It's hard to think of an indie band more widely known for their music videos than OK Go, whose videos have ranged from backyard dance parties to treadmill jazzercise routines and everywhere in between. Their most recent video, for the song "The Writing's on the Wall," is an MC Escher inspired romp through multiple perspectives.
OK Go's new album, "Hungry Ghosts," is slated for release on Oct. 14. Singer Damian Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind stopped by The Frame's studios to chat about the band's visual identity, reaching grandmothers via YouTube, and how they continue to derive creative satisfaction from their music.
What's on OK Go's middle school mix tape:
There might be some guilty pleasures on there, but they would all be pleasures.
I mean, what would it be? Like, Run DMC...
The Pixies, Prince...
Eventually, Fugazi when we got into high school and Spiral Carpets and Stone Roses.
On the ways in which a music video affects the perception of a song:
There's no question that the video forever changes that song. But the way I think about it these days, it's like, YouTube is the biggest music streaming service on the planet. For people who are under 30, that's just a DJ tool. Songs used to come on one channel, then eventually there was stereo — left and right — and now there's pretty much always going to be this third channel, the video channel. Even if you don't put anything there, someone's going to put it up on YouTube and it'll have an image: it'll either be the cover of your record or some picture they took from the show — whatever. It will be there.
The songs that have been the most successful and the most viral for us are not necessarily even my favorite of our songs, but obviously those are the ones that, if we play them, then people lose their minds, because they've seen and heard them hundreds or thousands of times. I don't know if anyone can ever hear "Here it Goes Again" and not see us on treadmills in their mind.
On whether or not videos actually generate downloads or ticket sales:
The videos take our music to corners of the world where we never would have gone otherwise. We play shows in South Africa and Moscow and Korea — places where our records haven't been released — and people know every word to every song. They get into one video and then they download the rest for the record and they know every note. It's an amazing Trojan horse for the whole project of the band.
On what listeners should take from the new album:
I think this new record is the most surreal party we've ever managed to put down on tape. So I hope that people leave with a feeling of joy. Although I think when I say "party," that usually suggests that it's all fun all the time. But I think actually there's a pretty good emotional arc in this record where there are some really fun moments, but there are some really sad moments.
Our best songs, lyrically at least, usually have a push and a pull between the emotional bed of the song and the emotional instantiation of the lyrics. Most of the songs that get me the most pulled in two directions [are] pretty much every Elvis Costello song. Right when you're experiencing the most sublime joy, there's also this stab in your heart of heartbreak or melancholy. I hope actually that our albums feel a lot like those mixtapes that we used to make for each other, where it's like no one knows why this fits with that, but it just feels right.
On managing to derive creative satisfaction from a band that's been working together for more than a decade:
Neither of us played piano, and I don't know what we were doing, but we were making fun of something by banging on a piano and screaming. And walking out of that room I remember [thinking], This is so rad, what we made! And no one ever heard that. There were a lot of moments of making stuff back then. Even videos — my parents had a video camera and we used to sit in front of it, pretending to be news anchors and we thought these things were hilarious, but there was no one to show them to and no way to share them. Thank god there wasn't, because we'd never get to do this now if anyone saw that stuff. But the difference in the satisfaction is that it is really wonderful when we get a note from someone saying, "This song got me through my father's death." Or, This is the song that I played while I proposed to my wife."
OK Go performs at The Grammy Museum on Wednesday, October 29.