One of new wave's most innovative and successful bands, Devo, was also perhaps one of its most misunderstood. Formed in Akron, OH, in 1974 by Kent State art students Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo took its name from their concept of "de-evolution" - the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. Their music echoed this view of society as rigid, repressive, and mechanical, with appropriate touches -- jerky, robotic rhythms; an obsession with technology and electronics (the group was among the first non-prog rock bands to make the synthesizer a core element); often atonal melodies and chord progressions - all of which were filtered through the perspectives of geeky misfits. Devo became a cult sensation, helped in part by their concurrent emphasis on highly stylized visuals and groundbreaking music videos directed by Gerald Casale.
Devo's big break came with its score for the short film in which they starred, The Truth About De-Evolution, which won a prize at the 1976 Ann Arbor Film Festival. When the film was seen by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, they were impressed enough to secure the group a contract with Warner Bros. Recorded under the auspices of pioneering producer Brian Eno, 1978's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was seen as a call to arms by some and became an underground hit. Others found Devo's sound, imagery, and material threatening; Rolling Stone, for example, called the group fascists. But such criticism missed the point: Devo dramatized conformity, emotional repression, and dehumanization in order to attack them, not to pay tribute to them. While 1979's Duty Now for the Future was another strong effort, the band broke through to the mainstream with 1980's Freedom of Choice, which contained the gold-selling single "Whip It" and represented a peak in their songwriting. The video for "Whip It" became an MTV smash, juxtaposing the band's low-budget futuristic look against a down-home farm setting and hints of S&M.
DEVO's next two albums, New Traditionalists and Oh NO It's DEVO! and continued their 1980's decade world touring success accompanied by the hit songs, "Beautiful World" and "That's Good" respectively. Shout was released in 1983, and Total Devo in 1988, followed by a live album titled Now It Can Be Told: DEVO Live at The Palace in 1989. Devo's last studio album release was Smooth Noodle Maps in 1990, which was followed by a few Hardcore Devo era compilations which showcased Devo's early minimalist 1970's recordings.
Around this time, Devo's members began to concentrate on other projects. Mark Mothersbaugh moved into composing for commercials and soundtracks, writing theme music for MTV's Liquid Television, Nickelodeon's Rugrats, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and the Jonathan Winters sitcom Davis Rules. He also played keyboards with the Rolling Stones, programmed synthesizers for Sheena Easton, and sang backup with Debbie Harry. Buoyed by this success, Mothersbaugh opened a profitable production company called Mutato Muzika, which employed his fellow Devo bandmates. Gerald Casale, meanwhile, who directed most of the band's videos, directed video clips for the Foo Fighters' "I'll Stick Around" and Soundgarden's "Blow Up the Outside World” among 80 video's in all before moving on to a successful commercial career in 1997.
As Devo's legend grew and other bands acknowledged their influence (Nirvana covered "Turnaround," while "Girl U Want" has been recorded by Soundgarden, Superchunk, and even Robert Palmer), their minimalistic electro-pop was finally given new exposure on four dates of the 1996 Lollapalooza tour, and six dates on the 1997 Lollapalooza tour, both to enthusiastic fan response. That lead to annual touring a nd other conceptual projects such as a CD-ROM game (The Adventures of the Smart Patrol) and accompanying music soundtrack. 2000 saw the release of a pair of double-disc Devo anthologies: the first was the half-hits/half-rarities Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology (on Rhino), while the second was the limited-edition mail-order release Recombo DNA (on Rhino's Handmade label), the latter of which was comprised solely of previously unreleased demos.
Today, DEVO COMMUNICATIONS (DEVOCOM), is the umbrella under which Mark and Gerald return to their most conceptual roots as a virtual agency hatching ideas and projects from the ground up demonstrating a devolved slant on contemporary product branding.
Adapted from: Steve Huey & Greg Prato/All Music Guide