In Devo, we were making short films that later became what’s known as “rock videos.” We thought of them as reeducation films, but they included our songs, and we were doing our own graphics and our own stage designs and our own costumes. Music was only a part of it.
I was playing with synthesizers and looking for new sounds. The Futurists in the early 20th century said that the orchestra is not big enough to contain all of the sounds you need to write music for an industrial society. I was thinking the same thing. So I was looking for jelly bomb sounds, and fat bubbling gurgling worm sounds, and mortar blasts, and helicopter sounds, and things to mix into the music that I felt related more to the insanity of our culture at the time.
The record company just thought of us as an eccentric art band. They knew that David Bowie liked us, and that Brian Eno had produced our first record. But, we were a low priority. They just kind of said, "Oh yeah, we have a few art bands. We have Captain Beefheart, and we have Wild Man Fischer, and Frank Zappa, and we have Devo." So we were in this list of odd art bands just to prove that Warner Brothers had taste. And then we accidentally got a hit.
I started writing music for television in Hollywood. I went from writing one album a year, where we would write 12 songs, record 'em, rehearse 'em, put together a stage show, and then tour the world. Once I started doing TV, it became a thing where I did the equivalent of 12 songs every week, and then the next week I had to do it again. That was the exciting part of going into film and TV.
The first show I worked on was Peewee's Playhouse. There were a lot of amazing people who worked on that show. They were shooting it in New York City, and I was in LA. So my notes were, “If it's a sad scene, make it really sad. If it's a scary scene, make it really scary. If it's a happy scene, make it really happy.” That was pretty much the extent of what they gave me for direction.
I've done over 150 films and television shows. I've written somewhere between 60 and 65 theme songs for TV shows, everything from Rugrats and Beakman's World to Dawson's Creek.
I got a call from someone in the music department at Sony Pictures who said, "Mark, we've got this guy. I think he's a genius. He's made this interesting film, but he's totally at odds with the producer, and the only composer that he’s willing to meet with is you." So I went to a screening of Bottle Rocket, and I thought, this guy has a voice that's unique, and even with his temp music he has an interesting take on what he wants this film to do.
Working with Wes Anderson was interesting because he was very articulate; he knew what he wanted. He was very hands on. He would pick up instruments even though he wasn't really a player, and he would play along. We used parts of his performance in a number of scenes on different films. And it was always a joy to work with Wes. It always is.