The Swashbuckling Pirate’s Guide to Record Plunder in LA

I’m a swashbuckling vinyl pirate. I’ve spent years pillaging and plundering record crates in hot pursuit of record booty: ransacking thrift store bins, scouring dusty attics and moldy basements at estate sales, seeking out record shops near and far, hunting swap meets and garage sales. The stranger the location, the better records I’d find. I scored Chipmunk Punk, the new wave offering of Chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore while thrifting my way through obscure Northern California locales: Willits, anyone? I plucked the Richard Simmons’ Reach  from the 25-cent sale bin at Salvation Army in Seattle. Imagine Richard Simmons’ shrill voice imploring you to “Lift it UP” over cheesy ’80s pop. Amazing.

Album © Universal Records

Frolicking through the autumn mist of thrift store dust bunnies, I uncovered Puff the Magic Dragon somewhere on Halsted Street in Chicago. I prized an ASWAD picture disc from the very eclectic selections of a porkpie-hat-wearing dealer at Spitalfields Market in London (I know nothing about the group, but couldn’t resist the purple picture disc prominently featuring ASWAD for the obvious reasons). The first pressing of Dick Dale’s Surfer’s Choice from Long Beach Antiques & Collectibles Market, the red vinyl Japanese pressing of Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets from that legendary San Francisco trip—each record bears a story beyond the narrative or memorabilia of a music album.

Album © Deltone
Album © Deltone

After all these globe trotting record hunts, I’ve settled in Los Angeles, where vinyl is no longer the commodity it once was. Thanks in part to the digital music backlash, record sales have reached their highest point since 1997. I don’t have to jet to Gramaphone in Chicago, Atom Heart in Montréal or Seattle’s Bop Street Records to shop vinyl—countless new retailers are popping up all over Southern California. Here’s my guide to the best new (and old) record shops of LA.

Amoeba Records – Hollywood – 6400 W Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028

The original, stalwart behemoth of record retailers, Amoeba is the largest independent music store in the world. The shop originally put several smaller mom-and-pop record stores out of business when it opened in 1990. I like to shop Amoeba if I have a long list of records to buy, but it’s not a place to go hunting for the unknown, as customers aren’t allowed to open plastic wrap or listen to albums before buying.

As the Record Turns – Hollywood – 6727 3/8 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028

Great selection of the classics and the relics: visit As the Record Turns for Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Getz & Gilberto and the like.

Avalon Records. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Avalon Records. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Avalon Records. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Avalon Records. Image © Sara Jayne Crow

Avalon – Highland Park – 106 N Avenue 56, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Avalon opened within the last few months and features a well-curated selection of punk, new wave and eclectic vinyl (first pressings of several hard to find, rare punk records), along with vintage clothing, 45 cases and all sorts of ephemera.

Avalon Records. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Avalon Records. Image © Sara Jayne Crow

Gimme Gimme – Highland Park – 4628 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041

Featuring “rock, folk, soul, hip-hop, punk, psych, country, jazz, blues, disco, latin and more,” Gimme Gimme has a broad selection of eclectic finds. Owner Daniel Cook originally opened up shop in New York in 1994 before relocating to Highland Park 2 1/2 years ago.

Gimme Gimme. Image © Sara Jayne Crow

Mono Records – Echo Park – 1805 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026

“Specializing in used and unique vinyl,” Mono Records offers a small but well-curated selection of rare gems.

Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow

Mount Analog – Highland Park – 5906 1/2 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90042

WOW. Mount Analog has it all: imports, first pressings, new, used, 45s, LPs, collectible box sets, vintage posters, books, postcards, box sets, strange ephemera… this is, quite simply, a music and media mecca. Mount Analog’s leftfield, IDM and techno offerings are especially stellar. After the Sisyphean ascent and descent of your usual record store selection, climbing Mount Analog is about attaining the sonic zenith. Ascension. Nirvana.

Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow
Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow

Ooga Booga – Downtown – 942 N Broadway #203, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Small downtown boutique featuring rare books, art and vinyl.

Origami – Echo Park – 1816 W Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Shop and record label Origami has an especially organized and choice selection of rare gems. Gems galore.

Permanent – Eagle Rock – 1583 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041

Stocking both new and used vinyl in various genres, Permanent has locations in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Photo courtesy Permanent Records
Photo courtesy Permanent Records

Poo-Bah – Pasadena – 2636 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91107

Poo-Bah is a boutique shop located near Pasadena Community College with a tasteful and eclectic (but not necessarily extensive) collection of both new and used vinyl.

Rockaway Records – Silverlake – 2395 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039

Though Rockaway has a great vinyl selection, especially of first pressing, clean psychedelic rock, I usually visit for the collectibles: Family Dog original screenprint posters advertising ’60s and ’70s concerts, autographed Beach Boys memorabilia, even David Bowie “Just a Gigolo” film contact sheets. Rockaway is something of a music museum.

Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow.
Mount Analog. Image © Sara Jayne Crow.

Touch Vinyl – West LA – 1646 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025

Touch Vinyl seems like a good spot for new vinyl in several genres, but hip-hop and electronic music are especially well represented.

