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Devo's Jerry Casale Suits Up For Coachella

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Devo, those plucky avant-garde populists, will be closing Coachella’s Mojave stage this evening at 11:45 (if you’re home bound, you can stream the live show here), and signing autographs for Record Store Day at the Zia Records tent at 3 p.m. (hopefully you brought an extra cooler to stick your autographed LPs in). The group is in the midst of re-launching their brand, preparing for the release of it's first new album in 19 years by treating the market research stats as sacred, allowing the public to choose everything from the song selection (you can hear snippets of various songs and vote for the 12 that will be included on the LP), to the color scheme for the cover. Sayers of “yay”, “nay” or “ugh!” can make their voices heard at and help shape history. Warner Bros. is also reissuing their early classics Duty Now For The Future and New Traditionalists, remastered with bonus tracks. Just in time for Record Store Day, Duty is available on vinyl today along with a 12-inch single of "Fresh" and "What We Do" from the new LP - apparently those two have already generated strong enough statistics to make the cut.

Founding member Gerald V. Casale spoke to LAist about Coachella, rock festivals in the days of old, the state of today’s music scene, and provides a recommendation for your picnic basket.

Did you guys get to experience music festivals in their early days when you were coming of age?

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Yes, definitely, although I did not make it to Woodstock, nor did I make it to Altamont. But yes, absolutely. And all I can say is, I remember when there was freedom!

What were some of the ones that made an impression on you in those days?

My God, you know, I’m trying to remember, I went to a festival in Southern Ohio and I went to one in Denver, a festival in New York State… I don’t remember the names of any of them. But all I can say is that I appreciate in retrospect just the utter lack of security and organization. There was pleasant chaos. People didn’t need to be constantly policed, and were not constantly acting like thugs and assholes. People were not aggressive. You didn’t feel like you were living in fear. It’s a quaint idea…Everything now is a police state and pretty soon, everything is going to run like an airport.

Did Devo play the festival circuit when you were coming up?

We were never thought of that way. We played a couple of events, with disastrous results. The most famous being the Knebworth Festival, in the countryside outside of London, four hundred thousand people and bands like Genesis, and who was that American redneck band? Huge then… always put a rebel flag on the stage? Well the bill was filled with things like that, Fleetwood Mac. And Richard Branson of Virgin Records had this big idea to put Devo on this festival. We show up in the white paper suits and skateboard helmets and kneepads. We start the concert with Smart Patrol/ DNA. We’re about ten feet in the air and there are fences between the countryside where the people are, and the grass area in front of the stage. Almost immediately, this hail of projectiles comes toward the stage. But of course the distances are so great that the people are actually hitting each other. So then the people down front start fighting with the people a hundred feet behind them and there was this gnarly, angry, pseudo-hippie riot going on where people are screaming at us and fighting with each other, pissed off, while we tried to play. We kind of got off on it because it was so absurd… we so shouldn’t have been there.

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Was your experience any different when you went out as one of the headliners at Lollapalooza in 1996?

That was different. Because obviously …what we’re talking about was in 1978, going in front of a crowd that was entrenched in the previous music scene, and were there to see their heroes who were on their way out. And we come up as the new kids who are completely offensive and revolutionary to this crowd. And shocking. With Jocko Homo and the theory of de-evolution, and not looking or sounding or acting anything like those other bands. By the time you get to 1996 and Lollapalooza, we are the elder statesmen of new wave being allowed to show up and be accepted by the young crowd. Like, OK you guys, it turned out you weren’t outrageous, you were right, De-evolution’s real, cool, we all know it. Let’s watch these old guys, they can still play. So we were trotted out like the legacy act.

Any thoughts on the state of rock in the festival scene today compared to that trip?

I think it’s better. I was getting to the point where I was sounding like the old guy, you know “music sucks”. In the last five years, maybe as a result of the music business imploding and bands having to do it all themselves like in the punk days, music’s gotten really exciting and interesting again. And also because I think stylistically, the new bands are kind of grabbing the kind of sound and the kind of energy that we started in the 80s and are using that as their lexicon. And of course that’s easy for me to like because that’s something we did when nobody liked it, but I still like it. I like it when someone takes that and makes it new, and kind of appropriates it for today.

Any musical acts coming up next week that you’re excited to see?

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Oh yeah, it’s gonna be great, there’s so many great bands out there… a chance to see LCD Soundsystem again will not be missed, and Hot Chip of course. And there’s some new guys… something with the word Plastic in it… I heard a few of the songs and now I want to see the band. But there are just so many acts out there. I was there last year and saw Franz Ferdinand do an incredible set, and the Ting Tings, great, I saw MSTKRFT…

Last time we spoke you recommended a wine pairing for Devo, and you recommended a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Any suggestions for a cheese pairing?

An aged pecorino with black truffle.