Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CL Interview: OK Go bassist Tim Nordwind; the LA foursome plays Crowbar on Friday (with video!)

Posted By on Tue, May 11, 2010 at 2:43 PM

The internet has become the best platform for delivering music videos to untapped audiences and the success of these creative endeavors is defined by the number of plays they get on YouTube.

click to enlarge okgoweb
has led the online music video revolution since 2006, when the band’s infamous routine-on-treadmills video for their single “Here It Goes Again” went viral and became the most-seen video ever on YouTube with more than 50 million views to date. The LA-by-way-of-Chicago foursome’s 2010 third album, Of the Colour of the Sky, gave them another chance to get creative, and with a thinking cap full of ideas, they went to town, producing three back-to-back videos, including a pair of separate and distinct ones for the single, “This Too Shall Pass.” [All aforementioned videos + others featured after the jump.]

Of the Colour of the Sky is arguably one of the best albums this year (and without a doubt, the best album of the band’s career so far). You can tell they were rockin’ some Prince when they recorded the album; it’s very sexy and slinky, when it’s not strutting funky with discofied grooves, or marching heavy with electro-aggro dance moves. Of the Colour is also impeccably arranged and produced; it should be, with Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT) at the board.

OK Go bassist Tim Nordwind [pictured second from left] took a few minutes out of the band's busy tour schedule to talk to me discuss their departure from Capitol Records and working as free agents under their own label, their vibrant, highly imaginative music videos, and how the band translates what it does to the stage, among other things.

Leilani: How’s it going, how are ya doing?

OKGO: I’m doing well, I’m actually at 30 Rockefeller Plaza because we’re playing on the Jimmy Fallon Show tonight.

Awesome -- congratulations! I'll have to make sure to tune in. I saw you guys a few nights ago on Letterman. Looking good, looking good ...

Thank you, thank you very much. Yeah, we were on the Colbert Report a couple nights after that, too. We’ve been making a lot of TV appearances lately.

Yeah, you guys seem to be all over the place. Is this the most attention you feel you guys have gotten for a release?

It’s hard to qualify like that. It definitely feels like there are a lot of eyeballs on us right now, but we’ve been at this for 11 years now, you know, we’ve had all sorts of ... you end up having all these high points, at different points along your career. And it definitely feels like one of those high points. I’m happy to say that we’ve had things like it before in the past, and I’m hoping we’ll have more in the future.

Do you have fans chasing you down?

No, no, we have ... no, well, sometimes, it depends. If we are playing at a town and we happen to be out to dinner somewhere around the venue, chances are someone who is going to the show is probably there having dinner, too. But we live a comfortable existence in that sense, you know what I mean, we get to make the things we want to make, and it doesn’t end up ruining the rest of our lives, you know?

I know you guys recently parted ways with Capital/EMI. What motivated this decision?

Well, we’ve gone ahead and started our own label, which is called Paracadute Recordings. But I think, honestly, for the most part, we were headed in two different directions. Major labels' bread and butter, right now, is like selling CDs, and CDs are the one thing in the world that people ain't buying right now. And we want to get our music out there into the world just as much as the next band, but we're also interested in a lot of other things and a lot of other modes of distribution, and it seems like in this changing world, the best thing that you can have on your side is creativity and flexibility. When we realized that there was an opportunity to go out and try out things on our own, and experiment with distribution methods, and experiment with all sorts of different creative ideas, and not being limited to only the sales of CDs. That’s the direction we want to go. There just seems like a million different ways to get your music out there into the world, and CD sales is simply just one of them.

You guys get alot of press about your videos, which are just really amazing. What  prompted you to do two videos for "This Too Shall Pass"?

Basically, what prompted us to do two videos for “This Too Shall Pass” is the fact that A) We could, and, B) We had two really

click to enlarge okgovideoweb
good ideas that lent themselves to that song. Generally speaking, a lot of the times when we come up with conceptual ideas for our videos, the visual idea comes before the musical idea, so we generally get excited about something visual, and then sort of figure out how our songs can make that idea even better.

And basically we had two really interesting visual concepts – doing a live performance with the Notre Dame Marching Band, and building a gigantic Rube Goldberg Machine [pictured left, video below]. When we talked to the director of the Notre Dame Marching Band, he’d listened through the record and thought for the live performance’s sake, “This Too Shall Pass” has this, like, epic marching band quality to it, and he written a marching band arrangement for it and it was really great. We looked at that less as a video and more as a live performance, and it sort of ended up being somewhere in the middle – it sort of acts as both. And then obviously with the Rube Goldberg Machine, again, the album version of “This Too Shall Pass” lent itself well to the pageantry of the whole idea, this big mammoth machine dancing with the music. It just turned out that we could do both, and that was the right song for both ideas.

Is there any particular person who comes up with all these visual ideas?

Yeah, the ideas kind of come from all over the place. We come up with a lot of the concepts, we get excited by things we see online or in real life, something we read about, and sometimes friends have really cool ideas, and they'll kind of tip us off on something cool, and then we'll decide to do a fun project with our friends.

