After emerging from Ohio more than thirty years ago, Devo has been blowing minds pretty much ever since, with irreverent, surrealist, social-critiques-as-wacky-songs. We caught up with one of the band's co-founders, Jerry Casale, before its show this Friday at The Warfield, to talk German silent movies, the Pope, and the imminent destruction of life as we know it.
Wikipedia just told me you were working on a script for a Devo musical.
I'm surprised that Wikipedia has anything that's true! Anybody can get in there and change your history. But yes, that is true.
That is awesome. How close are you to completing it?
It's not a unilateral decision on my part -- it's when everyone involved likes it. Musicals obviously require team effort and funding, so it's hard for me to answer that. But the idea and certainly the characters, the arc, the acts, are there.
Is it going to be the story of Devo or a fictional Devo-based adventure?
Well, the musical isn't really literally the story of Devo. It is a gestalt of a new Devo world. It's more expressionistic. More like [1920 silent German horror film] The Cabinet of Doctor Galigari.
Wow. Speechless ... So, what keeps Devo on the road after all this time? Are your motivations political, scientific, or philosophical?
Physical exercise? (laughs) No, it's everything. We don't go on the road much as it is, but I happen to love it. The performing is a really essential piece of the artistic experience of Devo. We were always theatrical and the energy live was always important.
What's the hardest thing about touring now?
Getting Mark [Mothersbaugh, vocals] to say yes.
How do you do that?
Little by little (laughs).
Let's talk about Devolution for a second [the band's founding concept; meaning man's inability to evolve further and the subsequent regression of humanity]. In your opinion, does the world's crazy futuristic technology -- like the Internet -- act as proof of devolution, or against it?
Well, those are just tools. Everybody, no matter when they exist, when they grow up in a culture, there are certain tools by which they define themselves. And all the Internet's done is to allow human nature to express itself at an exponential rate, and so the things we warned about early on, in a half-joking way, more than came true, unfortunately.
The world is much more devolved that we could've imagined. If someone in 1980 had a crystal ball and had shown people the world in 2011, they wouldn't have believed it. It's like a b-movie, sci-fi dystopia.
So where do you see us in ten years?
Wow. I don't see any apocalypse -- I just see a long, slow decline of quality of life. More and more danger and absurdity. More and more centralized control because of the fear factor. Environmental disasters that we can't even perceive at this point. More threats of annihilation.
So you don't think the world is going to implode in 2012?
No. No, I just think in general, the world will be less and less fun. The crazies have a bigger voice than ever.
In all of your time in Devo, can you think of the single strangest thing you've done?
It's all been strange. I suppose it's in 1980, when we got talked into receiving the blessing from the Pope by standing in the square in the Vatican when he came out. Rai TV -- it's like CBS in Italy -- wanted to film Devo getting blessed by the Pope, in our red hats and costumes. So we were in the square, in full regalia, surrounded by thousands of people ... They got this lingering shot of us in the red domes with the Pope right above us, in the back.
Did you feel different after the Pope had blessed you?
Uh, I felt embarrassed. Devo is kind of agnostic, and we certainly view the Pope as a questionable figure.
What do you think it is that makes Devo fans so obsessive?
Well, I think Devo was never a middle-of-the-road band. You either loved or hated Devo because Devo was about something. Devo wasn't just style over substance, so if you liked Devo, there was a real reason you did. Devo was never cool. It was always something else. And so it outlives coolness.
You still sound really fresh though. I think if people didn't know it was you, you could probably pass the new album off as being by new electro hipsters.
Right. I've often thought that when we put out the new record, Something For Everybody, if we could've just put it out under a different name and shown four guys in their twenties on the cover, we would've been much better received by the hipster press.
Has Devo ever dabbled in any kind of subliminal messaging?
We did, yes. Because we thought it was so funny. It's a dubious impact to say the least, but we did do that on the first record during "Jocko Homo".
What messages did you sneak in there?
'Submit' and 'Obey'.