Mark Mothersbaugh interview: ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ composer
Mark Mothersbaugh, the composer for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” isn’t certain when he first met Phil Lord and Christopher Miller but the pair are certain about when they met Mark. “They say we met the week before they got fired from ‘Rugrats’ a really long time ago. I think they were interns or something and they were doing sketches,” Mothersbaugh describes us in our recent webchat (watch the video interview above). He first worked with the pair, who produced “Mitchells,” when he scored “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and was very taken with their comedic sensibilities. “They just have a fresh outlook on their humor and they kind of update our times in a way that I hadn’t seen before them.”
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, centers on Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a young aspiring filmmaker whose family includes her father Rick (Danny McBride), mother Linda (Maya Rudolph), younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) and their pug Monchi. While her family is on a road trip to get her to college in California, an AI technology named PAL (Olivia Colman) begins enacting a plan to capture all humans and shoot them into space. It then falls on the Mitchell family to help save humanity from being overrun by technology. In addition to his work as a composer for film and television, Mothersbaugh is also known for being the co-founder and lead singer of the band Devo.
While Mothersbaugh has composed music for both animated and live-action films, there is a special place that he holds for scoring animated movies. “You have to take broad strokes in animation. They make a lot of concessions and it’s up to music to help out with a lot of that.” Composing for animation also gives him the chance to work with big orchestras, which is something Mothersbaugh is absolutely captivated by. “It’s like you have 100 people sitting in a room and they’re waiting for the countdown to start playing. There’s people breathing, their hearts are beating and blood’s pumping through them. That’s part of the music.”
For scoring “Mitchells,” Mothersbaugh tried to give each character distinctive instruments and sounds to help define them. “We wanted to make the dad more old school and rustic so I tried different things with guitars, banjos and harmonicas. The kids were more modern instrumentation and mom was a bit more woodwinds.” But the fact that he was still working on a project under Lord and Miller meant that there was a lot more fluidity to the material than there normally is in animation. “They’re atypical. They’re making changes to the dialogue, sound effects, music and they’ll cut scenes five minutes to midnight on these things. They get more inspired as the project moves along.”