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Devo: Bastardizing the Blues

Devo: Bastardizing the Blues

Mothersbaugh onstage at the 2010 Coachella Festival with his La Baye 2x4 guitar, which features a Howard Holman-designed tremolo and what appears to be a non-stock single-coil in the neck position. Photo by Peter Dervin

Are you picky when it comes to cables and picks?

Well, I like coiled cords but they get all tangled up onstage, so I use a wireless system. I use Dunlop Gator Grip picks, because the outfits we wear onstage make me sweat profusely. The picks have a powder on them that gets sticky when they come into contact with sweat, so I don’t drop many picks.

You wouldn’t want to bend down to retrieve a pick, only to have your Energy Dome fall off.

Exactly, it would spoil the illusion!

Has the way Devo writes and records evolved over time?

Totally. The way we used to do it was that someone had an idea, and he’d start playing it, and everyone would just start playing along. Over the course of a couple of days, we would play a song over and over, and everyone would hone their parts. We had to play the whole song and remember our parts and think about the changes, because you had to play it all live. The last couple of albums we did in the late ’80s were all done with sequencers and synthesizers, and they had very little guitar. A lot of times, the whole song was pretty much done by the time I put a guitar part down, so I had to think of small guitar parts that didn’t clash with all the synth parts.

Most of the classic Devo tunes are heavily guitar based, and it seems that the more the band moved away from guitar on later albums, the less power the songs had.

Yeah, I’m aware of that [laughs]. Twenty years ago, someone in the band decided that guitars were obsolete and nobody would be using guitars 20 years from then, and they tried to make that a reality, which really didn’t work for us.

Well, we’re glad you put your foot down on that. Something for Everybody has tons of guitar on it—like the old days!

True, but when we started Something for Everybody, I said “Let’s play like a band, everyday.” Everybody said, “Yeah, that’s what we need to do!” And we did it for exactly one day. In my opinion, there wasn’t enough real jamming. The album was essentially assembled in pieces using [MOTU] Digital Performer or [Apple] Logic by whomever was in the studio at the time.

“So Fresh” sounds like classic Devo.

When we first tracked that song, I put a different solo—a more contemporary-sounding one—on it. But John Hill and Santigold [Santi White] came in to help produce the song, and Santigold said, “No Bob, don’t you remember your lead in ‘Be Stiff’? You’ve got to do something exactly like that.” So I thought about it for a minute and said, “Wow, you really know your Devo history.” Then I went back into the studio and whipped out a solo, a là “Be Stiff.”
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