Mark Mothersbaugh brings more than a little Devo to the music of “The Lego Movie”

ImageIt pops up early on in the new “Lego Movie,” this…song.
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when we’re part of a team.”
Can’t get it out of your head — bubbly tune, infectious lyrics.
“Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream…”
It is “a near-perfect simultaneous celebration and skewing of upbeat, pop song effervescence” complains Screen Daily.
“Irritatingly catchy” gripes The Wrap. And upbeat? Oh yeah.
“Everything is better when we stick together. We’re the same. I’m like you. You’re like me. We’re all working in harmony.”
It bores its way into your head by design, and considering the source, that subtext of irony and revolt against conformity is no accident.
“There’s something resonant there,” composer Mark Mothersbaugh admits with a laugh. A little subversive?
No great surprise, if you remember Mothersbaugh’s previous life. Mothersbaugh, 63, has some 150 TV shows, film and video game scores under his belt, everything from “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” to “Rushmore,” “Catfish” to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” But back in the day, the guy with the funny glasses was famed for wearing yellow haz-mat suits as a uniform on stage, singing “Whip It” and “Jocko Homo” as a founding member of the influential, theatrical and confrontational New Wave quartet Devo.
“That’s the place Devo started from — subversion. By being around for the collegiate rebellion, protesting the Vietnam War, being eyewitnesses to what happened at Kent State (Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale from Devo were students there when the National Guard shot student protesters in 1970), we learned that rebellion was obsolete.
“When I looked around to find ‘How do you change things in this world? How do you change how people think?’ The people who do it best are on Madison Ave.. We decided, with Devo, that we’d adopt their techniques. Dressing like yellow cheeseburgers with a little bit of ketchup on top.”
Decades after Devo, the band’s quirky sound is echoed in many a Mothersbaugh film score, including that of “The Lego Movie.” And the lyrics to the stand-alone song in this animated toy adventure comedy? Satirical, sarcastic, vintage Devo.
“Lost a job, there’s more opportunity! More free time For my Awesome Community!”
Mothersbaugh fell in love with scoring film and TV after accepting the challenge of doing the music for his pal Paul Reubens’ “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” While rock performers might spend a year composing songs for an album, recording that album and then rehearsing and touring with the new tunes, “in film and TV, that’s condensed to a week. I write an album a week, basically. You really learn to trust your gut and get it right quickly.”
Mothersbaugh is a voice actor and character on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” and the composer of TV’s racier “The Carrie Diaries.” He’s done three films with his “Lego” and “Meatballs” co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — four, if you count their sequel to “21 Jump Street” — “22 Jump Street.”
“That’s not coming out until June, right? I start on that score…tomorrow!”
And then there’s this business of hitting the road with the band. Again. Devo may turn 40 this year. Or next. Or maybe they missed it.
“There’s all these dates — the date we signed the record deal, the date in ’76 when we won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival for this musical short we did. In ’74, that’s when we started recording. We were called ‘Sextet Devo’ for one show after the shootings at Kent State.”
Maybe they’ll play their hits, maybe some “bluesier songs — kind of Captain Beefheart-like, that we wrote before our first record.”
But they’ll be missing the boat if they forget how awesome everything is and that unforgettable ditty Mothersbaugh whipped up for a movie about snap-together plastic toy blocks.
“‘Everything is Awesome’? That MIGHT be what we open up with!”

(Here’s the tune — a DIY video on youtube)

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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