Devo co-founder Gerald Casale dates his wine interest to 1978, after the band signed to Warner and moved to Los Angeles, during California's food and wine revolution. There the new-wave band member met and befriended many of the new-wave chefs -- Michael McCarty (Michael's), Bruce Marder (Brentwood Restaurant), Wolfgang Puck (Spago), Piero Selvaggio (Valentino), and Jeremiah Tower (Stars) -- as well as a new breed of sommeliers and winemakers. These soon-to-be culinary superstars often invited Casale to home dinners and encouraged him to try everything.
Devo went on to produce hits like "Freedom of Choice, "Whip It," "Beautiful World," and "That's Good." And Casale's drinking for pleasure morphed into a more analytical interest. "If you respect it, you want to know more," he explains. This year Casale started his own boutique label, The 50 By 50. I chatted with Casale about his 23-acre Napa estate, the upcoming tour, the tragic deaths of bandmates, the trials of directing videos, his ambivalence toward Facebook, and his favorite apps.
What can you tell us about the upcoming tour?
Well, it's a concept that probably could be described as a little masochistic. It's Devo handicapping themselves by a look in the mirror. We're going back to our origins and playing songs we haven't played in 35 years, most of which were basement recordings on a four-track and never really played out live from before we had a contract.
We're trying to rediscover a more innocent time when we were just experimental artists, and we're going to perform it the way we would in a basement, but in front of people. And it promises to be raw and intense and exciting and possibly controversial -- maybe some people don't want to see us doing this.
What can you tell us about the 1972 Akron scene that Devo came out of?
At the time it was hardly celebratory. It was kind of gruesome and sad. It was an environment that was anti-intellectual and antagonistic toward anyone trying to be original. Devo was viewed as some weirdo, loser outsiders, where we were either harassed or laughed at. So it was not a time that we knew that we were in the middle of something that was history being made. We felt isolated and unappreciated, and then everything turned around in one year, and that was 1977. I think it was Stiff Records that created this kind of marketing gestalt that there was this scene in Akron, and mind it well.
Yeah, we're not happy about it. Ours was a cautionary tale, and we really didn't want things to end up like they seem to have. In other words, de-evolution is real, but we didn't want it to be right. It's not a concept anymore. People are living in devolved times and accepting it. And they say as much. The expectation has been reduced, and the 24/7 news cycle keeps repeating ad nauseam that this is the first generation that won't live better than their parents. Infrastructure is falling apart, and things that used to work don't work anymore, and the sense of shared values and community is broken, and so on and so forth. And you see by our own government, that certain things that should be self evident, like good policy to create the least pain and the most good for the most amount of people, get shot down every day.
Then it seems that you're needed now more than ever. Would Devo release another album?
It's not out of the question. Stranger things have happened. I think May 20, all the focus group rejects and demos that never went anywhere that were written for "Something for Everybody" will end up on a CD called "Something Else for Everybody."
What was the dynamic in Devo's classic lineup, when there were two sets of brothers and then a fifth with drummer Alan Myers. Did Myers ever feel like a fifth wheel?
He may have but never exhibited that to us. He would probably tune out when there were any conflicts. The conflicts were never creative, and they were more oriented around business judgment. Anything like that he didn't have a big stomach for. The reason that the two sets of brothers worked is because what Mark and I were trying to do was so unprecedented and experimental that no kind of mainstream, traditionally schooled guitar player wanted anything to do with the kind of parts we were writing. But our brothers who grew up with us understood exactly what it was about from an insiders' experience and shared the aesthetic just by osmosis. So there was a creative shorthand there, and we didn't have to do much convincing. They were already onboard.
Watch Devo's career-defining "Whip It" video:
With Alan Myers's death in 2013 and your brother Bob Casale's death more recently, what has that been like personally and for the group?
Of course when Alan died, he hadn't been with the group for years. We still remember him as the most incredible drummer we could have ever found. Until Josh Freese we could have never found another drummer that understood it and got it and did it right.
