Music

American power-pop act OK Go embrace the fact that they’re ‘that band’ with Live Video Tour

If you’re a musician, at some point you strive to be “that player” or “that singer” or “that band.”

It means that, for whatever reason, bad or, hopefully good, you stand out in some way.

And it may not necessarily be for the reason you originally intended.

Damian Kulash could teach a masterclass on that.

He’s the frontman for OK Go.

You know, that band.

Of course you do, they’re that band behind such great power-pop tracks as Get Over It, A Million Ways and Here It Goes Again. They’ve been around for about 15 years and have four pretty solid studio albums to their name.

No?

Well, you’ve probably seen the amazing one-shot viral videos for songs such as Here It Goes Again, where the four members are doing choreographed moves on treadmills, or the amazing, elaborate Rube Goldberg Machine in the video This Too Shall Pass or the zero gravity dancing in the video for Upside Down and Inside Out.

Yes, they’re that band. That video band.

And they’re cool with it. In fact, they’re current series of concerts finds them fully embracing it — OK Go’s Live Video Tour finds them performing on a stage in front of screens showing those videos, with the band also reenacting moments from them and just generally having a blast with their fans.

Prior to their stop in Calgary on Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Kulash spoke with theYYSCENE. Here are excerpts from that interview.

Q: Thanks for coming here and thanks for doing this interview — it allowed me to go back to your debut (2002’s OK Go). I always remember liking that album, but I didn’t remember how good it was.

A: Thank you. I don’t remember how good it is myself because I haven’t listened to it in many years. I suspect my response to it would be much different than yours, because that hearing your voice on an answering machine thing, whenever I hear recordings of myself from that era, I’m like, “I hate that little … twerp I was.”

Q: I think people forget how good of a band you are, period.

A: I think I know where this is headed, because it’s such a frequent thing. Being “that video band” is a blessing and a curse. Obviously if we really felt it was a curse we wouldn’t do it. It’s a shame that humans have such limited bandwidth, because it means that we naturally categorize things in ways that those of us who are being categorized might rub up against it at times. But the truth is I fully understand it in the sense that the set of bands whose albums you love, which is a presumably very large set, the set of bands whose videos you love is probably a very small set. Do you know who Manute Bol is by any chance?

Q: Yes, of course.

A: I don’t know why this popped into my head, but the thing you know about Manute Bol is that he’s like nine feet tall, right? I’m sure he’s also a spectacular father and the best chef that you’ve ever met, but there are lots of great chefs and lots of great fathers, there’s just not that many people who are that tall so that’s what you know about him. It’s a great thing to be in a class of one in respect to our videos — I’m very proud of it. Another comparison that I’ve used before is that it’s like a restaurant that’s known for its deserts … We’re psyched that people are coming to our restaurant even if they’re just coming for desert. We hope that they like the meal also, but as far as I’m concerned if people are going to forget about the meal because they love the desert so much, I feel like they’re missing out but at least they like the cake.

Q: I like the fact that you’ve embraced both with your current tour. It looks like a lot of fun.

A: It’s actually quite a perfect segue from that in that I think we are complicit in the thing I was saying because for years we had been very careful in our rock shows to make sure we don’t show our videos, not because we were trying to run away from them, but because if you put a giant screen up with human faces on it, people are going to watch it — there’s nothing you can do to avoid that draw to the screen … So for years, we tried to keep the traditional catharsis of rock ’n’ roll at the centre of the show, which we still love those shows and we’re not going to stop doing that.

But this is the first time we have gone, “You know what, if we were really such a different type of band and we’re making a different thing, let’s try to figure out what that looks like live.” And so instead of trying to do it as a rock show with visuals pasted onto it, we’re putting the videos at the centre, we’re saying, “OK this is a film screening, but how do we bring that to life?” First of all we live score it, so we’re there playing it as a concert, but also when possible we involve the audience and try to break down the barriers of a concert in general … There’s a section where we stop the show to play a song on handbells and then invite the audience to actually join that song. We have a new song where the audience are the instrument. Our guitarist has written an app that allows them each to have three handbells on their phone and we have this big chorus of phones playing and us singing over it.

We do dances from some of the other videos and there’s a lot of Q&A — we stop the show to just talk to people. That’s the thing that seems subversive to people is the idea that in a room of 1,500 to 2,000 people, in that size room I don’t need a microphone to hear the people in the back. As long as the audience is quiet you can actually hear that person in the back and you can have a one-on-one conversation. And it just doesn’t seem to occur to people that is a thing. And it’s really delightful, especially because this is so kid friendly. For years the bell curve of our audience has gone from 18 to 30-year-old thing that rock ’n’ roll normally is, spreading out to encompass 2 to 70 year olds. Being in a place that’s more comfortable and more inviting and more appropriate for them means that we’re not just getting people like ourselves at the show, we’re getting little kids there who ask such amazing questions, like a couple of weeks ago a kid asked me, “How do you talk to girls?” And when this is a six or a 12-year-old kid you can’t be sarcastic, you can’t not answer him, and it’s a really fascinating experience to try to answer questions like that. It’s really, really fun, we’re enjoying it and people seem to enjoy it.

Q: Going back to the beginning, are you working on new music and when can we expect a new album?

A: Yes, we’re working on new music and we’re clearly very bad at doing things quickly. Every album I’m like, “We’re going to get the next one out in 18 months — come on …” I don’t know when the next one will be because we slowed down a lot so that I could have my baby twins and our guitarist had a child, so we’ve been on a reduced schedule. It turns out that two babies is a lot of babies … Hopefully we’ll have something out in 2019, we’d love some new music, it’s just slower when you have babies.

OK Go The Live Video Tour takes place Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. For tickets click here https://artscommons.ca/whats-on/2018/ok-go-the-live-video-tour/

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