A&E

Punk Rock Bowling interview: Devo co-founder Gerald Casale

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Devo headlines Punk Rock Bowling’s outdoor festival Saturday at 10 p.m.
Photo: Joshua Dalsimer
Chris Bitonti

The Details

Devo
May 25, 10 p.m.
Punk Rock Bowling, punkrockbowling.com

Do you make it out to Vegas much?

I do but not enough. Going up the 15 has turned into torture. And if it isn’t full of cars, then you gotta worry about cops. What happened to that high-speed rail? I’d be in Vegas a lot if there was a high-speed rail. (laughs)

So Devo is headlining Punk Rock Bowling on Saturday. Do you consider Devo a punk band?

Well, in the biggest sense of the word, I think we were. I think we were more punky than bands that looked like punks, because the true spirit of punk is an attitude that defies illegitimate authority and defies conformity and promotes individual choice, and that was Devo. And we didn’t look or sound like anybody else. And we certainly were angry. We were angry about things, not from an anti-intellectual point of view but because we thought about things. (laughs) So, I’d say we were real punky.

I feel the same way about punk music. It’s not a sound; it’s the attitude behind the music.

Originally, punk wasn’t just a trivial style. And it just became a new sense of conformity, they all had the same haircut, same T-shirt, same safety pins, same guitar sound.

When Devo was first becoming popular, you were on the forefront of electronic music and pushing the boundaries of recorded sound in many ways. What was it that attracted you as a band to that style?

I think it was just because you had some new sounds to work with that made you think differently, and we loved the idea of marrying that to intense rock beats. So Devo was like Kraftwerk from the waist up and Elvis from the waist down.

Do you still try to push those boundaries and find new sounds to work with? Or has the Devo sound become so identifiable that you try to work within that?

Well, it’s like not being able to reinvent the wheel. We are certainly technically and intellectually capable of doing something absolutely cutting edge electronically, but I don’t know if people would accept it from us. They would accuse us of imitating the huge electronica groups and everybody making a million, you know the half-dozen of them, like Skrillex and everybody that are making a half a million, a million a night. And they would go, “Oh, they’re just imitating them.” No matter what we do. We just can’t be anything but us.

Yeah, but you could argue there could be no Skrillex without Devo.

I know, but there ain’t no such thing as fair. There ain’t no justice. And creatively and mythically, the son kills the father. I mean, yeah, we’re the grandfathers of the current scene, and they want us dead.

You really think so?

That’s how it works. There’s no respect.

Are you planning on tailoring your set at to the Punk Rock Bowling crowd in any particular way?

Not in particular. In our early stuff, there’s enough pure nasty punky energy in things like “Gut Feeling,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Smart Patrol DNA,” “Come Back Jonee.” I mean, it doesn’t get punkier than that.

Do you already have the setlist together?

We think we do. It will cover the full range of the career.

When I listen to your music, I feel like every song has a whopping dose of irony. How central a role does irony play in your music?

I’m sure it was part of the fabric because we couldn’t help it. That’s how we see the world. I wouldn’t know what I would do if I didn’t have a wry sense of humor and irony. I might just turn homicidal. There’s so much injustice and stupidity and there’s so many hideous assholes and creeps running things that you would just never stop shooting.

Sometimes in your music it’s hard to tell if you’re ever being totally authentic.

Well, yeah we’re authentic. We’re as authentic as a robot. (laughs)

Maybe viewing everything with constant irony is what gives you authenticity.

Yeah, by distancing yourself, you create a space that people fall into that lets them enjoy reality that another band doesn’t give them.

I haven’t used it myself, but I heard that the DevoBots app was released today.

Finally! That’s been, like, three and a half years in the making. The story kept changing, and once it got into crowdfunding and things like that I was just like, “Oh boy, this will be a long time coming and lucky to ever see the light of day.”

How involved with that project has Devo been? Did you help shape the sound of the synths or the toy organs?

Yeah, we gave them a lot of music content and a lot of visual reference and input on the design. Things like that.

That seems like a natural direction for you guys to move into.

Devo was always multimedia, and Devo is an attitude and a philosophy, so yeah, I agree. We would like to see a Devo film, we would like to see a Devo musical, we would like to see a Devo comic book, an animated series—it all fits Devo. We’d like to see Devo coffee mugs.

I heard a couple of years ago there were rumors swirling around about a biopic on the early years of Devo.

Yeah, it’s written, it’s ready, but the financing fell through.

Well, you guys did pretty well on Kickstarter with the app …

(Laughs) Yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s the way to go.

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