According to reports from friends, colleagues, and former bandmates, drummer Alan Myers has died. Myers, Devo’s “human metronome” during the band’s commercial and creative peak, had been battling cancer.
Appearing on every Devo LP released between the band’s full-length debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and 1984’s Shout, Myers was recruited to join the band following the departure of its second drummer, Jim Mothersbaugh. Eschewing the motorik-inspired patterns of the band’s new-wave and post-punk peers, Myers’ playing on early Devo releases is alternately straightforward and slyly complex, an analog cog within an increasingly digital machine. Though Devo’s focus on the visual complements to their music could make the band seem like a detached art-school prank (which, to be fair, it was at times), Myers smuggled a hint of swing into herky jerky anthems like “The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize” and the band’s deconstruction of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” By the time Devo went full-on synthpop with 1980’s Freedom Of Choice, Myers’ playing could easily be confused for that of a drum machine. Yet as the clip for the band’s biggest hit, “Whip It,” demonstrates, it’s still a human giving the song its signature hi-hat sizzle. (It’s also Myers who gets to parody the image of rockin’ rollin’ playboy in the uncut video’s finale.)
Unfortunately, music videos and automation would eventually contribute to Myers’ parting of ways with the group. A click track intended to help the songs of 1982’s Oh, No! It’s Devo sync up with in-concert visuals sucked the rhythmic variety out of that record. The band’s 1984 followup, Shout, made extensive use of the programmable Fairlight CMI synthesizer, a practice Myers felt marginalized his contributions to the band; he quit following Shout’s release. Tweeting a tribute to his former bandmate, Devo co-founder Gerry Casale says he “begged him not to quit. He could not tolerate being replaced by the Fairlight and autocratic machine music. I agreed.”
In a 1995 interview with Q [h/t Pitchfork], Myers mentions that he tried his hand at session drumming after splitting from Devo, but said he “couldn’t find anything [he] enjoyed, nor was anyone interested in what [he] did.” He eventually found a calling as an electrical contractor in the Los Angeles area, establishing a firm, Skyline Electric, that lent its name to the improvisational act Myers founded with wife Christine in 2005. But it’s his work with Devo that’s had the widest reach and the greatest influence; Josh Freese, who began playing with the resurrected Devo in 1995, mentioned Myers’ playing on Freedom Of Choice as a major inspiration for his own drumming. “It’s fun in the way that it’s very metronomic and the patterns are very deliberate and kind of nursery rhyme.” Dave Grohl can be heard doing a hard-hitting approximation of Myers’ steady-handed style on Nirvana’s cover of the Devo B-side “Turn Around,” an unvarnished homage to the most human element of a band conceptually grounded in dehumanization.