TR Interview: Everything Is Awesome When Mark Mothersbaugh Scores The Lego Movie

By Luke Y. Thompson in Movies, Music, Toys
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

LYT: So how much of it was there in their original recording, and how much did you enhance it to where it is today?

MM: Well, you know, I would like to take all the credit for it, but I can't. I'm telling you, they wrote the song before I got there, and I ended up - I produced it, I added all sorts of instruments, including orchestral versions in part of the film, and had a choir singing it somewhere in the movie, and I recorded Tegan and Sara came over here to my studio, but Lonely Island - they were in New York, so I just sent them the tapes, and they worked on it in New York. It still always retained the original concept.

LYT: And how much of the Batman song was you?

MM: The music. Phil and Chris wrote lyrics - I mean, wrote the words, and then Will Arnett kind of pre-formed a little bit on it when he was singing, so it was kind of like a collaboration with everybody.

LYT: It's funny, I always thought - I think I first realized you were a movie composer as well as a pop star when the Rugrats movie came out. So I looked up your biography, and you've been doing it since like Pee-wee's Playhouse and Revenge of the Nerds 2, since before it was sort of normal for pop musicians to cross over. Was there any stigma at that time? Were studios like, "No, we don't want a pop guy. We need an orchestral guy"?

MM: The reason why it happened? It was accidental. I just kind of fell in. Somewhere in the mid-80's, Devo kind of went into a cocoon - hibernation - siesta state - we kind of went to sleep for a while. My friend Paul Reubens asked me to score Pee-wee's Playhouse for him, so that's how that happened. That's how it started, and it became one of those things where I had been doing albums with Devo, and we'd write those songs, record it, make a video, rehearse it till we'd go on tour, and then by the time you were done, it was a year later before you started the next record, and you'd do 12 more songs.

I did Pee-wee's Playhouse, I got to write 12 songs' worth of music in one week, and something about that was so much more exciting to me than getting to write 12 songs a year, so I caught the bug of scoring right away.

LYT: Was that before or after you were in Human Highway?

MM: Human Highway was before that, by about four or five years, and the music that I wrote for Human Highway is actually - I had written for a play that Russ Tamblyn was starring in and Dean Stockwell was directing, and I wrote the music for this off-Broadway play, and then they were both working with Neil Young on Human Highway, so I gave them my music. So about half of the music for Human Highway is music I had written for something else that had just gotten repurposed for Human Highway.

LYT: What's it like doing a video game score? Do you have to do multiple alternate takes for whatever happens?

MM: Oh, video games - they're like a whole other kind of way to think about being an artist. I find it really satisfying. Because you think about your music - if you're writing music for a video game, you don't record the orchestra all in one pass. You record, like, maybe the low things, like bass, and things down - double bass - you record all that stuff first. And then you record your medium instruments, maybe your woodwinds and your brass and maybe you add your strings on next, then you add your percussion on last.

What you're doing is you're writing a piece of music that can be listened to in four different incarnations, and they all have to be seamless, because like, let's say Homer Simpson is running around a food court and he's gathering up milkshakes and hamburgers. Maybe at first it's just these low bass sounds, that are playing legato - they're playing whole notes, and then you bring in the cellos and maybe the woodwinds, and they're playing quarter notes. So maybe when Homer grabs a - makes a certain amount of points, then the music kicks in - the other instruments kick in, and they double the tempo. Then when he goes to the next level - and it can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes, depending on the kid, and how often they've played the game - the music keeps playing.

But then all of a sudden there are scenes that grab - they win the next level, move to the next level, and the music has to seamlessly change. So you're writing this music that keeps getting more and more intense and more exciting and more sped up, so by the time you get the percussion on it, maybe sixteenth notes, so it's going really fast. So this music started off as this slow, kind of easygoing music, has now become very frantic, and I love that! I love thinking about music like that, too. It's like a whole other way to think about music.

LYT: Are you much of a gamer yourself?

MM: I'm not going to tell you what games I play, but yeah. There are games at my house every day, and even my wife - she gets stressed out enough at work, but then she starts zoning out in games. Both my daughters - they can't not touch their iPads.

LYT: Mark, thanks very much! We're all hoping for an Oscar nomination for "Everything Is Awesome."

MM: OK - I hope I get to talk to you after Lego 2.

LYT: I hope so too! Thanks again.

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