OK Go continues to reinvent and challenge themselves with their fourth album Hungry Ghosts. They have come a long way since singles “Get Over It” and “Here It Goes Again” (accompanied by their viral treadmill video), dropping another ambitious and visually stimulating video for the new single “The Writing’s on the Wall.”
We caught up with singer Damian Kulash to talk about the evolution of OK Go, creating music vs. videos and on set mishaps. OK Go play at the Independent July 16th.
It seems like you reached a turning point with the album Of the Blue Color of the Sky. What changed for you?
Every record has been different than the one before it, and the one that’s about to come out is no exception. It’s more electronic and more focused. Of the Blue Color of the Sky was really a turning point where some internal boundary just got demolished. I remember writing our second record and feeling like it was not quite a conscious feeling, it was sort of the beginning of this soul type of song that I was into and felt like it wasn’t really what we sound like. That feeling of thinking you know what you sound like can be really limiting. You wind up trying to cover yourself and continue to tread the same ground.
I think we just sort of cracked. We couldn’t make another record that held the same type of emotions as the first two. It felt ingenious to write and think that way. And strangely, the videos have something to do with that. The video for “A Million Ways” reminded me that the things people respond to the most are honest things, rather than trying to formulate the end point you think you should be getting at; chase the things that are more important to you. It’s not the most sound advice for having a wildly popular commercial career.
I think that it’s natural for musicians to evolve and experiment throughout their careers.
Of course, and it takes a long time to make videos and we tour a lot, more than the average band. It’s been basically four years between every record which also means we’re in a different place. I think about how different I was between being a freshman in high school and a freshman in college.
Would you say fans could expect something similar to that sound on your new album Hungry Ghosts?
I’m super excited about the new record. It feels like a departure towards something more concise. It’s a little more dancy and electronic, but it’s not EM at all. I don’t think the whole experimental thing has gone away, but it’s less sprawling and more punch you in the gut. Overall there’s a lot of eighties influence. In some ways it’s getting down to our roots
Do you still play your “hits” at your shows?
We do. First of all they’re fun to play and secondly we’re not a jam band, we like putting on an engaging and developing shows. I love the feeling when you look off the stage and you can see everyone in the room feeding off the same emotion, when you really get everyone in the same breath. When ten million people download a video you just don’t feel that. You only get that feeling live when people really line up for something. I know a lot of bands get sick of playing their popular songs, but for me it’s easiest for the crowd to get totally magnetized.
You’re known for having really creative and quirky music videos, producing another invigorating video for your first single “The Writing’s on the Wall.” Does it get any easier making these types of music videos due to new technology or anything?
I wouldn’t call it easy. That was a pretty ambitious one. Maybe new technology in the sense that the camera we shot on was released the week after we shot it. We got a loaner from Panasonic and shot in 4k and had the band carry it around while we were singing. But for the most part those optical illusions people have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s a classic playground for artists, so it wasn’t so much high tech as it was demanding. I was there from 7 am to 2 am everyday for two weeks. It’s really fun and really intense, it feels like summer camp.
In the video for “Needing/Getting,” did you guys shoot that in one take?
No, I wish. That would have saved us six months and a few million dollars. That was all from live takes. We did between five and twenty runs and had about seventeen to twenty microphones on the cars. Some of those sections had about four hundred tracks, so what it sounded like live was a lot more raucous than what you hear. It was like multi track recording.
What’s the funniest or most bizarre thing that’s happened during a video shoot?
The most bizarre thing is that we’ve actually finished some of them. This last one, the night before we shot, the power went out for eleven hours. While the power was out people were trying to work by cell phone, and a guy, who we thought was either on PCP or Meth, started trashing people’s cars in the parking lot and trying to break in. There was a bunch of woodworking machines outside and he started throwing a circuit saw around. Everyone was stuck inside this cold, dank, and unlit warehouse while a madman was actually slanging heavy machinery outside.
Maybe there’s a curse? During the “Needing/Getting” video the Santa Ana winds happened, there were fifty-seven pianos and it knocked down three of them; winds that knock down pianos is ridiculous. So we had to rebuild those. That was fun.
Tim walking around with half a beard for a week during the new video was pretty funny.
Do you ever feel that your videos have overshadowed your music?
I realize that the world tends to look at it that way. I don’t know why one type of creative project is somehow competing with another. They are different sides of a creative endeavor and every time we put out a video we seem to gain more fans of our music. The metaphor I’ve been using is we run a restaurant and we’re known for our desserts, but that doesn’t mean people can’t come in and eat the main course, and there are no bad customers in this restaurant.
Maybe it’s because music videos seemed to have disappeared in the first decade of the 2,000’s, and you’ve sort of made a career and business out of them?
It’s just weird that when Nirvana has a huge video for “Smells like Teen Spirit” it’s not seen as overshadowing, but somehow, if the band makes the video, it is. In the nineties there were no artists that directed their own videos, or at least it wasn’t the norm, so people didn’t seem to mind that it was a crass advertisement for an album. If you direct them yourself, people wonder if you’ve gone crazy. If we have a good idea, we’ll make it, and when we’re old dudes sitting in our rockers we’ll have more stories about making crazy shit.
Since you’re from Chicago and moved to Los Angeles, here’s a series of questions about your roots. OK GO!
Cubs or White Sox or Dodgers?
Deep Dish or Thin Crust?
Chicago or Led Zeppelin?
Chicago Dog or Coney Island Dog or Veggie Dog?
Lollapalooza or Coachella?