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Devo and the focus-grouped comeback album


Monday night, Devo will publicly launch the marketing campaign for its forthcoming album -- its first in 20 years -- when the Los Angeles-via-Ohio band performs at the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. With the release of the album not due until the spring, the Olympics appearance won't be the grand unveiling of new material, which principal Gerald Casale promises will occur at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. But if all goes according to plan, the path leading up to the final product may make for a better story, anyway. 

Casale speaks of Devo's May release, which the band has narrowed down to three possible titles, as somewhat of a formality. It's one aspect of a recently signed all-encompassing merch, music and tour record deal with Warner Bros., but the forthcoming album isn't necessarily the centerpiece.

"People still do that," Casale said of releasing a new CD. "We don’t feel it’s very important. I don’t know how many people buy CDs. When you look at the number of downloads Lady Gaga had compared to hard physical product, it’s 100,000 to one. That’s the way people get their music. This idea of the precious order of a 12-song CD is passe. It’s over. People go and get what they want off the Internet and the put it on their iPod and shuffle it."

That's one reason why Casale said the band won't be making the final decision on the songs and track-listing for its upcoming album. Instead, he said, the band will trust the consensus reached by those polled by an advertising agency. Casale said the new-wave pioneers have retained a company called Mother L.A. and that the firm will present focus groups with multiple mixes of new songs.

"It’s an art experiment," Casale said. "The experiment is the business of art. It’s always there, but nobody ever talks about it."

Of course, Devo has championed the theatricality in marketing for much of its career, making it a sort of mission statement. When the famously red-domed band released its first single in 17 years in 2007, it did so via a Dell commercial, and the band's Mark Mothersbaugh, via his Mutato Muzika company, has long celebrated the art of advertising, having scored numerous commercials.

If Devo would seem to have a handle on anything, marketing would appear to be at the top of the list. "It’s just fun, to use business as part of the creative process, even if it’s satirical," Casale said. "Devo is just real now. Devo is not ahead of its time. Devo is not scary or shocking. ... We’re the house band on the Titanic, and we’re here to entertain as we all go down."

Mother L.A. is unlisted, and the company's website is full of generic stock photos. Devo is the only client named on the firm's roster, and Casale declined to answer how fans who want to take part in the focus groups would go about such a task. To further interject an air of cynicism here, the L.A. Weekly has already revealed that Mutato has some ad agency vets in its ranks. A Warner Bros. spokesman promised that the label is indeed working with an advertising firm named Mother L.A. on the album 

In response to our skepticism, Casale said it will all eventually be made available for viewing. The alternate takes of each song, Casale said, will likely make their way to release as well. "We’ll put this on YouTube, so people will see what happened, and then we’ll also put out bonus tracks of the non-focus-group-approved music," he said.

"For anyone who is interested, we’d like to let them examine this as an open book," he continued. "Here’s our first demos, and here’s the songs that never reached anybody, and here’s the ones the focus group didn’t like."

As for the music, Devo worked with an assortment of name producers on the new material. Santigold, the Dust Brothers' John King, and the Bird and the Bee's Greg Kurstin are among the artists who contributed. With Devo's dance-informed-rock having come in vogue again, Casale said the members wanted to go to those who point to the band as influence, intending to find out what "their idea of Devo was."

"When we were new, we were shocking and so different, only we owned that aesthetic," Casale said. "Now a lot of bands cite Devo as their influence. A lot of music sounds like Devo, especially a lot of the new music from groups like the Ting Tings, the Kills, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip. We love that stuff. It sounds like the kind of energy we had in the beginning."

It was Kurstin, who recently produced Lily Allen's "It's Not Me, It's You," who brought the biggest changes to Devo's sound. "In terms of surprise factor, Greg Kurstin was the most transformative," Casale said. "He brought a kind of sparkle to the sound itself. It still sounds like Devo, but it sounds very contemporary."

Yet in terms of what to expect, Casale isn't completely tipping his hand, although longtime fans may find some changes shocking. When the act performs Monday night at the Olympics, for instance, its headgear is expected to be blue.

"You couldn’t get more of a broad-spectrum audience than the Olympics," Casale said. "People aren’t there to see Devo; they’re there to experience the Olympics. It’s like a cold call in business. They’re not there to cheer for you."

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Screenshot of Devo's new website.


Mark Mothersbaugh sets the record straight on the new Devo album -- and also makes rugs

Comments () | Archives (17)

Are we not men?
No: We've turned into corporate pink boys.
Devo has deviated from the main path of DeEVOlution. This makes Booji sad. Be stiff all....

We – Americans – are such cultureless losers. What a waste of carbon life forms. Again, I am talking about all of us. May we R.I.P.

time-tested and true
you gotta pooty poo-poo

Shrivel UP!

We're going to work now!

The best band ever plays the Olympics!!! Fantasitc!

When are they gonna be on tonight?

You could at least have put that in the article!!

I guess we all need to make a living, but how depressing!

Devo is working everyone yet again. Classic!

Mother L.A. might have a messed up looking website, but its just being cheeky. Its part of a major ad agency that does huge amazing productions.... http://www.mothernewyork.com/

Devo is the best! KROQ played them way back in the day when they were breaking ground. Too bad KROQ is crap today. System of a Down? Korn? Linkin Park? Really, KROQ? Shame on you. I miss Indie 103.1 already.

I'm probably over-analyzing, but isn't DEVO, by going back with the whole corporate team like they had in the 70s (see their film "The Men Who Make the Music, with Devo Inc. and Big Entertainment) but instead of rebelling against it is now "embracing" it just proving to us that De-evolution is real? They've devolved into embracing the business side of arts. It's satirical, of course, 'cause it's DEVO. I think it's pretty cool.

I'm looking forward to the show tonight and for the new album to come out in the Spring. I hope some of the newer songs I've heard lately are going to be on it (Check out "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)" and "Fresh" on YouTube)

Duty Now!

Spud Boys Unite!

This is great. CBS had The Who during the Superbowl, now NBC is going to have Devo at the closing Olympics. Someone needs to be replaced with someone more hippier and younger in the entertainment department. I already had a boring superbowl halftime, now I am going to have an more boring closing Olympics. I dont want to watch a bunch of old men trying to play techno. As the kids would say "epic fail". I blame Canada.


Um, why is it everytime I see a mention of Greg Kurstin, they fail to mention the defining decade of his music career, being in Geggy-Tah, the band championed by David Byrne? Weird.

Mendy Spencer : The best band indeed!

Green will be more effective. :D

What is the meaning of Devo ?Whatever it is goodluck to your launching guys!

DEvo u r the best keep up the good work


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