Why Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh Befriended Local Circuit Bender Corey Busboom

At first, Corey Busboom thought it was a prank.

When the local artist and musician answered his cell last January and heard the geeky voice of Mark Mothersbaugh on the other end, he suspected telephonic trickery by his friends.

Boy, was he ever wrong. It, indeed, was the lead singer and eccentric instrumentalist for 1980s hit-makers Devo.

Human rocket: Local wiz Corey Busboom's place in Devo history is secured.
James Sierra
Human rocket: Local wiz Corey Busboom's place in Devo history is secured.

"Luckily, I played it cool and didn't hang up on him," Busboom says.

He spent the next 30 minutes having a "dream conversation about nerd stuff and instruments" with the frontman of one of his favorite bands ever. Then Mothersbaugh made Busboom an offer he couldn't refuse: He wanted to purchase a dozen of the funky-looking rudimentary synthesizers and homemade sound-generating machines that Busboom creates in his spare time.

"I was surprised that he just called me up out of the blue and said, 'Hello, Mark Mothersbaugh here,' and wanted to buy 12 of my instruments," Busboom says. "I was absolutely speechless."

It's a lucky break for Busboom, 31. Mothersbaugh became aware of the artist's DIY devices after he purchased a microphone — made from an old-school rotary telephone handset — from the artist over eBay in 2008.

That auction closed at about $10, and Mothersbaugh got more than his money's worth. When Busboom mailed the original mic to the Devo vocalist, he also threw in something extra: a combination oscillator/synthesizer built into a an old Casio desktop calculator.

Mothersbaugh loved it so much that he bought a dozen more devices from the artist. Busboom started making instruments to be used in his art-rock band The Coitus and other musical projects almost a decade ago. As I described in a music feature on Busboom four years ago ("Off on a Bender," August 3, 2006), these circuit-bent constructs often involve rewiring children's toys, like old Speak & Spells, to emit weirdly warbling tones or turning the shells of secondhand home electronics into lo-fi synthesizers.

It makes sense that a musical mad scientist like Motherbaugh digs the devices.

"Big-time companies — Yamaha, Korg, whatever — send him free instruments all the time — all their prototypes — and then call him up on the phone and say, 'What did you think of that instrument?' And he would give them his honest feedback and they would go and change things because they trusted him," Busboom says. "And now he's interested in my stuff? Unbelievable."

Mothersbaugh says he's been a fan of the art of circuit bending for years.

"I just love this genre of instruments because it really goes to the base of what Devo is all about," he says. "I felt like a kindred spirit with guys like Corey and feel like quite a few of them could have been members of Devo if we would have all lived in Akron, Ohio, together in 1970."

Busboom dreamed up such freakish-looking devices as the Duck-Billed Plata-Synth, a photo-Theremin that is strapped to an old tennis racket and is topped by a plastic Donald Duck head. Operating much like a regular Theremin, which broadcasts a series of high-pitched squeals, Busboom's version utilizes a photographic sensor (as well as a series of knobs and switches) to regulate the cacophony that's being emitted.

Also included in the order was The Rock & Roll Clown, a photo-Theremin that Busboom based on an old Ronald McDonald toy, and other madcap machines.

The contraptions were a hit with Mothersbaugh who paid Busboom about $2,000 for all 12 instruments.

"Corey's calculator just kicked ass. Everybody loved the sound of it and it brought something to the table that we wouldn't have had otherwise," he says.

Getting paid a couple grand by a celebrity was awesome enough in and of itself, but things got even better.

Busboom's circuit-bent offerings and case-mods were not only seen in the pages of Rolling Stone but were wielded by Mothersbaugh during Devo performances at last year's South by Southwest and in an episode of off-the-wall kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba! earlier this year. (Busboom also was profiled in an online video for Scion Magazine in January.)

Here the biggest coup: Mothersbaugh used Busboom's instruments significantly when creating Something for Everybody, Devo's first record in 20 years.

Listening closely to the speaker of a vintage turntable in his cluttered basement while the album spins at 331/3 RPM, Busboom picks out portions of the warbling electronic backbeat of "Please Baby Please," "Cameo," "Human Rocket," and bits of other songs that were generated by his brainchildren.

"Every time I listen to the album, it brings a smile to my face," he says. "It's just so unbelievable, a dream come true. When I'm 80, I could put that thing on a turntable and hear how it influenced that Devo album."

Mothersbaugh says that Busboom's instruments are "complementary to the vibe" of the new album.

"I ran one of his calculator synths into various foot pedals and a whole bunch of stomp boxes," he says. "You can hear it in the crazy synth solo of 'Please Baby Please,' and Greg Kirsten sampled a number of times on different parts of the record."

Busboom is still astounded by the fact he's now a part of Devo history.

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5 comments
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cr0sh
cr0sh

I think this is so cool! I saw that car at a demo derby (last year, I think); I've been a DEVO fan ever since first seeing the "Whip It" video on MTV when MTV launched (that shows my age!) - so I knew immediately that the guy behind the wheel had to be a fan too! This is all great to hear - wow!

KingCast
KingCast

All of my favorite shiznit. Some DEVO and Kraftwerk moments in the land of KingCast, you won't understand all of it because it was time and event-specific but what the hey.Dhttp://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2009/04/kingcast-headwear-and-attitude.htmlhttp://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2008/11/kingcast-and-masscops-still-say-fired.htmlKhttp://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2007/03/kingcast-site-of-day-wzbc-903-fm.htmlhttp://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2005/12/new-virtual-court-rules-allow-king.htmlCongrats on this, I saw them doing a new song a few weeks ago, will DL the album soon!

PS: Nice whip!

Jaulen
Jaulen

congrats corey!!

Emily!
Emily!

COREY IS AMAZING!!!

 

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