For decades, DEVO has been delivering singular musical experiences as well as their own catchy brand of electronically-influenced pop. That’s why the band’s third nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is potentially a huge opportunity for their legacy to be recognized by the industry – although, as Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh say Resultreceiving this honor would not necessarily define DEVO as a rock and roll band.
While Casale and Mothersbaugh weren’t entirely sure of the specifics of what might happen if they were inducted into Rock Hall, they were willing to discuss several key moments in their careers, including their favorite examples of using their songs in the movie, the time they covered Nine Inch Nails, and why DEVO as a concept means different things to different countries at different times. They also take us back to when they thought MTV was actually “good” – which is way older than you might think.
Thank you very much for joining me today. I just want to start by asking you, how do you feel about being nominated this year? Congratulations, by the way.
Gerald Casale: Thank you. Well, it’s the third time. So, we hope the cliche about third time is the charm is true.
Mark Mothersbaugh: Yeah, we’re tickled pink.
Casale: Not like the artist.
I’m sorry, what was it again?
Casale: Oh, Rose. Not the artist.
Oh, you’re not artist Pink.
Casale: We wouldn’t dare tickle Pink. Especially in today’s environment.
Sure. When you learned that you were nominated, what was your reaction?
Mothersbaugh: Shock and awe. We were excited about it. It’s a wonderful honor. And it’s nice to be recognized for things that you’ve done that you think you’ve worked really hard for and put a lot of time and effort into. And for someone else to recognize that and say that it has some kind of value, that’s fine.
Casale: That’s right.
When people talk to you about the impact of DEVO as a band, what are they talking about?
Casale: Oh, well, it’s a plethora. It’s a full spectrum from “what’s your favorite color” to “what makes you think devolution is real?” So it ranges from the mundane and silly to the really deep. Because we put something out there that was filled with substance and meaning, so it inspired a lot of people to think about. That’s all we were trying to do, ever.
Mothersbaugh: You know, I have to be honest with you. I think every band somehow deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And the reason I think it’s because what the music seems to do, most of the time — no matter what kind of band you’re in or what your ideas were, it’s like you’re fitting into life of someone at a time when they were like, “The world is crazy and I need something that makes sense.” And it could be Tom Petty and it could be DEVO. It could be any band, really.
I’m not saying that DEVO is exactly like all the other bands, because that’s not at all what I feel. I feel like we gave people more to think about than most bands in some ways. And we get slightly different fans. We bring in people who are interested in genetics or all kinds of things. They came into their lives because they were inspired by DEVO, which I love.
Casale: We had a huge contingent of nerds. People who were called nerds, who were labeled as nerds. So, yeah, we had people coming to our shows who were in law school, medical school, geologists, that sort of thing. We were a sort of haven for disenfranchised people in general.
We heard these stories all the time and got letters and postcards all the time, back when people sent letters and postcards, where it was like, “Guys, I got beaten up at because of you. I almost got killed because of you. Because they were wearing a DEVO shirt or dyed their hair pink around the edges or something and they were getting yelled at and the ubiquitous term for being different was “DEVO”.
When you get messages like that, does it feel good to be able to offer that kind of support to people?
Casale: I mean, yeah. We were sincere in what we were trying to do. So it’s great when you bond with a certain part of the population in your culture.
Do you feel like there were times over the last few decades where you felt like people understood better than others what DEVO meant?
Casale: I mean yes, that would be the case for everyone about everything, wouldn’t it.
Mothersbaugh: DEVO in England was different from DEVO in Europe and different from DEVO in the United States and South America, Australia and Japan. And at different times, people discovered us. Just the ways we presented in different areas, it was easier to understand in some places. And when we went to Japan, we felt like people had done their homework and were trying to figure out what we were talking about. It was interesting.
Casale: Every culture is different. And Japan is so serious that we thought they didn’t like us. We were at budokan, and we see thousands of people clapping politely and not moving in rhythm. Like, completely different behavior from an American audience. And we thought, “Oh my god, we’re bombing.” But they loved it! It’s just how they showed their appreciation.
Mothersbaugh: Oh yeah. But also, when we played “Come Back Johnny”, because they had watched a video of “Come Back Johnny” before going on stage, and they saw people invading the stage in the video, they fact. Run on stage. It was pretty good.
Hope this didn’t cause any serious problems.
Mothersbaugh: No. No, in fact, everything was very simple. They just stood there and jumped up and down until security dragged them off the stage one by one.
Casale: Very polite. Very polite people.
That’s wonderful. Regarding Rock Hall, I’m curious, were you able to see Dolly Parton’s response to her nomination this year?
Casale: Oh yeah.
Casale: I love Dolly Parton and I was glad she said what she said. Yeah. And the Rock Hall wouldn’t even let her withdraw. They wouldn’t let her!
Do you think she should have been allowed to?
Casale: Well, she’s the artist. Yeah! How are they responsible in his place? She’s awesome, and look at her career. My God.
Sure. I’m sorry, so you’re saying you think Dolly Parton should be nominated?
Casale: Well, oh, I see what you’re saying. We don’t make that decision. The Rock Hall truly recognizes all types of music. And “Rock and Roll” is a misnomer on some level. And, yeah, I mean Dolly Parton, why shouldn’t she be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? She really deserves to be.
DEVO over the years has occasionally rejected the rock and roll label.
Mothersbaugh: In specific senses, yeah. Rock and roll has a wide range of policies and there are many that we don’t adhere to and have never adhered to. Or feel like we had in common with the people who had those policies. So…
Casale: Yeah, that term just suggests a certain mindset that’s very limiting and mind-numbing. Compared to Kraftwerk, DEVO rocks really loud.