Formed in Chicago in 1998 and now based in Los Angeles, OK Go – consisting of vocalist Damian Kulash, drummer Dan Konopka, bassist Tim Nordwind and guitarist Andy Ross – continues to break creative boundaries with a never-ending stream of visual and audio experimentation.
Adding to a repertoire that already includes a Rube Goldberg machine that operates in time to music, animations on 2,430 pieces of toast, dancing with dogs and leaping across treadmills, the band has now released their newest music video: a journey through a series of perspective illusions.
OK Go’s latest music video for “The Writing’s On the Wall” – which was released in June this year and already has more than 10.7 million views on YouTube – was shot in one long take and features more than 20 illusions. Every illusion in the music video is meticulously constructed and magically executed.
The OK Go logo sculpture that appears in the beginning of the music video was designed in CG and then printed in 3D; the detailed areas of the red square are filled with Twizzlers and gumballs and the mirror illusion required the use of mirrors crafted to fit Kulash’s and Ross’ forms perfectly.
The camera rig used to show Nordwind’s mouth is described by the band as a “20 foot tall giraffe made of plywood and garage door springs.” The koala pole illusion is a “classic sidewalk chalk illusion” that required Konopka to sprint 70 yards from the paint rig where he was splashed by gravity-defying pink paint. Finally, to put the “The Writing’s On the Wall” painting seen at the conclusion of the music video into perspective, it covered 20,000 square feet of floor and 1,000 windowpanes.
While there is no question that OK Go has the ability to engage and entertain audiences through their visual mastery, the captivating audio and mesmerizing sound of their creations continue to fascinate even more. The band released their latest EP Upside Out in May this year, which includes not only “The Writing’s On the Wall,” but “Turn Up the Radio,” “I Won’t Let You Down” and “The One Moment.”
“The Writing’s On the Wall” combines a sprinkle of melancholy with a hint of joy, as it tells the story about the inevitable end to a relationship, and “Turn Up the Radio” incorporates a simple chorus with a funky beat. “I Won’t Let You Down” does not disappoint with its disco-esque vibe, while “The One Moment” closes Upside Out with an explosive chorus and commanding riffs.
Upside Out is only a brief preview of the band’s latest work and is sure to leave listeners hungry for more. The band will be performing in Atlanta on Sept. 26, while OK Go’s fourth full-length studio album, Hungry Ghosts, is set to release later this year on Oct. 14.
OK Go bassist Tim Nordwind spoke with me via phone to share stories about everything from his childhood bohemian summer camp art teacher and the most fun songs to make from Hungry Ghosts, to what word he would use to describe each member of the band.
Benazir Wehelie: What is the meaning behind the band’s name, OK Go?
Tim Nordwind: The name, OK Go, is sort of like a long time inside joke between Damian, who’s a singer in the band, and I. We met at summer camp when we were 11; it was an arts summer camp in northern Michigan. We had an art teacher who was sort of like the bohemian art teacher who was always stoned, basically. He would always come up to us while we were drawing and he would say the following, which was really weird: If I was drawing a tree he’d be like, “OK now, feel the tree,” so you’d have to go feel the tree, and then he’d be like “Now, feel the paper,” then you’d have to feel the paper. And he’d be like, “Now, draw the difference.” Then, he’d kind of hover over you for 10 minutes and then he’d be like, “OK, OK, OK, OK go.” You know he’d say that even though we’d been drawing for 10 minutes. He was like too stoned to notice. He did this to everyone and Damian and I were just comparing notes after art class one day and just thought that was the funniest thing in the world. So, we would say goodbye to each other and say, “OK, OK, OK, OK go.” Damian and I have been making projects together, whether it’s music or art or videos, since we were 11. When it was time to name the band, it just seemed like an obvious choice for us.
BW: When did you start playing the bass and what do you love most about it?
TN: I started playing the bass I guess when I was 18. I had moved to Chicago for college and started a band with Andy Duncan, who’s the original guitarist in OK Go, and Dan Konopka, who’s the drummer in OK Go. The three of us had started a band. Andy Duncan was a very good guitar player and Dan was a great drummer. So, really all that was left for me was bass. I kind of just started playing it because no one else would. For several years I played it a lot like a guitar because I had learned to play guitar first and so, I played bass like a rock guitar. I think somewhere around the age of 24 I started to take bass a little bit more seriously and took lessons from a woman named Carol Kaye who is like a legend, especially in Los Angeles. She gave studio sessions in the 60s and 70s and played on like 85 percent of every pop hit from the 50s and 60s. I took lessons from her at 24 and she really kind of opened my mind up to what a rhythmic and spacious instrument the bass can be, and how it can also be melodic at times. She sort of taught me that playing bass was as much about the notes that you don’t play than it is about the notes that you do play. She taught me a lot more about theory and all of that. My philosophy on bass changed then and I started playing more with what she taught me in mind ever since.
