Interview with Gerald Casale of DEVO (6-12-05) &
Concert Review of DEVO live at Music Midtown-Atlanta, GA
A special thanks to Devo Archivist Michael Pilmer for arranging the interview.
A special thanks to Devo Archivist Michael Pilmer for arranging the interview.
E.C.: Do you feel vindication or depression over the de-evolutionary philosophy being proven correct more or less?
Gerald Casale: (laughter) Yeah, people would expect that we are just kicking up our heels going ‘we were right’ but it’s not really true because ours is a cautionary tale. We were serious about it but we thought we were making a smart-ass college joke. We had no idea. That’s all I can say. We had no idea how real de-evolution would become and its not fun. We’ve lived to become in the middle of a devolved world for real.
E.C.: It’s kind of sad but you have to laugh or cry or both.
Gerald Casale: It has happened. Man has regressed. The most dark, most petty, most stupid tendencies of human nature are the ones that are getting the spotlight basically; driving the boat. It is reflected by our selection of leaders and further evidenced by the preponderance of fundamentalism around the world. I’m not just talking about Muslim fundamentalism, I’m talking about Christian Fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism; all the anti-democratic right wing, fear based forces that have coalesced, that have basically entered into a dirty dog fight – barnyard style – and all decent men and women are victimized by it around the world. So we are all just spectators and not merely spectators but victims to these psychotic warring factions.
E.C.: Speaking of de-evolution, why didn’t the Hendrix estate give you permission to put the “Are U Experienced” video on the DVD (See the review of the Devo DVD “The Complete Truth About De-Evolution” here)
Gerald Casale: Further de-evolution. You understand that the consortium of people that now represent the Hendrix estate are basically run by lawyers; the lawyer mentality. Lawyers always posit the worst-case scenarios. Though that video was loved for years by anybody who saw it including the man who commissioned it - Chuck Arroff - a luminary in the music business who still claims to this day that it was one of his five most favorite videos ever; they [the lawyers] didn’t get it and assumed we were making fun of Jimi. That’s like saying “Whip it” makes fun of cowboys. This is so stupid it’s unbelievable.
E.C.: Speaking of videos that didn’t make the DVD what happened to the incidental videos used for the “Oh No its Devo” tour?
Gerald Casale: We never had money to finish them and only used them as background in sync with us live at a time when nobody had done anything like that. Fans loved it but the Rock press said ‘If we wanted a video game Devo, we would have gone to an arcade. Rock and Rollers stay home.’ - a complete evil misunderstanding. We’re the Rodney Dangerfield’s of new wave music anyway. We never got any respect.
E.C.: Any chance of Devo doing a b-side compilation?
Gerald Casale: Wouldn’t that be nice. I think that is a great idea. I really do; and “Devo goes to the movies”; the songs we did for movies.
E.C.: Is the “Adventures of the Smart Patrol” (The Devo Computer game released in 1996) still in print?
Gerald Casale: No that’s been long out of print. I think they boxed up 25,000 copies of that when endscape [the company that released the game] released it. It was a bug ridden, addled experiment because you have to understand that we were offering it to them in a system called ‘director’ – that has since been laughed at and outmoded. The game was so limited in terms of speed and disk space and what navigation you could do. We had a big idea for that game. They weren’t supposed to be stupid little…whatever those figures are called in the vernacular of the video world. They were supposed to be full on avatars where you either experience the smart patrols end of spudland or be one of the villains that go after the smart patrol. That was what supposed to be happening - where you could visit – hour by hour – any one of seven sites that would change the outcome just like in real life. You show up in one place something else is going to happen than if you show up in another place. It was all mapped out in theory, in paper, and in the program but it didn’t work. It was slow going.
E.C.: How did Devo end up on the Enigma record label (Devo’s last two records – “Total Devo” and “Smooth Noodle Maps” were released by Enigma records)?
