An EXCLUSIVE Q&A
GERALD V. CASALE
GERALD V. CASALE
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Devo hardly needs an introduction. More than a band, Devo was a concept – a smorgasbord of ideas that included music and visuals. Formed years before the Punk movement, Devo were mistakenly classified as a Punk, Post-Punk and New Wave band and, in the process, became rock stars. The band’s name was chosen based on the band members’ concept of de-evolution - the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. Ironically, the mere fact that they became enormously successful and built up a huge fanbase was proof that de-evolution did, in fact, exist. But Devo was exactly what the music business needed at the time. They created intelligent, thought-provoking music that hit a nerve and made you dance at the same time. They were not just a thinking-man’s band, though – they were pop culture icons. With each album, they created a different visual concept for the band’s look. Most people remember the red energy domes or the yellow jumpsuits, but Devo was constantly evolving and moving forward. At the end of the day, people remembered the songs – “Whip It,” “Beautiful World,” “Blockhead,” “Girl You Want,” “Jocko Homo,” and many others. From the late ‘70s on, Devo has remained one of the most influential bands of the Rock era. Not bad for a group/concept that many of us still don’t fully understand!
The band’s best known line-up- Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob “Bob 1” Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob “Bob 2” Casale, and Alan Meyers – recorded a half-dozen albums that have stood the test of time. After 1984’s Shout, the band took a short break and reconvened four years later minus Meyers. After two more albums, the band took another hiatus from the recording studio and the members worked on other projects. Over the years, the band would play live dates, release vintage recordings, compilations and other odd releases, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the band returned with their first real studio album in 20 years. With enough material for two albums, Devo recorded demos and used focus groups and Warner Brothers label executives to help decide which songs would make that 2010 album Something For Everybody. A blazing return to form, the album was embraced by fans and introduced the band to a whole new audience. Devo was ‘back’ although they never really went away for too long.
In February of 2014, Bob Casale suddenly passed away from heart failure. His brother Gerald and Mark Mothersbaugh may have been the front men of the band, but Bob was an integral part of what made Devo work. Without ANY of the members, Devo would have been something entirely different. His loss is enormous, but what he left behind will continue to inspire musicians and artists for years to come. While not meant to be an epitaph, Devo is releasing an album of demos of tracks that were earmarked for Something For Everybody but didn’t make the final cut. Entitled Something Else For Everybody and originally released digitally in 2013, the album is as good, if not better, than the original SFE album. Something Else For Everybody proves that Devo has never lost the ability to write intelligent, hook-filled pop with purpose. Sometimes they’ve been geniuses, sometimes they’ve been clowns, but Devo has ALWAYS mattered.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee compiled a list of questions and sent them off to Gerald Casale, who was gracious enough to answer them on the eve of the album’s release…
SPAZ: Something Else For Everybody was originally a digital-only release and is finally being released on CD. How are you feeling about the release and the reaction you’ve had to the project?
GERALD V. CASALE: I’ll be honest. I don’t know of any reactions to date. I think the CD will change all of that. I think it’s necessary as a matter of record to let people hear demo level things that we worked on with Bob Casale as programmer and engineer.
SPAZ: The album was originally released digitally in 2013. What took so long for it to come out on CD?
GERALD: I have no idea. Honestly.
SPAZ: The album is a collection of demos of songs that didn’t make the Something For Everybody album. The songs are pretty amazing and the album is just as good as Something For Everybody. How did you go about choosing the songs that made that album and is it normally difficult to leave others behind to languish in the vaults? Do you feel that perhaps, at times, you are your own worst critics?
GERALD: Songs that made the album were really determined in part by the focus group experiments and by the exec’s at WBR. Devo tends not to record anything we don’t at least feel has a kernel of validity so we are not very good critics of our own poo poo.
SPAZ: Even after putting this collection together, are there still a lot of unreleased tracks from this period?
GERALD: No actually, maybe 3 or 4 that were not ever taken as far as vocals.
