Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1:                        … Takin’ A Walk.

Jerry Casale:                     We were like the fish out of water. We were the sore thumb. I mean, if you looked at the lineup, it was like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Genesis. And we followed, I swear, somebody like Alabama, somebody that would put up a big rebel flag behind them when they played. People hated us so much, they started throwing stuff at us, but it was falling short because the distances were so great. They were hitting people in the back of the head and back with trash and bottles. And so the crowd were watching them scream at us, but they’re starting to fight with each other while we’re playing. And then there’s the booing after each song.

Speaker 1:                        Welcome to the Takin’ A Walk Podcast, Music History On Foot. Buzz Knight is your host, and on this episode, we have a Rock Hall of fame musician who has made his mark on generations as a founding member of the band Devo, Jerry Casale joins Buzz Knight for a unique take on the band’s history, the world we live in, and much more. Here’s your virtual edition of Takin’ A Walk with Jerry Casale.

Buzz Knight:                     Well, Jerry, thanks for being on the Takin’ A Walk Podcast, a virtual edition. Where would we be walking if we were walking together right now?

Jerry Casale:                     Jesus, I don’t know. Hopefully somewhere we both liked, so it wouldn’t be out my front door. Actually, where I’d love it to be right now, we were up in Napa, the town of Napa, and we were walking through one of the vineyards up there like Silverado Vineyards or Judd’s Hill or any of them, walking among the vines.

Buzz Knight:                     I’m all in. Well, that’s some of the best of society right there. In your opinion, what’s the worst part of society today?

Jerry Casale:                     Well, the human mind itself or lack of it. You’re just watching something that’s trumping our worst fears about de-evolution. I think things have gone much further than we were satirizing and much darker, and it’s not funny anymore. And there’s just this complete unraveling of logic and rational reasoning ability in huge swaths of the population. That’s really the worst thing. It’s human beings. The species is losing it. And clearly, I mean, it’s on a global level and it’s just so disheartening that we’re in, what? We’re in the first quarter of the 21st century, almost 1/4 of it gone and we’re regressing into medieval times.

Buzz Knight:                     When you think back to the terrible Kent State moment in your life, could you have imagined that it has gotten to what it’s gotten like?

Jerry Casale:                     No. No. That’s what I’m saying. I thought I was prescient. I thought I was so smart, but I didn’t see this coming. No. This is a whole other level. It makes what I went through with Kent State, and what people went through during that period of cultural warfare and student unrest and killings in Vietnam, it makes that look like kindergarten, because this is big time. This is industrial strength filth.

Buzz Knight:                     Boy, you said it. You said it well. Jerry, if Steve Jobs were alive today, what do you think his reaction would be in terms of scrolling, screen addiction, all the things that have become part and problems in our world.

Jerry Casale:                     Right. It would be interesting to find out, wouldn’t it? I mean, since he was so innovative and always projecting into the future so well, he might realize there is a need for almost a reset. We’ve gone too far in one direction, let’s just clear it out, like start over, tabula rasa.

Buzz Knight:                     I heard somebody who went to the consumer electronic show in January out there in Vegas. They said that flip phones are probably coming back as a controllable device when you think of kids and everything. I thought that was kind of interesting. We’re going back in time.

Jerry Casale:                     Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s so much regression and retro, reverse evolution, let’s put it that way. And it’s kind of like those flip phones are kind of like kids that discover turntables and vinyl, right? It’s thrilling to have something not so smart. Have a dumb phone and yeah, flip it open. It’s kind of cool.

Buzz Knight:                     One of the saddest things I see when my wife and I go out to dinner, you either see this with couples who are together, you even see it with when they have a family, the kid there, nobody talks to anybody.

Jerry Casale:                     Right. Right.

Buzz Knight:                     It’s terrible.

Jerry Casale:                     Well, people have lost the ability to have rational, intelligent conversations. And I mean, clearly we are addicted to these devices. It’s like the old experiments where they give a rat cocaine and the rat will keep hitting the lever for more cocaine until it dies. It won’t eat, won’t do anything else. It just keeps hitting that lever. So something about the human brain and dopamine, these phones have done it. You completely are reduced to an infant. And it’s the addiction to the lights, the action, the motion. There’s really no information there. It’s just clearly mesmerizing, hypnotic and addictive. And that’s what’s going on. And it helps people avoid conflict because they can regress into that and not have to interact with each other in a meaningful way. You’ll watch people on first dates do it. They don’t really want to talk to each other.