Vacation Vinyl – Silverlake – 3815 W Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Hipster Silverlake destination Vacation Vinyl has a good selection of used, fairly priced vinyl, along with a selection of new releases.

Image courtesy Vacation Vinyl
Image courtesy Vacation Vinyl

Wombleton – Highland Park – 5123 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Wombleton trudges far off of the status quo beaten path: you won’t find Britney Spears here, glory be. Featuring original pressings, imports, standard LPs and 45s.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I compiled these selections from personal favorites and those of musician and DJ friends who specialize in crate-digging record hunts. Thanks to Travis Kirschbaum, Emily Griffin, Ian RaikowAndrea LaBarge Mills and Nichole Girard for their help.

See the original post on Collective 310.


Exclusive: Producer Dave Pezzner Talks Mixtapes and Mics Inside of Monkeys

Dave Pezzner

There’s a jovial bent to Dave Pezzner’s demeanor. The Seattle producer possesses a rare brand of affability: the ability to translate a light, slap-happy approach into driving tech-house. Pezzner rocketed to underground popularity as one half of Jacob London (along with Bob Hansen), releasing on squid:recordings, Viva Recordings, and a Hydrogenated Funk EP on Carlos DaSilva’s eatHouse label. T-Mobile commissioned them to create music for a commercial following the release of 2003’s Casual Bingo on record label giant Classic, and they have since released a bevy of soulful sonic gems. Dave currently tours the world on his own, and at times, with the aid of Bob and a talking sock monkey.

In anticipation of a recent set at Montréal’s Mutek Festival, Sara Jayne Crow talked to Dave about Thingamagoops, mixtapes, the Taco Time Fanclub, and, of course, the doctored sock monkey.

Flavorwire: So. Let’s start with the sock monkey.

Dave Pezzner: (Laughs)

FW: You have a sock monkey with a microphone in its butt and red eyes that light up when you talk through it. It’s phenomenal. How was it that the sock monkey came to be part of your performances with Bob Hansen as Jacon London?

DP: Well the sock monkey is strictly for the Jacob London shows. The Pezzner show is not quite as elaborate. When Bob and I decided to perform live for the first time at the Decibel Festival [in Seattle] four years ago, we had about eight months to plan for the performance. We started with brainstorming and coming up with ideas as to how we were going to attack this show, and we started looking online at toys and different things we could bring into the performance that weren’t your typical laptop and MIDI controller live setup.

EP: Something to kinda lighten the mood?

DP: Yeah, yeah… yeah. And so we looked at Thingamagoops. We also looked at voice-changing bullhorns that have a trigger you can pull with different settings that make you sound like a robot when you talk through it.

EP: Kind of like a vocoder?

DP: Yeah. So we found one for like fifteen bucks. One day, [music producer] Matt Corwine came over, and we were talking about our live show and using this bullhorn thing, and Matt said, “I can put audio outputs into this if you want.” And we were like, “Yeah, give it to him!” A couple months later, Matt’s like, “Okay! I’m done! Here it is!” He kept the mic intact and wired it into the anus of the sock monkey! And the bullhorn lit up when you talked into it, so Matt wired the monkey so the eyes light up red when you talk into its butt.

EP: That’s quite a gift (laughing). So you used this contraption for your first live performance at Seattle’s Decibel Fest in 2005? And you had your first solo live performance at Decibel last year, as well, right?

DP: Yeah. I didn’t really do anything different for my solo show. I took the Jacob London template and used it… so I owe a lot of what I do to Bob, as well.

EP: What’s the template?

DP: The framework that’s in Ableton Live. We have it set up in eight tracks that are routed to an array of effects via MIDI controllers. It’s a system Bob and I both worked together to come up with for the last three years. For our first Decibel performance, we hadn’t yet perfected our system… it took a lot of live shows to get it to where the template stays the same, and we can just pull music out and put new music in, and it always works. We take eight tracks and insert them into this shell.

EP: What’s your full setup when you play, aside from the software?

DP: Tonight, it’s really stripped down. There is no sock monkey, and no MPC. I’ve got all my songs broken up into eight tracks, two Beringer BCF 2000 MIDI controllers…

EP: Why those?

DP: The faders are the main attraction. There are eight faders, and there’s eight knobs and 16 buttons. They’re all set up in rows like channel strips, like you’d find on a mixer, and those can be set up to work exactly like a mixer. During live shows, I can trigger a kick drum on one channel, or send the kick drum to an array of different effects, or filter it down.

EP: So you’ve been performing with Bob as Jacob London for a long time. And there was a prior incarnation of Jacob London… is that right?

DP: Vitus Dance!

EP: Yeah! Where did the name come from?

DP: The name St. Vitus Dance is a disease that attacks the nervous system and makes people twitch out. I think we actually looked pretty long and hard to come up with that name. Bob and I met each other in junior high. We’ve been friends since we were 12. In high school, we wanted to start a band. I used to go to his house after school, and we’d mess around with music… We were getting really into this rave sound that was starting to come up: Eon and Church of Ecstasy and all that shit. We’d try to mimic that using his gear… So we’d get the demo done, and I would bring it to my friends over at Taco Time, where I was working, and ask them what they thought. They were like, “It sounds so good!” and I was like, “This is my band!”

