Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

There’s no time for stopping: an interview with OK Go

Ok-go-stripes copy

The alternative band OK Go has been making music for over a decade now, releasing four albums in that span of time, three of which involved the same group of four guys. Known for their inventive, awe-inspiring “How did they come up with that?” music videos, OK Go always delivers something visually appealing to accompany their tunes.

But don’t mistake them for those guys that made “The Treadmill Video” anymore. Their scale has broadened significantly since their viral video in 2009 and put their creative powers on full-display using optical illusions and choreographed dance numbers that involved movable robotic chairs like the Honda UNI-CUB. They even crafted a whole song using a car to generate power to their instruments set along a two mile stretch of dirt in the Los Angeles desert; its corresponding music video debuted during Super Bowl XLVI.

After releasing their fourth album “Hungry Ghosts” last year in October, OK Go has been on a steady touring schedule for the past few months and will be stopping by San Antonio on April 20 at The Aztec Theatre (104 N Saint Mary’s). Frontman Damien Kulash talked to the Paisano about OK Go’s newest album, international touring and the craziest thing he’d seen on tour.

Paisano: So you shot your video for “I Won’t Let You Down” in Japan. How do you think your time spent there will affect your work going forward?

Damien Kulash: Our time in Japan was wonderful. I was there for about a month making the video, the band was there for about 2-3 weeks. We spent a lot of time in Japan this year, be-tween making that video, playing festivals there and touring there. We’ve become a lot more comfortable with it than we ever had before.

In terms of how it will affect our work going forward, all of the things we chase lead us somewhere new. The operating philosophy for the band is to try to chase our creative ideas in whatever direction they go, so each time we get somewhere new, usually it opens up some space past that we’ve never seen before.

The upside of “I Won’t Let You Down” is that working with that large amount of people and with the space-age technology of the Honda UNI-CUB gives me a lot of hope that we can chase both of those directions even further.

P: A lot of the inspiration behind your music videos seems to come from optical illusions or playful imagery that plays with your psyche. Was that always a plan for you guys?

D.K.: Our videos come about much the same way our songs do. What distinguishes them from other music videos and other filmmaking in general is that usually when people make films they sit down, think about what they want to make and very carefully plan that out, down to the frame and storyboard so that they don’t waste any money on the extensive shoot days.

However, that means that you’re stuck with something that you had to come up with sitting at a desk some-where.

You never do that with music. As a musician you play around, you look for surprises, you look for things that catch you emotionally. The reason you see so many formal tricks in our filmmaking, like the optical illusions and different types of camera work and choreography, is because it’s really the same as picking up a guitar and trying to find that moment of excitement. We want to find those moments of art. What’s the thing that we can do that changes the way you feel?

P: What was your biggest accomplishment that you hoped to achieve on the band’s newest album? A new sound? A new innovation?

D.K.: I’m very happy with the new record, but the part that feels like new territory for us is using electronic sounds in a rock or pop context. We’re certainly not alone in doing this right now, but in the 80s there was a lot of electronic influence in pop and rock, and then the 90s came along and all the synthesizers and drum machines got sucked up into the world of techno and EDM.

I love those genres, I have no problem with that, but there’s a different fundamental goal with that type of music. It’s functional specifically for going out, dancing, having a good time. We wanted to make a more structured piece of music that, rather than seeps into an emotion you’re already having, takes you on a journey.

I’m glad electronic sounds are going back to this place where they can live in that world too. I’m really happy with songs of ours like “Another Set of Issues” and “The Great Fire.” Both of those are almost entirely electronic sounds, but to me they live in their own genre. They don’t seem like EDM or dance music, but they’re also not quite traditional rock and roll because of their specific sonic palette.

P: Your band has remained relevant in the public eye for so long, which is a tough feat in today’s digital culture. Why do you think that is?

D.K.: We make art in the places we live. The way we communicate with our friends, our families, our loved ones is largely through the Internet. It’s on our smartphones, our laptops – that’s how we’re all connected these days. That’s the platform we’ve had to make art for. We haven’t been specifically trying to connect in some unnatural, planned way.

I think mostly what we’ve done is continue to make things that are surprising and exciting to ourselves. A recipe that a lot of people have followed is that you get one big hit and then you try and make that single over and over again, which has a very short fuse to it because people only need to see that idea once or twice before they move on. None of our records sound a lot like the one before it, in part because we’re not trying to repeat ourselves and because we’ve changed a lot between albums, and so has our music.

P: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen on this tour that was different from past ones? Does anything surprise you anymore?

D.K.: You’d think not, but I’m actually pretty easily surprised. One of my favorite emotions is wonder, that feeling of “Oh my god, really?” On our days off, I like to go to synthesizer stores so someone can show me something I’ve never seen or heard before.

While we were in Germany, I went to the largest model train setup in the world. It’s in Hamburg, Germany, in two floors of a warehouse, and it was just this massive, unbelievably detailed unit. That was awesome, and I love seeking out that part of the world – people that have put a lot of effort and time into a dream. That makes me really excited.

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