Devo bassist/synth player: ‘We were always being us’
If you go
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Stage AE Outdoors, 400 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh
Tickets: $30 at Ticketmaster outlets
By John Benson
Devo bassist and synth player Gerald Casale said there’s a good reason the artsy band he co-founded back in the ’70s never played Youngstown.
“We might have gotten killed if we played back there back then,” said Casale, calling from Santa Monica, Calif. “When we played in Cleveland or Canton, the crowd was ready to kill us. They didn’t mess around.”
Devo’s streak of not playing Youngstown continues with the band, which also includes co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh, announcing less than a handful of dates this summer. Among those is a Friday show at Pittsburgh’s Stage AE Outdoors.
These are interesting times for Devo, which reunited in the ’90s but didn’t release any new material until last year’s album “Something for Everybody.”
While Casale would like to restart the group full time, Mothersbaugh remains busy as a successful soundtrack artist in Hollywood. In fact, while talking to Casale, he does little to hide the tension that exists between the two. For example, when asked why Devo is only playing four dates this summer, Casale replied, “I’d say it’s the simple case of Mark Mothersbaugh.”
Despite the release of “Something for Everybody,” the act’s first studio effort in 20 years did make Casale happy. He’d been champing at the bit for well over a decade to release new material and thus avoid being labeled a heritage or nostalgia act every time Devo did reconvene for live shows.
As for “Something for Everybody,” the album did better than expected with critics. This naturally didn’t come as a surprise to Casale.
“What I always liked about Devo was that we were always being us,” Casale said. “We weren’t ever trying to fit in or do anything that everybody else did and there was nobody that put song structures together the way we did and sang about the things that we did. That’s why we passed the test of time and weren’t just some trendy, stylistic thing: ‘Oh yeah, guys with skinny ties from the ’80s.’ We were never that. So it endured and the same audience today that likes LCD Soundsystem or The Ting Tings or The Kills, they like Devo. Our music sounds contemporary to them because so many of the bands they like kind of pursued that techno mixed with rock area that we pioneered.”
It’s pointed out to Casale that while Devo didn’t have skinny ties, it is known for wearing plastic red flower pots on their heads, atonal vocals, quirky sound effects and oddball visual concepts, which hit a creative peak on its 1980 album “Freedom of Choice” and its gold-selling single “Whip it.”
However, just like the aforementioned contemporary bands, Devo never spoke to the mainstream. So it makes sense there would be a shared fanbase.
As far as the future of Devo, Casale confirms there have been talks about turning the band’s history and sound into a Broadway musical. While on the surface that may seem, well, odd, have you looked at Broadway lately? There’s everything from singing Mormons to American idiots.
“If anybody is made for a musical, it’s Devo, because we’ve always been theatrical, always had a cast of characters and terminology and a world view that was kind of like an alternate world like a video game or something,” Casale said. “To bring a narrative to that and add it to the book, it would be just so easy to me, so obvious to bring that world into full realization.”