thanks to their 1978 debut,
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
, and made famous when 1980's "Whip It" became a Top 40 hit, Akron, Ohio legends Devo's 40-plus year combination of kitsch, irony, artiness, anger, and resentment remains a tonic for the anti-intellectual, hypermasculine mush that dominates the American mainstream.
yboardist Bob Casale's death from heart failure in February of this year, the group was planning a tour based around their mid-70s demos, collected in 1990 and 1991 as
Hardcore Volume 1
Hardcore Volume 2
, and re-released for the first time last year. These were the demos that grabbed the ears of Brian Eno, David Bowie, Neil Young, and Warner Brothers executives and led to
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!
After Casale's death, the band decided to continue their tour and donate a portion of the proceeds to the family of the founding member affectionately known as Bob 2. Over email, Gerald Casale, Devo's bassist (and Bob's older brother) discussed their weird influence and the demos tour, which kicks off at Rams Head Live on June 18. (Brian Line)
City Paper: So you were planning to tour before Bob 2 passed away and now you're touring to raise money for his family. The tour focuses on your basement demos. How has it been to reexamine this early work?
Gerald Casale: My brother and I created the basic idea for the tour in the fall of 2013. We thought it was going to happen in March, but Mark delayed it. Then Bob passed away. In the fog of shock we decided to proceed in his honor and raise money for his family who were left in dire straits. Performing songs that were written at the inception of the band as people came to know us forces us to look in the mirror at a far more innocent and exciting point of origin for Devo.
CP: What can Devo fans expect from this tour?
GC: They will be forced to ask questions unless they walk out early. Fans can definitely expect the unexpected.
CP: Devo's music is biting critique of American culture, masculinity, and rock 'n' roll. How did the fetishizing of authenticity in rock music play into the development of Devo's stance as a band?
GC: Devo was the embodiment of postmodern music before the word became flesh. We were too deep inside "our own private Idaho" to analyze our aesthetic a priori. The fans connected on a gut level because we spoke to them with our sounds, our theatrics and our manifestos. The world was changing and Western man was running out of ideas. The rules of "man rock" had become empty clichés and the American dream had already mutated into a self-aggrandizing nightmare.
CP: I've often felt that songs like "Uncontrollable Urge," "Girl U Want," and "I Need a Chick" are a part of your response to rock's portrayals of masculinity. How do you see Devo's relationship to male sexuality?
GC: We may have been metrosexuals before there was a word. Macho culture was rape culture and we worshiped the yoni instead of the typical male disrespect. The image of Devo as sexless nerds was a media invention. We were Dionysian and hypersexual while knowing men and women were equals. Conversely, we knew that for every asshole man there's an asshole woman to take by the hand and empower him.
CP: I attended Ohio State University and I found it to be an incredibly tribal environment. While I was at the school someone was assaulted for not responding to the cheer of "O-H" with the rejoinder, "I-O." Beyond the terrible and traumatic events that happened at Kent State in what ways is Ohio responsible for Devo?
GC: Devo could have only gestated in a place like Ohio. It's boot camp to the world. No place has any bragging rights over Ohio, which produced its share of serial killers, psychos, and creative geniuses. Akron, Ohio was a great place to get out of.
CP: I've always been really impressed with your take on The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"—the demo of which is included on Hardcore Volume 1. How did the process of breaking down and reassembling that iconic rock song compare to working on your early original songs?
GC: It was just one more day of experimentation in the Devo garage. Bob Casale materialized the guitar riff, Alan started a backwards drum beat that came down on the "2" and I laughed so hard I tried to play a twisted, reggae-inspired bass line. Mark started singing "Paint it Black" over the top and we said, "No, try ‘Satisfaction!'."
CP: I was once at this party where we were supposed to come dressed as album covers. A gentleman came dressed as your 1980 album, Freedom of Choice: He took a red plastic bowl and, using red electrical tape, attached a red solo cup to the top of it. I was so offended by his supposed Energy Dome™ that I stole his terrible attempt at the end of the party. This was two or three years ago. Should I seek this gentleman out and return his plastic bowl or does Devo forgive me?
GC: You ‘ve already done your penance by confessing that you cared enough to subject yourself to behavior that required energy he didn't deserve. ■