To the uninitiated, Devo is just some '80s band with funny hats who did that "Whip It" song that occasionally gets a nod on Family Guy or something. To the slightly wiser, they were the basis of Weird Al's mind-bending original "Dare to Be Stupid." Such a person might start getting to know the soundtrack work of singer Mark Mothersbaugh and from there notice something else: Nearly every single person whose musical opinions he values is an unabashed Devo freak.
In March, the band announced an eleven-date tour dedicated to its recently deceased guitarist/keyboardist, Robert Casale, also known as Bob 2. Devo devotees will be thrilled about the band's return to early "experimental" work from 1974 to 1977; those tracks can be found on the recently reissued Hardcore compilations. We spoke to Bob 2's brother (and Devo's bassist) Jerry Casale about the upcoming tour and our eventual doom as a species.
Drew Ailes: Why the decision to play the Hardcore Devo stuff as opposed to a traditional set?
Jerry Casale: Well, [the traditional set] is what we had been doing. We had been going out with an expensive production and a video wall with images that were in sync with the songs and everything you'd expect from Devo.
About six months ago, my brother and I started talking about this Hardcore stuff that Superior Viaduct re-released as a two-volume vinyl limited edition. It sold out so fast that they asked to put out a double-disc CD with everything on it. That sold out so fast that they had to print it twice again, and we found it very strange. They kept sending us checks. Turns out we sold something like 40,000 copies. We were just amazed. We thought, "Man, wouldn't it be cool to go out completely against expectations, strip it all back down, and do us when we were innocent, insulated artists in Akron, playing in a basement with no commercial intent -- nothing but pure ideas and respect for just about everything?" We could play this politically incorrect, transgressive, minimalistic, raw, primitive stuff that kind of proves that we were the White Stripes and Black Keys of another era. And it also proves the reality of Devo: It wasn't bullshit. It was hardcore art.
We just thought that would be very eye-opening and mind-blowing, cathartic. And maybe a lot of people wouldn't even like it -- like when you discovered when you were eighteen some 1942 recording of John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters and you couldn't quit listening to it because it was so...scary.
And that's us at that time. That's what that stuff has become to this corporate, feudal world we live in, where the one percent owns it all and the record companies imploded. No new structure took their place. Ten artists make all the money, and nobody knows about any of the rest.
I read an interview where you talked about a lot of modern bands -- the Ting Tings, LCD Soundsystem, Passion Pit, the Kills -- which you attributed to reinvigorating an interest in Devo. I thought that was interesting, because people I know have been turned on to you guys through the punk scene. There are so many bands that are still playing basements and covering Devo songs.
I'd love to hear more of that. That has come our way, and we're always grateful. We made it okay to be geeks; that's what we did.
I feel like the '90s was a time where the message of Beavis and Butt-head was misconstrued and people suddenly thought it was cool to be really dumb. That was part of de-evolution.
Are we coming out of that? At least groups of us?
That's what has happened. There's no unified anything. We talk about human beings; I swear there are several strains of them co-existing. By no means are the rational, information-driven human beings in charge of anything except maybe companies like Google. And that's arguable, because they may have gone from geeks to monsters.
Well, yeah. Whenever you give a geek that much money, then human nature takes over and you just may have yourself a Frankenstein.
I read your open letter regarding the Kent State shootings of 1970. You specifically cited people like Karl Rove. Is it that giving the wrong person power turns them super-shitty?
Yes, because they have scores to settle. The type of angry they are isn't informed by humanism. It came because some girl shot them down on a date. It's ugly. It's mean-spirited.
Whereas with Devo, you've stated in prior interviews that you were a hippie prior to the Kent State shootings and that the anger helped create Devo.
It was like Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy."
How do you contend with that anger as you get older? Do you shrug your shoulders more, or work harder to push things away?
At this point, I feel it's so overwhelming, and de-evolution is so real that human beings have screwed the pooch. Forces so much more powerful and complex than us and our species will right the ship, so to speak, and we will be the collateral damage. That's just the way it's going to be. Nobody heeded anybody's warnings, and we're a foolish species. It's over. So all you can do, really, is try to contribute to the horror as little as possible while forming circles of community and friendship with like-minded people that have more of a "do no harm" thought they try to follow. As far as a call to arms or action...
We're too late?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!