“I was like the North Korea of music in the ‘80s and there was only one Dear Leader and that was Devo.”
Custard frontman Dave McCormack says his love of Devo was a poisoned chalice.
“I’m glad I got into them, but I think I got into them too much. If I could go back, I would tell my younger self to listen to other stuff because this is all I listened to for about 5 years.
“I discarded everything else that was happening cuz I just wanted to listen to Devo. And there was so much else going on, I should have been listening to REM and The Saints, but I didn’t. I was almost militant.”
The story begins in Dave’s early teens.
“I went to Ipswich Grammar School and I had a friend there called Andrew McEwen and his older brother had a cassette tape of an EP that Devo put out called B Stiff. He also had ‘Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!’ And that blew my mind. That was it.”
“The song that really got me was Mongoloid … it starts with the bass riff, the drums are nothing like I ever heard before, the vocals are just weird, the synthy keyboard line.”
The strange repetitive lyrics also made an impact.
“It was something I tried to appropriate later, using science as lyrics …’one chromosome too many’ … you know, that’s a fact, and they made it sound like poetry or a poem. And that’s something I’ve always found really interesting, trying to combine that.”
Listening to their music though wasn’t enough to satiate this fan.
“In 1985 I ordered from America, ‘We’re All … Devo’ and ‘Devo: The Men Who Make the Music’ VHS compilations. There wasn’t much music television in Australia back then and I had these two 45-minute VHS official cassettes of Devo film clips and live footage. It blew my mind.”
He nominates ‘Satisfaction’ as probably the band’s best video.
“It’s got a punk dancer called Spazz Attack in it and he does all these cartwheels, and they shot it in a strange frame rate so it looks extra jerky.
“I think they shot it slow, then sped it up slightly … and to this day, if I play that ‘Satisfaction’ cover, it’s still spine tinglingly good.”
Even after shelling out good money and patiently waiting for his overseas VHS tape delivery, his dedication to Devo remained a lonesome pursuit.
“I had a grand total of zero friends to watch them with. None of my friends were into Devo.”
But that didn’t faze him. He was on a mission.
McCormack’s first band Who’s Gerald was named after Gerald V Casale, Devo’s bass player, and modelled their stage look on Dave’s heroes.
“We all got pseudo fascist outfits like they did … and then we were all wearing clown outfits.
“Our drummer Cathy worked at Hungry Jacks and they would do kids parties, and they had all these clown outfits, so she would source all these clown outfits for us with the rainbow hair … So, it was always about uniforms and jerky rhythms. It was all about trying to be like Devo and trying to come up with some manifesto.”
Having grown up in Brisbane and nourished on a steady diet of sci-fi television shows like Lost in Space, Star Trek and Land of The Giants, McCormack ponders if his childhood fascinations in both low- and high-budget sci-fi was perhaps triggered by the alien and robotic sounds he heard from Devo.
“It was like music from another planet,” he says.
“There’s a tension in all the tracks and the sounds are beautiful – even the ugliest sounds are beautiful, like those buzzsawy, paper-thin guitars, and the broken keyboard sounds.”
The album and the band are an enduring source of inspiration and joy for McCormack.
But blind allegiance has a price and Dave admits there have been some serious drawbacks to his Devo devotion.
“Do you know how much this band has influenced me? Too much.
“I think I would have been a much better musician and songwriter had I not listened to them so much, because I got so myopic, so obsessed with them.”
That said, it also seems McCormack had the benefit of some damn good times marching under the flag, and dancing to the sounds of the weird, brilliant and fearless Devo.