At Forecastle Festival, 2010 (Left to right: Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Casale, and Bob Mothersbaugh)
|Origin||Kent and Akron, Ohio, United States|
|Genres||New wave, punk rock, post-punk, electropunk, art punk, synthpop, electronic rock|
|Years active||1973–1991, 1996–present|
|Labels||Warner Bros., Virgin, Enigma, Rykodisc, Rhino, Stiff, Restless|
|Associated acts||Devo 2.0, Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers, Toni Basil, The Wipeouters, Dove, The Band of Love|
|Past members||Bob Casale (deceased)
Alan Myers (deceased)
Devo (//, originally //) is an American rock band formed in 1972, consisting of members from Kent and Akron, Ohio. The classic line-up of the band included two sets of brothers, the Mothersbaughs (Mark and Bob) and the Casales (Gerald and Bob), along with Alan Myers. The band had a No. 14 Billboard chart hit in 1980 with the single "Whip It", and has maintained a cult following throughout its existence.
Devo's style, over time, has shifted between punk, art rock, post-punk and new wave. Their music and stage show mingle kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor, and mordantly satirical social commentary. Their often discordant pop songs feature unusual synthetic instrumentation and time signatures that have proven influential on subsequent popular music, particularly new wave, industrial and alternative rock artists. Devo was also a pioneer of the music video, creating many memorable clips for the LaserDisc format, with "Whip It" getting heavy airplay in the early days of MTV.
The name Devo comes "from their concept of 'de-evolution' — the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society." In the late 1960s, this idea was developed as a joke by Kent State University art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis, who created a number of satirical art pieces in a devolution vein. At this time, Casale had also performed with the local band 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band). They met Mark Mothersbaugh around 1970, a talented keyboardist who had been playing with the band Flossy Bobbitt. Mark brought a more humorous feel to the group, introduced them to material like the pamphlet "Jocko Homo Heavenbound", which includes an illustration of a winged devil labeled "D-EVOLUTION" and would later inspire the song "Jocko Homo". The "joke" about de-evolution became serious following the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970. This event would be cited multiple times as the impetus for forming the band Devo.
The first form of Devo was the "Sextet Devo" which performed at the 1973 Kent State performing arts festival. It included Casale, Lewis and Mothersbaugh, as well as Gerald's brother Bob Casale on guitar, and friends Rod Reisman and Fred Weber on drums and vocals, respectively. This performance was filmed and a part was included on the home video The Complete Truth About Devolution. This lineup performed only once. Devo returned to perform in the Student Governance Center (featured prominently in the film) at the 1974 Creative Arts Festival with a line-up including the Casale brothers, Bob Lewis, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Jim Mothersbaugh on drums.
The band continued to perform, generally as a quartet, but with a fluid lineup including Mark's brothers Bob Mothersbaugh and Jim Mothersbaugh. Bob played electric guitar, and Jim provided percussion using a set of homemade electronic drums. Their first two music videos, "Secret Agent Man" and "Jocko Homo" featured on The Truth About De-Evolution, were filmed in Akron, and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the hometown of most members. This lineup of Devo lasted until 1976 when Jim left the band. Bob Lewis would sometimes play guitar during this period. In concert, Devo would often perform in the guise of theatrical characters, such as Booji Boy and The Chinaman. Live concerts from this period were often confrontational, and would remain so until 1977. A recording of an early Devo performance from 1975 with the quartet lineup appears on DEVO Live: The Mongoloid Years, ending with the promoters unplugging Devo's equipment.
Following Jim Mothersbaugh's departure, Bob Mothersbaugh found a new drummer, Alan Myers, who played on a conventional, acoustic drum set. Casale re-recruited his brother Bob Casale, and the line-up of Devo remained the same for nearly ten years.
Devo gained some fame in 1976 when the short film The Truth About De-Evolution by Chuck Statler won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. This attracted the attention of David Bowie, who began work to get the band a recording contract with Warner Music Group. In 1977 Devo were asked by Neil Young to participate in the making of his film Human Highway. Released in 1982, the film featured the band as "Nuclear garbagemen." The band members were asked to write their own parts and Mark Mothersbaugh scored and recorded much of the soundtrack, his first of many.
