Casale v. Casale: A one-on-one interview with the co-founder of “one-hit wonder” band DEVO

By on August 14, 2017

Devo’s Jerry Casale — “the founder of the one-hit wonder band DEVO” — recently sat down to do a candid and unique one-on-one interview with DEVO bass player/vocalist Gerald V. Casale. We’ve included this fascinating chat between Jerry and Gerald in our Devo-related collection, which you’ll find streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

When David Byrne did a series of similar onscreen interviews years ago, during the promotion of Stop Making Sense, he said interviewing himself felt like “’60 Minutes’ on acid.”

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We’re not sure if Jerry/Gerald would say they had the same type of out-of-body drug-like experience when they did their interview, because both men seem rather lucid and are brutally honest with each other (perhaps they both had a shot of sodium pentothal or some other kind of truth serum?).

Read more about the Casale v. Casale interview below.

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Jerry comes off as a cynical straight man who asks his more famous counterpart Gerald to explain the meaning of nearly everything in the Devo world, beginning with DEVO’s flowerpot ziggurat-shaped hats, which we learn are actually “energy domes” (we mentioned in an earlier DEVO post that they were initially inspired by Mayan and Aztec pyramids, although more accurately they look like the Waldviertel Pyramid, in Waldviertel, Austria).

We’re told that the inspiration for the red hats (created during the band’s Freedom of Choice era circa 1980) was “an art deco lighting fixture that hung from the ceiling in my grade school.”

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Gerald speaks at length about the origins of DEVO at Kent State University with his good friend Bob Lewis (Gerald calls the English lit major/poet a “braniac kind of guy”), and how he met future bandmate Mark Mothersbaugh after seeing Mothersbaugh’s stickered decals stuck on the trophy cases in the halls of the school, showing “cows with big udders, or men puking on the moon.”

Casale: “He wasn’t really a student at Kent State, he was, like, cherry-picking art classes, and he lived in Akron. So, he was coming in and then leaving at night, so I never saw him. I found out where he was, and met him, and we really hit it off. He liked my art, and I liked his art He didn’t think much of the music I was making — I was playing American roots blues, he was playing some horrible copy-band version of prog-rock, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer — and we eventually agreed that we’d be artists making music and throw out everything derivative, everything unoriginal, every cover band that we were doing, and we’d start clean and fresh from tabula rasa, and make it minimal.”

Jerry — the snarkier of the two, seated on the left — then says: “Boy, it sounds like a love story.”

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We learn how the “hideous dysfunction” of De-Evolution came about after the horrible Kent State Massacre, which we told you about in this previous post featuring Gerald’s memories about May 4, 1970:

“After those killings at Kent State and the clampdown from the Nixon administration, you either had to go underground and stick to activism and possibly go to jail or be killed, or find a more creative and subversive way of reacting to the situation you found yourself in in the horrible culture.”

Gerald also tells Jerry that “I thought that I could be a kind of a politician, and be in a band, because DEVO was much more than a band. DEVO was a big idea. DEVO was an alternative worldview, and we could branch out and we could diversify. We could do films, you know, we could put on performance art pieces, we could start a TV channel, a magazine.”

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Gerald also tells Jerry that the lyrical inspiration for the band’s hit song “Whip It” came from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, while the music was itself appropriated (perhaps even stolen) from Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” after Mothersbaugh added a two-beat space to that song’s main riff.

Gerald also tells Jerry, “Today, ‘Whip It’ could never be made in the first place. It would never be accepted, because it would be reviled as racist, sexist, anti-American.”

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He talks fondly of the days when all four members contributed to the band’s sound:

“We really got off on quack religious pamphlets, TV commercials, TV evangelists. We were drawing from all that, but of course the other end of it was we were big proponents of the philosophy that came from the Bauhaus, and the early 20th Century Europeans, Russian constructivists, Italian futurists, and ‘form follows function’, and no design should be for itself and spurious, there had to be a reason.”

When Gerald is asked if the band would have played president Donald Trump’s inauguration, had Trump invited them, he says:

“Absolutely… It’d be the concert of a lifetime… it could be a feather in the cap… it would be the proof of De-evolution.”

Gerald also tells Jerry that he could see a baby DEVO band on the horizon:

“I could see, in about fifteen years, a band of children who were products of the ZIKA virus becoming a DEVO cover band.”

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Tom Dixon

It’s revealed at the end of this unique 19-minute interview — billed as “Conversations with Jerry Casale & Gerald V. Casale” — that this presentation was recently part of eclectic British industrial designer Tom Dixon’s “Conversational Film Series,” originally created for IKEAS’s Multiplex cinema, which were screened during Milan Design Week 2017, back in April of this year.

Here’s Tom Dixon’s own interview with Swedish designer Marcus Engman, the head of design for IKEA.

This new Casale v. Casale interview joins our already excellent curated selection of Devo-related titles, which you’ll find streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.