Being in a rock band should be fun. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?
Judging by their home-made video for “A Million Ways” (See here), the first single off their second Capitol album “Oh No” (due Aug. 30), OK Go singer-guitarist Damian Kulash and his bandmates – Tim Nordwind (bass), Dan Konopka (drums) and Andy Ross (guitar, keyboards) – are having the time of their lives.
Giving Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync a run for their money (well, maybe not), the foursome shake their groove thing for three-and-a-half choreographed minutes – proof that they don’t take themselves seriously.
“I’m sure a lot of people think we’re silly and annoying or that anything that has a smile on it is too trite in the first place,” Kulash said recently. “A lot of my favorite music is super-mopey, super-serious stuff, but that’s not we’re particularly good at. Us doing the angst thing wouldn’t fly.”
They’re no Patrick Swayzes, but Kulash and company put up a good sweat for the video, which was choreographed by Kulash’s sister.
“It’s pretty exhausting,” Kulash said. “The choreography took about four days and then there was a few days of practices after that, so when you’ve done eight hours of that, you’re exhausted.
“This wasn’t intended to be a video. We actually did this to convince a director to work with us about a different idea. We thought, ‘We’ll just show him the dance.’ That was after a normal band practice one day, getting ready for a tour. He never got the video, and then it got leaked on the Internet.”
They even do the aerobic workout at shows, most recently at Lollapalooza in July.
“We do it all the time,” Kulash said. “We’re considerably better at it now, although I think part of the charm of the video is how hard we’re concentrating. I don’t know if you notice, but Tim (the bassist), he’s the one lip-synching, he screws something up about three-quarters of the way through it, so for like the last fourth of it he’s all frustrated.”
Fans need not worry; OK Go isn’t going “boy band.” For them, it’s still all about the music, and on “Oh No,” the Chicago-based group debunks the sophomore-jinx theory.
Recorded in Malmö, Sweden, with Franz Ferdinand/Cardigans producer Tore Johansson at the helm, “Oh No” packs plenty of rollicking, guitar-driven hooks, from “Do What You Want” to “Here it Goes Again.” The Rolling Stones will get a bigger bang out of “A Good Idea at the Time,” OK Go’s answer song to “Sympathy for the Devil.”
“We really wanted to make something that sounded more like our band than less of a studio project,” Kulash said. “Our first album had really been like a studio project. For that one, we wanted to make something that was super-plastic and kind of overperfect. The first record was meant to be a big, gleaning flab of pop.
“We did as little overdubbing as possible for this one. We played everything live, when possible. We wanted something looser at the edges and more organic, more open feeling.
“We also wanted something that was more focused. We wanted to establish a continuous feeling through the record. Our songwriting can be kind of super-spastic and schizophrenic. I don’t know if it’s because of our varied influences or the way we write, but our demos are all over the place. There’s quiet little falsetto songs, there’s screamy loud songs and there’s drony, mopey songs and chipper little pop songs. I don’t think we fit a songwriting mold particularly well, so we wanted to make sure the sound of the record would help bring all the songs so they would be like all different flavors of the same mood.”
Kulash has nothing against their pop-laden 2002 self-titled debut album, but he admits they bit off more than they could chew.
“With our first record, we were a little overambitious,” he said. “Every song had a different drum sound and different arrangements. There were songs that were layered up with like 16 guitars playing the same line. It was fun to make, but I think we sort of sapped some of the life out of it. The record, as a whole, wound up being a little claustrophobic.”
Enter Johansson, who gave them the focus they needed for their second album.
“Finding an engineer who can get great sounds is not that difficult,” Kulash said. “Finding an American producer who has some sense of what will get you on the radio is also not that difficult but not that interesting.
“But finding somebody who could get a falsetto soul song and a stomping, screamy indie rock to sit side by side and work it as a continuous whole required a lot of a pruning and guidance. He was great at that.”
Half the fun of being in a rock band is getting to travel. An added bonus is getting to record in another country. Kulash says they loved Sweden, in spite of the climate.
“We got there on Oct. 1 (in 2004), I believe, and it was gorgeous,” he said, “but then it got rapidly cold and dark. We weren’t so far north that we had the Arctic Circle light-for-half-a-day. The sun would come up around 9 and then it would be down at 4. That definitely forms a deeper shade of gloom in you. But we were working so hard – six-day weeks, 12-14 hour days.
“The people were great. In some cases, their English was better than ours. Everyone’s so smart and creative.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “The single ‘Rockit’ by Herbie Hancock. I think the first tape I bought was ‘She’s So Unusual’ by Cyndi Lauper. I even remember my first CD: ‘Nasty As They Wanna Be’ by 2 Live Crew. I credit ‘Rockit,’ post facto, with really getting me into music. I was like 7 or 8 years old and I was on my way to summer camp, and I remember seeing a guy with one of those huge boom boxes on his shoulder playing that song. It just blew my mind. It was just like somebody had opened a door to new candy.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “There was a music festival from a hip-hop station in Washington, D.C., where I grew up. The headliner was EU, who did ‘Da Butt.’ Opening for them that night was a young man whose record hadn’t come out yet by the name of MC Hammer. He was fantastic, an incredible performer.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “The one I dreaded the most was when I was a graphic designer for a waste management firm. Trying to do the cover for their quarterly review or annual report, the obvious image you want to use is a steamy pile of shit. What about waste management is conducive to fine graphics? I hated graphic design, in general. Not that I hate designing, because I did the cover for our new record, but when I used to work as a designer at a Web ad agency, it was like I was whoring out work that I had formerly loved. Most art of any kind, whether it’s music or art or dance, you’re making rapid-fire asthetic judgments all day long. You have to make these A-B decisions very fast and lots of them all at once. It’s really fun. But when you’re doing it for a purpose you don’t care about and for ends you don’t believe in, it’s excruciatingly tiresome.”
ON THE WEB: okgo.net.
BWF (before we forget): Upcoming OK Go tour date (some with The Redwalls) – Aug. 30, Seattle, Crocodile Cafe; Sept. 1, Portland, Ore., Dante’s; Sept. 6, San Francisco, Cafe Du Nord; Sept. 7, Anaheim, Calif., Chain Reaction; Sept. 8, San Diego, The Casbah; Sept. 9, Hollywood, Calif., The Roxy Theater; Sept. 10, Tempe, Big Fish Sports Pub; Sept. 12, Las Vegas, The Beauty Bar; Oct. 4, Edinburgh, Scotland, Liquid Rooms; Oct. 5, Newcastle, England University; Oct. 6, Dublin, Ireland, Vicar Street; Oct. 7, Liverpool, England, University Academy; Oct. 9, Leeds, England, Met University; Oct. 10, Wolverhampton, England, Wulfren Hall; Oct. 11, Nottingham, England, Rock City; Oct. 13, Cambridge, England, Junction; Oct. 14, London, Shepherds Bush Empire; Oct. 15, Brighton, England, Concorde II; Oct. 16, Exeter, England, Lemon Grove; Oct. 31, Washington, D.C., 9:30 Club; Nov. 1, New York, Beacon Theater.
The OK Go album discography – “OK Go” (Capitol, 2002); “Oh No” (2005).
More updates: The Rolling Stones, Jacques Greene, Van Halen, Gene Clark, Ned LeDoux, etc