Devo (pronounced DEE-vo (IPA: [[Help:pronunciation|/'diːvoʊ/]]) or dee-VO (IPA: [[Help:pronunciation|/diː'voʊ/]]), often spelled "DEVO" or "DEV-O") is an American New Wave music group formed in Akron, Ohio in 1973. They are best known for their 1980 hit "Whip It", which made it to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Their style has been variously classified as punk, art rock and post-punk, but they are most often remembered for their late 1970s and early 1980s New Wave sound which, along with others (such as Gary Numan, Peter Gabriel, and The B-52's) ushered in the synth pop sound of the 1980s.
Devo's music and stage show mingle kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor, and mordantly satirical social commentary via sometimes-discordant pop songs that often feature unusual synthetic instrumentation and time signatures, and their work has proved hugely influential on subsequent popular music, particularly New Wave and alternative rock artists.
Devo was also a pioneer of the music video, creating many memorable clips that were popular in the early days of MTV, although their use of the video medium dates right back to their very first appearance on stage at Kent State University in 1973, which was recorded with an early black-and-white portable video system.
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 De-evolution. This lineup only performed 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.
Devo later formed as a quartet focusing around Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale. They recruited Mark's brothers Bob Mothersbaugh and Jim Mothersbaugh. Bob played electric guitar, and Jim provided percussion using a set of homemade electronic drums. This lineup of Devo lasted until 1976 when Jim left the band. The lineup was occasionally fluid, and 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 in Alan Myers, who played a conventional, acoustic drum set with mechanical precision. Casale re-recruited his brother Bob Casale, and the popular line-up of Devo was formed. It would endure for nearly ten years.
The band followed up with Duty Now for the Future in 1979. During this period, Lewis successfully sued the band for theft of intellectual property. Devo gained a new level of visibility with 1980's Freedom of Choice which included their best-known hit, "Whip It", which immediately became a Top 40 hit.
Although they started out with a mixture of traditional rock instruments and electronic effects, during the early 1980s Devo adopted mostly or entirely synthetic instrumentation, becoming one of the first American acts to perform on stage using only synthesizers (except for Bob #1 on guitar); they were also one of the first groups in the world to regularly use radio microphones and wireless guitar amplifiers on stage.
Devo actively embraced the 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.
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 garbagepersons." The band members were asked to write their own parts and Mark Mothersbaugh scored and recorded much of the soundtrack, his first of many.
Devo remained popular in countries such as 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), one of the first rock stations outside America to play their recordings. The late-night music program Nightmoves aired The Truth About De-Evolution. This paid off, as in August 1981, they found commercial success in Australia when their Devo Live E.P. spent 3 weeks at the top of the Australian charts. Later in the year, they came out to Australia and appeared on the TV show Countdown
During the 1980s, Devo produced the albums New Traditionalists (1981), Oh, No! It's Devo (1982), Shout (1984), to diminishing commercial returns and critical success, though they managed to be a successful live band during this time. Following the commercial failure of Shout, Warner Bros. dropped Devo from their label. Shortly after, claiming to feel creatively uninspired, Alan Myers left the band. Devo went on hiatus for two years.
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.
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.
1990 saw the release of Smooth Noodle Maps, which would be the last Devo album. It, too, was not a commercial success. Devo launched a European concert tour, but poor ticket sales caused it to be ended early. The band had a falling out soon after, though played one show in 1991 before breaking up. Posthumously, 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.
Mark Mothersbaugh started Mutato Muzika, a commercial music production studio, taking with him Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale. The former works as a composer, and the latter as a recording engineer. David Kendrick also worked for Tom Molloy for a short period of time. Mark has 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).
Gerald Casale began a career as a director of music videos and commercials. He has worked with bands including Rush, Silverchair, and the Foo Fighters. Also, in the wake of Devo's demise, 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 of the band in concert has surfaced.
Though Devo has not released a new album, officially, the band has recorded a number of songs for various films since their reunion, including a cover of the Nine Inch Nails hit, "Head Like a Hole" for the film Supercop. In 2001, members of Devo formed the surf band The Wipeouters, describing it as a reunion of the first garage band they started while in their early teens. Devo also has used their music in advertising. Recently Devo recorded a new version of "Whip It" to be used in Swiffer television commercials, a decision they have said they regret. 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."
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 12 September 2006 after a several-month delay. It features mostly new material, plus re-recordings of four very 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 toured from August 2006 through November 2006. The first date of their UK tour was at the Brighton Dome in East Sussex on June 18, 2007, two days after their appearance in Barcelona and saw the return of Booji Boy singing "Beautiful World" in the final song of the encore. Further UK dates include shows in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow. The band's European tour also includes Dublin, Ireland and Bergamo and Azzano Decimo, Italy.
