Pop culture icons DEVO will be be performing at 7:30 on the West Stage at the Forecastle Festival 2010 on Saturday July 10. The band known for clever videos, energy dome hats, and its huge hit Whip It has returned with Something For Everybody, their first studio album in twenty years. But that's not to say they haven't been busy over the past two decades. Band co-founder, co-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and visionary Jerry Casale talked with Louisville.com about the band recording again among many other things.
Louisville.com: You all have played some shows together over the past few years, but what made you do the first studio album in twenty years?
Jerry: Yeah, how 'bout that? Because it was twenty years ago today that DEVO forgot how to play. (Laughs). I guess it was now or never. I mean that's an honest answer. It was now or never. Here we all are still a band, still alive in a world that got more de-volved than we could have predicted, and it's kind of like a fact like global warming. And we were ahead of our time when we came out and very misunderstood. and now we're kind of just in step in a perverse way with the way things went, and I think we're as relevant as anybody today, and we still have things to say. We still have substance - content wise and not just style - and we're kind of like the house band on the Titanic. You know we're here to make everybody feel better as we all slowly go done together.
Louisville.com: Years ago when you came out, critics would classify you as punk or new wave or post-punk (which I'm not exactly sure what that was), but did you all feel like DEVO music is just DEVO music? Or did you prefer any of those classifications or feel any were more accurate than others?
Jerry: Well you know we knew we couldn't control that at all. Of course we just thought that what made DEVO DEVO is that it was unique and you really couldn't label it. It just was DEVO. And yet society needs to label things to make it all marketable and simple, so we got labeled New Wave, and we thought, OK because you know what, we were what was new about New Wave actually. (Laughs) It's like what was new about New Wave besides skinny ties and white shirts? Most of it was reverting back to 60s garage rock, and DEVO was actually new.
Louisville.com: What's interesting about the new record Something For Everybody is - and I mean this in the best possible way - it really soudsd like 1983 again. It takes me back to being thirteen again. It has a really great sound in the sense that it seems like it could have been recorded on the same day as Whip It. It's also got the humor, and Fresh is a great lead single. It's got references to GPS, and taser guns, and hybrid cars that are signs of the times, but as far as the sound, did you go in the studio with any desire the recapture the sound or the feeling that this is just our sound or was there a desire to do something specific? Or was that just how it came out?
Jerry: Yeah, we can't be anything but us, and that's what we told the truth on the song called What We Do - "What we do is what we do." Some people think that's a criticism of human nature but actually it's just autobiographical on DEVO. And if you think about it, what would you want any band to do that you've loved for a while is just sound like they sound and just be the best at it.
I mean that's what you would want Bob Dylan to do. If he wrote a song as good as Like a Rolling Stone today, people would go nuts. He would just be being Bob Dylan, and we're just being DEVO. We use the instruments we use - the synbthesizers we've always used, and probably the only difference is that we know more about recording now, and there's better recording techniques. But you're right, this could be right next to Freedom of Choice. I think it's the best record we've written since Freedom of Choice. Fresh and What We Do and Later is Now, and Step Up, people even like Please Baby Please and Mind Games, thinking it's classic DEVO. That means we did something right because it means we were writing the kinds of songs that people like.
Louisville.com: The whole album is the type you would put on a party, and all ages would appreciate it. I'm amused by the song Cameo. I assume it's about the band that brought us Word Up or at least the singer. I should have read up on this one, but it's very funny.
Jerry: (Laughs) Well, it's imnspired by the band Cameo. On all of our records, we had some strange, humorous tidbit that didn't fit anywhere. And that's a story about a vigilante American Indian who's had enough of betrayal and bull shit. He is kind of like Billy Jack mode - martial arts expert. or like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter where as long as you don't cross him, you're OK.
Louisville.com: Back in the early 80s, with the advent of MTV and just a few years earlier on Saturday Night Live you were huge, but by '84 when Warner Brothers dropped you, was that devastating or was that - no pun intended - like a freedom of choice to do other things. I don't know if that coiinsided with Maok doing film scores - but how did you all take that. You released other records in the next six years. (Incidentally, Something For Everybody is on Warner Brothers Records.)
Jerry: Yeah well, I think we were a bit surprised and confused when in '85 they wanted to end the deal, and we just said fine, we'll go elsewhere. And then everything started shanging in the music landscape, and we were getting pigeon hoeld as the New Wave guys when music was starting to go in a whole other direction. There was a number of things going on there. Culture was kind of losing its way. There was no big single movement. The fun was over, right. The go-go 80s were already turning into a bummer, and the economy wasn't great and AIDS had made everybody live in fear. And the other end of it was the reemergence of hair bands, and DEVO was having hard times. So when we signed with Enigma Records - and it was just so unpleasant working with them, that's when Mark didn't want to make another record and after 1990, he just started scoring.
