Formed in Akron, Ohio in 1972 by Kent State art students Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo took its name from the idea of "de-evolution" - a concept that believes that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. Their music followed along with this theme featuring a style that was rigid and mechanical, boasting an ample supply of jerky, robotic rhythms and an obsession with technology and electronics (the group was among the first non-Prog Rock bands to make the synthesizer front and center). Devo becamea kind of cult sensation at a time when the New Wave of Pop was emerging, helped in part by their emphasis on stylized visuals. They even managed to briefly break into the mainstream with the smash single Whip It. Devo's simple, basic electronic Pop sound proved influential; in time, however, the style's limitations became apparent as other bands began expanding on the group's ideas, Devo seemed unable to keep pace. After a series of largely uninteresting albums, the band called it quits early in the 1990s, with founding members Casale and Mothersbaugh moving on to other projects.
Devo was started by Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh both students at the art school at Kent State University at the start of the 1970s. With friend Bob Lewis joining an early version of Devo to later become their manager, the theory of de-evolution was developed with the aid of a book entitled The Beginning Was the End: Knowledge Can Be Eaten, which held that mankind had evolved from mutant, brain-eating apes. The sci-fi like theory was adapted to fit the band's view of American society. Until the infamousNational Guard killings occurred at that very same university the whole concept was treated as an elaborate joke by Casale.
The first incarnation of Devo appeared in 1972, with Casale (bass), Mark Mothersbaugh (vocals), and Mark's brothers Bob (guitar) and Jim, who played homemade electronic drums. Jerry's brother Bob joined as an additional guitarist, and Jim left the band to be replaced by Alan Myers. The group worked on its sound for several years (a period chronicled on Rykodisc's Hardcore compilations of home recordings), before releasing a few singles on its own Booji Boy' label.
As part of their image they invented weird concepts like: Mothersbaugh dressed in a baby-faced mask as Booji Boy' (pronounced "boogie boy"), images of the potato as a lowly vegetable without individuality, or the band's costumes presenting them as identical clones with processed hair. All sorts of experimentation was attempted on their recordings, using real and homemade synthesizers as well as toys, space heaters, toasters, and other objects.
Devo's big break came with its score for the short film The Truth About De-Evolution, which won a prize at the 1976 Ann Arbor Film Festival; but when the film was seen by David Bowie and Iggy Pop they assisted to secure the group a contract with Warner Bros'. Recorded with the assistance of producer Brian Eno, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! became an underground hit. Although Rolling Stone Magazine called Devo fascists (like a modern pop culture magazine would know a hell of a lot on thesubject) Devo marched on and the rest of the world cared little about such comments.
While 1979's Duty Now For The Future was another strong effort, but it would be their 1980 release of Freedom Of Choice that secured them mainstream stardom with the gold-selling single Whip It. The album and single showed the group at their height of both popularity and songwriting; the video for Whip It subsequently becoming an MTV smash staple on the fledgling network, featuring a low budget sci-fi futuristic look against a farm setting with hints of S&M. However, Devo's commercial success proved to be short-lived for 1981's New Traditionalists was darker and moreserious, not what the public wanted from a band considered to be a perky novelty act. The band seemed to be running out of ideas and fast, not to mention internal problems when Bob Lewis was successfully sued for theft of intellectual property after a tape of Mothersbaugh was found acknowledging Lewis' role in creating de-evolution theory. The subsequent sessions for the follow up 1982 album Oh, No! It's Devo were also hindered when their attempt to use poetry written by John Hinckley Jr. as lyrical material backfired for obvious reasons considering he was soon to make an attempt to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
After the 1982 mistake and the various other problems surrounding it all, Devo found itself relegated to cult status and critical indifference and 1984's Shout and 1988's Total Devo, failed to help the matter for they came a cross as low budget affairs. With the band's shift toward electronic drums, Alan Myers left in 1986, to be replaced by David Kendrick (ex-Sparks/ex-Gleaming Spires; drums). It was after the follow-up album of Smooth Noodle Maps (1990) that the members began to concentrate on other projects. Mark Mothersbaugh moved into composingfor 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. He also opened a production company called Mutato Muzika, which employed his fellow Devo band mates. Jerry Casale, who directed most of the band's videos, on the other hand, went on to direct video clips for the Foo Fighters' I'll Stick Around and Soundgarden's Blow Up the Outside World.
As other bands acknowledged their influence with Nirvana covering Turnaround, while Girl U Want has been recorded by Soundgarden, Superchunk, and even Robert Palmer, their minimalist electro-pop was given fresh exposure on six dates of the 1996 Lollapalooza tour. Indeed, the following year, Devo released a CD-ROM game called The Adventures Of The Smart Patrol and an accompanying music soundtrack, in addition to playing selected dates on the Lollapalooza tour. Long after their demise the band's style was seeing a new audience and 2000 saw the release of two double-discDevo anthologies: the first was the half-hits/half-rarities Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology, while the second was the limited-edition mail-order release of previously unreleased material titled Recombo DNA. In 2001, the Mothersbaugh and Casale brothers reunited under the name the Wipeouters for the one-off surf release, P Twaaang. There was no supporting tour, however, for they returned to their full-time jobs at Mutato Muzika.
In hindsight most of their catalogue was compilation albums but in total their releases included Q: We Are Not Men? A: We Are Devo (1978), Duty Now For The Future (1980), Freedom Of Choice (1981), DEV-O Live (1981), New Traditionalists (1981), Oh no! It's Devo (1982), Shout (1984), E-Z Listening Disc (1988; compilation), Total Devo (1988), Now It Can Be Told (Devo at The Palace 12/9/88) (1989; live), Post Post-Modern Man (1990), Smooth Noodle Maps (1990), HardcoreDevo Vol.1: 74-77 (1990; compilation), The Greatest Hits (1990; compilation), The Greatest Misses (1990; compilation), Hardcore Devo Vol. 2: 1974-1977 (1991; compilation), Devo Live: The Mongoloid Years (1992; live), Hot Potatoes: The Best Of Devo (1993; compilation), Duty Now For The Future (1994; bonus tracks), Oh, No! It's Devo/Freedom Of Choice (1994), Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEV-O Live (1994; live), Duty Now For The Future (1994; re-release), Smooth Noodle Maps (1994; re-release with bonus tracks), New Traditionalists (1997; re-releasewith bonus tracks), Greatest Hits (1998; compilation), DEV-O (1999; live), Recombo DNA (2000), Pioneers Who Got Scalped (2000; compilation), The Essentials (2002; compilation), Whip It And other Hits (2003; compilation).