EP: How did you go from the Taco Time Fanclub to releasing records?

DP: Well, after high school, we upgraded our equipment a bit. In 1998, Carlos da Silva, who had a record store in Seattle and a label called Eat House, wanted to release a track. The label funding his label gave us a contract which basically said that they were going to own our name, likeness, and everything related to Vitus Dance. We didn’t want them to own our name… it was our first record! We decided that just for that record, we’d change our name, and see how it went. We brainstormed for awhile, and settled on the name Jacob London, who is a music attorney in Seattle. We figured that was a name that was untouchable. We figured, “It’s a music attorney’s name! You can’t own that!”

EP: Did you ever meet the attorney Jacob London?

DP: He’s my lawyer! He is! He helped me negotiate my deal with Freerange (laughing).

EP: What did he say the first time he heard of the name?

DP: He said, “How can Jacob London turn down Jacob London?” (Laughing)

EP: Awesome! So what year did you meet up with Jon Lemmon and release the albums on Viva Recordings?

DP: We started working with Viva in 2000. Jon brought us on to A & R a sister label which we called squid:records that had a bit more of a left field direction from what Viva was doing. The idea was that we would make Jacob London tracks, and then bring on other artists for mixes. Our first album was called Jacob London vs. Jacob London. They were tracks I created by myself, and Bob created by himself, and then we remixed one another. We also had great remixers like Tony Senghore and Random Factor. After Viva stopped releasing music we found a new home with Classic, which is Derrick Carter and Luke Solomon’s label.

EP: How did you come to collaborate with Classic?

DP: Just like anybody else. I sent them a demo via mail with a very heartfelt, handwritten letter telling them how much I loved their label. It was very humble. They sat on them for a few months. I figured, “Just another unanswered demo.” And then out of the blue, I get an email from Luke Solomon. At that time, I didn’t even know who Luke Solomon was. The email said, “Tracks rock. Waiting to hear from DC.” And that’s all it said! I was like, “Who are you?” (Laughing)

EP: What are you working on now?

DP: I quit my day job as a receptionist a year and a half ago with the intention of moving on to the music business, doing whatever I could to earn a living in music. My first efforts were through composing music for ads and games. But the work was pretty hard to come by so I started making house tracks, and began sending my demos to Jamie “Jimpster” [at Freerange], and he signed those tracks pretty much immediately. After my wedding last summer I was pretty hard up for cash and decided to reach out to Om Records and Freerange for remix work. I picked up a few spec projects, delivered them as fast as I could, and they’ve bought every one of them. It pulled me right up out of this little debt situation that I had. Ever since then, I just haven’t stopped. Music is my career now.

EP: What else?

DP: In early June, Om is releasing an EP called The Pezzner Mixes, which is a release of other people’s tracks that I remixed. I have an EP coming out on a London label called Urbantorque called Logan that has a little bit of a synth-y, progressive vibe to it. It’s a little different from what people are used to hearing from me but still deep and hypnotic. I’ve been doing a lot of remix work, and I’ll also be working on my full-length this summer.

See the original post on Flavorwire.

Mutek 2009

Image Matthew Cheetham

Image Matthew Cheetham

Mutek 2009 marked the electronic-orientated new media and music festival’s tenth consecutive year with too many multi-sensory delights for brain synapses to process in quick succession. Highlights included performances by Nortec Collective’s Bostitch and Fussible, GAS (Wolfgang Voigt, founder of Kompakt), Moderat (a collaboration between Modeselektor and Apparat, founder of Shitkatapult), The Orb’s Thomas Fehlmann, and a host of others.

While it can all be a bit overwhelming, turning even the most hardcore clubber into an over-stimulated and joyful zombie, Flavorpill’s Sara Jayne Crow was there in force, cataloging every blip, break, and minimal backbeat. After the jump, her observations and a series of PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS from the festival.


Robert Henke (Monolake) and Christopher Bauder
The illustrious Robert Henke (Monolake) joined Christopher Bauder for “ATOM,” an installation of “compositions played on a matrix of 64 illuminated helium balloons.” Although conceptually divine, the performance was a bit underwhelming for those who had seen Henke’s Mutek performances in past years — especially 2003’s unreal Narod Niki nine-man clusterfunk with Ricardo Villalobos, Ritchie Hawtin, Dimbiman, Akufen, Dandy Jack, Daniel Bell, Cabanne and Luciano. In 2005’s “Studies for Thunder,” Henke replicated thunder through digitalia sequenced in a realtime, multi-channel framework, creating a cyclone of sound so storm-ish that the aural sensation sprung a nearly tactile phantom plop of raindrops.

Thomas Fehlmann
The Orb’s Thomas Fehlmann is still doing it after four decades of twiddling knobs and arranging chords. He sauntered onstage at Piknic èlectronik — an epic event situated on the Île Notre Dame with Montreal’s skyline as backdrop — wearing, appropriately, a blue gingham baseball cap that created the jolly appearance of a picnic on his head. Fehlmann electrified, mastering his characteristic slow, rollicking builds, voluminous arrangements, Orblivion-esque capers and space-age potluck shenanigans while doing the occasional hula dance.

Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai
As Cyclo, for the Mutek A\VISIONS audio/visual series, Raster-Noton luminaries Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai delivered with their usual attention to detail. The duo sampled and interwove strains of feedback together as found sound with corresponding sonic waves morphing on the screen behind them in stark black and white contrast. The performance began with controlled frenetecism and found resolution in gradual percolation of basslines anchoring the mire.

French “Cabaret house” trio dOP slid into a prime (if a wee bit early) time slot at the gorgeous Métropolis venue. The staging-staggered white placards foregrounding LED lights cascading from the ceiling and rising from the floor set an appropos surrounding for the glitzy trinity of Jonathan Illel, Clement Zemtsov and Damien Vandesande. In appearance, they’re kind of like ’80s technicolor meets the “scene” bars of The Bastille. Sunglasses as accessories (we’re talking form over function, as the club was dark) were plentiful. One of the fellows had a scarf wrapped around his forehead and knotted off to the side into a dramatic sash which yo-yo’d, nearly falling into his laptop keys and getting tossed over his shoulder as he swigged Absolut vodka out of the bottle. The singer wore a T-Shirt in this grass green color proclaiming in big white block letters, “WAIT IT GETS BIGGER,” which he eventually stripped off before inviting girls onstage. The two fellows navigating the laptops sort of sashayed the crowd into a frenzy, building their set with layered arrangements, staggered percussion, and off-kilter measures.

Ricardo Villalobos and Zip (Thomas ‘Dimbiman’ Franzmann)
Ricardo Villalobos and Zip (aka Thomas Franzmann, alter-ego Dimbiman) paired off at Piknic èlectronik for a slick seven-hour set. I arrived during the final hour of their outdoor performance as the sun set on a blustery, rainy day. Seagulls wheeled around in the wind, their bellies underlit by stadium lights below glowing clouds no longer pregnant with rain. The wind velocity matched the visceral measures of the spacious, synth-laden tracks Villalobos dropped. It had been a long, cold day, and only those built for endurance in Gore-Tex and weatherproof garb remained in the park. All present were dancing. I ignored the wind on my bare hands as Villalobos sashayed into an epic finale with a spare pendulum swinging Metronome type track. In a 2009 interview on Mutek’s site, Villalobos says he wants to make a perfect club track, but that’s doing a disservice to his music. His music is all tension, torsion and release; it’s about a spareness of sound, about what his tracks don’t say. It’s about how music unifies, once again.

Don’t Shoot, We’re Devo: Pt. 3

Image Courtesy Gerald Casale

Image Courtesy Gerald Casale

Scrunchies. Jazzercise. The Gremlin car, in all its hatchback deformity. Cone-shaped bras. Jell-o fruit salad. Members Only jackets. Hammer pants. Over the course of a decade, countless trends have lit the pop-culture landscape and receded into obsolescence. What is it, then, that endures about Devo? Why does their 1978 album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, still sound timely nearly 40 years later. Why do their energy-dome hats still look awesome? We met with Devo’s Jerry Casale over several months to find out. In this, the third installment of our exclusive Devo interview series, Sara Jayne Crow delves into the origins of “energy-dome” hats, explores the pending McDonald’s lawsuit, and encounters the ghost of lawsuits past.

Flavorpill: Let’s talk about the beginnings of Devo, back when people lobbed beer bottles onstage while you performed. Before Saturday Night Live, before Warner Brothers records, before the lawsuits…

Jerry Casale: In a slightly different scenario, it could’ve been that the real beginning of Devo was also the end. It could’ve been over, and nothing else would have happened. We would never have had a body of work, or a history. And that’s how narrow the difference is. It’s like the whole story of Tesla.

FP: I love that you brought up Tesla right now.

JC: Why?

FP: It’s just poetic.

JC: That’s a great story. He was an amazing artist, and his legacy was besmirched. He was erased from history. Except for people like us, who know about him. That’s how it can go. That’s the difference… just that much.

FP: That’s sort of the human condition, isn’t it?

JC: That’s right. There are plenty of people today in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the massive rape in Africa, and the People’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, or whatever the fuck it is. It’s horrifying. Where’s the great United States justice there?

FP: America is normally so obtrusive in foreign affairs. But in the case of the Congo, it’s not financially solvent, and the pain and suffering continues.

JC: The pain and suffering is unbelievable.

FP: So where do you think this is all going? All the pain, suffering, strife, pollution, devolution?

JC: There’s just going to be more and more of it. There aren’t enough powerful, good people in the world to stop the freight train of history into the black hole. There are too many evil people and subhuman victims that aren’t equipped to resist any more. The saddest thing of all is in American politics, where blue-collar people are the worst in terms of being affected by heinous policies of the Federal government that penalizes them and drives them further and further into the dirt. They are the most tricked by the very people that perpetrate their victimization. These are the people that voted twice for Bush and probably voted for McCain and Palin.

FP: Time for another tea party? Back to the beginnings of Devo question… let’s talk about something devoid of politics and pain. How about where the idea for the “energy dome” hats come about?

