For decades, DEVO have been delivering singular music-based experiences along with their own catchy brand of electronically-influenced pop. Which is why the band’s third nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is potentially a huge opportunity for their legacy to be recognized by the industry — though as Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh tell Consequence, receiving the honor wouldn’t necessarily define DEVO as a rock and roll band.
While Casale and Mothersbaugh weren’t totally sure on the specifics of what might happen should they be inducted into Rock Hall, they were up for discussing several key moments in their career, including their favorite instances of their songs being used in film, 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 the time when they think MTV was actually “good” — which is far longer ago than you might think.
Thank you very much for joining me today. I just want to start off by asking, how are you feeling about this nomination this year? Congratulations, by the way.
Gerald Casale: Thanks. Well, it’s the third time. So, we’re hoping the cliché about the third time’s the charm is true.
Mark Mothersbaugh: Yeah, we’re tickled pink.
Casale: Not like the artist.
I’m sorry, what was that again?
Casale: Oh, Pink. Not the artist.
Oh, you are not the artist Pink.
Casale: We wouldn’t presume to tickle Pink. Especially in today’s environment.
Of course. When you found out 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 you did that you think you work really hard on and you put a lot of time and effort in it. And for somebody else to acknowledge that and to say it has some sort of value is nice.
Casale: That’s right.
When people talk to you about the impact of DEVO as a band, what do they talk about?
Casale: Oh, well, it’s a plethora. It’s a full spectrum of “what’s your favorite color” to “what makes you think devolution is real?” So, it goes from banal and silly to really deep. Because we did put something out there that was rife with substance and meanings, so it inspired a lot of people to think. Which is all we were trying to do, ever.
Mothersbaugh: You know, I gotta be honest with you. I think every band in some way deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And the reason why I think that is because what music seems to do, a lot of the time — it doesn’t matter what kind of band you are or what your ideas were, it’s like you fit into somebody’s life at a time when they were going, “The world’s totally crazy and I need something that makes sense.” And that could be Tom Petty and that could be DEVO. That could be any band, actually.
I’m not saying DEVO is exactly like every other band, because that is not at all how I feel. I feel like we gave people more to think about than most bands in some ways. And we do get slightly different fans. We get people who are into genetics or people into all sorts of things. They got into their life because of being inspired by DEVO, which I like.
Casale: We had a huge nerd contingent. People who were called nerds, who were labeled nerds. So, yeah, we had people coming to our concerts who were in law school, in medical school, geologists, that kind of thing. We represented some kind of haven for disenfranchised people in general.
We would hear these stories all the time and get letters and postcards all the time, back when people sent letters and postcards, where it’s like, “You guys, I got beat up because of you. I almost got murdered because of you.” Because they had a DEVO shirt on or they had dyed their hair pink at the edges or something and they got screamed at and the ubiquitous term for being different was “DEVO.”
When you get messages like that, do you feel good about being able to provide that kind of support for people?
Casale: Of course.
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 demographic in your culture.
Do you feel like there have been times, over the last few decades, where you felt like people understood what DEVO meant better than others?
Casale: I mean yeah, that would be the case with everybody about everything, wouldn’t it.
Mothersbaugh: DEVO in England was different than DEVO in Europe and different than DEVO in the US and South America and Australia and Japan. And at different times, people found out about us. Just the ways we were presenting in different areas, it was easier to understand in some places. And when we went to Japan, we felt like people had done homework and tried to figure out what we were talking about. That was interesting.
Casale: Each culture is different. And Japan is so serious, we thought they didn’t like us. We were at the budokan, and we’re looking at thousands of people clapping politely and not moving to the beat. Like, a completely different behavior than a US audience. And we though, “Oh my god, we’re bombing.” But they loved it! That’s just the way 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 we came on stage, and they saw people mobbing the stage in the video, they did it. Ran up on stage. It was pretty good.
That hopefully didn’t cause any serious problems.
Mothersbaugh: No. No, in fact it was all very tame. They just stood there and pogoed up and down until security took them one at a time off the stage.
Casale: Very polite. Very polite people.
That’s wonderful. In terms of talking about Rock Hall, I’m curious, did you get to see Dolly Parton’s response to being nominated 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 remove herself. They wouldn’t let her!
Do you feel like she should have been allowed to?
Casale: Well, she’s the artist. Yeah! How are they in charge instead of her? She’s great, and look at her career. My god.
Of course. I’m sorry, so are you saying that you feel like Dolly Parton should be nominated?
Casale: Well, oh, I see what you’re saying. We don’t make that determination. The Rock Hall is really recognizing 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, at times, rejected the label of rock and roll.
Mothersbaugh: In specific senses, yeah. Rock and roll has a wide range of politics and there’s a lot of it we don’t and never did adhere to. Or feel like we had in common with the people that had those politics. So…
Casale: Yeah, that term just suggests a certain mentality that is very limiting and stultifying. Compared to Kraftwerk, DEVO rocks really hard.