Buzz Knight:                     Why, right?

Jerry Casale:                     Yeah. And they’ll always pick restaurants where the restaurant’s pumping really loud music so that there’s really no way to talk anyway.

Buzz Knight:                     In a world of… I’m sorry, we’re only five minutes in, Jerry, and I’m mentioning AI.

Jerry Casale:                     Oh, yeah, you have to.

Buzz Knight:                     Yeah. In a world of AI and thinking about something you certainly have spoken about you going way back, misinformation. Where do you go to get information that you can trust?

Jerry Casale:                     I don’t know if there’s any place you can go for that. I’m always reading between the lines. I mean, luckily when I was growing up in Ohio, the public education system was really good. I have to say that. So I mean it really, there was a strong reading program. There was lots of emphasis on critical thinking, logic, reasoning, like don’t take things at face value. Let’s look at this class. Let’s dissect what they’re trying to tell us here and see through it. So I was primed already. And now, I can’t even… I mean, sometimes there’ll be segments on BBC World News, that approach more objective kind of information the way you used to get TV when there were only three network stations in the ’60s. Sometimes in The Guardian I’ll read things that are intelligent and well-written. But other than that, I’m just constantly looking at all the junk, all the propaganda, all the disinformation and filtering through it.

                                           In other words, drawing my own conclusions about what’s really happening. Because there’s certain assumptions you can make, like anybody with a normal IQ knows that somebody’s always trying to sell you something. This is capitalism. Somebody’s always pushing something. So you got to look at where this information’s coming from. Who owns that news station? What billionaire owns that newspaper? Why are they saying this? Why did they hire that reporter to say this? Why are these news sources all like Google going, “For you”? You can’t even get objective news. They figured out your click patterns, and now you’re only getting news in your bubble, because you have to take it back to top stories because it’s always going to go to for you. And suddenly all I’m getting is ridiculous gossip pieces about the Rolling Stones or Katy Perry. It’s like, I don’t want to know this shit. It’s not even… It’s stupid.

Buzz Knight:                     Who shaped you to be so curious in your life?

Jerry Casale:                     Well, more than one person, but I can definitely remember them. They were key people, and they were all, to be honest, except for one close friend, they were all teachers, like elementary school, high school and college. They were all teachers, and they were standout people where you couldn’t wait for the next class. That’s an experience I think that’s pretty much gone for everybody. But we had outstanding educators.

Buzz Knight:                     Was there one that was at the beginning that you think had you positioned for life as always being curious, or was it really a bunch of them?

Jerry Casale:                     Yeah, no, there was one elementary school English teacher who’s female, I can’t remember her name now. And then there was a high school algebra teacher, believe it or not, and he was amazing, Mr. Wagner. And then there were two standout college professors, philosophies professor, Dr. Hoffman, and this visiting professor, Eric Mottram, from King’s College in London who came to Kent State University on a two year, whatever, exchange sabbatical, whatever it is in 1970 and ’71. Brilliant guy. And they set you on the right path. It’s like, “Here, read this book. Go watch these movies, then let’s talk.”

Buzz Knight:                     Did you follow the protest singers of the day as you were growing up?

Jerry Casale:                     Yeah, of course. Yeah.

Buzz Knight:                     Who were some of those that impacted you?

Jerry Casale:                     Well, of course, I was just the right age to be plunked into the center of that soup. I mean, besides the obvious Bob Dylan, there was… And now I’m going to start blanking on people here. Of course-

Buzz Knight:                     I have one to ask you about, and maybe it’ll prompt it. Phil Ochs?

Jerry Casale:                     Phil Ochs. I listened to Phil. His son was, about 15 years ago, starting to make it in the music business and had an uncanny voice and physical resemblance to him, but then had this bizarre accident where he died in a quarry or something after putting out his first record. And it was his father who was a famous protest singer. And I saw him, the father in Washington, D.C. with Joan Baez.

