Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Q&A with DEVO's Jerry Casale

Q: Is guitarist Bob 1’s injured hand back to normal now?
Yeah, finally...There was a long period of therapy after the tendon healed and reattached. There was scar tissue, muscle atrophies and everything else you can imagine.

Q: So you haven’t had to tailor the set list toward less strenuous Devo songs then?
No, man. He knows we can’t do that. We’re like Charlie Sheen. We only have one speed: go!

Q: Are you still performing live with those cool animated video images synchronized to the music? Is the set list set in store because of that or can you diverge on occasion?
Yes. In the first part of the show, you can’t. Later on, you can.

Q: Does having the 'Something for Everybody' songs to play live keep the gigs more interesting for you?
A lot of bands that have been around as long as us, when they put out new material, it’s very devoid of energy and doesn’t sound much like they used to. I have to say in Devo’s case, the new songs are right on par with an album like ‘Freedom of Choice.’ When we do them, they have the same power and energy as older songs and people love them. I’m happy we have new songs to do, especially songs like “What We Do” that we are just releasing as a single. We have this great interactive video coming out that we shot to it. The user can navigate the video and decide what they want to see and when they want to see it. No edit. You can pan left and right, zoom in and out, tilt up and down. It’s as if you are in the video with a steadicam.

Q: Is that an option for viewing on any computer?
Yeah. The way it’s going to work with YouTube is they have to create a link and you go to it because it’s an html thing. Any modern computer, yeah. You get a file, click on it and it opens this widescreen format on your browser. You go and navigate in real time. You never see the same thing twice because the camera system is 360 degrees in a ring, pointed outwards, capturing the whole environment. That is in the round, so there are things going on every 10 degrees. As you pan left and right, you find something to see, but that means you miss something at the 9 or 3 or 6 o’clock positions. You get to go back over it and check out new things.

Q: The previous animated and live action videos for “Fresh” and “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” were amazing, so your fans probably have high expectations.
This one is beyond that. This is something you haven’t seen before. We’re really excited about it.

Q: Did it take long to work out the technology?
Luckily, we didn’t have to. Jason Trucco pioneered the system with his tech team. It’s done on a hi-def camera system, all input into a computer that stitches it together into a seamless 360 degree strip of visual information.

Q: Since the album came out last summer, are you pleased with how it turned out and has been received?
I wish more people knew about it. I certainly think the way it was brought to market could’ve been more effective and impactful. What was great is that – and this matters to me as a creative person – all the rock reviewers that I respect gave it anywhere from a B+ to an A. The critical reviews were really great [I included it in my top 10 best of 2010-GAP]. It would have been so easy to trash a legacy band like Devo and say, ‘why should we listen to these old guys when we got [quotes LMFAO lyric] ‘drink all day/play all night/let’s get it poppin’/I’m an L.A. trick’? It wasn’t like that.

Q: Why do you think that is?
I think that’s because the material was up to par with what you’d expect from Devo songs.

Q: You had inquiries from other younger musicians who wanted to work on the album.
Yeah. James Murphy [from LCD Soundsystem] was ready to do something and Al from Hot Chip. But we couldn’t wait any longer. 

Q: How difficult was to find time to finally make the album considering all of your various projects and sporadic tours?
Not really. Actually, all the songs – this is the truth; this is how long deal-making takes – were done by Oct. 2009. None of the songs on the album started being written until Jan. 2008. Between that [period], every song that made it to the record was written. We wrote about 36 songs in all.

Q: Is it easier to wear the new masks than the energy domes onstage?
No. The energy domes feel like they’re growing straight out of our heads at this point. We’re so used to them. The masks are much more confining. It’s like bondage and discipline – a little bit of sensory deprivation.

Q: “No Place Like Home” is dramatic and quite a departure for Devo, especially with those classical piano flourishes. How did it come about?  
Mark had written some music for a movie. Then it didn’t happen. I always liked the music and asked if I could work on it. I wrote the lyrics and decided as a senior citizen, if I can’t sing a serious song without some smart ass wink, then I’m never going to be able to do it. The time was now or never. I just wanted to do a song that didn’t have any cynicism to it. It’s basically about saving ourselves, like ‘people, if you want to stick around, you’ve got to change.’

