Here they come again, sounding more like themselves than ever

Dan Konopka, Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind, Andy Ross

It was time for OK Go to get off the treadmill, literally and figuratively. The Grammy-winning video for the 2006 power-pop gem “Here It Goes Again,” which featured the foursome performing a wildly entertaining synchronized routine on treadmills, drew the kind of online traffic usually reserved for piano-playing cats. It’s been viewed nearly 50 million times, but got the band unfairly pegged in some quarters as a novelty act. With its third studio album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go intends to prove that characterization wrong. We spoke recently with lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash and bass player Tim Nordwind at Kulash’s Los Angeles home.

This album is a major detour from your previous two. Why?

KULASH: It comes from the same set of ideas, but our process was very different. In high school we listened to a lot of Fugazi and punk rock. That taught us that the way to write a rock song is to sit down with a guitar and figure out chord shapes. After two and a half years on tour for the last record, we’d played a lot of that kind of music and it was very hard to get excited about it when we got home and it was time to write again. At the end of the tour, we were done not just with those songs, but with a way of working.

After that, it took a year of writing before we were comfortable going in the studio.

This album sounds like it was built from the beats up.

Kulash: Exactly. We’d expended our guitar rock influences and that cleared the path for older, more root-level influences like Prince. You hear a lot of the music I listened to when I was 12.

You write a lot of the band’s songs together. How does that work?

Nordwind: We generally start apart and come up with bits and pieces and grooves, then play them for each other.

Kulash: There’s a back-and-forth once we get a few basic elements together.

It’s “one plus one is two” for hours, and then suddenly “one plus one is sadness” or “one plus one is sex” or melancholy or joy. It’s still such a mystery to me that simple elements, a piano note or a drumbeat, added with one tiny other thing can induce so much communicative human emotion. This is both the happiest and saddest record we’ve ever made. It’s also the most all over the map and the most focused—and I know these things are obviously completely contradictory.  This feels much more uniquely us than our other records have. It makes me think we’re actually starting to sound like ourselves.

What did noted producer David Fridmann bring to the process?

Kulash: He’s an incredibly trained engineer. He understands the physics of it and can break all the rules the way that he wants to. There’s a lot of free-form experimentation.

Was there a downside to the popularity of the “Here It Goes Again” video?

Kulash: The short version is no. Do we already know we’re one-hit wonders for the rest of our life? We do. There will be nothing that hits like that again. But it had almost nothing to do with a rock band. It was like a great weird art project where 65-year-old women were stopping Tim in Times Square saying, “You’re the treadmill guy, aren’t you?” It opened so many doors. There was a time when we would walk homemade videos into our label and people would say, “If this gets out, you’re sunk.” Now people are like, “Could you please bring us some more?”

Nordwind: People expect weirdness out of us more than they expect another treadmill video, which is a good place to be.

–Melinda Newman

Jan/Feb 2010 Issue of M Music & Musicians

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