Hardcore Devo: Video and interview

Last summer, Devo played a handful of dates to the devoted in the USA, performing songs from their so-called ‘Hardcore’ era, the strange, mutated and twisted songs they wrote between 1974 and 1977 before they became a major label post-punk phenomenon.

The whole shebang was recorded and filmed in Oakland’s Fox Theatre towards the end of the tour for a Pledge Music-financed package which included options of a DVD and a double vinyl album, as well your trad CD and download options, which is seeing a general release on February 10th. The tour was dedicated to the memory of Devo founding member Bob Casale, who died suddenly in February as the tour was being finalised.

Electronic Sound was at the New York show, and to whet the appetite for the full release, here’s a little clip of Devo’s Boogie Boy performing ‘U Got Me Bugged’, we shot, and below that is an excerpt from the transcript from a fascinating discussion with Mark Mothersbaugh on Devo’s thinking behind those pre-record deal days.


“We thought what we were doing was an art movement, from the very beginning. We loved the idea that we had the missing link between Creationism and science, between religion and Darwin’s theory, ‘We have the missing link! De-evolution, it all comes together!’ I would start letting people from Jehovah’s Witnesses into my apartment because they brought along these pamphlets called ‘Awake!’ and ‘Watchtower’. One of their goals of these was to debunk the myth of evolution, so I got all this great devolutionary material off them. They would pick apart the laws of thermo-dynamics to prove that evolution was impossible. I liked all that stuff because we liked the idea of creating our own political/religious/art movement, that was on the surface nutty and crazy, but at the same time would plant these seeds in our artwork that would give people the chance to think,’Maybe MacDonald’s isn’t right, maybe because something’s being sold to me by a smiling person on television, maybe what I think is as valuable as what I’m being told.’

“So we were kind of this Devolutionary Army, we were called that for a while. As a matter of fact, I was at a guitar store and I found an old amp that I had stencilled the words ‘Devolutionary Army’ on to, back before we decided were Devo, when we had pared it down to a succinct four-letter word. I had to buy my amp back. I don’t know how it got away from me, but that stuff happens. We were Sextet Devo for a time because for our first performance we were snuck into a creative arts jazz festival in, I think, 1972, at Kent State, and so we called ourselves Sextet Devo and said we did ‘rhythmic para-mutations’, and then played for about 20 people at the beginning that turned out to be about eight by the time we had finished our set. I remember saying, ‘Well, there was art nouveau, there was art deco, now there’s art Devo’. We always called it De-vo [emphasis on the second syllable]. That changed when I found this pamphlet called ‘Jocko Homo’ which was this tirade against evolution, from the 1930s, back during the time when America was testing the legality of science, and whether science, or Darwin’s theories at least, be thrown out of public schools. This guy from Ohio called Reverend Shadduck, who was very creative, did a whole slew of pamphlets that were very clever. So I took that and combined it with the movie ‘Island of Lost Souls’, some of the imagery from it, and wrote the song ‘Jocko Homo’, and when we sang it, we sang ‘Are we not men? We are Devo!’, we sang it very hard like that, so the pronunciation changed early on in ’76, but it took us until 1980 until we ourselves finally gave up on De-vo. At first, we thought if we pronounced it in the French style, it’s more like ‘high’ Devo, like the beautiful mutants, then Devo, referred to the subhuman shadows that were lost in the jungle in ‘Island of Lost Souls’ that you saw being reflected in the flames when they burned down the House of Pain.

“I was just recently looking at some of my old notebooks, and I found these old writings about us not being the musicians in the band. We wanted to make the films, these re-education films, to alert everyone to the truth about De-evolution, and we were writing music and at the time I remember being very impressed by holograms, the really dangerous kind with lasers, but they were very powerful, and I thought, ‘Wow, between photography and motion picture was just a few years, so moving holograms are just around the corner, so for our live shows we won’t need humans any more, we’re just going to devise all this imagery, and when you go into a room it’s all three-dimensional, all around you, on top of you. We didn’t even want to go into theatres anymore. It took Radiohead to do what we had been talking about, which was to take a tent and going from location to location and having our own environment, so you wouldn’t be in the rock ‘n’ roll environment. We were trying as much as possible to disconnect from pop music and go more into this other art experience in our original concept. We thought that we were going to be so busy with our own Akron, Ohio version of Andy Warhol’s Factory which we were really impressed with; the idea of a think tank in Manhattan where the best artists would come and congregate and work with Andy Warhol and make films. We thought we would be more reflective of the people, it’ll be more middle America, and that it had all the hallmarks for having a worldwide base, because we represented the potatoes of the world, not the fancy vegetables, not the asparagus people, not the aristocrats of the vegetable kingdom, we were representing the dirty asymmetric tubers, that were often maligned, but everyone ate potatoes every day in America, so we felt like we had a broader appeal, and we thought we would have five or six bands if we were successful enough, and they could go out and do these theatre performances, that we wouldn’t have to be part of, we could just be the designers. You know, try pitching that to Warner Brothers in 1977, or even Richard Branson who paid lip service and got us to sign with Virgin just long enough so he could take all our publishing for perpetuity. Nobody could figure out what the hell what we were about back then.”