Role Models: Devo Inspired Brent Amaker to Build His Own Universe

How a fateful SNL appearance left a "profound impact" on the frontman.

On October 14,1978, I waited up late to see the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. I was 14 years old and SNL was in its third season — the golden age of the show. You had to watch it every week (actually live) if you wanted to join in on the watercooler talk at school on Monday. 

Devo was the musical guest that night, and as far as I knew, nobody had ever heard of them. When they entered the stage in their yellow hazmat suits, it was a life-shifting moment for me. I wasn’t sure at first if they were an actual musical guest, or just another skit; I even had to ask my older brothers if it was real. It was so off the wall! The way they moved on stage was unlike anything I had ever seen. It took me a minute to say to myself, This is really great.

They performed their cover of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, and I was thinking to myself, What the hell? The Stones must have approved this, right? It was so completely different… and better, in my opinion. One of the other things I noticed when they performed was the self-referencing in their song “Jocko Homo” — the chorus of which echoes the title of their then-recently-released debut record on Warner, Q: Are We Not Men A: We are Devo!. Right out of the gate, they were not just selling records, but selling a philosophy and maybe even a lifestyle, that no doubt helped in their development of a cult following (of which I soon became a proud member).

Their music career started a long time before their Warner debut — If you wanna go deep, dig up Hardcore Devo, (Vol. 1 1974 – 1977). You’ll hear versions of some songs you might already know, but also a lot of early guitar oriented songs. (I love their guitar work, from both the early stuff and their more well known material. “Gates of Steel” from Freedom of Choice contains one of my favorite guitar licks in rock history.)

Mark Mothersbaugh had a degree in art from Kent University, but if you had asked me, I would have guessed he studied philosophy. Once I wrapped my head around it, I considered what they were doing to be “high art.” They aren’t just musicians — they explore the universe through abstract ideas expressed in their songs. They are philosophers with keen insights into society’s fabric; wordsmiths who craft lyrics with precision; masters at creating vivid imagery that resonates long after you’ve heard one of their tracks. When you listen to any given song by them, or even just see an image associated with them, you know instantly: That’s unmistakably Devo!

This steadfast approach has been my guiding light throughout my musical journey. If you believe in your concept and your sound is authentically yours, you will always find your audience over time.  I’ve worked hard to build a consistent brand philosophy for my band Brent Amaker and the Rodeo and yes, I picked this up from Devo. We even have a list of Rodeo rules called “Howdy Do’s” and “Howdy Don’ts”:  The band is required to wear the cowboy suits all the time on tour. That is, when we’re walking around whatever city we’re in, walking around the hotels, eating at restaurants, etc. We’ve developed specific band member quirks and characteristics that were revealed in a limited edition comic book from our vinyl record, Please Stand By. And still to this day, we open every live show with our song “Welcome to the Rodeo.” Sound familiar?

Contrary to what some might assume from our aesthetic choices, my obsession isn’t confined to country music legends alone, though they do hold value. My passion lies more within art projects. I grew up in Oklahoma where hunting, fishing, and interacting with wildlife were common experiences during childhood. I remember clumsily trying to catch lizards, and nabbing one once, I inadvertently harmed it — it’s eyes popped out — a moment which profoundly affected me and led me away from hunting and fishing, and towards picking up guitar instead. This became an instrument through which artistic expression was possible without causing harm, unlike those early misadventures outdoors among nature’s critters. 

Devo’s philosophical aesthetic had a profound impact on me. Their concept of “De-evolution” made quite an impression in making sure whatever path I took wouldn’t lead to regressing into something less evolved (like a metaphorical blind lizard), but rather evolving creativity through art.

On our upcoming album, Philophobia, we do the unthinkable and cover Devo’s “Gut Feeling.” I’m really proud of how it turned out, but I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to try covering it. Devo is my favorite band of all time, and I’ve often thought that some cover songs shouldn’t happen. If it’s a great song and you have nothing to contribute, it seems like a waste of time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But then again, I would rather hear Devo’s rendition of “Satisfaction” than the original by the Stones, because Devo, honestly, made it better. 

Given my admiration for their work and their impact on me as an artist, I couldn’t resist doing my own version of one of my favorite songs. I picked “Gut Feeling” because of its long, driving guitar intro and wild lyrics. Lines like, “Something bout the way you taste, makes me wanna clear my throat,” really seemed like a challenge to turn it into a Rodeo song. As it turns out, it is a natural fit, and it’s been sounding good in the live set too. Like Devo, my band has a “tool belt,” so to speak, which includes standard production ideas — like percussive sandpaper touches, cowboy hoots and hollers. We simply applied our template to a really great song. 

Our upcoming video for “Gut Feeling,” produced alongside Carrion Kids, features cameos by members of their band adding a unique visual representation to our hillbilly twist on the classic track. Coincidentally, Carrion Kids recently produced their own Spanish version of Devo’s “Mongoloid” as well, further evidence of the world wide influence of the band.  

I hope everyone enjoys our take on this iconic piece from Devo’s repertoire—and remember: high standards set by pioneers should serve as inspiration to strive for excellence in whatever form of expression chosen. We should all pursue our art passionately, sincerely, and gratefully while acknowledging the paths paved before us by innovators like Devo!

Brent Amaker and the Rodeo is a country and western band from Seattle. Their latest record, Philaphobia, is out January 26 on Killroom Records.