On May 18, Devo Inc. held a live streaming press conference to announce the results of its months-long Song Study, an online survey to rank the general public's preference of 16 tracks it previewed for them. "As COO of Devo Inc.," grey-suited executive Greg Scholl said, "it is an honor and a privilege to share this special moment with all of you."
A new camera angle revealed that "all of you" consisted of a photographer, an elderly woman in a tracksuit, a groping couple and a dude standing at the back with a beach cruiser. Scholl directed their attention to a monitor where "representatives from our musical division," Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, would analyze "the data that would determine the 12 songs and song order of Devo's new commercial album." "The results," Mothersbaugh said, "are right here on the back of this stuffed wallaby."
While the presentation was an absurd parody of corporate communications stagecraft, the announced methods and results were real: The 12 songs that earned the most votes are now the confirmed track list of "Something for Everybody," the first studio album in 20 years for the art rock iconoclasts, due June 15 on Warner Bros.
The album's title is far more than a catchphrase-it's the core philosophy of the band's sardonic-yet-dead-serious campaign, developed with the advertising agency Mother, to reintroduce its sensibility and music to the masses. The Song Study was only one crowd-sourced element of the effort; other online surveys included a Color Study that ultimately changed Devo's iconic red "energy dome" hats to blue, simply because more people preferred it.
"Devo already did the alternative-world, hermetically sealed, alien, we-don't-care-about-anything weirdos, and we did that quite well," says Casale, who originally formed Devo with Mothersbaugh in 1974 in Akron, Ohio, as a visual and performance art collective. "But now, Devo is normal. Now we're the house band on the Titanic, and the Titanic is all of us."
Certainly, current cultural sensibilities are more attuned to the post-modern theater that Devo built around new wave hits like 1980's "Whip It," which peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its deliberately robotic 1977 cover of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Devo recorded six albums with Warner Bros., including the platinum-certified "Freedom of Choice" in 1980, but the label dropped the band after the limited success of 1984's "Shout." It released two more albums on Enigma, 1988's "Total Devo" and 1990's "Smooth Noodle Maps," before two decades of on-again, off-again touring and collaboration that, due largely to Mothersbaugh's disenchantment with the record business, failed to yield any album-length work.
"Devo was always a collaboration, so when Mark wasn't interested in collaborating, then it was like only half of Devo," Casale says.
But Mothersbaugh came around once the music industry proved itself open to experimentation. "I kind of wish the meltdown of the record companies had happened when we did Devo the first time around," he says.