Devo has never been short on ideas. When Gerald Casale, a founding member of the band that earned international fame with the 1980 New Wave hit “Whip It,” talks about the future of the band, he has several aspirations, from staging a musical to developing complex applications to let users put themselves into video games based on the band’s songs.While cost and feasibility are sometimes barriers, the band still pushes the outer boundary of “could” into “can,” now nearly 40 years after its inception.
Take “What We Do” from their most recent album and its video – video using the term loosely, as the end result is a fully interactive melding of various vignettes (like competitive hot dog eaters chowing down and tattooed arm wrestlers battling) set to the song that allows the viewer to zoom, pan, and generally move around a 360-degree created virtual space.
The project comes from the band’s latest album, 2010’s Something for Everybody, part of a tongue-in-cheek promotional effort in which the band focus-grouped and polled its potential audience (and determined that the classic red Energy Dome hats that became cultural icons after the “Whip It” video would be more marketable if they were blue instead).
“An artist who usually works solo, without any input from society, just bursts upon the scene and says ‘here’s what I did, take it or leave it,'” Casale said. “We’ve done that, so we thought it would be fun to experiment with the art of marketing.”
With Something for Everybody, the band ended a 20-year absence from the recording studio.
“It was really a question of now or never,” Casale said of releasing an album after the break. “We’re senior citizens.” He added that the positive response from a Dell laptop ad that group members worked on helped to push them in that direction.
Devo will take the stage at the State Theatre Thursday, playing tracks from the new album in what Casale says will be a catalog-spanning show sure to feature some Devo classics.
The band members, known for memorable stage-wear that had included disposable janitorial supply suits and garbage bags, will be donning action-wear like uniforms which Casale, 63, calls “age appropriate.” Wearing suits – made with titanium-woven fabric that reflects so much light when photographed that it obscures the wearer – and masks that shield half the face “was an attempt to push the art collective idea and make us look all similar,” Casale said.
“We needed to find a visual expression for our unique point of view,” Casale said of the role costumes have played in Devo shows. “You have to find ways to communicate what you are thinking that are immediate. You can’t walk around with a philosophy.”
When the band was founded that philosophy to communicate was devolution, the idea that society was not advancing, but was instead falling back and falling apart. Abbreviated to Devo, it became the name of that project that brought three students from Kent State University together in 1973, in the wake of the May 1970 Kent State shootings – when national guardsmen fired on unarmed student protestors, killing four.
“[Devolution] was a kind of cheeky, offhanded observation at the time that we found somewhat humorous and in retrospect, it’s not funny at all,” Casale said, looking back at the concept that generated the band, now several decades away. “Certainly in that amount of time, very serious, scholarly people have basically broached the same subject, in a very thorough, analytical way.”
Though members of Devo are credited as early music video trailblazers, and the band enjoys a devoted cult following of “spuds,” “Whip It” would be the band’s only hit single, climbing to #14 on the Billboard charts.
“Our accomplishments and contributions are marginalized and trivialized,” Casale said, adding that respect has come by way of scholarship in the New Wave genre that mainstream media would not give.
But will Devo find its place in the history books?
“It depends on which history prevails,” Casale said.
• For more information about Devo, visit clubdevo.com.