JC: The idea originally came from a comic book about a cancellator helmet. The character in the comic book wore the helmet so she couldn’t hear, and it made her happy because it blocked out babble from the outside world. It looked a little bit like a ceiling fixture I used to fixate on in my [Catholic] grade school. Because I hated the nuns so much, I would stare at the ceiling so I wouldn’t have to look at them. If you could imagine the energy domes turned upside down in white milk glass, they looked exactly the same. I used to love the design. And I thought, “We should make a vacuum-formed plastic hat that looks like that for Devo.” And so I set about trying to make it.

At some point, a worker in the production factory we were using asked if we were making flower pots, and I spontaneously said we were making energy domes because he pissed me off. If we gave interviews, we talked about Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box, and added that to the story after the fact. To begin with, it was more about visual design and a ridiculous idea for a hat.

FP: So what’s up with the Devo lawsuit with McDonald’s over the “New Wave Nigel” happy meal toy whose hat looks mysteriously like those hats?

JC: You know, it’s very funny. You know… McDonald’s is so frightening with the legal process that I realized how power works, true power, all over again. Even I was surprised by how avaricious it was. I’m not allowed to tell you a thing about this, or they can sue me… But there was no lawsuit.

FP: Can you at least talk about why you filed the suit?

JC: They had a promotion for Happy Meals where each decade of was represented by different characters, the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and now. Oddly enough, the ’80s character, which was the “New Wave Nigel” doll, did appear to us to be Devo. I can’t talk about it. I like how the victim becomes the victim, again.

FP: That’s been a theme, hasn’t it?

JC: Absolutely. It never stops. Whatever happened with McDonald’s… McDonald’s is a powerful corporation, and it creates reality, like Karl Rove. What they say goes. Even though we felt we were the victims, we were being treated like perpetrators and troublemakers. The fact that we’re not allowed to talk about it… you needn’t say more than that. By saying what I’m saying, I’m talking about it. That’s the problem.

It’s like the first time we were ever sued. We were sued less than every band, I think. The biggest and most furious one was where former friend and associate at Kent [State University], Bob Lewis, trumped up a suit about Devo about theft of intellectual property, which was ludicrous. Really, it was about a kid from Akron University’s college paper who tricked Mark into saying Bob Lewis was our manager, which was totally not true. Two years later, when we were getting ready to tour, and had a real manager — Elliot Roberts, who managed Neil Young, The Cars, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. This guy pulls out this tape and tries to injunct our tour, so we were forced to settle. He tried to claim that was proof his case of theft of intellectual property was real, which was totally ridiculous. It would make a great movie in and of itself, because then everyone starts arguing about the reference points for de-evolution and where it came from…

FP: Isn’t that the most devolved argument you can have?

JC: I know! Did it come from the comic book, did it come from The Island of Lost Souls, who said what first, and we were all acknowledging that we got this idea from pre-existing sources: even the song title “Jocko Homo” came from a religious pamphlet. The point is that these are influences of artistic people, and the ideas don’t belong to anyone, on that level. What may be Devo is the fact that Mark and I wrote songs with certain lyrics and played songs a certain way. That’s what made Devo, Devo. Not who read what book first.

FP: In some ways, the “New Wave Nigel” character, McDonald’s was homage to Devo.

JC: They were using a copyrighted icon that I created without asking permission. The point is, we don’t approve of what McDonald’s represents. If we had, maybe the homage would have been a compliment to us.

FP: Wasn’t there a band you were in called 15-60-75?

JC: Yes, I played both bass and drums at different times in that band.

FP: You were quoted at one point as saying that you wanted to write McDonald’s jingles with the band, because that’s what was familiar to people and was part of the mental landscape of the general populous whether they knew it or not.

JC: We were inspired by early McDonald’s advertising, because we were so horrified by it. We wanted to subvert what people liked. We wanted to take it and misappropriate it, or be transgressive about it. In our early videos, we would watch McDonald’s commercials and see what they did-we learned how to do our shot selection and edit from McDonald’s commercials. But then we mixed it with German expressionism and horrific twists to screw with people. It’s like in the “Beautiful World” video, where we show some really ridiculous, humorous image and then a starving child in Africa right after it.

FP: It’s taking the familiar editing precepts and making it into something subversive and appealing via shock, which has far more of an impact.

JC: It’s alienation by the familiar.

Related posts: Exclusive: Don’t Shoot, We’re Devo: Pt. 2
Exclusive: Devo’s Jerry Casale on De-evolution and the Meaning of ‘Whip It’

Don’t Shoot, We’re Devo: Pt. 2

Even today, some 30 years after the band’s debut, there are legions of Devo-tees. Perhaps it’s due to the philosophy of De-evolution and the precocious employ of musical, visual and philosophical elements before it was in vogue. Perhaps it’s an inevitable outcome of years spent releasing daring records bound to off-the-wall antics, to court popularity and success while simultaneously shunning it. Perhaps it’s just the magnetism of the yellow-jumpsuit-”energy-dome” combination.

Whatever the allure, for every fan of the MTV-happy “Whip It” there’s another cataloging Devo t-shirts in cellophane wrap organized by concert year and sub-categorized by month and color. Earplug’s Sara Jayne Crow met with Jerry Casale of Devo over the course of several months. The following is the second installment (you can find the first here and below) in a series covering the De-evolution philosophy, Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies,” and the “rogue’s gallery” of Devo history.

