Category: Devo

Josh Freese celebrates 'My New Friends' with songs generated by zany marketing campaign

Josh Freese 2011-Kirk McKoy
Josh Freese is back with a new record, but this time he’s not planning to let fans come rummage through his wardrobe to promote it.

The versatile musician, who is practically a one-man band on his new EP, “My New Friends,” became a virtual one-man, new-model army to combat the music business’s ills with a wildly inventive, and remarkably successful, self-generated marketing and promotion campaign for his 2009 album, “Since 1972.”

You may recall that one because the Long Beach drummer par excellence for Nine Inch Nails, Devo, Weezer, the Vandals and A Perfect Circle and the in-studio go-to guy for countless other bands and solo artists (has any other musician on the planet recorded with Trent Reznor, Mark Mothersbaugh and Michael Buble?) cooked up a wacky multitiered marketing scheme to sell his self-produced album.

The offers ran from the ordinary ($15 for a CD and a download) to the nutty ($2,500 for a drum lesson or a foot massage, a visit to the Wax Museum with a member of the Vandals or Devo and your choice of three clothing items from his closet) to the truly ridiculous (a $75,000 package for which Freese promised to write and record a five-song EP about the buyer, join the buyer’s band — if he or she had one — and tour with it, then take him or her to a flying trapeze lesson with his former NIN bandmate Robin Finck).

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Devo's lessons learned from a focus group: Don't give the kids a ballad

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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?

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Devo and the focus-grouped comeback album

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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."

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