I am Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK Go and director of our latest music video. I'm joined by my co-director Bob Partington. Ask us anything!
The video we released this week, "The Writing's On the Wall": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m86ae_e_ptU
Our other videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0FB9262CF878A34A
Bob's other work: https://www.facebook.com/BobMakesThings http://wdrv.it/1nBQFKa
Proof: http://www.twitter.com/okgo http://www.facebook.com/okgo
YESSSSS! I am a huge LEGO fan, and expected to actually NOT like it, because I prefer the legos-as-building-blocks side of the experience to the legos-as-miniature-world-where-we-can-do-cross-promotions-with-other-giant-brands side of the experience. So I went in fairly hard to please. AND IT WAS GREAT! from damian to gus
Do you worry that your amazing video work could overshadow your audio work?
No. We get this question all the time. But think of it this way. I am a chef. You are in my restaurant. And you are asking me if I am worried by the fact that we are known for our incredible desserts. I am very, very pleased that we have such good desserts, and that they are known around the world for being delicious and singular and unique and unlike anyone else's desserts. As it turns out, I also make very good main courses. Many people also come and enjoy them. If millions come in for the desserts, and hundreds of thousands also find they like the main course, awesome. There are no bad customers in this restaurant.
See, the question you're asking basically masks a way of thinking about creativity (or, more accurately, people's creative careers) that seems... stuck in another century, I guess. That's the idea that creativity and creative people are supposed to stay in particular boxes that were defined by the way our products used to be distributed. It used to be that music and film and video games and journalism were actually very different physical objects with industries built around selling and distributing them. Now all of us make ones and zeros. I spend my time chasing my creative ideas. My process generally starts with writing songs, but it leads to a lot of other fun places. I feel bad for musicians who get trapped in the box of "music" as it was imagined 30 years ago. Some people like it in that box, but a lot don't. A lot of people wish they got to chase all of their creative ideas, not just the ones that involve their guitar. I am that lucky guy who is not trapped in that particular box.
TIL Damian is not a mime.
I am not YET a mime.
I was just thinking yesterday on my way home from my desk job that one of the best things about the video is how it shows that creativity unleashed really has no boundaries - there's a great song, there's compelling choreography, there's this amazingly scientific art, and everyone is happy. So, so happy. And it's lovely to see.
Thanks for showing what can be done when you stop thinking it has to stop at just one outlet. Really splendid and enjoyable for creator and consumer/appreciator alike.
Thank you. I'm glad that some of the world sees that without us having to say it over and over and over again. It seems fairly self-evident to me, but it's astonishing how much we deal with the perception that somehow one part of what we do has to compete with the other parts of what we do. Like my elbow is always at war with my knee.
How long did it take to build the set and what was the most challenging aspect to the build?
it took about 4 weeks in the warehouse. all of the illusions had their own challenge. I'd say the most time-intensive was the last image -- the one with the song title on it. A lot of people did a LOT of painting.
how on Earth did you manage to hide those bunch of people that appear at the end? think i was most impressed by that actually haha
they hid in the "shadows" (from the camera's perspective) of the columns in the space. these were easy for them to find, because those parts of the floor weren't painted to be part of the illusion.
Thats not by any chance the same warehouse from "This Too Shall Pass" is it?
nope. that one was in Echo Park, in LA. this one was in Bed-Stuy, NYC
For me, the overhead rig was a challenge. I was working on that in my small studio and guessing how it would fit together when I got it installed over Tim's face.
"alled over Tim's face"... If I had a dollar for every time I heard bob say that.
Thanks for doing this! I'm a huge fan.
How many takes did you go through to get this right?
Also, do you guys have a "penalty" set up among yourselves for any time one of you messes up a take, like a "swear jar" for missed cues?
our equivalent of the swear jar was a whipping post for Bob. it was sad for bob. every time a take went bad, he was brutally punished. Bob was VERY motivated by this.
it took 61 takes.
bob spent 3 days in the hospital.
Don't worry about me... Bill Nye made it all better yesterday at the White House. http://i.imgur.com/k86jCaa.jpg
you look like a cooler john malkovich
BOB IS COOLER THAN MALKOVICH. BOB IS COOLER THAN EVERYONE.
Is that all at once or was it collectively?
How do you come up with ideas for your music videos?
lots and lots of drugs. that's a joke. kids: don't take drugs. also, adults, don't take drugs. unless drugs are your thing. then, I guess, go ahead and take them. Especially if a qualified physician has told you to.
