Sound Q&A: Dell Goes Devo

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It's been 17 years since the world last heard a new Devo record. Now, thanks to the creative minds at Mother, the band has a new song, "Watch Us Work It," brought to you by Dell's "Engine." Founding Devo member and commercials director Gerry Casale talks about getting the band back together and why the Devo philosophy was right all along.

Was this song written especially for the spot?
Gerry Casale: It was already a piece of music, not as developed as it is now, with some lyrics. I played about four or five songs for Paul Malmstrom; we had talked about [music producers] the Teddy Bears for a while because I really like their stuff and I had met those two guys in L.A. So Paul said, "How would you like the idea of working with them and having them produce the song?" Great. So between Paul, the Teddy Bears and me, they picked this one. We worked on it some more, the Teddy Bears did a rough mutation of it and we sent it to Dell and they liked it. It was actually a really nice process. It went really easy and logically, which nothing ever does, so it was great.

Has the response to this new song catalyzed the collaboration process with Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh and the rest of the band?
Yeah, I think that positive reaction definitely has waylaid some of Mark's misgivings. The fact that so many people were calling us up over one little song and proposing things—he was surprised at the level of interest there. Especially if you do nothing for 17 years, you'd think people would finally go, "Well, screw those guys, if they're not interested in themselves then we're not interested in them either." But he's been more excited about writing songs with Devo than ever in the recent past.

Mothersbaugh has talked about finding the right distribution for a new album.
Innovative forms of how you get your music and what devices you get it on is what we've always been interested in. It's very tough to be a new artist today. I think the only reason Devo got a chance is that we survived iconically as a brand. We're synonymous with a certain cultural turning point. If you were different or an outsider, they'd call you "devo" before they beat you up, but now it's OK. So we somehow survived. What record companies should be now is like Mother, a marketing/advertising entity, but they're not good at it like Mother is. But why not? The line should be blurred, it could be fun. I know Dell didn't want to be "in the music business," but we could've made a full-length video available with footage of the commercial and they could've participated in the revenue. We don't even have a label. The licensing rights are up for grabs.

What are your goals for the new material?
Well, the world being the way it is, being more devolved than ever and stranger than ever, there's a place for Devo. You need to come out and say things again, you need to throw around some missives and manifestos. So I think that if there's somebody with something to say like Devo, it's now or never.

Do you think other groups, Devo's contemporaries, would have served the music better to have been more open to these sorts of projects, as opposed to being really strident about not "selling out"?
The short answer is yes. But the Devo aesthetic is skewed from these normal, duplicitous contradictions that people create about the artist selling out. I mean, I remember when Rolling Stone magazine considered it a "sellout" to sell T-shirts at a rock concert. Now if you don't have the whole merchandising angle, the club, the videos, you're considered an idiot. We live in a world that's so different from the world where those dichotomies were introduced that it's irrelevant. And the world is devo. Devolution is real. It really all happened.
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