Louisville.com: You all are a double brother band. I assume that's kept the band close and the line-up in tact and inevitably that seems like it has to. In the years between studio records, I assume you all kept in touch.
Jerry: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah because there were a number of projects for like video games and songs for movies and all kinds of things that we kept engaging in. We just weren't making new studio records. Mark didn't want to tour, and we even did a video game - using now what seems like now cave men technology. We did Adventures of the Smart Patrol and did a soundtrack with it. There were a lot of things, and I was directing a lot of music videos and I started directing a lot of TV commercials in 1996.
Louisville.com: Could you name one that the readers would probably be the most familiar with?
Jerry: I suppose my biggest national exposure were these nine spots I did for Miller Light through the Fallon McElligott Agency out of Minneapolis. They were all about a fictitious guy named Dick. He was a typical beer drinker, and they present you with a comemmercial that was supposedly his idea, and then Dick's friend Kenny came along, and Kenny started this cheerleader search for the Miller Lite cheerleaders to go to the Super Bowl and it was a whole serial, and they were national, and they ran and they ran and they ran. And I also had a couple for Nintendo for Mario Brothers that ran nationally a lot and a few other things for Tang and Mrs, Butterworth, and just all kinds of stuff. And I did a lot of regional ones, too.
Louisville.com: It's interesting that you had great success in a band with notoriety and hits and - even though it's still creative - you go to another line of creativity in the arts, and you succeed in that one, too. Did music help you at all? It's a totally different medium I suppose, but you all did a lot of early videos that were interesting and paved the way. Did you have a hand in those early DEVO videos?
Jerry: All of them. I directed all of them. Aand DEVO was a multi-media band from the beginning. Mark and I were art students, and what I wanted to do and what he wanted to do was make DEVO movies where the songs were part of the movie plot, and we kept getting shut down and rebuffed, and couldn't find money and couldn't find people to listen to us. And we finally just made a little musical short, and it won a prize in the Ann Arbor film festival and that toured around the independent theaters in America, and that led to Kipp Cullen of A&M Records seeing it in a theater in Venice, California, and tracking us down in Ohio, and giving us money to come out in L.A. and showcase for it.
Louisville.com: You know that almost sounds like a story. That's what so great about it. It almost sounds like a movie.
Jerry: Well it should be a movie. We have a script that shows all that happening, and we can't get anybody to finance it. It's a very low buidget movie. It's like 5 million dollars. You couldn't lose.
Louisville.com: Can Mark talk Wes Anderson in to directing it since he's done the scores to a few of his films?
Jery: There you go.
Louisville.com: You mentioned the theatrics part of it, we all know what you've done in the past - dcertainly the costumes and "theatrics" is the perfect word. With Forecastle, you have a time slot. What can fans expect, and is there any restruiction on you in that sort of setting with a certain amount of time? Or what you see at this festival is going to be a normal DEVO show?
Jerry: We do as much as we can afford. Ideas aren't our problem. We have a locker full of those. On this tour we're just doing as much as we possibly can afford. At least we can be clever even on a budget. We have new video backdrops that run in synch with us, a video curtain, and a few other strange things and costume changes. It's not a boring show. (Laughs)
Louisville.com: I'm sure it will be entertaining - with you and Flaming Lips at the same festival, it will quite an intersting concert experience. I would be remiss if I didn't ask if you knmow anything about Mark's involvement with Yo Gabba Gabba! because my boys watch Yo Gabba Gabba! Is there any chance you will be on it or even the whole band?
Jerry: Well, we've acually already been on Yo Gabba Gabba! And I know everything about MAak's inmvolvement. Our episode the we were on - it aired in March.
Louisville.com: That's bad. The one episode we miss - gee.
Jerry: It was great. We were there for a couple days and we shot a whole video with them. And we shot ourselves playing and on green screen, and they used a lot of compositing and computer graphics and animation and turned us into creatures. It was a lot of fun. Those guys are really creative. They really know what they're doing.
Louisville: Did you do one of the songs off the new album?
Jerry: No, we did not. We did something just for them.
Louisville.com: It's one of the few shows both the kids and parents enjoy together.
Jerry: Right. Don't they run those on YouTube?
Louisville.com: That's a good idea. I'll have to look on there.
Jerry: Yeah, google DEVO and Yo Gabba Gabba! and probably the episode is up there somewhere.
Louisville.com: Thanks for taking your time. We look forward to having you in Louisville. I guess you have played here before?
Jerry: I don't think we've played there before.
Louisville.com: Especially for those of us who grew up with MTV in the 80s, it's really good to have you back. And the new record really fits in well with you canon. Thank you, Jerry. Hope you have a good stay in Louisville.
Jerry: Alright, thank you.
Watch DEVO's video for Fresh.