Devo Q&A: Gerald Casale
Devo friended the Chronicle more than 30 years ago. In advance of tomorrow’s show at the Moody Theater, bassist and co-songwriter Gerald Casale spoke from a “horrible Holiday Inn with no Internet service,” a setback that pales next to the loss of his bandmate and brother, Bob Casale, whose sudden death in February deeply rattled the band.
Austin Chronicle: Besides being holed-up in that terrible Holiday Inn, how has tour been so far?
Gerald Casale: It’s been fantastic otherwise. We played a sold-out crowd in New York and received nice reviews, so we’re very happy.
AC: Devo fans seem particularly pumped about hearing the band’s early, 1974-1977 cuts you guys are playing live on this tour.
GC: That’s true. It’s kind of difficult, because we would have needed Bob to play a lot of those [early] songs properly. So we picked songs that we could pull off as a foursome.
AC: Partial proceeds from this tour are going to your brother’s family, is that right?
GC: Absolutely. That’s really what this tour is all about. Bob disappeared so quickly, so his family is in dire straits. Devo were famous and critically acclaimed, but we didn’t make much money. Mark [Mothersbaugh] and I wrote the songs, so we made publishing money, but Bob didn’t write songs – he was more like a utility player: 100% heart and soul, making things work and coming up with cool guitar parts. He was actually in the process of getting ObamaCare when he died, so he didn’t even have life insurance. You can imagine what ER bills are like when you don’t have insurance.
AC: You’ve said these shows will be the “antithesis” of classic, elaborate Devo shows – how so?
GC: Our shows were always thought-out and conceptualized. There was no banter onstage, or pausing to tune-up or anything. Our shows built and changed, and had a pay-off, and that’s why people liked us live. They knew they’d be entertained. It wasn’t just a band walking out trying to sound exactly like they did on their record, which can be really boring.
AC: Are you guys still wearing costumes for this tour?
GC: Yes, we’ve brought back the very first industrial jumpsuits we ever wore – we found some online. Surprisingly, they’re still manufacturing them with very few changes, so we look like it’s still 1976 [laughs]. We also have the blue work helmets, as we found those on Ebay, so it’s a complete time warp.
AC: Hearing all this detail makes me hope that those rumors of a Devo musical will become a reality someday soon. Is that still a possibility?
GC: It can be a reality as soon as we find enough start-up money.
AC: Can you give us a little background on the idea behind the musical?
GC: It’s Devo’s libretto, but characters would play avatars of us in this slightly skewed land called Spudland, which is a like a one-dimension-away-from-reality, impressionistic, hyperbolic reality, and is therefore satirical. It’s kind of like Idiocracy. It’s almost real, and you could believe that anything going on there is the way things could be in the near future.
AC: That sounds pretty novel. Do you think there are any contemporary bands that are conceptually similar to Devo?
GC: Not really. There have certainly been bands in the past 10 years that have cited us an influence, but I think mostly the influence they’re citing is stylistic – not content or concept-wise. In other words, there’s no bigger idea behind what they’re doing besides music.
AC: What was the “bigger idea” behind Devo?
GC: We created an alternate world. We were, by example, showing “de-evolution,” and warning people about embracing technology to the point where it’s not a tool, but it instead takes over and changes people, and they become dumber.
AC: That sounds scarily accurate....
GC: [Laughs] We didn’t really want to be right, but the de-evolution is real now. It’s not just a college-age intellectual joke.
AC: If you could choose one lasting idea Devo will ultimately be remembered for, what would it be?
GC: Devo were fearlessly original. We were what was “new” about New Wave. We defined ourselves, and we stayed on-message at a time when that was frowned upon in rock & roll. We were also DIY – we created custom merchandise, we put out manifestos – and we were laughed at and highly criticized. Nowadays, any band that really wants to make it has to walk in basically having created their own brand and then market themselves, because nobody’s going to do it for them.
AC: We’re eager to have you guys back in Austin. Do you have any particular memories of Austin from past tours?
GC: I have only good memories of Austin. Every time we’ve played there we’ve loved that city. And the Moody Theater is an incredible venue – possibly the best place we’ve every played acoustically, and the clear way the audience can see the stage. The very first time we played Austin, around 1979, an RN came to our show and “picked me up,” so to speak, after the show [laughs].
AC: I like that you remember her as a nurse and not a groupie.
GC: Well, we weren’t like most bands. We didn’t really have “groupies.” We had interested people. I mean, if a woman is attracted to a brain surgeon or a golfer, they’re not called “groupies.” It wasn’t like the women who came to Devo shows were also going to see heavy metal bands and doing them next.
AC: It probably wouldn’t be very hard to track that nurse down. Do you remember her name?
GC: [Laughs] I actually do remember her name... but I don’t think I should say it. She’s probably married with children now, and wouldn’t appreciate it.
AC: That’s a pretty good memory to hang onto.
GC: What can I say? I needed a nurse.