The band OK Go is well-known for its music, but maybe even more so for the group's single-take, elaborately choreographed videos. For their most recent project, the band teamed up with Russia-based S7 Airlines to shoot a video in zero gravity — adding flips, spins, aerialists and paint balloons to the mix.
Guitarist/vocalist Damien Kulash and bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind met with the Frame's John Horn to break down the logistics behind the shoot, and to talk about how their videos have developed over the years.
Kulash: We've had this video idea for almost a decade, to shoot in zero-G. We did not think it would ever happen because it's really expensive, and it's really logistically challenging. It seemed like one of those far-fetched ideas that [we thought] maybe one day we'll get to do, but don't bank on it. And then the song we wrote happens to overlap very well thematically.
You like to do single-take videos. How many takes did you need to get this video right?
Kulash: Over the course of the whole video, we did 21 flights and eight actual takes. We got all the way to the last one and got a perfect take, until paint from one of the balloons splashed directly on the lens of the camera and obscured the very last shot. It was a big letdown. So we did one extra flight, and we nailed it.
Tim, you've said there were 58 puke events in the making of this film. First, who is counting these? Second, do you outgrow the nausea?
Nordwind: We were all on pretty heavy anti-nausea medicine. It's a patch you wear behind your ear. You do start to get used to it after a while. I got pretty sick but didn't throw up on the first flight. In fact, none of the band threw up. A lot of the [video] crew around us threw up.
It's really hard on your system. It gets worse over the course of a single flight. On any given flight we'd [fly] 15 of these weightless parabolas. And by the tenth or so is when nausea has really kicked in. The longer you go, the worse it gets. However, over the course of many days, it gets easier. So your body does sort of get accustomed. It's a lot like seasickness.
On their first viral video, "A Million Ways."
Nordwind: The video for "A Million Ways" was more of a rehearsal video. That dance was meant to be done at the end of our live shows. And that was a rehearsal tape for us to look at and see what it looked like. We'd been making stuff like that, like "A Million Ways," since we were 11 years old. It wasn't so much like we'd been hit by a lightning bolt and we were like, Oh! We've got to start making these things! That was actually what we ... do.
Kulash: You gotta go back to 2005. Indie rock bands were so cool. Shows were so ... formulaic. You had to stand up there, shuffle your feet and smoke and look cool. So we would do this thing where we would drop our instruments and break into dance, like choreographed along to the CD. It really screwed with the audiences and it was a really fun part of our live show and of our musical presence. And we had this rehearsal tape of us doing it in the backyard that went viral even before we knew about YouTube. We didn't think of it as a video at all. It was after we realized it had been downloaded more times than our major label album had sold in the year prior to that, that we were like, This is a real thing! If we could do that by accident, we should try to do this on purpose.
So that was exactly what OK Go did. In 2006 they released the music video that made them famous. For the song "Here It Goes Again," the band danced around six treadmills, and kept dancing up to a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and millions of YouTube views.
Since then, they've released many other video hits, like "This Too Shall Pass," which took 60 takes to film correctly, and earned the machine's engineer a Ted Talk.
Since its release on Feb. 11, the music video for "Upside Down & Inside Out" has already approached 50 million views on the band's Facebook page. It seems like a tough act for anyone to top, but knowing OK Go, they'll probably try.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of "Upside Down & Inside Out" in the headline. KPCC regrets the error.