Buzz Knight:                     Are you surprised that more musicians of today don’t use their music to make a point and have a version of protest movement of today?

Jerry Casale:                     No, I’m not surprised at all. Unfortunately, no. It’s endemic of the whole society that people just want to put the blinders on, keep their jobs, go to a Starbucks in the morning and get their lattes. And musicians, they’re all basically programmed to sell out from the beginning if they can. If they’re lucky, they’ll sell out. They realize their only chance really to make money is to get a song licensed in a commercial or a movie. And other than that, try to build a big fan base touring, and you’re not going to build a big fan base if you’re talking about issues. If your music has substance, it’s going to piss somebody off, and so they avoid that. In other words, the biggest sin right now in corporate culture in terms of the arts content is anything that means anything. Like you stay away from meaning. That’s my advice.

Buzz Knight:                     I think of you and certainly Devo, as if you could have been a marketing slash ad agency slash business consultancy. So what would you have advised a failed industry so they wouldn’t fail?

Jerry Casale:                     I mean, Devo, what you saw Devo do is the tip of the iceberg of what we were capable of and what we should have done. And I try to imagine if Devo had come along now. A Devo for now wouldn’t look or sound like Devo then, but given the tools that people have now, they would actually have more agency to get done what needed to be done. If we were coming along now, we would have our own YouTube channel and we would be a multimedia concern that has many tentacles into many parts of the culture. So it’s lifestyle, politics, technology, and we have a way to show people that coherently. So we probably could have started making movies where we hadn’t that means to do that rather than something that was so expensive, we couldn’t do it. I think, yeah, I wish there was an equivalent for now of Devo then, but we were in the caveman era.

Buzz Knight:                     Because I do think you could have come up with something that would’ve prevented this decline where now you see, I think it’s kind of sad and hysterical how you see publications that are rescuing themselves because they now know how to put the crossword puzzles together for their audience.

Jerry Casale:                     Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty disheartening.

Speaker 1:                        We’ll be right back with more of the Takin’ A Walk Podcast.

                                           Welcome back to the Takin’ A Walk Podcast.

Buzz Knight:                     You take back to artificial intelligence as a musician, what’s your take on it?

Jerry Casale:                     Well, I think that we haven’t even seen the beginnings of what can happen with AI. I think of it as a very exciting and dangerous tool like anything. I think when Bowie talked about, in the ’90s, when the digital era was taking off, and the internet was happening, and there was Napster and stuff, and he had a lot of very intelligent [inaudible 00:17:09] visions of what was about to happen, but he had a lot of caution too. And I’m thinking that AI is like that revolution times 100. Like the dimensionality of AI and what’s about to happen is almost unfathomable. I can’t predict exactly how creative people can use it as a tool or how it’s just going to completely warp what we consider to be reality, because already we’ve lived through this attack on logic and facts and what’s true.

                                           So there’s been a war on truth previous to AI, constantly from the right wing, constantly from the Trumpsters that just got people ready for what AI can do in terms of just completely creating fabricated landscapes of reality that’s got nothing to do with what’s really happening. It’s such a dysfunctional, dangerous place now. I can see kids just staying in their rooms with Apple Vision Pro heads things on and going into some AI metaverse and never coming out of it. They’ll live in their heads in this surreal fantasy, and they’ll really just be eating junk food and with the doors locked to protect themselves from the outside environment, from violence, from pollution.

Buzz Knight:                     What’s your take on the state of the music industry?

Jerry Casale:                     I don’t know. I can’t make any prognostications because I know that there’s people out there making really good music, really interesting music. The problem is, at the time in the culture that we were bursting onto the scene, got our heads above the waterline and came up on the radar, there was a system in place, no matter how negative you want to look at it or how corrupt it may have been, where the cream rose to the top. If somebody was good, some A&R man found them and put them out. They weren’t missing things that were good. I have a feeling it’s the opposite now. It’s like all the stuff you hear on the radio, it’s just [inaudible 00:19:38], shit. But there’s all kinds of people out there making really innovative, creative things, but there’s no appetite for innovation or creativity or originality in this culture. That’s what I’m thinking.