Earplug: How’s Los Angeles?

Jerry Casale: Everybody’s doing meaningless shit, and they just do it in this endless procession of consumption. It’s like taking a shit. Out here [in LA], it’s just sadistic. The girls are really entitled, aggressive and mean. They’ve turned into the ways guys used to be… callow and womanizing. The girls are laughing at the guys who care about them. It’s just mind-boggling.

EP: Isn’t that just in keeping with the patterns of history, though? The pendulum swings?

JC: Yeah, but none of it’s good.

EP: Has it ever been?

JC: Maybe not. I guess I’ve never seen the volume of bad be so high and up-front, that’s all. I’ve never seen so many stupid people.

EP: De-evolution at work?

Yes. So many stupid people who are kind of proud of being stupid. Shameless. They don’t even feel stupid at all. It’s like how we got to a point in America where you can be put down as a politician if you were able to speak as if you knew more than the crowd you were talking to.

EP: Let’s talk about the beginnings of Devo and philosophy, which was couched in the concept of de-evolution. You have spoken of the band forming as a reaction to the brute military force at the Kent State University antiwar protest in 1970 in an older Vermont Review interview.

JC: Yes. I think I was kind of a hippie until that point. I believed naively that there was justice, that good deeds mattered, and that there really was a democracy enforcing the Constitution, and that bigotry and segregation were aberrations, not the norm. And I was wrong. The evil far outweighs the good, and you would have to be a constant warrior vigilante, day and night, to make a dent in it. One of the things I could do was to have an artistic aesthetic that was a sort of gun in your face, giving some back to ‘em, but in a way that you’re allowed to operate. Because if I’d done what I really felt like doing, I’d be in jail for homicide.

EP: What did you really feel like doing, or who did you really feel should be killed?

JC: Oh, there were so many people that should have died.

EP: Nixon?

JC: Sure, sure absolutely. There were so many, locally and nationally. But it’s like the Medusa. It seems to work when the right wing kills off a visionary leader because somebody trying to give people hope and a sense of direction and lift them up really is important. But there is always another evil guy. There’s an endless supply of those guys. Evil is easy; it’s based on fear and hopelessness. But the opposite isn’t easy. You change history by killing a visionary. The evil goes from the top to the bottom and right down from the largest kind of implications for masses of people on a political level to interpersonal relationships, love and business relationships. I have not been able to put what I know into practice, in terms of me becoming cynical enough to act differently. I always act as if things could turn out well, or as if what you put into something matters.

EP: So what are you working on right now, aside from the new album?

JC: I’m working on a first draft of the early days of Devo movie with Matt Diehl, a writer for Rolling Stone. It’s about Devo in the sad, sad Akron days beginning in 1974. It shows the truth, which is stranger than fiction, where, against all odds, and totally whacked-out, this art band goes from being this hopeless joke everyone laughs.. to synching up with the new wave and punk movements… It goes all the way through to where we get signed and try to start our first tour and get the deal to go on Saturday Night Live. The movie ends there, although there’s a coda or postscript that takes place in 1980 when “Whip It” is a hit, and everyone wants us to write another hit and meet with producers. There’s also a prequel including the killings at Kent State. It’s the probable journey and struggle to success, but the success is a question mark.

EP: How did you choose that particular time period?

JC: Because that’s where the important formation of the whole concept turning into a productive reality took place, against all odds and with a lot of conflict and dark humor, and where all the revolutionary aesthetic that we had got created, including our first 10-minute film, The Truth About De-evolution. You’re seeing this rogue’s gallery of people, the record company executives and New York promoters, and Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Dean Stockwell, Neil Young and Toni Basil, Richard Branson, Ron Blakely… and it’s insane, how it all works.

EP: How did you treat the Brian Eno part?

JC: Just truthfully. It was pretty strange. Brian Eno and Devo were on two different dimensional planes that kind of intersected, but not really.

EP: Did you talk about the “Oblique Strategies” [Eno’s approach to finding a new formula for the Devo sound]?

JC: Oh, yeah.

EP: What did you make of that?

JC: Devo being the smartass intellectuals that we were, we thought the Oblique Strategies were pretty wanky. They were too Zen for us. We thought that precious, pseudo-mystical, elliptical stuff was too groovy. We were into brute, nasty realism and industrial-strength sounds and beats. We didn’t want pretty. Brian was trying to add beauty to our music.

EP: He probably wanted something spontaneous for your sound.

JC: We knew so much what we wanted. What his ideas were usually were antithetical to what we needed to do. The songs we brought into that studio we had played and played and played. We were married to what they were. We were driven by anger.

EP: Yes, and that anger seems to have drove you through three decades. What you were doing thirty years ago is more timely now than it ever has been.

JC: Yeah, but we knew then we were doing something that had nothing to do with trends. We were just trying to perfect what we did, and people made fun of us, saying, “Why the fuck are you doing this? Who wants to hear this, and why are you trying so hard?” It was because we had an idea. And now our music sounds contemporary.

