Devo's lessons learned from a focus group: Don't give the kids a ballad
New Wave survivor Devo wanted its comeback album to be decided by a committee of sorts. The plan, outlined principal Gerald Casale, was to have fans choose the track list, allowing them to hear and vote on multiple takes of numerous songs.
Ultimately, as Devo unveiled the results of its online "song study" today, compromises were made. Working in conjunction with advertising agency Mother, Devo offered fans 30-second snippets of about 17 tracks, and fan voting narrowed down the band's June album, "Something for Everybody," to 12 songs. Yet with participants hearing just a brief sample of a song, couldn't the study have been manipulated in Devo's favor, giving fans only the most optimal 30 seconds?
Yes, admits Casale. But with about 40,000 participants streaming the songs online, Casale said Warner Bros. put a stop to giving fans access to full tracks. "In the end, among the corporate partners, the decision was made to limit the songs to 30-second snippets," he said. "Ideally, there would be a longer piece of the song so you get a better idea of the context. There’s definitely a lot of potential flaws in this methodology. We understand that. Yet it’s a little better than a radio call-out, where they do about 10 or 15 seconds and decide if that song could ever be on the radio."
Casale said the Los Angeles-via-Ohio band, which recently appeared at Coachella and is booked for KROQ's Weenie Roast on June 5, is largely in agreement with the songs chosen by fans. He said, however, that Warners nixed giving fans alternate tacks of each song, fearing it would be "too complicated." Yet the final track list contains the 2007 single "Watch Us Work It," as well as such songs as "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)" and "Fresh," which the band has been performing live since early 2009.
So where did fans and band differ?
"The focus group did not like our ballad ‘No Place Like Home’," Casale said. "That could be because of the methodology. If you take a song that’s more complex and doesn’t slap you in the face in the chorus, you could be getting a skewed result, because of the piece that people heard. It’s much easier for someone to get into something with a simple hook. That song got the lowest votes."
Die-hard Devo fans may be disappointed to learn that what Casale described as perhaps the weirdest of the new songs was voted off the album. The cut is called "Cameo," and Casale described it thusly: "It was a funny, quirky Devo song, in the tradition of our weirder stuff. It was about a vengeful martial-arts instructor, an American Indian. I love that song. The focus group, however, said no."
Yet to fully maximize the marketing plan, Casale notes that all the tracks will eventually be released. "Given the marketplace and the merciful demands for alternate packages and bonus tracks, they will all make their way out there. But the focus group-approved 12-song package? It will not be on there," he said.
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 back in vogue, Casale had earlier said the members wanted to go to those who point to the band as an influence, intending to find out what "their idea of Devo was."
-- Todd Martens
Photo: Devo performs at this year's Coachella. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
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