Ask OK Go How To Make Cool Videos And How To Talk To Girls On Their SoCal Tour Stops
OK Go broke through as a power pop band with the help of a perfectly synced music video, with treadmill-assisted dancing accompanying their hit "Here It Goes Again" in the early days of YouTube. They followed that up with increasingly intricate videos involving an inhuman level of planning. Now the L.A. band's Live Video Tour gives fans what they want: OK Go with their videos, together in person.
VIDEO KILLED THE CONCERT STAR?
For the past 15 years, the band's tried to make their shows a more visual experience. But there's an issue they kept running into, according to OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash.
"The more visual we have tried to make our show," Kulash said, "the more we have run into this problem that if you put big stuff up on a screen, people watch it like they watch TV."
People weren't engaging with their music the way fans usually engage with a rock show. So they decided to lean into it, approaching the problem from the other direction.
"Instead of doing all of the theatrics, let's just let the videos be front and center," Kulash said. "The sweaty catharsis [of a rock show], which is so exciting, is also sort of demographically limited."
Kulash said that fans who've discovered them thanks to their incredible videos online range from 5 to 65, and probably aren't going to come rock out with them at the Wiltern. So now they're offering more of a theater show.
It's as a cross between a rock show and a film screening, where the band goes through 20 years of videos and plays along with them live.
"But rather than trying to keep people from watching the screen, we project the videos in all their glory," Kulash said.
KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS
There are added audience Q&A sections at their shows between the videos, which Kulash said give it all more of an informal hangout vibe.
The best questions come from kids, he added, as they combine both the unexpected and a real earnestness. Questions he's gotten from kids include "How do you talk to girls?"
"You can give the sarcastic answer if you want, but it's also like, this kid really has a serious questions, and it's a pretty tough one," Kulash said. "The ones that really liven up the show to me are the curveballs that we didn't see coming, that are both simple and very difficult to answer."
He also gets asked by kids things like how do you start a band, including one asking what advice he can give when they're playing their first show in 10 days. The band is used to reporters asking really general questions, so it's nice to get specific questions they can respond to with actual advice, Kulash said.
HOW THEY CAME UP WITH THAT TREADMILL VIDEO
"Here It Goes Again," aka That Treadmill Video, became a surprise hit after they filmed the video in the band's backyard. The dance was already something they were doing on stage, which Kulash said helped to break the ice with the audience.
"As a self-respecting rock band, if you drop your instruments and break into dance — circa 2005 at least — people in the audience just couldn't keep smoking cigarettes and shuffling their feet and acting too cool," Kulash said. "At that point, you're either smiling or you get the f—- out."
The philosophy they discovered in those videos was heightening — increase the excitement through the song by continuing to do something more exciting in the video as it goes along. They try leaving viewers with a sense of surprise and wonder that grows as the song goes on.
They started to discover themselves as filmmakers in that video, and have continued to evolve their filmmaking over the years. Kulash is even working with his wife on their own narrative feature film now.
THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF TOPPING THEMSELVES
Creating such amazing videos over the years has put OK Go in the position of having to keep upping their game. They have some videos in the works right now, but the timelines on these videos have grown longer over time.
"It's become so elaborate, we can't go like, 'All right, we'll shoot this next weekend' — or even next month," Kulash said.
Instead, they're now multi-month projects. There were three they were actively working on, though Kulash noted that they often have to start 10 for each one that actually gets finished.
One of their discoveries was the power of slow-motion filmmaking, which they used most elaborately in their song for "The One Moment."
"The idea itself is kind of an expansion of the lyrical quality of the song," Kulash said. "Slow-motion filmmaking is always stunning somehow. ... It's full of emotion."
That emotion is vital to feeling like they've accomplished what they set out to do.
"It does not matter how accurate the timing of our slow-motion video is if you don't actually feel a sense of wonder," Kulash said.
The band also tries to see how different songs line up with different video ideas. For their iconic "This Too Shall Pass" Rube Goldberg video, they watched a 15-minute compilation of Rube Goldberg machines and watched how the feel of the machines fit with each song.
"Sometimes a dancy song makes a machine look like it's dancing," Kulash said. "Other times, the dancing song will make the machine conflict with it in such a way that makes the machine seem comically slow and boring."
COMBINING PROGRAMMING WITH ROCK
The band still wants the audience to be involved outside the Q&A's, too. When they play one of their songs on handbells, they invite the audience to play along using an app.
"Imagine Guitar Hero, but everybody's controller and speaker is their phone, so you have 1,500 phones playing handbells with us," Kulash said.
OK Go guitarist Andy Ross is also a programmer and has designed a number of apps for the band over the years. He even designed a game called Say The Same Thing, which the band came up with when their treadmill video went viral and they were exploring what else they could learn from that success.
"We love the treadmill video, but also didn't want to be stuck being 'Those Treadmill Guys,'" Kulash said. "So we became 'Those Video Guys.'"
As they moved on, they've tried to become "Those Creative Guys," according to Kulash. The band has tried to spread that creative spirit, doing a TED Talk a few years ago going over their creative process.
Their process in short: combine different ideas, and see if something amazing happens. It's just like how the band discovers songs, putting a bass line and a drum beat together.
"Every once in a while, when you put those two together, some emotion jumps out of it that's much bigger than the sum of its parts," Kulash said. "You add them together, and 1 plus 1 is 2. But every once in a while, 1 plus 1 is 5 million."
HOW L.A. INFLUENCES OK GO
Kulash said that having kids in L.A. has helped to sew Los Angeles into the fabric of who he is.
"You start to see life through the lens of your children, and this is their whole world," Kulash said.
The band started out in Chicago, though only one of them is a Chicago native.
"I feel like the spirit of the band was forged there," Kulash said. "But by the time we moved to L.A., our existence wasn't reliant on the rumbling of a local community."
Because of that timing, Kulash said that their music isn't necessarily something that comes out of their L.A. existence — but everything else they are as people and a band does.
"The resources are at hand [here] to chase your creative ideas in every direction," Kulash said. "There's nothing about that that can only happen in Los Angeles, but the inspiration and the support of that idea, the confirmation that that's a good idea, is really amplified in Los Angeles."
OK Go has been taking time away from touring due to several members having kids themselves, including Kulash.
"That's given us a bunch of time to regroup and think about how we're going to do the next round," Kulash said.
OK Go has new songs in the works, but at the time of our interview, they were still deciding whether that music will be coming out in album form or across several EPs.
The science of OK Go's videos are so fascinating that they've even spawned an OK Go nonprofit, helping teachers use those videos to teach in classrooms. The band is even helping some of those kids send their science projects into space, getting a private aerospace company to donate some space on their ships.
And, as always, they're hoping that their next video will blow your mind.
OK Go plays Northridge's Soraya performing arts center this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 and 3. They're also playing Escondido on Wednesday and Rancho Cucamonga on Friday.