                                           And so my wife, who’s a lot younger than me, will play me stuff that… Because she spends time searching and aggregating and listening to as many as, I don’t know, 100 or 200 artists in a month, checking out a couple songs each or whatever. And now she’s been an avid fan of King Gizzard & the Wizard Lizard. And at first I thought, “What the hell is this about?” I mean, God, I thought it was possibly kind of wanky. And then she had me listen to several of their releases over time, and there’s nothing like this, right? There’s nothing going on like this. And there was nothing in the past. These can play any genre. They play it very well. They change genres. They don’t give a shit about having a style, and they do it all really well. And they tend towards being a jam band, almost like the Grateful Dead.

                                           But they have songs, and they’re completely entertaining and engrossing and excellent players, and there’s an aesthetic there that’s kind of egoless. It’s really interesting. It’s nothing about rock stardom or prancing and preening. It’s very incredible. So I mean, there’s something like that. And what’s interesting is these guys get zero radio play to speak of, but they fill the Hollywood Bowl two or three nights and they do international festivals. So clearly they reached a broad audience all across Europe and the United States of 20-somethings that are avid fans of them. So there is stuff like that going on.

Buzz Knight:                     Do you remember the first moment you knew you would have some strong lifetime connection with music?

Jerry Casale:                     Sure. I do actually. It was, my parents were visiting friends of theirs, relations of theirs. These people had a daughter that was two years older than me, and while they played cards, we’d go in her bedroom and listen to 45 RPM records on her record player, and she played me Elvis Presley’s Don’t Be Cruel. And everything changed for me right there.

Buzz Knight:                     What’s the worst gig that you ever played?

Jerry Casale:                     Well, of course some would take issue with it, but I thought it was Knebworth, the Knebworth Festival where Richard Branson of Virgin Records talked us into becoming part of this English festival in the countryside, famous at the time, Knebworth. But we were like the fish out of water. We were the sore thumb. I mean, if you looked at the lineup, it was like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Genesis, and it was… I know.

Buzz Knight:                     Jerry, just hearing you say the word Lynyrd Skynyrd is funny enough.

Jerry Casale:                     And we followed, I swear, somebody like Alabama, somebody that would put up a big rebel flag behind them when they played. And here we are in our white paper jumpsuits with the Rector brand, skateboard helmets and knee pads and shoulder pads, and we’re playing things like Be Stiff and Smart Patrol, DNA and Jocko Homo. And you are on this stage that’s like the people are like 10 or 12 feet below you in the grass, and it’s a kind of amphitheater, like Hillside.

                                           People hated us so much, they started throwing stuff at us, but it was falling short because the distances were so great. They were hitting people in front of them that were close to the stage. They were hitting people in the back of the head and back with trash and bottles. And so the crowd were watching them scream at us, but they’re starting to fight with each other while we’re playing. And though there’s the booing after each song, and of course, Richard Branson thought that was brilliant. The no press is bad press maxim, but it didn’t feel that way to us. We just thought, “What did we get talked into? What the hell are we doing here?” It was a hideous experience to have to keep playing when you’re just deflated, sick to your stomach.

Buzz Knight:                     Dead person you wish you could have collaborated musically with?

Jerry Casale:                     Well, David Bowie, and we thought we were going to. And then because of all his commitments, it didn’t happen at the time. And then we hardly had any contact with each other in the ensuing years. But somewhere in the ’90s, he played at a private after party after David Lynch’s Lost Highway movie, and I talked to him there and we talked about doing something and then it didn’t happen. And then he died. And he was such a brilliant artist, and he stayed true to being an artist till the end. I mean, he completed that last album knowing he was terminal. That’s impressive.

Buzz Knight:                     Oh, yeah. Tell me about your Brian Eno experience, what that was like.

Jerry Casale:                     Well, of course Brian’s recently started talking about that. Of course, he was frustrated by us because we were so strident in what we believed and what we wanted, because we had been living with our music for three and a half, four years before we get to recording it. So we wanted it to be like what we had always imagined we could do once we got to a recording studio. And we weren’t very open to a lot of what he was trying to do to the songs. I think he had moved beyond the more brash and brazen stuff he was doing with Roxy Music. And as you know, he got into the ambient music and he became very zen. He toned down his ostentatious look and looked like an English gentleman from the countryside and short cropped hair. And he just thought we were pretty rough around the edges, because we were.

