Gerald "Jerry" Casale formed Devo with Mark Mothersbaugh and his brother, Bob Casale, in Akron, Ohio, in 1973. The band went on to record some of the most creative, subversive and often abrasive music of the '70s and '80s, eventually scoring a major hit and controversial video with "Whip It" in 1980. I caught up with Gerald and Bob "Bob 2" Casale during a lunch break from working on some new Devo songs at Mothersbaugh's flying saucer-like Mutato Muzika studio complex in L.A. Working with fraternal co-producers Paul & Josh Hager, the band navigated difficult calendar logistics (Mothersbaugh and other members are incredibly busy with film soundtrack and music production work) and its first album, entitled Something For Everybody, of new material since 1990's Smooth Noodle Maps came out this summer.
Do you guys use demos, or do the demos become the masters?
Gerald Casale: Elements of the demos often become masters. We don't have the same demo-itis that we used to. There are demos where nothing could ever be as good, and the reason is the excitement is felt when you create something. It's embedded in those particular tracks, and so it's a subjective relationship. When you hear something new, those from the outside that never heard the demo might like it fine, but some of the essence is missing. Even if it gets down to an effect or an EQ on a synth that made you like the song, you can't get it back again.
I suppose lately it's become easier to keep the demo and massage it.
GC: Which is good! It's nice to keep the raw element, the creative inspiration in there because everything can get too slick and too cleaned up. It becomes sterilized and not what it was. A lot of Devo is about the combination of dirty and clean. We've been accused of being namby pamby and Disney-esque, and then on the other hand being Nazi clowns. That comment was actually the inspiration for Oh No! It's Devo, where we said, "Okay, let's make music that sounds like Nazi clown music." That's songs like "Peek-A-Boo!," "Out of Sync," "Explosions" and "That's Good." I really like that record. I think other than Freedom of Choice, Oh No! has become my favorite record. Who was it recently that was asking to use "Peek-A-Boo!"? Microsoft for some commercial?
Bob Casale: A series of commercials.
GC: We were considering re-recording it since Warners owns the masters in perpetuity, but when we went and listened to it we realized how difficult it would be to do a sound-alike. We said, "No, let them use the master," because it's incredibly, perfectly fucked up. "Peek-A-Boo!" really is one of the most ridiculously fucked up mixes, but it's great.
How did that come about? Were there happy accidents?
GC: Yeah, a bunch of accidents.
Josh Hager: The first record [Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!] you did in Germany in some village?
BC: A village is right. [laughter]
GC: It was outside of Cologne in a place called Neunkirchen, and we were staying in this bed-and- breakfast type hotel that was a couple of steps up from a student hostel. There was no central heating, like everything in Europe. We were there in the winter under big down comforters, and we had to get up early in the morning because the schedule we were on was absurd. We'd get picked up and driven over the frozen tundra into this studio that was a converted barn in the country. The studio owner [Konrad "Conny" Plank] had a wife [Christa Fast] and kid, and we'd all eat breakfast with them in the morning. It was a selection of heavy meats — processed meats, sliced like Monsanto floor tiles. We didn't know what the hell it was, but they had a huge array, and this is how we started our day. It was insane.
What was the studio like?
GC: I don't have a big memory of it. It was drafty.
BC: It had a Harrison board. They had a room that wasn't that large for the live room, but we pretty much set everything up in there and recorded all of the basics together live. I think the basics were done in two days.
Did you put up a lot of baffles?
GC: Not too much.
Did the whole isolated experience enhance productivity at all, or was it a bummer?
BC: Well, for one thing the weather wasn't much different than what we were used to in Ohio. [laughter]
GC: I do think that being isolated with no distractions probably was a good thing, because all we could do every day was work hard and concentrate. Obviously we produced an extreme-sounding record. It's so extreme-sounding that it's hard to date it. You don't hear it and go, "Oh, that's what they all did in 1978."
GC: At the time there was mostly disco and...