Gerald Casale: It was the beginning of the real end. It was a mistake. After, we parted way with Warner Bros, Warner’s kind of dirtied the waters for us. You know how it is. In the world of the “Big Three” [record labels] they [Warner Bros.] they tell everybody else [other record labels] to lay off and everybody is scared so they do. Enigma didn’t care but then Enigma didn’t care about anything. Enigma certainly didn’t care about their artists. They didn’t know how to promote records and they took a 50 million dollar cash infusion and promptly blew it; but they got nice houses and cars out it.
E.C.: What do you think of other bands covering Devo songs; Soundgarden covering “Girl You Want”, Nirvana covering “Turn Around”?
Gerald Casale: We love people covering us. We are really honored by it but we wish they would have done better covers. None of it ever made us any money. When you listen to the covers its like ‘God. There the worst thing they did’ because they took all the energy out of the songs, in most cases, and made something very accessible, inaccessible; slowed them down, warped them out, made them boring. I couldn’t believe it.
E.C.: Clawhammer did a tribute record of the entire first Devo Record...
Gerald Casale: That was funny. That was great. Those were the days. But then Clawhammer doesn’t mean anything in the big picture. When Rage Against the Machine did “Beautiful World” I couldn’t believe how morose and sad it was. I though they would be going “IT’S A BEAUTIFUL WORLD MOTHER FUCKER!” (Casale giving an all too authentic impersonation of the Rage Against the Machine vocalist).
E.C.: Any chance of new Devo material?
Gerald Casale: I keep holding out the hope but if Mark [Mark Mothersbaugh] was here he could answer that. It’s basically up to him to get the taste for collaboration again. Basically, he has a scoring career [writing music for film scores] and that is what he does. He composes for film.
E.C.: You’re doing [directing] videos now?
Gerald Casale: I’ve been directing commercials and videos for years. I keep trying to get a film made. I’m working on a script with Steve Pink; a great writer. It’s a funny dark comedy based on a real, true-life story of these three guys in Texas who I call ‘the three stooges of the American Dream’. They get the Rocket Belt (www.rocketbelt.nl/ for more info on this science fiction mainstay and the true story of the get rich scheme Casale is basing his movie script on) and the refurbish it - from the 1960’s; and they’re going to makes lots of money. They all turn against each other. One hides the thing and the other one kidnaps another one. Everything goes wrong and a dream turns into multiple crimes.
E.C.: Any truth to the story that Devo were asked to be John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotton’s) back up band?
Gerald Casale: That is absolutely true. When the Sex Pistols broke up Richard Branson basically pitched it to Mark (Mark Mothersbaugh) and said ‘we love you guys, we want to sign you, we have a great idea, you guys will be multi millionaire superstars, you’re gonna be Johnny Lydon’s back up band. He’s going to join Devo and be the lead singer.”
E.C.: I have trouble picturing that.
Gerald Casale: Needless to say, I didn’t even to convince Mark that is was a bad idea.
E.C.: Have you read the book on Devo (“Are We Not Men? We are Devo” by Jade Dellinger and David Giffels)? What did you think of the book?
Gerald Casale: Yes we certainly have. All I can say is - reading that book I find out that I don’t even know what I did and how I did it. The book is so full of lies and bizarre, skewed, reality and just fantasies that its almost laughable because what he did is went and interviewed a bunch of people who had axes to grind from the early days of Devo who never got out of Akron who weren’t around to comment on events that events that happened in California. They were not there. They weren’t in the state. They were in Akron, Ohio. They took these peoples stories as the gospel truth. It’s just bizarre to read it. It’s like ‘I did what? My childhood was like that? I said this? I said “we have to have a song like My Sharona?” None of this stuff happened. It’s unbelievable. To read it you would believe that Devo – that Mark and I – are a bunch of sub IQ morons who stole every idea like robots or automatons from Bob Lewis who had all the ideas. This is so silly. It would be like if you had a good friend who was a nuclear physicist and he told you about string theory and your sitting there ripping night after night smoking pot and string theory makes you go write songs and create a band right and this guy shows up and says ‘I showed them everything they know and those are my songs”. It’s that ludicrous. It is absolutely bullshit and people believe it.