I don't know where the ideas come from. They come from the heavenly kingdom of ideas, which is a place I spend a lot of time trying to break into.
That drug slogan needs to be on a bumper sticker.
that will be either a very big sticker, or very hard to read.
you told me the drugs were for something else...?
they are, bob. remember, blue in the morning, red at lunch.
I've been a fan since I saw "Get Over It" on MTV back when they still played videos, and I've been thrilled to watch you guys mature and grow more awesome musically, visually, and business-wise.
I love your guy's business model and how you're putting more control - and more content! - into the hands of your fans.
What was the hardest part about breaking away from your record label, and what's the best thing it's brought you?
Labels are great for a few things: 1) they aggregate risk. they bet on 20 bands for every one that succeeds. This means 19 bands get a shot at it without having to spend their life savings. And since musicans are mostly not the best money-people, their ain't a lot of life savings around to spend, anyhow. 2) they (at least theoretically) insulate artists from the nastiness of commerce. Musicians can go on believing that they are just purely expressing their beautiful selves, and not worry about the dirty money stuff. 3) other stuff that's not worth getting into. so the loss of those 3 things is stressful. it's always our money we are betting with. and I have to deal with a lot of biusness crap that's boring and soul-sucking. Everything else is better. We have vastly more creative freedom. We can chase ideas wherever they lead, without having to know, in advance, how they'll pay for themselves. And when something succeeds, we keep the money. I like this side of the fence better than the other one. (but that is in part because we had many years in the system, so by the time we got out of it, we already had a pretty good sense of how to run the business, and we knew we had enough fans to connect the dots. It's much harder for bands just starting out...)
Hey Damian, big fan here! OK Go are my favourite band.
I went to see you play live at The Charlotte in Leicester (UK) in 2006, and after the gig finished myself and a friend managed to speak to you at the bar. You gave me a hug and referred to my friend as 'babe', which I believe made her entire year. It also made mine, aha.
Considering it was a memorable gig for me, what has been your favourite gig? Any stand-out moments whilst on tour?
Thanks for reading, looking forward to the new album, it sounds superb so far.
The biggest moment ever on any tour was in Leicester in 2006 at a small bar. I can't remember the name of the establishment, but after the show I talked to two people at the bar. I called one of them "Babe." It was amazing. I felt great for years. But basically it's been downhill from there.
The best moments of tour are a) the hour on stage, which is almost always really fun for us, and b) the weird surprise moments of finding yourself somewhere you could never have imagined, experiencing something you had no idea was possible. A hot air balloon over a small german town, or talking to Herbie Hancock backstage at the President's 50th birthday party.
Love all of your videos, and this latest one is no exception!
Did Tim wear a fake half-beard at the start of the video... or... was he very quickly shaven while off camera?!
(It was fake, surely???)
Tim was half-shaven for the better part of a week. Which made his existence in NYC pretty exciting. At the top of the video, the other half of his beard is prosthetic. Our make-up team (Dayeon Kang, Joanna Pisani, & Kelsey McCullough) were fricking unbelievable. I still can't believe they made it work. They had less than 12 seconds to remove that beard as Tim dashed to his next mark. And then they had less than 5 minutes to re-apply it before the next take. This did not seem humanly possible. When we asked if they could do it, they said, "well... no. that can't really be done. but ok, we'll do it." and then they did.
Was there any illusion you wanted to try but couldn't make work?
not really. some of them we would like to have done more elaborately, or let you look at more slowly in the video, so you could "get" them more, but in either case we would have had to trade time -- either remove other elements from the video, or do them more sloppily. Search for an artist named Georges Rousse. his work was very inspiring throughout, and we didn't really do anything in his style -- specifically making an image not out of a single color, but as a contrast between very colorful elements in their more desaturated natural environment.
What is the highest budget you've had for a music video? Also, when will you come to Toronto?
I'm contractually not allowed to say the dollar figure, but the budget for Needing/Getting was the highest. We will come to Toronto in 2019. April 14th.
That's a joke. I think we might be there in September? I dunno. Check our website. http://okgo.net
How long did it take you guys to set up the course for Needing/Getting? And how did you "tune" each instrument to produce just the right note?
