Photos by Chelsea Lauren
Music and alcohol go hand in hand, so it’s a natural progression for rockers when they grow up to become oenophiles (for those of you still in the PBR chugging phase of your music appreciation careers, that means wine lovers). Devo’s Gerald Casale is one of these, but to an extreme degree: He recently started his own wine brand, 50 By 50.
Launching the wine in typical rock star style, he held a party this past Wednesday in the Hollywood Hills. With a scenic view overlooking all of LA, surrounded by both beaucoup cheese and bread plates and beaucoup beautiful women in short black dresses, Casale introduced his Pinot Noir and Rosé.
Before guests were invited in to try the wines, Casale sat down with me in the multi-story, 1936 house to discuss his new venture. Though he may now be 66, he has the same irreverence that has marked Devo’s music throughout the years. He also knows a ton about wine. We talked about the punk rock Tuscan wine industry, Devo's wacky new tour plans, and the reason why Miley Cyrus is beating today’s rock stars.
Noisey: How do you set up for a wine tasting versus a Devo show?
Gerald: With a lot less hands on deck (laughs).
But I saw the Devo hats are here.
The hats are for spit buckets. At tastings people taste and they go, “I don’t like this.” And they’re the most stylish spit bucket I’ve ever seen. They’re something kind of art deco about them, so for a Richard Neutra house built 1936 the hats fit right in.
Where did the 50 By 50 wine start? Have you always been an oenophile?
Not always, but since I can remember the first time I tasted a good wine. That was a revelation.
What was that first wine?
Some students that I met at Kent State University had come in from out of state, from upstate New York, so I made friends with them. There were a group of them and, of course, unlike me, who grew up with Velveeta being cheese and Mogen David wine, they knew something. So these guys pooled their money and bought a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild. So a French Bourdeaux.
How old were you?
I was 20, and it was mind blowing to taste good wine.
What have been your favorite wine spots over the years?
Italy was one of the first, especially Tuscany. When I started tasting Brunellos and the super Tuscan wines that all the wine makers were starting to experiment with at that time, they were breaking the rules and pissing off the wine-making body. They were using French bridals, they were taking Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and mixing it with Sangioevse from Tuscany, and that was bad. So what happens? They end up producing some of the best wines ever made in Italy and now some of the most expensive wines in the world.
So as both a musician and a wine maker you’ve always gravitated to the rule breakers?
I guess so—and not out of rebellion, just out of what was interesting. Like, “Why is there such a fight over this? Taste it, it tastes good.” The proof is in the pudding. If a band is rebellious that’s not enough. If they’re rebellious and good then you got something going.
Will you incorporate the two worlds or will they be separate?
I think it is two totally separate worlds. Of course I see the connection, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already been done there will be books done on all the musicians who were seduced by the wine-making life. I certainly know Maynard [James Keenan], from Tool, he’s serious, he’s making his own wife himself. Music and wine are very similar in a lot of ways; each time you drink a bottle of wine—even if it’s the same producer, same type, same name—it’s different. Each time you go on stage, you play the same song, it’s different, it’s a ritual. You sit down at a nice dinner party with people, and you all drink the same wine, and you have this experience. And [it's] the same thing with a concert. And again, making music, there’s a lot of science, a lot of craft, but there’s a lot of intuition and experimentation. Same with making wine. It’s part farming, part science, part pure, undemocratic artistry.
Would we ever see a Devo wine festival?
(Cracks up) If it was up to me we’d do that.
What three or four bands would be on the Devo wine festival?
One of them would have to be Maynard with Puscifer, cause it’s more odd and more purely artistic and experimental. [It] was definitely fun to drink wine with Maynard. I’ve done that at the Palace Kitchen in Seattle. Rush, those guys are big wine aficionados, and the guitar player has a cellar that’s insane. They really appreciate it.
What is coming up for you guys musically?
We’re starting to rehearse next week for that “Hardcore Tour,” the tour where we perform the songs we haven’t done in 35 years, the songs we wrote when we were in a basement in Akron basically. Between 1974 and ’77 we probably wrote about 35 or 40 songs that never showed up on any records. Ryko put out those songs, the four-track records in the late 80s, and they were out for like six months and they were gone—limited edition, gone. We just re-released them with Superior Viaduct, and they are so whacked out, so bizarre and so nonsensical and experimental and politically incorrect we thought, “This is a 180 degree turnabout from a polished career retrospective show where we have it down.”
And once my brother [Bob] died it was just spiritual explosion and malaise and we thought, “Let’s go back and play these songs nobody’s ever heard us do that we used to do around the basement when we were like the White Stripes or the Black Keys—really raw, really minimal, really odd and experimental—and let’s do them in front of people.” And this will force us to look in the mirror and see who we were when we were innocent. And maybe people won’t like it. Maybe we’ll get the kind of rejection that we did then.
When you go back and look at early days you are doing so with a new perspective and usually then a different appreciation for what worked and what didn’t. So which of those early tracks hold up for you?
Devo embraces the fact of the infantile and of the foolish. We admit it. We never shied away from including ourselves in that. People that suddenly try to grow up and be serious they really bother me, I don’t trust them. But the songs that hold up would definitely be “Oh No,” “Be Stiff,” which I do think showed up as a B-side way back when. One is “Mechanical Man,” and one is called “The Fountain Of Filth,” which probably led to “Jocko Homo,” but it’s probably a manifesto as well as “Jocko Homo.”
You say you don’t trust people who grow up…
And become sanctimoniously self-aware.
And I think that’s one of the biggest issues with music today, people don’t know how to have fun. So what artists today are worthy of wearing the Devo hats?
You can’t say Miley Cyrus isn’t having fun, and I think she’d look better than we could ever look in the hat. I’d love to see her in a Devo hat and nothing else. She made me laugh, all that scandal with Robin Thicke and the awards show. I thought she was the only memorable moment on the whole thing. Robin Thicke is so dorky. I love what she did to him too.
It’s interesting, though, as it is hard to think of a rock band worthy of wearing the hats.
That’s what I’m trying to think of, an actual band. I was thinking about that. Ine time I would’ve said LCD Soundsystem because I really liked them at the beginning and they were great live. Like 2007, that was a period I really loved them. But I haven’t seen anything like that since. I also liked Franz Ferdinand in the beginning, and the Arctic Monkeys.
Steve Baltin is getting oak notes from this one, mostly. He's on Twitter - @SBaltin
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