Devo set to whip up present from the past
Devo are making a comeback and plan to turn the journey into a musical.
THEIR cone-shaped hats, bizarre look and exhortations to ''whip it good'' are, for most, a distant 1980s memory. But Devo are not only into a comeback, they have something else planned: Devo - the musical.
''We're in the middle of working on it,'' the band's co-founder, Gerald Casale, says. ''We have it all laid out. We have the book, the libretto. Of course, we need start-up money and we're talking with investors.'' He hopes it will be staged on Broadway.
Devo returned from two decades off the radar with their trademarks: a robotic, techno-nerd aesthetic; a convulsive mix of new wave, punk and weirdness; and a bristling mockery of the world. In their heyday, like Kraftwerk, they seemed futuristic; today, they are from a distant past. ''That's fine with me because it's really a past that never happened,'' Casale says from his Los Angeles home.
''I think we're just contemporary. We're no longer ahead of our time. We're just part of our time.''
The time between those periods included a break-up and two decades without a new album.
Casale says Mark Mothersbaugh, his main collaborator in the band they co-founded as university art students in Ohio, opted out in about 1990 to write soundtracks for screen, leaving Devo ''dead in the water''. Casale moved into directing video clips, then commercials.
''It's disappointing,'' Casale, 63, says of the split. ''As an artist, I like doing what I'm doing. There was nothing else as important as Devo to me.''
He says Mothersbaugh's renewed interest in collaborating about five years ago led to 2010's Something For Everybody, their first album in 20 years.
Internal dynamics were bound to be tricky in a band with two sets of brothers - Gerald and Bob Casale, and Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. Casale, who plays bass and shares synthesisers and vocals, says: ''The brothers stick together. It's like Russia and the United States when they had mutually assured destruction - that's how the sets of brothers work.''
For their Australian shows, the four are together again (plus a drummer) for career-spanning sets. There will also be their only-half-joking contempt for the consumer-driven modern world.
Having derived Devo's name from their theory of ''devolution'' - that society had peaked and was going backwards - Casale says crisply: ''We don't think it's a theory; we think it came true … Technology has just allowed the devolution to accelerate.''
The band took its satire further on the comeback album, employing focus groups to determine its elements. Their aim: to underline how ''modern creativity is pretty much subjugated to corporate methodology''. One adopted recommendation was that the band's famed ''energy dome'' hats be changed from red to blue.
Casale says of the domes' origin: ''I wanted to make a hat out of this ceiling fixture that I used to look at in my school. I hated going to school every day. The nuns were horrible. I would look up at the ceiling … [The art deco fixtures] were made out of white milk-glass hangings with three chains. So I just imagined them turned around and made out of red plastic.''
Devo plays at the Palais Theatre on November 30 and at Day On The Green, Rochford Wines, Yarra Valley on December 1.