When Devo’s Gerald V Casale came up with a new solo vehicle in the early 2000s, America was not ready for Jihad Jerry And The Evildoers. With a snazzy new re-release and a brand new track, perhaps the time is now. After all, his is not a holy war…

What happened to the American counterculture of the 1970s? The self-obsession of the cocaine high ousted the mind-expansion and oneness of the LSD trip. John Lennon was baking bread in the Dakota Apartments and Yippie leader Jerry “Chicago 7” Rubin was on his way to becoming a millionaire stockbroker. But Gerald Vincent “Jerry” Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, two former long-haired 1960s radicals from America’s post-industrial wasteland, donned yellow boilersuits, deconstructed rock ’n’ roll with synthesisers and angular weirdness, and posed the baffling yet loaded question, “Are we not men?”, immediately answering it themselves by declaring, “We are Devo!”.

Following on from their post-punk triumphs, Devo continued to fly the flag for anti-authoritarianism throughout a grimly conformist and violent 1980s, all the time still knocking out pop hits. By the end of that decade, however, the band were wrung out. They never actually split, but they restricted their activities to sporadic and ecstatically received jags of touring, accompanied by releases of recordings from the Devo vaults. Mothersbaugh’s burgeoning success as a film and television composer meanwhile meant that cranking up the Devo machine was not his highest priority – much to Jerry Casale’s ongoing frustration.

And so in 2006, with time on his hands, Casale was at it again – but now he was striking out alone and with a message weighted by post-9/11 buzzwords of fear and loathing. He dubbed himself Jihad Jerry, his band were The Evildoers, and the album was called ‘Mine Is Not A Holy War’. Given that the US and its allies were in over their heads fighting wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it was not the best moment to spring this level of satire on the American record-buying public. 

“Yeah, Jihad Jerry did not get the love,” Casale sighs.

He’s talking as the album gets a 15th anniversary reissue. He’s billing himself as DEVO’s Gerald V Casale now and the record has been retitled ‘AKA Jihad Jerry & The Evildoers’. It features some previously unreleased tracks and a new one, ‘I’m Gonna Pay U Back’, which is also available as a single. 

“I was completely misunderstood,” he continues. “I got death threats. Some people found my email address. The music industry turned its back, of course. I did get some interviews early on, just because I was Gerald Casale from Devo. One was at a radio station in New York, where the guy really liked two cuts on the record. He loved ‘The Time Is Now’. He said, ‘You know, if this was a Devo record, I’d be playing the hell out of it, but I can’t play Jihad Jerry. I can’t say, “This is Jihad Jerry & The Evildoers”, and then spin this cut’. He told me that in person.”

Casale should really have seen it coming. After all, he created the venal character Rod Rooter and his malevolent employers Big Entertainment, who shaft Devo at every opportunity in skits between the songs on their 1984 home video release ‘We’re All Devo!’. Given that this was an act of creative revenge on the music industry gatekeepers who despised the group, his surprise at Jihad Jerry getting the bum’s rush seems kind of hilarious.

“I was stupidly open-mouthed and slack-jawed,” he laughs ruefully. “I was kind of like [puts on dopey voice], ‘Huh? How come?’. I mean, OK, so now it all makes sense…“

Perhaps enough time has passed to take the sting out of ‘Mine Is Not A Holy War’. That’s undoubtedly what the small US label Real Gone thought when they decided they wanted to reactivate Jihad Jerry.

“Somebody there really liked the album,” Casale concurs. “They thought it was a lost gem. They thought it came out too close to 9/11. Sensibilities weren’t running towards satire at that point. But with plenty of age, I think Jihad Jerry as a ridiculous character is acceptable. A Caucasian man, a senior citizen, wearing a stupid Sam The Sham-type turban wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. I tried to make that clear from the beginning. I did say, ‘Mine is not a holy war’, right? In the press, I would say my war is a war on stupidity – and that’s as thankless and futile as the war on drugs.” 

Real Gone asked Casale if he had any unreleased tracks they could include to jazz up the 2021 reboot. They were thrilled when he suggested ‘I’m Gonna Pay U Back’, which comes with a video every bit as bizarre as you would hope from an architect of the Devo art project. With a dazzling comic-book aesthetic that gives its human protagonists a garish, plasticised look, it pits Devo Jerry in a Marvel-esque standoff against supervillain Jihad Jerry. In a spaceship, naturally.

“It’s me fighting my alter ego, even though it’s not really about either of these personas I adopt,” he explains. “It’s about being a victim of gaslighting. The whole of America was a victim of it for four years under Donald Trump, but there are many toxic narcissists like him that people know personally in their daily lives. Maybe it’s someone in their family. Maybe it’s their boss. 

