Coming back from a 20-year absence isn’t easy, and doesn’t Jerry Casale know it.
songwriter and co-founder is headlong into resurrecting a band, a brand and a musical identity with the group’s forthcoming “Something For Everybody,” due June 15. And, well, everybody
is responsible for its success.
First, there’s the entity behind its release, Warner Bros., an entertainment industry behemoth that seems like it’d be the center of Devo’s mocking of the de-evolutionary human: the very corporatization of art, in itself, makes us mere consumers, a somewhat de-evolved state.
But, Casale says, one hand must wash the other.
“No joking, all these claims and hot air about how [artists] don’t need a label anymore because there’s sponsorships or AEG and Live Nation writing the advance checks, or 100% fan support for marketing… It isn’t true,” Casale told HitFix in an interview. “We really wanted to do-it-yourself with Facebook and all that. But when you haven’t put music out music in 20 years and you’re not Radiohead and Trent Reznor with Nine Inch Nails… We don’t want to do that, that we couldn’t.
“Warner was the only entity that said ‘We’ll give you marketing money.’ There’s lot of good music out there. And a lot of times that nobody knows about it, unless you have a voice. They were willing to give us that.”
Additionally, Warner owns the band’s back catalog of seven studio albums, and then some. Should this new release prove successful on getting the band back on the map, everyone wins.
How that’s done is being determined right now by two other distinctly giant means: an advertising agency, and the fans that react to the ad agency’s efforts. Over the last three months, Devo has released a number of communiqués requesting “data” from its fans – not demographic information, but more listeners’ preferences. The band posted clips of 16 songs on its website last month and told visitors to pick their favorite 12. Those 12 would be on the album, the remaining four would not. No matter what Warner or the band said, Devo was shooting to make a record of songs that the people liked best, end of story.
They done the same sort of audience polling for the color of their new cylindrical hats, for instance, and will continue the trend at live shows.
But they do it with reflective humor. The videos, for instance, feature “Tim & Eric”-like amateur actors, awkward scripts that reflect back on the out-of-touch nature of corporate communications. See below, for instance.
“What do you think of Jacob?” Jerry eagerly asks of one of the mustachioed narrators of these posts. He added that cheeseball-looking Greg Scholl “COO” of the “musical division” of Devo, Inc. is an actual corporate executive, for NBC no less.
“We’ve always had a sense of irony. We gave the band over to an ad agency, to continue that Devo ambiguity, taking it all the way to the corporate world,” he continues. The imagery acts as a parody, as well as an actual vehicle for making a successful record; it’s a warning as to the direction our media and art is going, and it is representative example of the trend at the same time.
As to whether this message is the same Devo message from 20 years ago, Casale says he does think “there is something behind it all, and it’s shifted. Now Devo is about a sense of urgency. Devo is more like the house band on the Titanic, and we can all go down together. We’re not the far-out, creepy, silly guys from 1978. We all are Devo. It’s all self-referential.”
Getting the urgent message out into the ether has taken some time. Casale though a reunion with Mark Mothersbaugh would happen in the mid-2000s, “starting around the Bush era.” Then definitely in 2007. 2008. 2009. As for why it didn’t come together a few years ago, Casale suggested, “I have no idea, you should ask Mark that question.”