Thirty-two years after mystifying a national audience on Saturday Night Live, pioneering new-wave band Devo has released Something for Everybody, its first album of new material in two decades. Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, founding members of the group commercially known for the bizarre 1980 hit "Whip It," spoke to TIME about the de-evolution of man, the fading record industry and the subversive inspiration of Madison Avenue.
For those who may not be familiar with Devo, can you explain your concept of de-evolution?
Mark: De-evolution is the conclusion that Jerry and I came to after going to Kent State, where the shootings had happened in 1970 while we were at school. Looking at everything that was going on in the world around us, we came to the conclusion that what we were observing was not evolution, but it was de-evolution. Back in the day, people called us cynical, but I think nowadays, you talk to someone about de-evolution, and the condition of the world possibly being something that is deteriorating resonates with a lot of people.
Jerry: We saw an indication that man may have reached his apex in his position on the planet as a species, and he was now going the other direction. Reverse evolution.
In 1978 you went from being a local Akron, Ohio, art-school band to going on Saturday Night Live a week after the Stones and actually performing "Satisfaction." Why was getting on that show important to you?
Jerry: At the time, it wasn't even some cynical thing about 15 million people seeing us. We weren't even thinking like that. We just thought it was the coolest show on TV. We watched it religiously every Saturday night. We just thought it was an artistic show and Devo belonged there. We played like we were on cocaine, and we weren't. We played really tight and fast, and people couldn't believe it was real, and suddenly we went from playing little clubs with 300 or 400 seats to having to rebook 3,000-to-5,000-seaters within a week of Saturday Night Live.
Mark: It was pretty strange for American TV at the time. The song "Satisfaction" might still be my favorite rock song ever. It meant a lot to me.
This is the first album of new material in 20 years. Why the decision to do this now?
Jerry: Well, it was now or never. We are now senior citizens. But all of us are still here and still functioning. Speaking for myself, I have as many creative ideas now as I've ever had. It just seemed like we live in a time where de-evolution is real, so we're as relevant as any band. The taste in music that commercial tastemakers are embracing happens to come back around to the kinds of sounds and song structure we initiated. All we have to do is do what we do, because we did it first and we'll sound like a contemporary band.
How has the band's attitude and approach to writing songs changed, compared to your debut in 1978?
Mark: What is common about our records is our writing style, both musically and lyrically. The things we talk about are still intact in all of our records, including this one. We're still talking about the same topics. Even if we are singing a love song, it's definitely a Devo love song. You wouldn't confuse it with the lyrics for a Lennon-McCartney song or a Britney Spears song.
What is a Devo love song?
Mark: I think when we sing about love, it's more about the psychology of desire. It's a little bit nerdy and analytical in some ways, even when Jerry is writing a song about being rejected again.
For this album you employed an advertising agency and allowed focus groups to participate in the song-selection process. That's unique.
Mark: We watched the punks, and anarchy and nihilism were self-defeating, and all those people became commodities. The hippies of yesterday became the hip capitalists a year later. So we thought the only way you really effect any change in this culture is really through subversion, and who was better at it than Madison Avenue? Who effects change in this country more subversively?
Jerry: We realized nobody wants to pay for music, and the function of music has been trivialized within the culture. You got the implosion of the record business, and everybody now is able to put out a CD from their bedroom or their basement. We realized that marketing in that situation is the end-all be-all of a capitalist society. Part of the art is to have a campaign be about the nature of campaigns.