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First Person

Devo’s co-founder on music’s technological toolbox

Gerald Casale has seen music’s evolution and devolution, and he’s got opinions about fake democracy, great rock films, and the Spotify hive-mind.

Gerald Casale is a co-founder and co-songwriter of the pioneering New Wave band Devo. He is also a music-video director.

What has been your favorite technology for listening to music, and why?
Whatever technology was prevalent in your teenage years is what you prefer, because with each emerging technology, the quality of the sound diminished as commerce trumped the value of the listening experience. In my case it was, of course, vinyl records.

What’s a technological tool you couldn’t live without when you’re creating music?
Electricity.

What’s the biggest way the Spotify algorithm, and other forms of AI, have changed the music industry?
It has made everyone more and more conformist. We are headed for the hive. As devolved as Axl Rose is, he had one thing absolutely nailed more than 20 years ago: “Chinese Democracy.” That is insidious capitalism without real freedom of choice (the title of a song Mark Mothersbaugh and I wrote 40 years ago that I wish Axl had covered).

How has technology changed live music shows?
It has made them less live. It’s karaoke now. On the positive side, video and light technology has enabled immersive visual shows to make up for the lack of heart and soul in the performances. 

What’s a technology, that, as a kid, you thought we’d have by now, but we don’t?
Teleportation. 

“Pay un-judgmental attention to what the artist is trying to communicate using their current techno toolbox.”

What’s your favorite movie about music, and why?
I liked “Control” and “It Might Get Loud.” The first was an honest biopic using an unknown actor as Ian Curtis [of Joy Division] and nailed that reality. The second was a revealing study of three of our most iconic musicians from the last five decades.

Auto-tuned vocals: For or against? 
A tired cliché at this point. I only like it when it’s almost a satirical, over-the-top, in-your-face choice now.

What does the music industry need to do to adapt to technological change?
Pay un-judgmental attention to what the artist is trying to communicate using their current techno toolbox.

Is there a single technology — outside of the music industry — that has changed the course of your life?
Google Maps. 

What’s one strange or surprising app you have on your phone?
Duolingo. 

What music do you listen to when you want to relax?
I don’t relax when I listen to music. It makes me want to go “uptown,” if you know what I mean. 

Could a robot create a good song?
They already are.

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Photo by Gabriel Olsen/WireImage

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