April 3, 2001 -- Devo is back! Sort of. In a scenario that plays like the musical equivalent of Back to the Future, the new album from the members of Devo — The Wipeouters' new release, P'Twaaang!!! — is actually a collection of the very first songs the band's members ever wrote, before Devo even existed.
"There was a band called The Wipeouters in the '60s, back when we were junior-high kids. We'd done this band before we were in Devo," says Mark Mothersbaugh, the singer for both bands.
The Wipeouters were, as Mark recalls "just one of those dumb kid bands." The original lineup of the surf band included future Devo "spud boys" Bob Mothersbaugh (Mark's brother), as well as siblings Bob and Gerry Casale.
"When you're in a band and you're that young, you're at the mercy of all the other things that are demanded of you, like going to ninth grade, and stuff like that," Mark says. So duty called, and the kids quit the band with their songs never echoing too far beyond the walls of the Casale family's basement in Kent, Ohio.
It seemed The Wipeouters were destined to be another arcane entry in the pages of rock and roll history. While in Devo, Mothersbaugh rarely mentioned his band, sticking to the high-concept nature of Devo's mythology. Devo's mysterious automaton nature was part and parcel of its image, though the band's sound occasionally betrayed its Wipeouters roots, especially in its choice of spy-surf covers like "Secret Agent Man."
The chance for Mothersbaugh to give The Wipeouters their due finally came when his production company, Mutato Muzika, was asked to write a theme song for TV's Rocket Power animated series. Mutato is the post-Devo creative tank that's scored TV commercials, cartoons, and movies, including Rugrats and Pee Wee's Playhouse.
After Mark saw clips of the new show, he thought The Wipeouters' surf sound would be a perfect match for the series' subject matter of "skateboarding and surfing and rollerblading."
"The other Wipeouters work here," he says of Mutato. "So we were trying to remember the surf songs and actually everybody remembered them and we did the song for [Rocket Power's] title track out of this music we'd written when we were in junior high."
Upon hearing The Wipeouters' sound, Gabor Csupo — creator of the Rocket Power series — encouraged the band to release an entire album of Wipeouters material. The band obliged, penning only new lyrics to its old songs.
"It was kind of fun to go back and revisit it," Mothersbaugh says of recording the album, though he adds that this will be a one-time deal,with no tour planned.
In addition to the history behind The Wipeouters, the "family-affair aspect of the CD gave the project an added nostalgic twist. Jim Mothersbaugh, Devo's first drummer, plays on P'Twaaang!!!, as does the 75-year-old Casale patriarch, "Mr. Casale," as Mark respectfully calls him.
"Five years ago, he retired, and he thought bowling would be his life, but I guess it wasn't as soul satisfying as he was hoping and he picked up bass," Mark says, explaining that the senior Casale followed in the footsteps of his son, Gerry, who was Devo's bass player.
"His part sounds like Bootsy [Collins]!" Mothersbaugh says of the results. "It's really kind of funky."