E.C.: That explains why the book ran out steam after anecdotal stories from hanger ons…
Gerald Casale: Well they didn’t talk to us. It would have been an interesting book to have Bob Lewis with his fantasy-ridden blather and then ask us the same question and get a completely different story and just juxtapose them. Who are you going to believe? The people who fucking did all the work, wrote all the songs, created all the videos, created all the costumes and dances or are you going to believe the guy who’s still back there saying that his rap about de-evolution are why you made your band?
[Note: Casale then autographed a few old Devo 7 inch singles I brought along. He ended the interview by telling me “You asked the right questions.”]
The only thing worst than not getting the musical joke posed by Devo is getting the joke. Devo bass guitarist Gerald Casale proved this point when he told the audience to “Scream like chimp if de-evolution is real”. Sure enough, the audience began chanting like monkeys before feeding time at the zoo. Devo stands for the notion that notwithstanding mankind’s self-congratulatory notions of progress, mankind is regressing (devolving) rather than progressing. Not knowing this allows the uninformed masses to feign shock as mankind goes down the tubes. On the other hand, knowing this doesn’t give one any real power to change the situation. The same weak mindedness that compels the masses to chant like chimps on cue also makes them blind to the cliff they are falling from. Our collective house is on fire, yet the sheep mentality of the masses prevents those in the know from putting out the blaze because the fire is handy if their cigarette needs a light. Instead of lamenting our fate, Devo revels in it. The fittest shall survive, yet the unfit may live. At the end of the day, we’re all Devo.
Devo began their show with a video short by Devo spokesman “General Boy”. General Boy dispensed words of wisdom about the stereotypical people one could encounter at a Devo show (the “preppie”, the “hippie” and the “punk rocker”). A video retrospective collage of Devo’s career followed General Boy’s introduction. Then Devo came out in their yellow suits and energy dome hats (“flower pot hats” to the monkey chanters) and opened with “That’s Good”. The remainder of their set list included: “Girl You Want”, “Whip it”, “Satisfaction”, “Uncontrollable Urge”, “Mongoloid”, “Blockhead”, “Jocko Homo”, “Smart Patrol/Mr. D.N.A”, “Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy”, and “Gates of Steel”. The encore included: “Freedom of Choice” and “Beautiful World”.
The guitar oriented songs of Devo’s first two albums worked the best in a live setting and seemed to go over the best with the audience. Some of the tempos were a bit sluggish (“That’s Good”, “Smart Patrol/ Mr. DNA”).Tempo problems and technical problems with the guitar made “Satisfaction” more devolved(?) than Devo intended. Outside of “Blockhead” the spud boys stuck with the “hits”. It is unfortunate that the Spud boys didn’t play anything after “Oh No, Its Devo” or play some of their less well known songs (I guess I’ll never hear Devo play “Wiggly World” or “Words Get Stuck in My Throat”). Still, Devo delivered the goods. “Uncontrollable Urge”, “Mongoloid”, “Blockhead” and “Gates of Steel” reminded old and new spuds why Devo was/is a truly great band.
For their last song, Devo vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh assumed the persona of “Booji Boy” – the infantile spirit of de-evolution. Wearing a choir boy robe and mask best described as looking like the head of an infant store manikin, “Booji Boy” sang a falsetto version of “Beautiful World” to an appreciative but mystified audience. In the middle of the song, “Booji Boy” told a seemingly cheerful and yet darkly humorous story about a bird that tried to fly away from the stage but instead hit the stage’s ceiling. Then “The roadies threw beer cans and cigarettes at the poor little bird” before it made one last effort to escape only to run into a stage light and become burnt to a crisp. Some of the audience laughed while others looked at each other puzzled by “Booji Boy’s” story. Wisdom comes from the mouth of babes as they say. Was this a veiled allegory to the fate of mankind, some verbiage to pad out their set or both? Devo may (or may not) know but aren’t telling. Whether you figure it out or not the end result is the same. What doesn’t need figuring out is that over 25 years into the game Devo are still an utterly unique and brilliant band.