In 1976 Devo released their first single "Mongoloid" b/w "Jocko Homo", the B-side of which came from the soundtrack to The Truth About De-Evolution, on their independent label "Booji Boy." This was followed in 1977 by a cover of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".
In 1978 the Be Stiff EP was released by English independent label Stiff Records, which included the single "Be Stiff" plus two previous Booji Boy releases. "Mechanical Man", a 4 track 7" EP of demos, an apparent bootleg but rumored to be put out by the band themselves, was also released that year.
Recommendations from David Bowie and Iggy Pop enabled Devo to secure a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978. After Bowie backed out of the business deal due to previous commitments, their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was produced by Brian Eno and featured re-recordings of their previous singles "Mongoloid" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". On October 14, 1978, Devo gained national exposure with an appearance on Saturday Night Live, a week after the Rolling Stones, performing "Satisfaction" and "Jocko Homo."
After the band achieved this success, co-founder Bob Lewis asked for credit and compensation in 1978 for his contributions to the band. The band refused to negotiate, and sued Lewis in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking a declaratory judgment stating Lewis had no rights to the name or theory of De-evolution. Lewis then filed an action in United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleging theft of intellectual property. During discovery, Lewis produced articles, promotional materials, documentary evidence and an interview recorded at the Akron Art Museum following the premiere of In the Beginning was the End in which Mothersbaugh and other band members credited Lewis with developing the theory of de-evolution. The band quickly settled for an undisclosed sum.
The band followed up with Duty Now for the Future in 1979, which moved the band more towards electronic instrumentation. While not as successful as their first record, it did produce some fan favorites with the songs "Blockhead" and "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize" [sic], as well as a cover of the Johnny Rivers hit "Secret Agent Man". "Secret Agent Man" had been recorded first in 1974 for Devo's first film and performed live as early as 1976. In 1979 Devo traveled to Japan for the first time, and a live show from this tour was partially recorded. Devo appeared on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert in 1979, performing "Blockhead", "Secret Agent Man", "Uncontrollable Urge", and "Mongoloid". Also in 1979 Rhino Records --- in conjunction with LA radio station KROQ --- released Devotees, a tribute album. It contained a set of covers of Devo songs interspersed with renditions of popular songs in Devo's style.
Devo actively embraced the parody religion Church of the SubGenius. In concert, Devo sometimes performed as their own opening act, pretending to be a Christian soft-rock group called "Dove (the Band of Love)", which is an anagram for "Devo". They appeared as Dove in the 1980 televangelism spoof Pray TV. They also recorded music, later released on the CD E-Z Listening Disc (1987), with Muzak style versions of their own songs to play before their concerts.
Devo gained a new level of visibility with 1980's Freedom of Choice. This album included their best-known hit, "Whip It", which quickly became a Top 40 hit. The album moved to an almost completely electronic sound, with the exception of acoustic drums and Bob 1's guitar. The tour for Freedom of Choice was ambitious for the band, including dates in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Canada. The band used a minimalist set including large custom light boxes which could be laid on their back to form a second, smaller stage during the second half of the set. Other popular songs from Freedom of Choice were "Girl U Want," the title track, and "Gates of Steel". The band released popular music videos for "Whip It" and "Girl U Want." Devo made two appearances on the TV show Fridays in 1980, as well as on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, American Bandstand, and other shows.
In August 1981, the band's Devo Live E.P. spent 3 weeks at the top of the Australian charts. In 1982, they toured Australia and appeared on the TV show Countdown. Devo enjoyed continued popularity in Australia, where the nationally broadcast 1970s–1980s pop TV show Countdown was one of the first programs in the world to broadcast their video clips. They were given consistent radio support by Sydney-based noncommercial rock station Double Jay (2JJ) and Brisbane-based independent community station Tripple Zed (4ZzZ), two of the first rock stations outside America to play their recordings. The late-night music program Nightmoves aired The Truth About De-Evolution.