Q: Was “Later is Now” inspired by people who stir up trouble writing negative comments on blogs?
That’s exactly what I was thinking about. We always procrastinate and put our heads in the sand and deny. Then the big monster grows bigger. And the 800-pound gorilla becomes an 8000-pound gorilla. That’s basically a ‘running out of time’ song I wrote.

Q: Among the newer crop of musicians today, do you see anyone following in Devo’s footsteps, being innovative both musically and visually?
Certainly there are ones stylistically that kind of follow in Devo’s footsteps. Not content-wise. There are a lot of bands we really like that popped up in the last five years. We love LCD Soundsystem and The Ting Tings. We like Lady Gaga a lot. We think the people she works with are very powerful visually. Their idea of how to stage a show is just tremendous – the best I’ve seen since Trent Reznor.

Q: Do you guys find a certain satisfaction that much of what you said about devolution in the 1970s has come true?
You would think that’s what we’d feel, but you know what? We don’t really get any pleasure in having been right. We didn’t want to be right. It was just kind of an artsy warning. It’s depressing that we were right [laughs].

Q: In 2006, the band worked with Disney on the “Devo 2.0” children’s album, where your classic songs were sung by kids and the words were altered a bit. Were people surprised by that alliance?
Yeah, they couldn’t believe it. Frankly, I couldn’t [either]. When they asked us to do it and if we had an idea, I said, ‘let’s find kids who can actually sing and play.’ Deliver our songs to the young demographic because they are going to watch kids they can relate to playing our songs. They said, ‘sure, let’s do it.’ They picked the songs. We recorded the kids and I shot all the video elements with a computer graphic artist. Worked on that for about six months and put that CD/DVD out. Then I did a middle school tour with those kids of the east coast and Midwest.

Q: How was that?
Actually, it was fun.

Q: Also in 2006, your alter ego Jihad Jerry released a bluesy rock album. What kid of reaction did that receive?
He didn’t get the love [laughs]. I think I was misunderstood. You would think that a senior citizen, in a ridiculous theatrical turban and bad suit, looking more like Sam the Sham from 1966, would’ve been taken as satire – which is what it was at the heart of the Bush administration’s egregious wrongs and hideousness. The satire was lost and people were angry at Jihad Jerry. Muslim people were writing me threatening emails. Infidels were like, ‘this is too heavy, man.’ I had this New York radio programmer tell me, ‘I really liked three songs on this record and I’d play the song “Danger” in a minute of it was a Devo song, but I can’t play Jihad Jerry because I can’t tell anyone that’s the name of the artist.

Q: Is it still as enjoyable for you to direct and make music videos these days?
Yeah, because I’m a creative person. That starts when you’re young and you don’t have an audience at all and it makes no money. Then it’s great when it does make money. Then later on, you have a smaller audience and you’re still just as excited about creating because you were in the beginning. It doesn’t change it for me.

Q: Among all the videos you’ve directed for Devo and others over the years, which ones stick out as favorites?
Devo’s “Beautiful World.” Silverchair’s “Freak.” Even though that was a problematic group, I really liked the video.

Q: If you had to choose, which Devo albums do you think still stand the test of time?
The first one and ‘Freedom of Choice’ are the essentials you’d have to have.

Q: Many new wave-era albums sound dated, but yours really don't.
The whole idea of what’s dated is completely changed. We live in an amorphous pop culture where all the decades are mixed and shuffled like a deck of cards. What used to be a putdown, like [adopts affected voice] ‘they sound just like the Rolling Stones in 1974,’ now it’s like a badge of honor to have a critic say that.     



Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your fantastic blog. Your interviews and reviews are great. I still have my vinyl copy of Labour of Lust. I was at the David J show in Riverside and enjoyed it very much.

newwavegeo said...

Thanks for the comment. Since you were among the few there to see David J: Did you like his revamped versions of the Bauhaus/Love & Rockets songs?

Anonymous said...

Yes. I thought they offered a new spin on classics. He made the dough so he gets to bake the cookies.