New Wave legends DEVO are back! Over three decades ago, influenced by the concept of ‘de-evolution’ (a school of thought that suggests that instead of evolving, mankind has, and is, actually regressing), Kent State University art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis (soon joined by Mark Mothersbaugh) created various art and musical projects with satirical intentions, but witnessing the regression of humanity firsthand during the Kent State Shootings of 1970 was impetus enough for them to form the strange mixture of social commentary, surrealist comedy, and experimental Post-Punk music that is the band DEVO.
Taking an eclectic approach to their output, both musically and visually, DEVO always played fast and loose with the rules of music and as a result have become a hugely influential on everything from SynthPop to Industrial to House to Alternative Rock. In the early 80’s American musical landscape, where synthesizers were even less accepted in Pop music than they were here in the UK, DEVO’s hits ‘Jocko Homo’ and particularly the classic ‘Whip It!’ paved the way for the New Wave bands who followed.
Twenty years since their last studio album, and more than thirty since their highly influential début record ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!’, the band that sold New Wave to the American youth are gearing up to release twelve brand new tracks on an unsuspecting public. But as with all things DEVO, it’s not quite so simple. Teaming up with ad agency Mother LA the band focus-grouped everything from the colour of their new energy domes to the track listing of the album itself in the DEVO Song Study, the end result being an album guarantees to satisfy.
And satisfy it does, ‘Something For Everybody’, manages to perfectly blend a modern Indie-Electro sound with the signature DEVO groove, sounding unmistakably DEVO, but surprisingly contemporary. Tracks like the synth bass heavy ‘What We Do’ and the Electro-Punky ‘Cameo’ could easily find their place on today’s Indie-Dance dancefloors while ‘Human Rocket’ and ‘Later Is Now’ are as close to ElectroPop as DEVO have ever been, particularly the latter which is borderline Nu-Disco! It’s an album that is defiantly recommended to readers of electronic rumors.
DEVO founder Gerald Casale took the time to let electronic rumors pick his brains:
ER: You’ve toured pretty consistently throughout your career, and released the odd single here and there in the past decade but this is your first studio album in 20 years. Why now? What prompted this?
GC: It was now or never. De-evolution is real and DEVO is therefore in step with the times, no longer pioneers who got scalped. Speaking for myself, I have as much creative energy as I ever did and plenty to get off my chest. DEVO was always the most important vehicle for self-expression. We had a voice in the marketplace that I took seriously. After being de-branded for 20 years against my personal wishes it was a real challenge to get back on the horse so to speak.
ER: Do you feel like now, after 20 years of music, media and arts experiments and status quos, the world is ready for DEVO again?
GC: Yes. We are now the house band on the Titanic, soothing fellow passengers as we all go down together.
ER: How did the decision to open up the track listing for the new album to public consultation, in your Song Study, come about?
GC: We worked with Mother, the adbusters of advertising, and we agreed with them to use all the techniques that corporate culture uses today to introduce new content and new products. Music has been devalued in its cultural importance. No one even thinks they should pay for it. Every aspiring band makes a record in their bedroom and releases it via social networking. More than 10 thousand CD’s are released per month. The old business model is imploded. No viable model has taken its place. Record Labels will no longer exist as we know them in 5 years or so. Marketing is everything in such a world. The beginning and the end. Why do you know there’s a new DEVO record? Why should you care? Mother tells you why.
ER: Were you surprised by the end result or did it gel with what you would have picked anyway?
GC: Our version of the CD is 88% focus group approved. On June 15th the 100% focus group approved version will be released on iTunes. The 12 tracks will be sequenced in the order of votes they received.
ER: Do you think democratizing your album in this way is the ultimate expression of the internet’s democratization of music (in the sense that not only do the music fans have more methods of discovering and aiding to the success of new bands, free of record labels deciding what should be popular, but now with projects like this they even have a say over what course their favourite established bands take) or do you think it can be pushed further? Do you have more idea for ‘musical 4th wall’ breaking you’d like to do in the future?