“The point is, when you’re the victim of gaslighting, ultimately you’re left with a big decision. Do you accept the position you’re being put into by this person who’s turning things around on you and making you feel nuts and wrong, or do you rebel and try to take the control back? The way I tried to dramatise that, so it wouldn’t be just Jihad Jerry bitching about someone in the real world, was to make it about aspects of myself. I wanted to free myself up from being a victim. It’s pretty abstract. But you can still enjoy the video without knowing any of that stuff.”

As any Devo aficionado knows, the band’s world is heavily populated with characters, uniforms and masks, enabling them to share their message of “de-evolution” with a variety of amusing and unsettling looks. Once they got signed, the costumes came thick and fast. Each album coined a new image – the bright yellow boilersuits, the skateboarding helmets and pads, the short-sleeved Tyvek leisure attire, the tidy ‘New Traditionalists’ chinos, patent leather shoes and corporate employee tops, the Chinese/American friendship suits. But dressing up and taking on eccentric personas had been part of Casale’s schtick long before he cooked up the theory of de-evolution. Back in the late 1960s, his first character was called Skunk Man Fly. 

“He was just a white guy that probably had black blues envy,” Casale explains. “He was a dirty bluesman. He later sang songs like ‘Beehive’ and ‘I Need A Chick’ and ‘I Been Refused’.”

So these three old Devo deep cuts, fresh versions of which are on the ‘Jihad Jerry’ album, were originally sung by Skunk Man Fly? 

“Exactly. It was imitating those blues names, but making it absurd. Which it obviously was. It’s what crazy Caucasian conceptual artists tend to do.” 

Casale’s next character was Protar, another creation from his days at Kent State University, which he attended alongside Mark Mothersbaugh. The campus remains notorious as the place where four students were shot dead by National Guardsmen during anti-Vietnam War protests in 1970 – killings that Casale witnessed up-close. The experience changed him from a peace-loving 60s dude into an angry 70s militant who would later channel his rage through Devo.

“After the killings at Kent State, all the right-wing state governors colluded and conspired to start punishing activists and anybody who had belonged to what they called ‘radical organisations’. I was a member of SDS [Students For A Democratic Society], so there went my scholarship to Ann Arbor, where I was planning to go to graduate school. The only way I was in college at all was because of a scholarship. I didn’t have any money – I was blue-collar – so I had to do graduate school in Kent State. During the admissions process, before the first quarter of fall 1970 started, I became Protar. I tried to change my name and get my student ID photographed as Protar, but I failed.”

So what was the idea behind Protar? 

“He was like an avenging angel. Imagine if Spock had a disintegrator ray and got pissed off. So he was no longer a dispassionate and logical alien, he was an alien who’d had enough of human hideousness.”

Rayguns are a regular trope in Devo videos. The kids in the ‘Through Being Cool’ clip use them to evaporate Reaganite ninnies and twits.

“Well, you know, we always embraced technology. And what a clean and unmessy way of eliminating horrible people.”

Oh, for a wobbly Devo gun in real life…

“Well, yeah! Imagine just getting rid of Trump like that. It would have done the world a favour. When I wrote the original songs for ‘Mine Is Not A Holy War’, I was railing against Dubya – George W Bush, yeah? I thought he was bad. With his ginned-up reasons for starting wars and his embrace of the right-wing evangelicals, empowering them to influence the Supreme Court and try to get rid of women’s reproductive rights… I mean, he was such a moron and a fake hillbilly, right? Well, forget it, because Trump makes him look like a nice guy.”

It was worse than Devo ever warned it might be. Not even Gerald V Casale could have imagined how low it would actually go.

“No, I didn’t,” he says. “We talked about de-evolution, but we weren’t ready for it. Think about what we have been living through – four years of Trump and then Covid. This is beyond our worst nightmare of things devolving. Trump took us to the brink. What happened on 6 January came close to going all the way. And Trump’s not going away. There’ll be people embracing him. He’s coming back, just like the Delta variant of Covid.”

Casale’s rage – first aimed at George W Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (with the outrageous ‘Army Girls Gone Wild’ prompted by the shameful Abu Ghraib war crimes) and more recently at the grim forces unleashed by Donald Trump – is sublimated through Jihad Jerry. His characters, it seems, are a way of creatively discharging the pent-up energy of his ire. In the earliest days of Devo, before they had secured a record deal, before anyone cared anything about them, Casale and Mothersbaugh would invent characters and stay in them for long periods. This was not, let’s face it, normal. But did it work as a psychological shield?