In an April 2007 interview, Gerald Casale mentioned an upcoming project for a movie about Devo's early days. A script is supposedly being developed, tentatively called The Beginning Was the End, though the production hasn't been confirmed yet. Casale also stated that there may be some new Devo material as well, but whether this is related to the release of a movie or not is unclear.
In 2007, Devo recorded a new song titled "Watch Us Work It," which was featured in a commercial for Dell. The song features a sample drum track from the song "The Super Thing" off of their 1981 album New Traditionalists. The band has announced in a July 23, 2007, MySpace bulletin that a full length music video for the song is forthcoming, and the song itself is now 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 is the closest the band has been to a new album. 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 have been rerecorded exclusively for Rock Band.
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 a recent interview , Mothersbaugh revealed a song title from the in-progress album: Don't Shoot, I'm a Man. However, 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 continues to tour. The group has confirmed tour dates in the United States, Japan, Australia, France, and Spain for the summer of 2008. They also recently remixed a song by Datarock, "Computer Camp", which can be heard on the band's MySpace page. Datarock routinely cites Devo as an influence. 2008 also saw a Japan exclusive box set containing the band's first six albums, This is the Devo Box. In October of 2008, Devo announced a special concert, their first in Akron since 1977, to promote Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Mark Mothersbaugh also donned a baby mask to create his famous alter-ego, Booji Boy (pronounced "Boogie Boy"), said by some to symbolize the infantile regression that Devo saw in American culture. The character featured in many stage performances and video clips, as did Booji Boy's father, General Boy (played by Mothersbaugh's father Robert Mothersbaugh, Sr.), who satirized American authority figures. In videos the entire band has appeared wearing mutant masks. In a scene from Human Highway during the performance of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" the Bobs and Gerald Casale wear rubber quiffs. For their performance at the 1996 Sundance Festival, they wore black-and-white-striped prisoners' uniforms. At one point in the show, they also appeared in gigantic diapers. They reached into their diapers and hurled a brown substance (possibly homemade brownies) into the audience. In their more recent shows, they have returned to the hazmat outfits and energy domes of their earliest days.
Devo was a pioneer of the music video, thanks in part to their frequent early collaborator, director Chuck Statler. The video for "Whip It" became an early staple of MTV, and their many promotional films and video clips are important landmarks in the development of this genre. They also pioneered the use of long-form promotional video cassettes with releases such as The Complete Truth About De-Evolution and The Men Who Make the Music, which mixed self-produced conceptual video clips with live performance footage and mockumentary segments. In many videos, Devo created a "plastic reality" with original characters, serving as parodies of real-life counterparts. Devo created and directed many of their own videos, and the band has cited the video for the song "Beautiful World" as their favorite example of their video work. The video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's Devo tribute song, "Dare to Be Stupid", consists of elements inspired by, and directly parodying, various Devo videos (in VH1's Behind the Music episode about Yankovic, Mothersbaugh expressed admiration and envy of Yankovic's talents).
Some hear influences from Krautrock in Devo's music, such as Neu!, Can and the production work of Conny Plank. Other influences are said to include American rock iconoclasts Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and the Residents. Gerald Casale was strongly influenced by American blues music, while Mark Mothersbaugh has cited electronic music pioneers Raymond Scott and Tonto's Expanding Head Band as influences and personal heroes. Devo were one of the first American groups to use the services of noted British producer, musician and artist Brian Eno, who produced several landmark New Wave (music) groups including Talking Heads and Ultravox. Devo have covered songs by The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Nine Inch Nails, Lee Dorsey, Bonnie Dobson, Tom Glazer, and Larry Parks. They have appropriated melodies from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Raymond Scott. A cover, recorded in 1990, of Devo's "Turnaround" was released on Nirvana's compilation collection, Incesticide. Fellow Seattleites Soundgarden recorded a cover of "Girl U Want" for the bonus disc that accompanied the Grammy-nominated Badmotorfinger in 1991, while Seattle band Harvey Danger covered "Beautiful World". In 2007, the French electronic duo Justice sampled the intro to "Jocko Homo"'s video in their song "Stress".
In the liner notes of their Greatest Hits album, there is a transcript of a late '70s interview in which the band describes their music as "industrial", underscoring the dehumanization (devolution) of their art. Their extensive mechanization of popular music through synthesizers helped to inspire the more modern industrial pop acts of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In June 2008 McDonalds 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 stated legal action against McDonalds was being initiated 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 email" from a colleague of the band's attorney that suggested the issue was "amicably resolved".
| Sextet Devo |
The Sextet Devo performed only once in 1973 at the Kent State Performing Arts festival
| Classic Line Up |
| Enigma Records |
David Kendrick performs with Devo when Josh Freese is unavailable, such as on the 2003 shows in Japan. Neil Taylor, Devo's drum technician also performs when Freese is unavailable, such as the 2008 Macworld show and the 2008 Australian Tour.