BW: Are there any other musicians or films, or even artworks that have influenced the band and inspired your own creativity?
TN: We’re always inspired by the things that we see in art and in culture and things like that. We grew up listening to a lot of music that has certainly influenced us. The band the Pixies was a huge influence, Prince was huge influence, and we really love the band INXS, they were huge. What I love about music is its immediacy to convey emotions and its immediacy to help you feel. When you listen to a song you love, you feel it immediately and that’s a really awesome feeling. There’s a lot of things in the world that inspire me to want to create the same feeling that a film makes me feel to something like that. Whether it’s a movie like “Star Wars,” which I absolutely love or if it’s something like [Alejandro] Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain” or something like that, which is a lot more psychedelic and obscure and crazy. All the things that those films make me feel, though, I oftentimes want to convey in a song. On top of that, people, just people, human relationships, oftentimes inspire us to want to create. I’m not sure there’s anything more powerful than a friendship or something like that. Oftentimes the people or the things that people do that I observe really inspire me to want to make a song that will hopefully make people think and feel the same way I did when I heard something funny or saw something touching.
BW: For your upcoming album, Hungry Ghosts, is there a specific song that you really love, and overall, how do you want the sound of the album to make people feel when they listen to it?
TN: I like all the songs on the record. There’s a couple that were very fun and interesting to make for us. There’s one song called “Another Set of Issues,” which is a story about a character who is about to perform a bank robbery and all the crazy thoughts that go through his head before and while that’s happening. Creating the music for that story was an interesting process because the music came in as just a bassline and a beat that seemed kind of magical. It just had a certain something to it, it had a really nice groove to it that we all paid attention to. We took that bassline and that beat and while we were in the studio we built the whole song up. It was a fun process to just work on that song while we were in the studio. There’s another song called “Obsession,” which is sort of like a dark pop song, it’s very groovy and very minimal. It has no real bass in it, it’s just some bass and two guitars and a beat. But, it’s a pretty heavy groove and it was a fun one to make. Those two stand out in my mind as being fun to do in the studio.
BW: You’re also known for having very entertaining and engaging viral music videos. For your latest one, “The Writing’s On the Wall,” what was the creative process behind it? Do you try and match the emotions of the song when you make music videos or is it more about exploring creativity?
TN: When we’re working on music usually we’re solely focused on music. When we’re coming up with ideas for videos, we’re pretty solely interested in a concept that seems like it’s going to be interesting or fun to watch. Usually, one of the later steps is marrying the image to the music. We obviously need to know what song we’re doing before we make the video, but usually don’t have a song in mind when we’re thinking about the video. “The Writing’s On the Wall,” I will say, to go against what I just said, it was a nice coincidence that the conceptual idea for the video was that we wanted to make something about perspective using anamorphic images and illusions and weird tricks and things like that. An interesting thing about perspective is if you look at it from exactly the right spot, it looks like an image. As soon as you start moving away from it, it all of a sudden doesn’t look like the thing you just saw. “The Writing’s On the Wall,” the song, is very much about a relationship that’s ending because two people can’t see eye-to-eye. When they look at their relationship, they see it in two different ways. But, at one point they saw it as the same thing. Thematically, I think the video worked really well with the song in that sense.
BW: Outside of music, what does the band enjoy doing?
TN: We all like to do a lot of different things. I grew up doing a lot of theater, like playwriting and acting. When there’s time, I like to make little projects that are more based in film and theater. I also started another band two years ago, called Pyramids. Even when I’m not doing music, I still like doing music. Dan, our drummer, is really into production, which I know is still based around music, but he’s into a lot of electronic production and does a lot of remixes. Our guitarist Andy has his own app-making company, so he makes apps. He’s a programmer. Damian produced a record for our friend, Becky [Stark], last year for her band Lavender Diamond. He writes op-ed pieces and he enjoys photography and things like that. There’s still a lot of other things we enjoy doing. We’re all interested in technology and we’re kind of like science nerds and all that, so we’re always reading about that stuff.
BW: What is one word you would use to describe each member of the band?
TN: For Andy, I would describe him as stoic. I think for Dan, I would describe him as the lion from “The Wizard of Oz.” Damian, I would describe as very smart. And I would describe me as maternal.
BW: You’ll be in Atlanta on Sept. 26. What can audiences look forward to most from your live show?
TN: We put together a whole new live show, which is incredibly interactive. It’s based around a lot of multimedia. There’s a lot of synchronized video, a lot of us interacting with the crowd. There’s a ton of confetti. We make a song sampling the audience and using those samples to make a song. There’s a big film and video component to what we’re doing. It’s a big party, basically, with an emotional arch to it.
– By Benazir Wehelie, Copy Chief