On a whirlwind day that also included interviews with Tilda Swinton and Norah Jones, I sat down with Devo's Gerald Casale in the New York offices of Warner Bros. records. Although it was a day after the release of Something for Everybody, the band's first album in 20 years, there was no sign of it in the waiting room, where a TV looped videos by younger and prettier artists. The makeshift decor, composed of cases for CDs no one cared about when they were new and promotional posters for albums long past promoting, seemed like yet another indicator of the record industry's continuing decline — which, in a strange way, makes it the perfect place for the world's foremost observers of devolution.
Casale and cohort Mark Mothersbaugh have spent most of the last two decades doing work for hire; Casale directs music videos and commercials, and Mothersbaugh writes music for film and TV. So it's only fitting that they conceived of the album as a commercial project, subjecting everything from song mixes and track listings to the new color for the band's iconic "energy dome" hats to online focus groups assembled by the hipster advertising agency Mother. (Just to prove they're still artists, the band exercised veto power on song selection; the CD is labeled "88% focus-group approved.")
Clad in a purple suit that looks an awful lot like this one, Casale was a constant blur of motion, bouncing and jittery to extent that it almost made me nervous. But the conversation was entirely a pleasant one, focused particularly on the band's use of visual elements to expand its conceptual framework and with an unexpected but highly amusing detour into the making of Devo 2.0, the ill-fated attempt to rework the Devo catalogue for the Radio Disney set. One thing we didn't talk about was the fact that Casale and Mothersbaugh were both students at Ohio's Kent State during the infamous shooting of four students in 1970, and Casale was friends with one of the victims. But my research did turn up a singular oddity which is worth sharing here.