Inside Devo’s Weird Return
When Devo last released a new album, 20 years ago, the biggest stars in music were M.C. Hammer, Paula Abdul and Vanilla Ice — and nobody wanted to listen to herky-jerky synth pop and hear about how the world was crumbling all around them. “Now most people agree that devolution is real,” says Devo bassist Jerry Casale. “We were real ahead of our time, and our music seems contemporary now. A lot of bands we like a lot, like LCD Soundsystem and the Ting Tings and MSTRKRFT and the Kills and Hot Chip are informed by the sensibility that we started. We are suddenly marching in step with the times again.” (Watch the full video interview above.)
During their downtime from recording, Devo continued to tour, and were surprised to see growing crowds of young people coming to their shows. “We attribute it to the Internet,” says Casale. “College-age kids were discovering Devo and deciding on their own it was cool.” They cut one new song, “Watch Us Work It,” in 2007 for a computer commercial and were pleased by the reception. “People said to us, ‘You are crazy if you don’t make a new record,’ ” says Casale. It also seemed like a fun challenge. “A lot of what gave us a renewed interest was the implosion of the record industry,” adds Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. “The business model that we were familiar with from the 1970s and 1980s was gone. It looked like there were lots of new opportunities to think about being an artist.”
Devo had produced their previous three records by themselves, but for their new disc Something for Everybody they perused outside help. “In the past [producers] were just trying to fit us through the meat grinder and make us sound like everybody else,” says Casale. “Now that wasn’t the case at all.” Everybody from John King of the Dust Brothers to Santigold worked on the project. “In most cases when we got back their versions of our songs, they were improved,” says Casale. “Something happened. They had sprinkled some fairy dust on them.” On tour this summer they plan on mixing in the new songs with the oldies. “Most of the crowd doesn’t even know they’re new songs,” says Casale. “They just think, ‘Oh yeah, I like ‘Peek-A-Boo’ and I like ‘What We Do.’ “
Casale and Mothersbaugh both say the world is devolving at a faster pace now than they ever imagined was possible. “It’s happening exponentially,” says Casale. “The fountain of filth gusher will not stop. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t stop it.” Mothersbaugh, however, sees a possible upside to the massive BP oil spill. “Maybe there’s another way to look at it,” he says. “Maybe the Gulf of Mexico is just entering a new period of devolution where it will be one giant ball of oil, and it’ll change the way we fill our gas tanks. You go on vacation, fill up your suitcases and bring it back home.”
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