In 1981, Devo contributed a cover of "Working in the Coal Mine," recorded during the Freedom of Choice sessions, to the film Heavy Metal. The band offered the song to be used in the film when Warner Bros refused to put it on the album, resulting in its success. Warner then included it as an independent bonus single accompanying their 1981 release, New Traditionalists. For this album Devo wore self-described "Utopian Boy Scout uniforms" topped with a "New Traditionalist Pomp," a plastic half-wig modeled on the hairstyle of John F. Kennedy. Among the singles from the album was "Through Being Cool," written as a reaction to their new-found fame from "Whip It," and seen as a response to new fans that misinterpreted the message behind the hit song. The album's accompanying tour featured the band performing an intensely physical show with treadmills and a large Greek temple set. That same year Devo served as Toni Basil's backing band on Word of Mouth, her debut album, which included versions of three Devo songs, recorded with Basil singing lead.
Oh, No! It's Devo followed in 1982. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, the album featured a darker, more sinister sound than its predecessors. According to Gerald Casale, the album's sound was inspired by reviewers calling them "fascist clowns" in articles. The album's tour featured the band performing seven songs in front of a 12-foot high rear-projection screen with synchronized video, an image recreated using blue screen effects in the album's accompanying music videos. Devo also contributed two songs, "Theme from Doctor Detroit" and "Luv-Luv" to the 1983 Dan Aykroyd film Doctor Detroit, and produced a music video for "Theme from Doctor Detroit" featuring clips from the film with live action segments.
Devo released their sixth album, Shout, in 1984 to poor reviews. The album has been criticized for its overuse of the Fairlight CMI synthesizer and weak songwriting. However, the band's cover of the Jimi Hendrix song "'Are You Experienced?" and the accompanying music video received some praise. Following the commercial failure of Shout, Warner Bros. dropped Devo from their label. Shortly after, claiming to feel creatively unfulfilled, Alan Myers left the band. This caused the remaining band members to abandon the plans for a Shout video LP, as well as their tour for the album. During the interim, Mark Mothersbaugh began composing music for the TV show Pee-wee's Playhouse, and released an elaborately packaged solo cassette, Musik for Insomniaks, which was later expanded and released as two CDs in 1988.
In 1987, Devo reformed with new drummer David Kendrick, formerly of Sparks. Their first project was a soundtrack for the flop horror film Slaughterhouse Rock, starring Toni Basil. The band released Total Devo in 1988 on Enigma Records. This album included two songs used in the Slaughterhouse Rock soundtrack. The song "Baby Doll" was used in the film Tapeheads, with newly recorded Swedish lyrics, and was credited to (and shown in a music video by) a fictitious Swedish band called Cube-Squared. Devo followed this up with a world tour, and released the live album Now It Can Be Told: DEVO at the Palace. However, Total Devo was not a commercial success, and received poor critical reviews.
In 1989, members of Devo were involved in the project Visiting Kids, releasing a self-titled EP on the New Rose label in 1990. The group featured Mark's then-wife Nancye Ferguson, as well as David Kendrick, Bob Mothersbaugh, and Bob's daughter Alex Mothersbaugh. Their record was produced by Bob Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, and Mark also co-wrote some of the songs. Visiting Kids appeared on the soundtrack to the film Rockula, as well as on the Late Show with David Letterman. A promotional video was filmed for the song "Trilobites".
In 1990 Smooth Noodle Maps, Devo's last album for twenty years, was released. It too was a critical and commercial failure which, along with its only single "Post Post-Modern Man", hold the distinction of being Devo's worst-selling efforts, as both failed to appear on the U.S. charts. Devo launched a European concert tour, but poor ticket sales caused it to end early. The band had a falling out soon after, but played two shows in 1991 before breaking up. Around this time, members of Devo appeared in the film Spirit of '76, except for Bob Mothersbaugh. Two albums of demo recordings from 1974 to 1977—Hardcore Devo: Volume One (1990) and Hardcore Devo: Volume Two (1991)—were released on Rykodisc, as well as an album of early live recordings, DEVO Live: The Mongoloid Years.
