Hopelessly Devoted

18 July 2012 | 8:45 am | Bryget Chrisfield

“Yeah, we had that famous party in Sydney Harbour on a yacht and it got in all the tabloids.” Did it get out of hand? “Well it did.” Did anyone go overboard? “Only in how many oysters they ate and how much sex was going on.”

Devotees who caught Devo during their last Australian shows in 2008 were left gobsmacked by how relevant their music still sounds. The band formed almost 40 years ago and, although they fill out their matching radiation suits a lot more these days, tracks such as Whip It, Girl U Want and Here To Go still wipe the floor with a lot of the electronic schlock out there now. Booji Boy made an appearance, there were fluorescent superballs pinging about and mass euphoria was experienced. When asked what some of his favourite memories were from Devo's last visit Down Under, the band's bassist/synth player Gerald Casale struggles.“The last visit, well, you know, we had never been there that time of year so it was kind of shocking that it was all damp and cold. Because our first tour of Australia was life changing and mind-blowing – we were there in January into February – and it was all incredible. The whole experience was great and the weather was, of course, sunny and hot, and the people were wonderful. We were staying in Kings Cross in the Sebel Townhouse and going out every night to the clubs, and it was one big, long party. We didn't see any of that action this [most recent] time - maybe they hid it from us.”

Devo's party-hard reputation must have preceded them. “Yeah, we had that famous party in Sydney Harbour on a yacht and it got in all the tabloids.” Did it get out of hand? “Well it did.” Did anyone go overboard? “Only in how many oysters they ate and how much sex was going on.”

Let's rewind to 2006 when Disney reached out and suggested Devo re-purpose their songs for a demographic of four to eight year olds. “And that was truly Devo, 'cause that was Devo in substance: the fact that they wanted us to do that,” Casale recalls. “They came to us and said, 'Could you re-purpose all your most-known songs for children?' And we said, 'Well, which ones do you want them to be?' And they picked the songs and then I spent three months casting a band, and I finally found a band of kids between ten and 12 that could really play and sing. We recorded them doing our songs and then I shot video of them playing the songs mixed with all these computer graphics for a DVD. I shot video and at that point they had to – the people at the top, you know, the suits – for the first time they took a look at it, and then somebody ordered a book of our lyrics 'cause they hadn't paid any attention, ever in their whole lives, to Devo lyrics. So then they were looking at the lyrics and they were freaking out! It was so funny.”

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Considering some of the racey lyrics tweens sing along with these days (we're looking at you, Azealia Banks and Rihanna), Disney has some nerve targeting Devo. “I know, and those are hardcore lyrics,” Casale agrees. So which particular lyrics did they find offensive? “Oh, well they said, 'You can't say, “It's a beautiful world for you but not for me,” you can't say that,' [laughs]. We go, 'Well what do we have to say?' and they go, 'Well how about, “It's a beautiful world for you and me too”.

Uncontrollable Urge, they hated that,” he continues. “They said that the 'uncontrollable urge' was a sex reference and that it was undefined and so people were allowed to think that the urge must be sexual, and that the only way they could put the song out is if we defined the urge as something else. And so we asked them what that would be and they said, 'Make it about junk food,' haha.” That's really gonna help tackle childhood obesity! “You got it! Well then you can see where this is going. And then the funniest one was a song called That's Good. We have a verse about how life is full of surprises and it says, 'Life's a bee without a buzz/It's going great 'til you get stung.' And they said, 'You better get rid of that whole verse.' And I said, 'Whaddaya mean?' And they go, 'We know what you're talking about…' and it's as if I had written hip hop lyrics! They said, '”Life's a bee,” means life's a bitch. “Life's a bee without a buzz,” meaning life's a bitch if you're not getting high. “It's going great 'til you get stung,” means you get away with it until the cops pop ya.' See? They were really thinking.”

Did they ask the junior band members what they thought the lyrics meant? “They never asked the kids and the kids didn't think that.” Backtracking a little, three months seems an awful long time spent auditioning to find the right candidates for Devo 2.0. “Yeah,” Casale agrees. “Because I mean you would think, 'Oh, it's Hollywood, there's gonna be so many kids that can sing and play,' and then you find out it's not true.”


Devo are set to embark on a Stateside co-headline tour with Blondie, after which they'll grace our shores for a stint with Simple Minds. “They're really interesting time warps,” Casale offers. Harking back to when he first became aware of Simple Minds, Casale shares: “I really liked them and then I was shocked to read how much, uh, what's the lead singer's name? Jim Kerr. I was shocked to read how much he hated the song that they had in the movie The Breakfast Club, haha, and he kept putting it down in the press – got Hollywood all upset with him. We really liked that song, but then we found out apparently he didn't write it – a producer wrote that for the movie, and Simple Minds recorded it and it became their biggest hit [laughs]. But then he went and married Chrissie Hynde. She was such a powerful artist.”

The promotional campaign leading up to Devo's last album, Something For Everyone (2010), set a new standard in terms of creativity. There were focus-group questionnaires to decide which colour they would change their famous energy dome hats to and interactive online surveys to determine which 12 out of a 16-song selection would make the final tracklisting cut. And then there was the listening party for cats! Casale and co ought to be congratulated. “Thank you, yeah we were having a really good time with that, and we were working with an agency called Mother. Mother was a very cutting-edge agency outta New York City and we had a great, kind of almost tongue-in-cheek, Dada campaign going. And we actually did a lot more than what anybody ever saw.

“The label, Warner Brothers, they didn't really support it, they didn't really like it and they kind of felt they needed to be gatekeepers and stop some of it,” he laughs. “There was a five-part reality series where Mother created a fake agency and then we interacted with fake record label people and fake agency guys that were all actors, and so it was like Spinal Tap but it was presented as real. It was satire and they felt it was disrespectful, but it was just hilarious. We made fun of ourselves, the agency made fun of themselves, everybody was an idiot, you know? That was the whole point. I guess now, at this point, enough time has passed that, just for posterity, somebody should see it. That's what I think.”