OK Go Interview
Forming in Chicago in 1998, OK Go have been bringing new ideas to the music industry since they started. Generally known for their largely creative music videos, OK Go are also known for putting on amazing live shows. They are currently on tour supporting their new album Hungry Ghosts and will be in Denver at the Ogden Theatre this Friday, April 24th. Bassist and vocalist, Tim Nordwind took some time to do a phone interview with us.
I saw your live show at The Gothic in Denver at the end of last summer and you guys add so many visual effects to it, describe what you do with your live performance that makes it completely different from any other band.
I think, first of all, when you think about playing live we generally look at it as an opportunity to have an overall experience of everything you can think about. So, what can we just do with this space and 1,000-2,000 people a night? And of course, one of the obvious answers is playing music of course which is the point of the band. But there’s also a million other things that you can do to heighten the experience and bring people closer and connect with the audience more. So that’s what we do, we look at what can we do from the musical experience, what can we do from a film experience, what can we do from a lighting experience, what can we do from an interactive experience, you know? So we try to have a surprise around the corner and really the live show is really the pinnacle of what we do. You know, we spend a lot of time making records and then we put those out there and people get those. But we can’t ever see what that looks like. We make a lot of videos and we put those out there, and we know that they get a lot of views, but we don’t know what millions of people looking at our video looks or feels like. We just know that it’s happening but what’s nice about coming into a live arena is that we can make music, we can have film experiences, and a lot of other experiences and we can do it with people. And at the end of the day that’s just a very satisfying experience. I think, what we probably enjoy most is being able to do everything we love and do it with a bunch of people and get that end of the flow and that reaction and connection.
What is your favorite trick or effect that you utilize at your concerts?
One of the most enjoyable one’s, funny enough, is we have question and answer sessions with the audience. That actually proved to be, sometimes, sort of the weirdest and most unexpected experience of the night because you just never quite know what people are going to ask. We used to do everything we could to not answer the question. Like we would get a question and then try to give an answer that somehow played with the question but didn’t quite answer it, which there was something funny about that. I think, strangely, it was maybe the most human moment of the evening. When we’re just actually talking to each other. And it kind of makes going back to the music that much more satisfying as well because you go from the very human moment back to the almost fantasy land that’s larger than life. So it’s fun to kind of play between the two.
Going back to your videos, a lot of your success has come from going viral really fast with spectacular and intricate videos. How do the videos originate and then get put into production?
Well it’s funny, I think the process for making the music videos is a lot like our process for making music. Which is, you get this idea or concept and a feeling inside of you that you want to figure out a way to make into something creative and share. I think with music we sit down and we play with sound, and beats, and chords, and melodies until we feel like we have something sort of magical. But there’s ultimately this time to play. I think that’s a very important period of making things is that play time. So, with the music videos we do a very similar thing where we have this idea of a very simple concept. And we’re not sure how we’re going to make it, we’re not totally sure what the end product will ultimately look and feel but we have an idea. So then we book about two or three weeks off for time to get into a room with the materials we need and then we just play around. I don’t know if you’ve ever done theater or any sort of live production. Usually, you have a longish rehearsal period where you put it all together. You see what works, you see what doesn’t work, you have a chance to make mistakes, you can make a change in the script if you feel like you’ve come up with something better in real time. So, that’s generally what makes our videos a little bit different from a lot of the more traditional music videos that are out there. We schedule this play period where most videos, someone figures out what’s going to happen at a desk and they think about it like Point A to Point Z. Then they give it to a production company. The production company figures out what you need. Then the band comes in for the last two days and then you shoot the video. That’s definitely the most cost effective way to make film, I think. And I would never brag or say that we work in a very cost effective way, because we don’t. But I think that the tradeoff is that we allow ourselves an awful lot of space and time to get exactly what we want.
What music video would you pick as your favorite?
