Question: Are they not rad?
Answer: They are Devo.
One of the most influential bands of the post-punk and new wave movement of the late ’70s and ’80s came roaring back last year with “Something for Everybody,” its first album in two decades. They’ll no doubt serve up some of those fresh new sounds, alongside the classic robo-rock of “Whip It,” “Jocko Homo” and “Jerkin’ Back and Forth” on Tuesday night at Seattle’s Moore Theatre.
I recently caught up with cofounder Gerald Casale to catch up on what’s new, the state of “de-evolution” and, you know, Krusty Pups:
Last time I saw you was at the Puyallup Fair. I’m still trying to make up my mind whether that was a weird or perfect setting for Devo. I wonder whether you remember that.
Ummm, yeah. Pronounce the name of that place we were again.
It looks like “poo-yallup” but it’s “pyoo-allup.”
OK, yes. I remember it well. That was 2007, September. (chuckles) It was a very bizarre setting.
I remember you joking about the Krusty Pups.
Well, of course. That took us right back to Ohio.
The whole Devo phenomenon is kind of odd in that you’re a subversive band. Yet you’ve had the big hit with “Whip It,” and everyone recognizes the energy domes, at least. Do you ever stop and think how weird that is?
Um, I suppose I do. I don’t even find it particularly weird. I just find it particularly limiting because we were so much more than that, and that was just one short phase in a long, creative trajectory. I understand that you need commercial success to be exposed. And “Whip It” is a blessing and a curse in that regard because you do get pigeonholed.
For a while were you kind of sick of that song?
Well, I love the song, and I love the album “Freedom of Choice.” But what just gets tiresome is that’s all anyone wants to bring up. That’s a little hard to take sometimes.
For my money, I think your best song is “Gut Feeling.”
There you go.
It looks like you guys are switching to blue energy domes this time around. Is there any symbolism in that?
Well, you know, we didn’t want to be associated with the red states. (Laughs.) Blue is cool. Blue is not aggressive. Blue is not threatening.
So have you retired the red?
No, not at all. It’s classic. It’s like even Wolfgang Puck at his restaurants maintains some items from the original menu no matter how far off he goes. (Chuckles.)
I have to ask the obvious.
Why two decades off between albums?
Well, I mean, there came that point when (Devo cofounder) Mark (Mothersbaugh) was getting some jobs scoring for “Rugrats.” And he just embraced that, and he did not want to collaborate on new Devo material. And since, you know, Devo is like an eight-cylinder racing engine – I’m four and he’s four, creatively – and if the collaboration wasn’t there, I certainly couldn’t hijack Devo on half the cylinders.
Did you try to coax Mark out of semi-retirement along the way?
The only thing that brought Mark back nominally was the fact that we were asked to do a song for a Dell commercial in 2007. And I wrote “Watch Us Work It” with him and then had the Teddybears produce it. And everybody liked it so much that they were calling Devo – you know, managers, agents, labels executives. And everybody was going, “Why don’t you put out music?” And I’d go, “Well, you have to talk to this guy, ’cause everybody else is ready.”
So in a sense, maybe it was good to take some time off because there was this clamor for you guys.
Oh, you know, if it was up to me there would be no 20-year hiatus. I think with the amount of creativity and talent in Devo, there was no reason not to keep making statements that pertained to the culture and how it changed. (Chuckles.) The fodder for de-evolution is pretty infinite.
A few things jump out as obvious references to world events on the new disc, “Something for Everybody.” In one of my favorite moments you quote the “don’t taze me bro” guy.
Tell me about your inspirations that fit your concept of de-evolution.
Our sense of humor is right in line with the Onion (laughs) and world events. There is just an oversupply of instances of devolved human behavior. So it was easy to draw from reality, believe me.
And musically, it’s been all hip-hopped out. So every bar you walk into, every place you go it’s (in his best hip-hop hook singing voice) “Drink all daaaaaay. Play all niiiiiight. Let’s get it poppin’. I’m in L. AAAAA.” (He goes on for a bit. Trust us and go listen at blog. thenewstribune.com/ta comarockcity .) That’s the world we live in.
So I take it you weren’t ever tempted to work with T-Pain.
That would have been brilliant, actually. That’s what we should have done – Auto Tune the whole record.
What would you point to as the most classic Devo songs and the biggest departures for the band?
That’s pretty easy to answer. I think that “What We Do” is a very Devo song. In its own way it’s as Devo as “Whip It” or “Uncontrollable Urge.” I like the song a lot and I’m glad the label liked it because they’re putting it out as a single with a slightly different mix coming out (this) month in a video. The video’s completely groundbreaking. It’s not a video like you’ve ever seen.
Well, tell me about that.
Because you’re the user, you’re not a passive viewer. You navigate the video. You create the edit. It’s a ninecamera system in a ring shooting outward creating a 360-degree doughnut world. And the computer system that comes with the camera stitches together the nine frames seamlessly, so you have a continuous 360-degree strip of action in real time.
At each point on the circle, there is a bizarre activity going on that’s repeated over and over and over and over.
In a three-minute navigation, you’re gonna miss as much as you see. And then you’re gonna go back and want to do it again and look at the things that you missed and so on. And it’s fun.