The Devo King puts over an impressive young talent on a podcast hosted by Rain and Summer Phoenix
When a man as mighty as Mark Mothersbaugh makes a public recommendation, you pay attention. So when the Devo frontman sits down with Rain and Summer Phoenix (yes, they’re from that Phoenix family) for a 40-minute podcast session to spotlight a rising artist he admires, it’s time to lend an ear.
Mothersbaugh appeared with the artist in question, singer and songwriter Ward White, on the Phoenix sisters’ LaunchLeft podcast, where established figures like Bat For Lashes, Flea and The National’s Matt Berninger come to shine some love on less widely known musicians they respect. Ward White has spent the last several years quietly unleashing a series of nuanced, sophisticated art-pop albums with references that run from David Bowie and Sparks to Brian Wilson and Scott Walker. At the end of the LaunchLeft session, Ward White shares the song “Cowboy” from his most recent record, Diminish. Hopefully, getting a bit of a boost from Mothersbaugh will help shift White’s status from under-the-radar auteur to aboveground artiste.
In the meantime, RNR Globe got Ward White to weigh in on all of the above.
How did you first come to befriend Mark Mothersbaugh?
I was introduced through my girlfriend, an artist and designer who met Mark years ago to discuss an exterior art installation for the Mutato Muzika building on Sunset Blvd. After I moved to L.A. I had the opportunity to visit his studio and lay hands on the astonishing collection of vintage and oddball gear (he has Pink Floyd’s Ondioline, rescued from a dumpster.) It was about a year before I got around to playing him any of my music. When I was mixing my most recent record, Diminish, he asked to hear the roughs; through a comedy of hi-fi errors we ended up listening through an egg-sized Bluetooth speaker in the shape of a cartoon cat. Surreal, and very Mark.
Can you characterize the nature of your relationship?
We definitely bonded over Bowie, and as a lifelong record nerd I’m rapt by Mark’s wellspring of stories from the DEVO heyday; they run the gamut from Bowie and Eno to Dennis Hopper and Timothy Leary. William Burroughs once pinched his ass while he was dressed as Booji Boy.
How did the podcast appearance come about?
Mark was approached by Rain Phoenix to appear on her LaunchLeft podcast, where iconic artists choose a lesser-known musician to spotlight — some previous curators include Michael Stipe, Moby, Laurie Anderson, Gus Van Sant — and he asked if I’d like to do it. We filmed the four-way interview at Mutato Muzika, which includes a live acoustic performance at the end. In the process of positioning the camera and lights, Mark decided to simultaneously record the song to a circa-1950’s portable acetate lathe; the ancient device was lugged in, and the Sony C-37 you see in the foreground of the video committed it all to glorious, wobbly mono.
Since Mark’s so taken with your music, has there been any talk about him producing you? Have you got anything new in the works yet?
Mark is busy with a pretty dizzying array of projects, many outside his world of film & TV scoring — some folks aren’t aware of his huge body of work as a fine artist — and he’s currently working with Tony Hawk to develop the Nick Hornby novel Slam into a musical. Plus, I wouldn’t want to subject him to my insistence that a particular microphone is “making me sound fat.” I am in pre-production rehearsals to begin tracking my new record later this month, which I’d love to have in the can by the end of the year.
Talk a little about the song you perform here, and about Diminish.
The song is called “Cowboy,” and I chose it because I felt it would translate reasonably well in a solo acoustic arrangement. It employs the classic Neil Young ‘Double drop D’ tuning. Like most of the songs on Diminish, it’s about mortality; in this case suggesting that it needn’t be chased down, as it will find you in due time, with or without your dry-cleaning ticket. Diminish was tracked with the redoubtable talents of Mark Stepro on drums, keyboardist Tyler Chester, and bassist John Spiker, who also engineered and mixed. It contains no hits.
VIDEO: Mark Mothersbaugh launches Ward White on the LaunchLeft podcast.