersbaugh continued. "it's about how people say I want this to be sad or I want this to move the picture faster, it’s always interesting to see what their modus operandi is. I don’t know, I just enjoy my job. I like that."