EP: Now people are trying to re-make that punk, retro synth sound Devo mastered.

JC: There was a generation of kids that never heard us and finally found us and got inspired. And they don’t want grunge. They don’t want to hear about some whining bastard’s personal pain. They want something that unifies a group of people, inspires them, and lifts them up. And that is exactly what is new about new wave. That’s exactly what new wave did. When you heard God Save the Queen, and you were me at my age, and you heard The Clash’s London Calling, it was incredible. It made you feel like you could move, like you could go forward. It brought people together, and lifted them up. I think people need that now.

Photo credit: Moishe Brakha

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Rolling Stone stuffs

Devo’s Jerry Casale on De-evolution and the Meaning of ‘Whip It’


The narrative of Devo follows a labyrinthine maze through the shattered idealism of the ’60s, the record-label monopolies of the ’70s, and the cocaine-addled New Wave scene of the ’80s. Recently reemerging for present-day collaborations with artists like Adam Freeland and Teddybears, the sometimes famed, sometimes infamous Devo have been busy of late. After completing a 2006 tour clad in the requisite yellow jumpsuits and creating “Watch Us Work It” for a Dell campaign, the band sued McDonald’s for use of its trademarked “flower-pot” or “energy-dome” hats in Happy Meal toys. Now on the cusp of releasing a new album after 19 years of silence, the band will be performing new songs at SXSW’s BMI showcase on March 20 in Austin, Texas.

Earplug’s Sara Jayne Crow met with Jerry Casale — co-founder, vocalist, bass guitarist, and synthesizer maestro of Devo — in his Santa Monica home over the course of several months. The following interview is the first installment in a series covering the long Devo history, De-evolution as a philosophy, the nature of the new album, and the real meaning of “Whip It.”

Earplug: After all this time, you’ve come together to release a new album. But initially you were brought together again to do music for a commercial for Dell, “Watch Us Work It”…

Jerry Casale: Yes, and the commercial got such a huge response. It was popular with listeners, and more importantly, it was popular with record companies. We gave it to Teddybears, and they produced it.

EP: This was during your 2006 tour?

JC: Yeah. I liked Teddybears, and their record had just come out. Paul, the creative director of Mother agency in New York (who hired us to work on the Dell commercial), knows them. He suggested that they do something with the song, and we thought that was fantastic. We loved what they did.

EP: I like that it updated the Devo sound.

JC: It was perfect, because it sounded like Devo, but it didn’t. People were like, “Is that Devo?” And then they were like, “Oh yeah, it’s perfect, it’s Devo.” It kept what people had in mind about what they think Devo should be without literally being self-parody, or something, which is a good fine line. I don’t think anyone would want Devo to come out and not sound like Devo, at this point. They wouldn’t accept that.

EP: How are you grappling with creating something new for the Devo sound while remaining true to the original direction, philosophy, and rawness?

JC: The way we decided to deal with this was to just use the same process we used in the past for writing, and to see what would happen, because it had been so long since we did that.

EP: The process being what?

JC: Everyone contributing ideas, sounds, and musical figures, and only developing the ones that everyone likes. With “Girl U Want,” like so many of our songs, we could tell in the first five seconds that they were recognizable as non-generic. We develop from there. That’s always what I was good at, taking things from different influences. “Whip It” was actually four songs, pieces of tape, and four different time signatures. There was the riff, chorus (a very slow, almost classical piece with no drums), and the bridge was a rock song, and the strange beat was an experiment that the drummer of Captain Beefheart, John French, would hang out with Mark [Mothersbaugh] and jam. A version of that beat that was too jazzy came out of that time. Once we had that beat, I had the idea of taking the other three pieces of music and unifying them. I had these “Whip It” lyrics from my attempt at doing a Thomas Pynchon parody. He did a bunch of parodies in Gravity’s Rainbow, and I liked them so much that I wanted to do one. So for me, “Whip It” was a parody of the whole Horatio Alger “You’re number one, there’s nobody else like you, you can do it” thing.

EP: Cheerleading stuff? Isn’t it ironic, then, that people generally think the song is about sadomasochism? Because, viewed in light of the theory of De-evolution that Devo stands for, the mindset is sort of masochistic.

JC: We like the irony. We knew people would think that. That’s why I made the video I made for the song. I said, “OK, let’s just give ‘em what they want, or what they think they want to see — except we’ll be making fun of Ronald Reagan and Americana. At that time, he was campaigning for the presidency on this whole rancher thing with the cowboy hat, on horseback.

EP: The lone ranger?

JC: Yeah, so we did this sort of “down at the ranch” video, but made it S&M. It was disturbing to everybody because there was a band playing in the corral, and Mark’s whipping this girl’s clothes off while cowboys cheer. It made us laugh, because it’s so horrible.

EP: It’s so demeaning…

JC: To all of us! To everyone.

EP: Yes, it’s an equal opportunity demean-er.

JC: It is, it really is. “Whip it into shape” is so ubiquitous, and cliché. I was trying to use lyrics that were a bunch of clichés if taken out of context, on purpose. Lyrics that are universal, but turn into some other meaning when taken together. “Freedom of Choice” was like that: starting with some slogan. We love slogans and commands, and that’s why we return to that idea. We try not to write about anything typical. One of our new songs is taken from a hunter’s safety vest that reads, “Don’t Shoot, I’m a Man” on the back.