Following the split, Mark Mothersbaugh established Mutato Muzika, a commercial music production studio, along with Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale. Mothersbaugh meant to further a career as a composer, and the latter worked as a recording engineer. Mothersbaugh gained considerable success in writing and producing music for television programs (starting with Pee Wee's Playhouse and perhaps most famously with Rugrats), video games, cartoons, and movies (notably working alongside director Wes Anderson). David Kendrick also worked at Mutato for a period during the early 1990s. Gerald Casale began a career as a director of music videos and commercials, working with bands including Rush, Silverchair, and the Foo Fighters. In the wake of Devo's dissolution, Bob Mothersbaugh attempted to start a solo career with The Bob I Band, recording an album that was never released. The tapes for this are now lost, though a bootleg recording of the band in concert has been reported.
In 1995, Devo reunited with a new recording of "Girl U Want" on the soundtrack to the film Tank Girl. In January 1996, Devo performed a reunion concert at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The band performed on part of the 1996 Lollapalooza tour in the rotating Mystery Spot, with a setlist largely composed of material from their heyday between 1978 and 1982. Also in 1996, Devo released a multimedia CD-ROM adventure game, Adventures of the Smart Patrol with Inscape. The game was not a success, but the Lollapalooza tour was received well enough to allow Devo to return in 1997 as a headliner. Devo performed sporatically from 1997 onwards. Some of their songs were used in a video game Interstate '82 developed by Activision and released in 1999 ("Modern Life", "Faster and Faster" and "One Dumb Thing").
While they did not release any albums during this period, Devo recorded a number of songs for various films and compilations after their reunion, including a cover of the Nine Inch Nails hit "Head Like a Hole" for the film Supercop. In 2005 Devo recorded a new version of "Whip It" to be used in Swiffer television commercials, a decision they have said they regretted. During an interview with the Dallas Observer, Gerald Casale said, "It's just aesthetically offensive. It's got everything a commercial that turns people off has." The song "Beautiful World" was also used in a re-recorded form for an ad for Target stores. Due to rights issues with their back catalog, Devo has re-recorded songs for films and ads.
In 2005, Gerald Casale announced his "solo" project, Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers (the Evildoers themselves including the other members of Devo), and released the first EP, Army Girls Gone Wild in 2006. A full-length album, Mine Is Not a Holy War, was released on September 12, 2006, after a several-month delay. It features mostly new material, plus re-recordings of four obscure Devo songs: "I Need A Chick" and "I Been Refused" (from Hardcore Devo: Volume Two), "Find Out" (which appeared on the single and EP of "Peek-A-Boo" in 1982), and "Beehive" (which was recorded by the band in 1974, at which point it was apparently abandoned with the exception of one appearance at a special show in 2001). Devo continued to tour actively in 2005 and 2006, unveiling a new stage show at appearances in October 2006, with the Jihad Jerry character performing "Beautiful World" as an encore.
Also in 2006, Devo worked on a project with Disney known as Devo 2.0. A band of child performers was assembled and re-recorded Devo songs. A quote from the Akron Beacon Journal states, "...Devo recently finished a new project in cahoots with Disney called Devo 2.0, which features the band playing old songs and two new ones with vocals provided by children. Their debut album, a two disc CD/DVD combo entitled DEV2.0, was released on March 14, 2006. The lyrics of some of the songs were changed for family-friendly airplay, which has been claimed by the band to be a play on irony of the messages of their classic hits. Mothersbaugh doesn't rule out the idea of the band gathering in the studio, eventually, to record a new Devo album."