“Yes. Going back to Greek plays, that’s the function of adopting alter egos and wearing costumes and masks, although you don’t realise that is what you’re doing at first. I wasn’t cognisant of what I was doing on a premeditated level. I couldn’t have articulated some academic argument about it. That only came later. I think you hide behind a mask to get out something you want to get out, but feel too naked to do so as yourself. The other reason is to be able to project. You’re a performer. You’re performing. 

“Think about what it takes. Why does anyone get up on a stage with an instrument? Why do they have the nerve to think they should put something out there in front of people? You said, ‘It’s not normal’. Well, there’s something about ‘not normal’ and you need that to complete yourself. You’re compelled to tell people what you know and you have to find ways to do it. The masks also hide anger. Devo had anger, I had anger, but the masks abstract that and make it palatable to the audience.”

And to yourselves? Is it a way of releasing your feelings without going out and doing awful things yourselves?

“Well, you definitely feel better after you’ve done this thing and then take the mask off,” he laughs.

David Bowie, another artist who created new personas throughout his career, sometimes from song to song, was an early champion of Devo. He proclaimed them to be “the band of the future” when he saw them playing in New York in 1977. While filming ‘Just A Gigolo’, he spent his weekends off helping Brian Eno produce their first album the following year. Does Casale think their universe of characters played a role in piquing Bowie’s interest in them? 

“Yes,” he says, becoming noticeably affected at the mention of Bowie’s name. “He was my hero. I looked up to that guy. I was totally in awe of him. And it was easy to talk to him. It was like you’d had these conversations with him in your brain years before meeting him. When you were actually with him, the challenge was to not become like you were in ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ and get tongue-tied. After about five minutes, I wasn’t, and that felt really good. 

“Bowie was such a presence. So refined and so articulate. Mesmerising. When he’s looking at you and talking, you’re just, ‘OK, I’m hip to talk, I’m ready…’. What a deep respect I have for him. You have six to nine months left to live, you know that, and you work on putting out a new record. You start writing about the end of life and you shoot two or three videos about death. That’s an artist.”

The Jihad Jerry project closes a loop for Gerald V Casale. Through its blues and 1960s R&B influences and its use of old Devo tunes, not to mention the fact that fellow Devo members Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and his own sadly departed brother Bob are all over it, the album feels like a conscious revisiting of his lost youth, a reboot of a long-gone era.

“It was pretty conscious,” Casale affirms. “Devo were doing nothing at that point and Mark had no interest in doing anything. I was tired of sitting on my hands and having no means of self-expression, so I thought, ‘I’m going to go back and have fun with some of the things that were my influences’. I was listening to records like Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Aftermath’, records that excited me when I was 16 or 17 years old, so I just let myself go back there.”

And was it bittersweet?

“You got that right,” he sighs.

In the sense that we mourn our youth?


There’s always the future to talk about, though. Against all expectations, Devo are playing four US shows in September. They are also booked to appear at the already sold-out Cruel World festival in Pasadena, California, next May. Will there be more dates?

“You know, given the randomness of Devo reality, I wouldn’t ever posit that,” Casale says. “But I would like to think so. I have always been Devo and I have never dropped the torch. What I have tried to do with this song ‘I’m Gonna Pay U Back’ is to keep the spirit of the band alive with something edgy and controversial, with a video that has a new look and is something Devo would use if they were doing anything, right?”

Right. Are we not men? We are still Devo.

‘AKA Jihad Jerry & The Evildoers’ is out on Real Gone

You May Also Like
Read More

Laibach: Ruffling Feathers

A band? An art project? A secret cabal of political provocateurs? Going about their subversive business for more than four decades, everything that this unique Slovenian collective does comes as a surprise. Absolutely everything. Brace yourselves as we are granted an audience with the entity that is Laibach
Read More

Thomas Dolby: The Appliance Of Science

As an early adopter of the iconic Fairlight CMI digital workstation in the early 1980s, pioneering musician and producer Thomas Dolby is no stranger to technological advancement. He reflects on a career full of innovation and muses on how the future of sound may benefit us all
Read More

Aphex Twin: I Am The Music Maker

The impact of ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’ can’t be overstated. In the three decades since its initial release, it has minted the myth of Aphex Twin and redefined ambient, electronic and dance music. Richard D James, take a bow
Read More

Factory Records: Minny Pops

One of the more curious arms of the Factory roster, there was never a dull moment with art punks Minny Pops. Lead man Wally Van Middendorp reminisces on the journey that started with a band called Tits.