EP: What are some of the lyrics?

JC: I get up every day / It’s a miracle, I’m told / Somehow I live to work / So I hit the road / Squeeze into my hybrid car / Drive as fast as I can / I scan the rooftops, yeah I scan the rooftops / Don’t shoot, I’m a man

EP: How is the mention of a hybrid car relevant to the song?

JC: We were just trying to paint a portrait of a modern, harried man. An emasculated, rat-race man living in a dangerous world full of crazy people and violence. And he has a horrible life, so he wakes up every day to get in his little dinky-ass, wimpy hybrid, and then is afraid for his life as he drives in gridlock to work. He’s begging, “Please, don’t make me prey.” It’s an anti-violence song. Humans feel like they’re being hunted now.

In this day and age, the whole instinctual human need for self-preservation isn’t really relevant. We’re not fending for ourselves out in nature, in the jungle. We lead sheltered, easy lives. Modern violence has less to do with the physical and more to do with day-to-day human interactions. We may not be in the jungle, but we created a new jungle. An urban jungle. And we created an unsustainable environment, and we’re doing our own species in. That’s what the song is about, in a humorous way.

We’re also doing a song called “What We Do,” which is again addressing the fact that human nature being what it is, it’s almost programmed to self-destruct… It’s like not taking two years to die on chemotherapy, or something. You’re spared if you go quickly. But of course we don’t deal with it that way. In the video we’re making for it, a hand is picking from cut-and-paste ad graphics of people and chimps. It picks certain people and chimps, and puts them in a spaceship, and then they get beamed up. It’s a reference to the stupid Scientology mythology. We’re showing these video backgrounds in sync with the music at this year’s South by Southwest.

EP: You’re performing all the new music there?

JC: Three new songs. And also showing people what we used to do before anyone used to do it, which is to play in sync with video. And now, sure, Nine Inch Nails do it, and U2 do it. It used to be almost impossible to do it the way we had to do it with the technology we had back then. Now it’s easier, it’s just expensive.

EP: So how many new songs do you have right now?

JC: We have about ten demos, and we’re working on about five. We have six songs completed and mixed and ready to hand to producers. We’re looking at a fall tour with our new CD. In the meantime, we want to get this music to licensers and producers.

EP: What’s the general feeling of rapport or camaraderie in the group right now? How are you getting along after all these years?

JC: I can only speak for myself. I have the same commitment, excitement, and urgency. I think to a large degree that the two Bobs do, as well. We do have some really good songs now. There’s one called “Fresh” that I like a lot. The lyrics are:

So fresh / I’ll search until I find it / So fresh / I’m closing in behind it / So fresh / Nothing could be better / So fresh / Like I died and went to heaven / So fresh it almost makes me want to cry / So fresh it’s givin’ me a second life / I see a fork in the road / Where it goes I don’t know / I won’t even think twice / I really don’t have a choice

EP: So it’s about… encroachment? Love?

JC: It’s about anything. It’s about fulfilling your destiny, and chasing new love.

EP: Thermodynamics?

JC: Yeah! What was the old high-school maxim? “When the angle of the dangle is proportionate to the heat of the meat, and the mass of the ass stays constant?” That’s thermodynamics! I love those hillbilly truisms and wisdom. It gets profound when you get older and think about it. High-school kids know everything already.

EP: And then you learn it over and over again, and then forget it, and then you don’t know anything, and that’s the true state of enlightenment.

JC: That’s right. Artists tend not to forget what they knew in high school. That’s what I like about artists. Part of them doesn’t grow up. They don’t get ashamed of those impulses. I don’t like people who do things in a spiritless way. Like with anything, like with sex. If you’re going to bother doing it, try to do a really good job. Concentrate and be there, and try to really be good at what you do.

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Bicycles are Your Friends: Peloton Musique

The whir of spokes slicing air, crank and shaft rotation, the sprickity-sprock as chain catches teeth, torque coupling — who says bicycles aren’t sexy? For its inaugural release, rough-riding Seattleite Peloton Musique invited producers to use samples of spoke plucks, bicycle-pump valves, brake compression, and hissing sprockets. Artful production shenanigans, chin-scratching time signatures, and Kompakt-like romps abound on selections from heavyweights Markus Nikolai, Lusine, Jeff Samuel, Let’s Go Outside, and Twerk. Misha’s “Knickabocka” is awash in sunshine, with uplifting pads and rhythmic clicks propelling the track forward; Nordic Soul’s “BMX Love Machine” evokes a BMX wet dream with minimal torsion, laser sounds, and polished vocoder lyrics. The bonus CD ventures into experimental work, including a dubbed-out cover by Monsieur Leisure. Ultimately, Peloton’s nod to cycling and community produces a kinetic energy that promises to replenish even the most wary bike believers.

Check the Peloton and Decibel Festival sites for information on the upcoming Peloton Musique Showcase at Seattle’s Decibel Festival this September. This article is published in Earplug. Continue reading