In an April 2007 interview, Gerald Casale mentioned a tentative project for a biographical film about Devo's early days. According to Casale, a script was supposedly in development, called The Beginning Was the End. Casale stated that there might be some new Devo material coming as well, but whether this was related to the release of a film was unclear. Devo played their first European tour since 1990 in the summer of 2007, including a performance at Festival Internacional de Benicàssim.
In June 2008 McDonald's released a Happy Meal toy wearing the Devo Energy dome that they named "New Wave Nigel". It was reported by AAP that a band member had initiated legal action against McDonald's, as the hamburger chain had copied trademarked elements of the band's look. The following week it was reported a gag order had been placed on the band regarding further public statements on the matter. By July 2008 various blogs referred to "an e-mail" from a colleague of the band's attorney that suggested the issue was "amicably resolved".
In December 2007, Devo released their first new single since 1990, "Watch Us Work It," which was featured in a commercial for Dell. The song features a sample drum track from the New Traditionalists song "The Super Thing". The band announced in a July 23, 2007, MySpace bulletin that a full-length music video for the song was forthcoming, and the song itself was available on iTunes and eMusic. Casale said that this song was chosen from a batch of songs that the band was working on, and that also this was the closest the band had been to a new album.
In a December 5, 2007, article on Mutato Muzika, LA Weekly reported that "After touring sporadically over the past decade but not releasing any new material, Devo are spending December at Mutato trying to create an album’s worth of new material and contemplating a method of dispersal in the post-record-company world." In an April 2008 interview, Mothersbaugh revealed a song title from the in-progress album: "Don't Shoot, I'm a Man". In a radio interview on April 17, 2008, Jerry stated that Mark had "killed the project" and that there would be no new Devo album. Casale, however, later stated that "We're going to finish what we started."
Devo's song "Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy" was featured in EA Sports' skateboard video game, Skate. The songs "Girl U Want" and "Through Being Cool" were released as downloadable content for the video game Rock Band on August 19, 2008. The song "Uncontrollable Urge" is featured in the video game Rock Band 2. All three songs were rerecorded exclusively for Rock Band.
Devo played in the United States, Japan, Australia, France, and Spain in the summer of 2008. Also in 2008 the band remixed the Attery Squash song "Devo Was Right About Everything" which was released on the B-side to the "Watch Us Work It" vinyl 12" single. They also remixed a song by Datarock, "Computer Camp". Datarock routinely cites Devo as an influence. In 2008 a Japan exclusive box set was released containing the band's first six albums, This is the Devo Box. On October 17, 2008, Devo performed a special concert at the Akron Civic Theater, their first in Akron since 1978, to promote Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. They were joined at the concert by fellow Akron-area musicians The Black Keys and Chrissie Hynde.
In an October 2008 interview, Devo confirmed that they would be completing their new album. The Studio Notes section of the November 27 issue of Rolling Stone stated that "Devo are working on their first album of new material since 1990's Smooth Noodle Maps. 'We have about 17 songs we're testing out," says frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. 'We've already been contacted by 20 producers – including Snoop Dogg and Fatboy Slim.'"
Devo announced in early 2009 that they would be performing at SXSW on March 20, with a warmup show in Dallas on March 18. At these shows, Devo performed a new stage show utilizing synchronized video, similar to the 1982 tour, new costumes, and three new songs: "Don't Shoot, I'm a Man!", "What We Do", and "Fresh", which are tracks from their new album. All of these songs included a video backdrop for the band's performance. Devo also confirmed that they would be performing at All Tomorrow's Parties on May 6 and 8, with the performance of May 6 featuring the band performing their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, in its entirety. The performance of May 8 was a "greatest hits" show, for the ATP "Fans Strike Back" event. In November 2009, Devo toured performances Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Freedom of Choice with two-night stands in several cities. Along with the tour, Warner Bros. Records released remastered editions of the two albums.
In April 2009 Devo debuted the music video for "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)" on their website, through Vimeo. In the June 2009 issue of Rolling Stone, the band noted that the album's release had been pushed back to 2010 to allow for "radical remixing". The album, Something for Everybody was eventually released in June 2010, preceded by a 12" single of "Fresh"/"What We Do". Earlier in the year the band had performed at one of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics victory concerts at Whistler Medals Plaza and donated a collection of objects to the Ohio Historical Society including an energy dome, jumpsuit, stickers, and T-shirts.
