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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Jerry Casale of Devo

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When Devo first appeared on the scene in 1978 (1977, if you were hip enough to be at a punk show where their independent film/ music video “The Truth About De-Evolution” was screened in between bands), there was nothing remotely like them under the sun. In a heavily macho scene, they offered a stiff, robotic alternative. Highly conceptual, wickedly funny, and possessed with a knack for garage-rock riffs, which were then mangled by machinery like a thumb under a drill press, it was Poindexter Rock that could also get you to move your ass.

Their debut album Q: Are We Not Men? We Are Devo set such a high standard for deranged yet irresistible songwriting that the rest of their career seems to bear out their theoretical premise: at some point, man reaches an inevitable evolutionary peak, and then it’s all downhill from there. The marketplace would say that peak took place with their third album, 1980’s Freedom Of Choice, which produced “Whip It,” the song for which some people inexplicably consider them a one-hit wonder band. It’s still a fine, subversive album, even as it sets the stage for eighties-new-wave as we know it by trading out synthesizers for guitars as the primary voice.

This week, the band is in town performing these two seminal albums in their entirety at the Music Box and celebrating the reissues of both. The original LPs are padded out with live tracks, but the major attraction is the remastering job on the studio tracks, which sound better than ever.

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Founding member and bass player Jerry Casale spoke to LAist via email to talk shop about de-evolution, wine and the band’s forthcoming album.

It's been over thirty years since you first championed the theory of de-evolution. With the benefit of hindsight, would you say you were right?

Unfortunately, yes. It's no longer a quack, tongue-in-cheek theory or an art band pose. It's a widely accepted empirical observation. If anyone had the proverbial crystal ball in 1980 and could have showed you the world today, you (collectively) would have been shocked by the Dystopia. We can't even seem to go back to the moon successfully because of lack of money and will. Think of the Mike Judge film "Ideocracy" as a future documentary rather than satire. Devo is just the house band on the Titanic at this point, playing you familiar "that was our song" tunes as we all go down together on cruise ship earth.

How did you become familiar with the writings of B.H. Shattuck (who proposed the theory of De-evolution early in the 20th century through his pamphlet Jocko-Homo)?

I seem to remember there was a scathing condemnation of his book expounding his embrace of sociobiology in Time magazine (or some major publication). His observations clashed with political correctness where innocently identifying gender and race differences automatically carry a stigma as if having differences implies that people should be treated unequally on a social rights level. Nothing could be further from the
truth.

Was de-evolutionary theory consistent with your mindset at the time, or simply a convenient hook for the music?

It was a label and Gestalt that organized our plethora of observations on predictable human behavior and the myth of progress.

Is there truth to the rumor that you once opened for Pere Ubu with Mark wearing a massive overcoat stuffed with pillows?

Mark must have kicked me out of the band that night. I missed it.

(If so), did they think it was funny?

I know this much. Dave (?) did not have a big sense of humor. He disliked us.

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What were your majors in college?

I began by pursuing a Liberal Arts degree with a major in 20th Century Comparative literature and ended with a double major in Fine Art (Painting and Printmaking)

What should we expect from new Devo music in 2010? Two steps forward, three steps back, or otherwise?

Of course we don't just spout de-evolution, we are examples of it. "We're All Devo" is not a hollow claim. The new music will reflect that. We think it's more Devo than ever and we hope you do too. The prophecy fulfilled!!

What was was your first impression of Los Angeles when you first came here?

Utter shock. It was as tacky, tasteless, ugly and flat as where we had escaped from in Ohio. That changed for me after 3 weeks when a good friend scooped me up from the Oakwood Garden Apartments in Burbank and drove me to the beach in Santa Monica. I was converted.

How do you feel about LA now?

If you have to be in a major city you could do much worse. It costs 25% less to live here comparable to NYC and you never even think about the weather.

A certain winery has recently begun offerring "pairings" of its wine with young, independent rock bands. The idea seems to be that this particular spirit will particularly enhance the musical experience of this particular group. Beyond the obvious Marketing
possibilities, do you think this idea has actual merit?

It's silly to the core but certainly harmless. As a wine expert I like any excuse to imbibe.

If so, what would pair particularly well with Devo?

Devo would go down great with a 2006 Brickhouse Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Oregon.

Another culinary question: we've recently spotted a company that sells super high-end ice for cocktails, in uniquely shaped cubes which are said to be "designed to just the right size and shape to ensure that they will not explode during the shaking of a cocktail."
This product immediately made me think of Devo for some reason, but I wonder, could there be something to it?

An ice version of our Energy Dome with each cube being the size of a 50 cent piece at the base should do the trick.

A question we ask all city-dwellers: what's your favorite place for late-night eats in LA?

While there's nothing in LA like The Blue Ribbon in NYC, I like The Hungry Cat in Hollywood and, for pure nostalgia, Dan Tana's in West Hollywood. The Pacific Dining Car in Santa Monica is totally Devo and always empty during it's 24/7 cycle but ask them to make you a ½ pound ground sirloin sandwich on white toast medium rare and you won't be sorry. Wash it down with any number of fairly priced Bordeaux or
Burgundys.

Devo performs at the Music Box at the Fonda Theater on Tuesday, November 3 and Wedensday, November 4.