                                           Where we were coming from and what had formed us was this brutal existence in Akron, Ohio, where you’re surrounded by right-wing people, anti-intellectual people, religious nuts, evangelicals. And we had developed this aggressive, industrial, angry kind of set of songs that we lived and breathed. So he was trying to make them more melodic and prettier, and we would keep resisting that, pushing back, and he just felt like, “Oh, what am I going to do here?” But he ended up doing things that we kept. We really did. He did a lot of cool things. A lot of great sounds he came up with, and he was very influential on the song Shrivel-Up. He worked on that sequencer line, and he sang harmonies on Uncontrollable Urge, and he put synthesizer parts in several songs, but I think he wanted to do more. But you’ve got to understand, he wasn’t the producer that he became.

                                           We were both, whatever they say, way under the ears or whatever. I mean, he became so famous afterwards in his work with the Talking Heads. But once again, Devo was always like this ahead of our time pioneer stuff, where I think he wouldn’t have ended up working with the Talking Heads had he not done that Devo record, and we just weren’t ready to go where he wanted us to go when he was trying to, for the first time, put out a vision. He got better at what he did. Maybe if we’d been to come back together later, would’ve been really great.

Buzz Knight:                     Tell me about your experience with Neil Young.

Jerry Casale:                     Yeah, Neil Young, he surprised us because from our point of view, we thought we knew who Neil Young was, and he was like, oh, yeah, he’s the granola guy. He’s the West Coast, sweet and cool, folksy rock and roll grandfather of granola or whatever rock. And we just couldn’t believe that he liked us, right? It didn’t make any sense, but then you got to know him and it made total sense, and he wasn’t what your cliched impressions of him might’ve been at all. And he was very enthusiastic, almost like a kid. I mean, he had a lot of ideas and he had a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and he was always wanting to experiment. He never really wanted to repeat himself, and he really appreciated what we did. He was turned on by it, and we liked being around him, and we liked talking to him. We were just amazed that he wanted us to be in his movie, and that he wanted to record this. I mean, would’ve never done Rust Never Sleeps without our intersection. So yeah, Neil’s a good guy.

Buzz Knight:                     So tell me what you’re working on these days.

Jerry Casale:                     Well, I’m working on staying alive. I do some solo projects, as you know, whenever I can because I’m me and I was creative before Devo and creative with Devo. And so if Mark’s not interested in Devo writing new material, I still have to do what I do. And I still remained really committed to all the visual arts because I’ve been directing music videos and commercials for 30 years, and I have a new suite of songs that I’m finishing, and I intend to do more video work with the video artist, Davy Force, that I did two videos with in Invisible Man and Pay You Back, and tend to do more video work with him. I like this live action meets animation fusion.

                                           And now that AI is in the picture, and Davy’s been experimenting with these programs and technology that we didn’t even have three years ago when we first started working, I think the next time I do something, it’s going to be visually more exciting because we’ll be using these new programs to affect live action. I don’t know. I’ve worked on a plot that should have been a movie that wasn’t for Devo, and it could be a graphic novel, and there are offers on the table, so that might happen. I’ve always told stories, always involved in narrative, and I don’t give up on that.

Buzz Knight:                     In closing, what are you still trying to learn?

Jerry Casale:                     How to suffer the fools gladly. I was very bad at that.

Buzz Knight:                     I do have one more. If somebody’s listening who is a aspiring musician, what advice would you give them?

Jerry Casale:                     Yeah. Well, I hope you have a big appetite for masochism.

Buzz Knight:                     Brilliant. Jerry, this is fantastic. Thanks for being on. I loved every second of it.

Jerry Casale:                     Yeah. Well, we took some kind of walk.

Buzz Knight:                     Thank you, man. I appreciate it.

Speaker 1:                        Thanks for listening to this episode of the Takin’ A Walk Podcast. Share this and other episodes with your friends and follow us so you never miss an episode. Takin’ A Walk is available on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

 

About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.