SPAZ: Over the course of your career, do the finished studio versions that have made the albums resemble the original demo ideas or do they morph into something bigger and better?
GERALD: Rarely has Devo sounded better than on demos and live. Too often the studio albums were de-balled.
SPAZ: Have there been tracks that were almost set aside at the demo stage which then went on to become Devo standards?
GERALD: “Beautiful World” is the best example of that.
SPAZ: How much collaboration is done within the band in regards to songwriting? Has the process changed over the years?
GERALD: The process predictably went from total openness and democracy to semi –hierarchical and competitive to somewhat guarded and autocratic much to the detriment of the music. On Something For Everybody there was a lot of file sharing and back and forth revisions that made the new “digital” creative space come closer to Devo’s beginnings.
SPAZ: What comes first for Gerald Casale: words or music? How much time and energy do you put into a track before you know if it’s ‘working’ or not?
GERALD: There is never a predictable order to the architecture of a Devo song. It’s always case by case. “Whip It” for instance came from 4 different pieces of music, 3 of which Mark recorded in his bedroom and brought to our rehearsal space. They were fragments in different BPMs and instrumentation. Then there was a drum-only track recorded in the studio. I assembled the pieces over the track with everyone’s participation and then did an arrangement that fit the “Whip It” lyrics I had written. The process unfolded over a couple of weeks. We put it away and pulled it out a month later as a possible track for Freedom of Choice because it made us laugh.
SPAZ: Are there a lot of other unreleased tracks from various periods that you may consider releasing in the future on releases similar to Something Else For Everybody? (i.e.: More Freedom Of Choice, Are We Not Men? We Are Demos, etc)
GERALD: There were at least 20 or 30 such tracks that unfortunately existed on 4 track reel to reel tape and became so degraded from poor storage that they were unreleasable.
SPAZ: Do you think that Devo’s emergence during the Punk era, your defiant attitude towards the music industry and your understanding of Pop Culture has, in turn, helped in securing your place as Pop Culture icons rather than an ‘80s nostalgia band?
GERALD: Yes. Devo was (and is) about something beyond skinny ties and 80’s hairdos. It was the substance of our content that kept the band in the pop consciousness despite resistance from radio and poor marketing from the label.
SPAZ: To me, Devo has always been about ‘the song’ and the way you have been able to manipulate technology and still fill your songs with ‘feeling’ and ‘melody’. Are there any songs over the years where you feel that you really nailed it on the head on all levels?
GERALD: Of course for me this question is easy to answer. “Freedom of Choice,” “Beautiful World,” “Jerkin’ Back n’ Forth,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Gates of Steel,” “Gut Feeling,” “Fresh,” “What We Do.”
SPAZ: What’s next for Gerald Casale and Devo?
GERALD: With my brother’s death Devo has been dealt a mortal blow. He was my brother, friend, and creative ally keeping the Devo spirit alive and providing parity within the group as an anchor of common sense. Without his support I could not have ever prevailed in keeping Devo active in the studio and in concert. Now it is really a case of “the end is near” unless projects such as the Devo Musical or the Devo bio –pic gain some traction and financial support.
SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
GERALD: I try to listen to everything that is going on. A few years ago I was amused by all the pop-hip hop songs that were exquisitely stupid and I loved early LCD Sound System. Now everything is truly awful and musically forgettable like Robin Thicke’s rip off of Marvin Gaye and the insipid “Lucky” by Daft Punk (De-evolution is real!!!). I go back and listen to David Bowie’s Low, Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets, Heaven 17’s Penthouse and Pavement, Prince’s Controversy, etc and feel better.
SPAZ: Thank you for over three decades of thought-provoking, mind-blowing, and body-jerking music that has become mainstays in the soundtrack of so many lives…
GERALD: Thanks. As I’ve often said - Devo is Kraftwerk from the waist up and Elvis from the waist down, tails tucked inside yellow plastic pants.
Thanks to Gerald Casale