It’s hard to say. I’m not trying to dodge your question, but it’s really hard to pick a favorite. There are certainly different categories of videos that I like for different reasons. Like our earlier videos where we’re just doing choreographed dance routines on treadmills or in the backyard or something… Those were maybe the most fun and personal for us because it really was just us and Damien’s sister who helps choreograph these things. We didn’t have a crew period. It was just us, Damien’s sister, and a camera. So it’s just us having fun together. And since then the videos have become much bigger productions and I like that experience as well, but it’s just a different thing with very different challenges. And we work with a lot more people so there’s a bigger crew. So, those I like for the challenge of it all and for the fact, you know, that we try to make the impossible the possible and that kind of feeling. It’s very hard to pick a favorite. Our latest video, for “I Won’t Let You Down,” I really enjoyed making because we got to make it in Japan and I love being in Japan. And I love the entire Japanese crew that we worked with because they were really smart and talented people. So that was really cool. But it’s super hard to pick a favorite. They’re ultimately, pretty different challenges. But I think one of the earliest ones, with the most nostalgia, because it was just the four of us playing in the backyard.
Is there a video in the works right now?
We have a whole arsenal of ideas at this point and they’re all in different stages of production. We’re looking for funding for a couple of them, but I’d say probably by mid-summer we’ll be making our next one. We tour pretty much through May and I think we need a little time off. Then I think we’ll get back at come June. But I would imagine by the end of the summer we will have another video out.
How does it feel to be going on over fifteen years in this band?
It’s pretty incredible. I think because we were a group of friends first, who decided we enjoyed making things together, for this band… I think because we were friends first is a lot of the reason why we managed to get to fifteen years of age with OK Go. It makes me happy to realize we’ve been at it that long. But I guess I’m not surprised because I like these guys. I like them and making stuff with them. So it’s a happy thought for sure.
You made you own label Paracadute, how did you come up with that name for the label?
Well we were on EMI, and in the states it was Capitol Records, for about ten years and we were getting ready to leave the label and just kind of looking through names. Paracadute means parachute in Italian. I think we sort of had this feeling at the moment that we were parachuting out of our current situation. A friend of ours had mentioned parachute in Italian was paracadute and it just… I don’t know. At the time it just made sense. Since then we realized it’s probably very hard for everyone to pronounce. (Laughs) I don’t know if I would do it differently now, but at the time it felt like a very appropriate name.
What is your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?
Oh God. I’m embarrassed, I don’t really know the Ninja Turtles. I was in probably high school when the Ninja Turtles came out so I was passed it, you know? I don’t really know the names of the Ninja Turtles. Isn’t there one called like Galileo, or something like that?
There’s Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello…
Leonardo! Right, right, right. Yeah let’s go with that because it’s the only name I remember from the Ninja Turtles. I don’t know what he does or what he’s about, but yeah. (Laughs)
What troubles have you faced in the music industry and an independent band now?
Well, that’s a funny question. I mean, there’s nothing but trouble in the music industry. I feel like for the most part it’s really trying to find it’s footing in the 21st century with the internet. And no one really buys music anymore. We’ve been very lucky that we a have a very unique business model for a band. Which is that we kind of chase any idea that’s cool and exciting. Whether it’s based in the music industry or not. I’m glad we have a foot in the music industry, but I’m also glad we have lots of other legs, and feet, and hands, and arms in other places as well. Because the music industry as a whole has been on the decline for several years now. Maybe for a decade and a half or something like that. But luckily… It’s hard to pinpoint one thing in the music industry. It’s like nobody buys music anymore so that’s a big problem. I also don’t want to go battling the way the people live their lives. If people get their music a certain way, then cool. I’m just happy that we’ve been able to figure out other avenues to keep the band afloat. I think we’d be in very big trouble if we relied on record sales to fund the band. I think most bands would be in trouble if that was their only recourse, or way of financing their project. We’ve been very lucky to find other ways to finance a project so that we can continue to make music.