The ideas really kind of come from all over the place. The thing is that we really enjoy working on these things, and we really enjoy directing them, and coming up with concepts and things like that, you know> We look at making videos like we look at making music -- it's part of the art of what we do, and we’re excited to make these things.

That's really refreshing, because it seems like alot of artists (or really, labels) have abandoned the idea of making videos or really putting time and effort into music videos ...

I think for the longest time, you could argue that for the entire history of the music video, a lot were made more or less by people who run the labels because they looked at videos as advertisements for the music. It was an advertisement for another product that they were trying to sell, and so they would spend hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars sometimes, making this like really slick-looking advertisement, all in the name of trying to sell records, ’cause that’s what they do at the end of the day. But with a kind of crumbling music industry, and even sort of a crumbling, you know, MTV -- it doesn’t really play videos anymore -- so with these two things kinda crashing down the definitions of what album is, what music is, it’s all sort of changing again. The music industry has defined what we think of as a single and a video and blah blahblah, you know? And without these definitions we are sort of free to go and make the things we want to make and call it whatever it is we want to call it, and we make it more in the spirit of just trying to make something awesome, and less of trying to sell a product.

Right, and that goes back to the idea of Capital Records prohibiting you from embedding your videos online, because they want to make a profit off it, but you want it to be shared. People aren't going to see it playing on TV... they'll only see it if you spread it around ...

Yeah, and the thing is, if there is one thing that the videos have done for us, every time we put one out, it creates more opportunities for us to go out and make other things, whether it be records or more videos, or getting our live show up and running and entertaining... And to have someone tell you, "We’re going to lessen the eyeballs on this thing, which means, were going to lessen the opportunities you’ll have in the future because no one is going to see it," that’s, it’s a hard pill to swallow for sure.

click to enlarge of-the-colour-of-the-blue-sky
As far as Of the Colour of the Blue Sky, what was different about how you guys put this album together, versus the two in the past? I know you worked with producer Dave Fridmann... what did he contribute to the creative process?

It was a fairly different creative process this time around. In the past, a lot of what we did when started to write songs was to have goals in mind, like very goal-oriented song writing, where we say like “You know, the world needs more stadium rock anthems,” and so that was the goal, to write something that sounded like a stadium rock anthem.

And when went back to, I don’t want to call them our "bags of tricks," but when we tried to get inspired by the same things that inspired us before, we found that we just weren’t quite inspired in the same way anymore, and we weren't getting excited by the goals we were trying to set for ourselves. I think what we subconsciously figured out for ourselves, was like, to not have any goals, and to just write pieces of music that make us feel something.

And so what ended up happening was we just wrote a lot of grooves and beats and would pairthese grooves and beats up with some sort of interesting sonics, and if those things together created some sort of magical something -- magical emotion, like fury or sadness or happiness or a combination of all of the above, we deemed that something worth working on.

It was much more of a mystery to solve thsi time around. But that’s what got us excited, and we never knew how a song was going to end, and that was one very big difference between the songwriting on this record, and the songwriting on the first two: we generally knew how a song was going to be when we started writing it, and this time we had no idea, we wrote more for emotion. And so the songs ended up sounding much more, like, how we listen to music, and less about what we know how to do, if that makes sense?

Yeah, totally. And it's really surprising because the album is so meticulous sometimes…

Yeah, yeah, it’s much more a reflection of, I think, what we like and what we listen to. We didn’t work on anything unless it sounded good to us, and that made us feel something, so...

What did Fridmann bring to the table?

Well, he sorta has the keys to this, like, 23-dimensional psychedelic sonic universe, that if you work with Dave, he let’s you go and play, and then everyone kind of does a different thing... He just brought sort of an outer space, sonic soap opera type feel to the whole thing.

There are definitely some songs with a nice sense of drama … and it really works on different levels.

We got that, working with him, you start to feel the sky is the limit to what you can do, on a production level. And he really allowed us to just get as weird as we wanted to get (laughs), but also respected when we didn’t want to get weird, and just wanted to kind of doing something very simple and minimal. He was great to work with, and he’s such a lover of music, and science and sonics (laughs) ... he’s a fun guy to work with.

What can people expect from the live show? Any special tricks up your sleeve?

I think what makes live performance interesting for us is like an element of surprise, and then a connection with the audience obviously, so we basically try to bring a big party, and think of our audience as guests in our home for the most part, you know, and we try to connect with them. In the past, we tried to keep everything high energy. The thing we're realizing now, as our albums get slightly more melancholic at times, is that it’s not about keeping everyone super amped up all the time, it's about conecting in a way where you can take them up and you can bring them down, but as long as everyone is feeling the same thing at the same time, it’s working. More or less it’s our own little weird party...


with Earl Greyhound and Robert Francis, Fri., May 14, 7 p.m. doors, Crowbar, Ybor City, $15.

“This Too Shall Pass” Rube Goldberg Machine version

“This Too Shall Pass” marching band version

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

The video for “WTF?” from Of the Colour of the Sky.

OK Go - WTF? from OK Go on Vimeo.

And finally, the infamous treadmills video for the song, “Here It Goes Again” from the band's 2006 album, Oh No.

OK Go - Here It Goes Again from OK Go on Vimeo.

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