But with Bob the pain goes much deeper, and the trauma is much more harsh. Not only because he was my brother, but from the beginning was one of the five gears of Devo and never missed a show and was like a utility player. He was our anchor. He was never the egotistical player; he got things done. He executed the tasks at hand. He moved from being a programmer to playing keyboards to playing rhythm guitars to then studio engineering. He was very technical, and he was my ally creatively. I would work with him day in and day out -- him doing the engineering and programming and me doing the writing. We could work for hours on end together. But going on without him is traumatic in and of itself.
Will someone take on his role for the tour?
No. We have gone back and listened over and over to these seminal recordings and experiments. In our own way, we were like the White Stripes and the Black Keys, so we were raw and minimalistic and immediate. That's part of what we're confronting. We're just going to accept what we can do as four of us to capture the spirit and energy of those songs.
What would you say Bob Casale's legacy is?
He was the anchor, the glue that held Devo together, the sensible person, the slowest to anger ever. But if he got mad, you knew you deserved it.
What is your professional dynamic with Mark Mothersbaugh like?
We were the yin and yang of Devo, and it was a collaboration, clearly, that created everything. We conceived these songs and wrote them together. I directed all the videos and created the costuming and the stage shows, and we worked on the graphics together. So it was a true open, collaborative, creative process.
You've directed such amazing videos for Foo Fighters and Soundgarden, among others. What was it like working with these bands?
With Foo Fighters, they had never done a video, and they were anti-video, so they wanted one for very little money. They trusted me because I was in a band that they respected, and I wouldn't screw them over like a video director trying to manipulate them into something. But then they showed up four and a half hours late, and there was no money to keep a crew around overtime, 'cause the crew had been there when they were supposed to be. So we did everything in half the time that I knew I needed to do everything right, so things like that happened.
With Soundgarden, who I had respected so much and had looked forward to working with, it turned out that that long, five-minute song that I directed, which was supposed to blow up the outside world, was their morose swan song. During the shooting, they all had their separate dressing rooms. They were very professional, would come out when the cameras were ready to roll, do what they were supposed to do, and then when I'd yell "Cut," they'd go back to their separate dressing rooms.
At the same time that you were directing videos for other artists, you were also teaching wine classes in LA. Were you ever recognized by your students?
Yeah, sometimes. I'm a pretty everyman-looking guy if I don't have a red energy dome hat or a yellow suit on. But some people would know just by the name, and that would increase my enrollment.
How did you make the leap to building your own winery?
It's been a 30-year-long aspiration. I finally made friends with some people that are architecture aficionados, and they specialize in early 20th century modern architecture. They restore these great pieces of 20th century architecture to architectural landmark status. We decided to go in on a plan that was never utilized by 20th century Modernist architect Mies Van Der Rohe. It's called The 50 By 50, and there lies the name of the forthcoming estate.
So they bought a plot of land in Napa, and it's being planted with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot varietals. Right in the middle will be The 50 By 50 house, which is clad in eight thick, one-inch tempered glass panels that are 10 feet high and 25 feet long, only supported in the middle of each side of the house with a thin vertical post. So you're in a glass box looking out at a 360-degree view. Nobody can see you, though. I say that people who live in glass houses should only drink wine.
I understand that it'll be a year before the estate is completed and about five years until the vines will produce viable fruit.
Yes, in the meantime we'll keep putting out our 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and the 2013 Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir with fruit grown and harvested at Rodger's Creek in the Sonoma Coast.
Switching gears, what are your top five mobile apps?
I'm not a big user of apps. For me, all they are is a conduit, a means to an end. We still have to use our ideas, so there's nothing to resist or love. They're just a tool.
But I use Uber and Zagat. Skype is a very useful tool for me, because oftentimes I'm trying to talk to somebody about directing a commercial or talking to someone in Norway about directing a video or talking to people that are hosting a video conference and want me to be a judge. So they're skyping me, and it's live, and I'm giving them comments about the video. So in the work that I do, it's truly invaluable. I have my Twitter account and Facebook, although I do have an ambivalent feeling about Facebook. When you're a public figure with a long history, it becomes tedious and tiresome and like an antibiotic that draws out a virus. Pretty soon you realize that there are 50 crazy people that are now incessantly coming after me, fans in the worst sense of the word. You feel paranoid and violated. No matter how politely and sincerely you try to respond, it gets twisted, and so the fact that you've responded is a mistake. It's like if some crazy person on the street yells something at you, and you actually engage them.