GC: We of course wanted to push it much further, a much deeper, wider public involvement in the whole process. But the process costs money to conduct. The creation of assets on line and the management of those assets require professional maintenance and quality and assurance policing. We needed Warner Brothers money for the marketing plan. So, with them as our finance and publicity partner we had to play ball inside their more traditional, old school bullpen.
ER: Are you still as advocate of the de-evolution theory and the book The Beginning Was The End as when you started? Do you see your prophecy (as it were) coming to pass?
GC: Devolution is indeed a prophecy fulfilled. It’s a bit ironic and not something we wanted to see happen. But now we can move forward based on this fact, more or less like we can all go forward knowing that Global Warming is real.
ER: Do you think de-evolution applies to music too? Have DEVO evolved or de-evolved?
GC: We are in substance that of which we speak. We always tried to make that clear. None of us can fit into our silver suits from the cover of the Freedom of Choice LP.
ER: Whatever happened to the DEVO movie about your early years I head you were going to make?
GC: Unfortunately I have not been able to secure financing for the script. So, it is in suspended animation like so many big ideas we had.
ER: I’d imagine that you guys have amassed a pretty exiting amount of studio gear throughout your career; do you have any favourite bits of kit?
GC: we still have the original analogue synths we used starting in 1975 such as the mini moog, the Arp Odyssey and so many more. We used them all on the new songs.
ER: What was your go to gear in he production of new album?, Are you using soft synths now or do the analogue synths still play a big part?
GC: I have half answered this above. We combined the use of analogue synths with soft synths and digital samples and real drums used to trigger drum sound samples, etc. Guitars and basses were of course mutated through outboard gear such as frequency divides and vintage distortion pedals.
ER: I’ve heard you’re a big fan of musical toys and circuit bending, how did you get into this stuff and do you still use it?, Do you have a favourite new toy you’re dying to try out live?
GC: That’s really a question for Mark [Mark Mothersbaugh – ER]. Not that I’m not a fan but he spends the time it takes (and it takes mucho time) to get custom, usable circuit bending devices. Still they never do the same thing twice.
ER: Devo must be the subject of a few musical myths and snap judgements from the uninitiated, any misconceptions from you’re nearly forty years going you’d like to clear up?
GC: Mark and I were not advertising creatives. We did not get other musicians to play our parts for us. We did not ask Johnny Rotten to join DEVO. We were not robots or nerds; we just looked like nerds which let us get away with all the sex and drugs that all creative people do. In our case there was no scrutiny by the press.
ER: OK…Devo 2.0, what was that all about? Was it your idea or Disney’s?
GC: Disney’s Hollywood Records division initiated the idea. We found it to be Dadaist and subversive on the face of it. They chose the songs. It took me 3 months of casting to find 5 kids who could sing and play. Then, when I was shooting the videos, the executives at Disney asked to see copies of all the lyrics to the songs they selected. That’s when everything turned truly DEVO. They really schooled me with their “insights” into our lyrics as they demanded changes and censored lyrics. My favorite was “you can’t say it’s a beautiful world for you, but not for me!” I asked what I could say. They replied “it’s a beautiful for you and me too!”
ER: Would you say DEVO was more of a cereal or big pile of pancakes kinda’ band?
GC: I think we’ll avoid any comparison to a ”big pile” of anything. We’re more like Cheerios or Menthos.
Many thanks to Gerald for dropping his science on us.
Give DEVO’s forthcoming single and the lead track from the new album, ‘Fresh’ a listen, it sounds amazingly like it says on the tin.
♫ DEVO – Fresh
The single ‘Fresh’ is released the same day as the album, and in breaking news DEVO have just announced that can be seen, campaigning for Mutant Rights in the 100th episode of the awesome (and resurrected) Futurama!
DEVO’s new album ‘Something For Everybody’ is released 14th July on Warner Bros. Records. Further info at www.clubdevo.com.