On September 16, 2009, Warner Bros. and Devo announced a re-release of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Freedom of Choice, with a tour performing both albums.
Devo was awarded the first Moog Innovator Award on October 29, 2010, during Moogfest 2010 in Asheville, North Carolina. The Moog Innovator Award has been said to "[celebrate] pioneering artists whose genre-defying work exemplifies the bold, innovative spirit of Bob Moog". Devo was scheduled to perform at MoogFest, but Bob Mothersbaugh severely injured his hand three days prior, and the band was forced to cancel. Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale collaborated with Austin, Texas, band The Octopus Project to perform "Girl U Want" and "Beautiful World" at the event instead. Devo was also scheduled to play both the Fun Fun Fun Fest 2010 in Austin, Texas and a Halloween concert at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom but had to cancel due to Bob's injury.
In an interview on March 3, 2011, Gerald Casale stated that he was "working on a script for a... Devo musical" that would be aimed towards a live Broadway production.
On February 14, 2012, the Devo Facebook page posted a status update that clubdevo.com would soon be launching a brand new "post-Warner Brothers" website that would feature new merchandise. On March 1, a new message from General Boy was added to the website confirming that the band had again separated from Warner Brothers. It stated that the new website would offer "new protective gear" and "unreleased material from the archives in vinyl disc format," as well as feature "WORLD-WIDE shipping... "
In August 2012, the band released a single called "Don't Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed)", dedicated to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's former pet dog Seamus. The title relates to the Mitt Romney dog incident, which occurred in 1983 when Romney traveled twelve hours with the dog in a crate on his car's roof rack. Casale has also mentioned plans to release a collection of demos from the sessions of Something for Everybody, with potential titles being Devo Opens the Vault, Gems from the Devo Dumpster, or Something Else For Everybody. The album was eventually titled Something Else For Everybody and was released on May 20, 2014.
The band toured the US and Canada in June and July 2014, playing ten dates consisting of their "experimental music" composed and recorded from 1974–1978. Planned as a 40th anniversary tour, this outing was billed as the "Hardcore Devo" tour. Partial proceeds for the ten shows went to support Bob Casale's family after his sudden death. The show of June 28 in Oakland California was filmed, and turned into the concert film Hardcore Devo Live, released on Blu-ray, DVD, and Video on Demand on February 10, 2015, along with CD and double-vinyl audio versions.
As of 2015, a documentary about Devo begun in 2009, titled Are We Not Men? and directed by Tony Pemberton, is still in post-production.
Alan Myers died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles, California on June 24, 2013. He was 58 years old. News reports at the time of his death incorrectly cited brain cancer as the cause.
Bob Casale died on February 17, 2014, at the age of 61. According to his brother Gerald, it was a "sudden death from conditions that led to heart failure".
Current and former live musicians
- Jeff Friedl – drums (2008–present)
- Neil Taylor – drums (2008)
- Pete Parada – drums (2011)
- Brian Applegate – synthesizers and bass (2014 Hardcore Tour)
- Alex Casale – bass (2014 Hardcore Tour)
- Ed Marshall – bass (2014 Hardcore Tour)
- Josh Hager – guitar and keyboard (2014 shows with Arcade Fire)
- Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
- Duty Now for the Future (1979)
- Freedom of Choice (1980)
- New Traditionalists (1981)
- Oh, No! It's Devo (1982)
- Shout (1984)
- Total Devo (1988)
- Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)
- Something for Everybody (2010)
- Energy dome, the distinctive hat worn by the group
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Let me be plain about this: contrary to popular belief DEVO was not and is not a phenomenon of Akron, Ohio. It was rather a logical extension of a series of inexplicable forces that made Kent State University a mass culture nexus for a brief and shining moment.
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