There are a lot of behind-the-scenes clips out there that help answer these. The physics of each of the instruments is a little different, but basically me and Brian Perkins (my co-director) holed up in a warehouse for a couple months with two guys: Noah Vowter (MIT MediaLab sound genius) and Paul Rudolph (who has a band Glank, in which all of the music is made with found objects or homemade instruments). We had a lot of crap from hardware stores and thrift shops. And we tested and played for a very long time.
What has been your most favourite music video to work on so far?
I'm bad a having "favorites." I like lots of things for lots of reasons and I don't know how to put them in a linear order. So I will give an answer that you will think sounds like I'm dodging, but I don't mean to be. I have liked almost all of the periods of making videos a great deal, because they've all been really intense weeks/months of getting in a bubble with people I really admire and usually wind up really loving. They feel like summer camp for adults. This one was particularly wonderful because the people were all -- literally all of them -- great. Except Bob.
What period of making videos did you not like making?
I was wondering if anyone would catch that...
There were some very difficult periods working on the video for Needing/Getting (the one where I stunt-drive the car with the robotic arms). My co-director, Brian L Perkins, and I have been very close friends since we were in a band together in college, and if it had not been for his wonderfully big heart and undying creative stamina, I would have collapsed and been blown away in a cloud of DamianDust®. Basically, that undertaking was too mammoth for the resources we had, both in terms of money and people. So we worked ourselves into the ground. But in the end, I got to do a lot of stunt driving and that made up for everything.
Was Needing/Getting done in a single take? I mean, just looking at all of the different camera shots, it seems apparent that there had to be some additional shots captured from a second car driving in front of you guys, but did you manage to do the entire song and capture the audio from a single take?
No, and we didn't even try. Early in the process of making it, we hoped that might be possible, but it wasn't. It would have taken another several months and a few million dollars. Neither of which we had.
Writing's on the Wall
Bob is a liar. That's why all these illusions work. It's Bob lying to you.
It's not lies, it's truth. I show the truth every time.
See? It's a paradox. A liar is always claiming to not be a liar. Thank you for illustrating, Bob.
I noticed you didn't have a sponsor listed (like State Farm) for this video. How was it funded?
We paid for it our damn selves.
Do the ideas for specific set-ups come before a band member is assigned to them, or do you have a band member in mind that set-ups are created for? (Examples from the latest video: Tim's half shaved beard for the mirror illusion and the paint dripping onto Dan)
It's sort of a combination of both. It didn't matter who was in the paint-box, but it had to be Tim doing the mirror-face trick, because he's the one with all of the visual extras on his head (glasses, beard, hat) that we could play with. That meant Tim was not going to be in the paint box, because we didn't want Tim singing both of the first two choruses. Then Andy and I were basically ruled out of the paint box because it would have taken too long in between takes to clean the paint out of our hair. Dan is blessed with less hair than we, so he also got blessed with paint all up in his grill.
How do you feel about the nickelodeon show fairly odd parents referencing your Here It Goes Again video??
ALSO how would you say Brown and Interlochen influenced you as a musician today? I am a junior in high school trying to figure out what I want to do for a living and music is a big part of my life. I am considering music production, composition (film scoring would be the bomb), recording, business, etc. I am going to Tanglewood this summer as a violinist and I would love to get some personal insight from you. @yunashinn
I was unaware of the Nickelodeon thing. I'll check it out. Interlochen and Brown were huge huge influences on my life. Several of my closest friends, including our bassist Tim, are people I met between the ages of 11 and 15 at Interlochen. (it's a summer camp for the arts, for the uninitiated). Brown (it's a university in Rhode Island, for the uninitiated) was perhaps the most thrilling 4 years of my life. Most of my friends who aren't from interlochen are from Brown. But note: what I said about both of these places is that I met my favorite people there. It is also true that I learned a lot and grew a lot as a person. But first and foremost, it was being around so many inspiring and amazing people that made those places so important in my life. What I didn't do, at either place, was work on my career. I dove into things that thrilled me, and the career followed later. I went to college believing I wanted to be a visual artist -- a fine artist if I was lucky, or maybe a graphic designer or something. Music started winning the race during those four years. But then when I got out of school I worked as a graphic designer and as an NPR adio engineer for a couple years while the band was starting. My point is: don't try to decide your future and then make it happen. That won't work. Just chase the stuff you love, and try to build in some practical stuff as you go, in case you don't get your dream job. There are very few concert violinists in the world. Oh also my point is: most jobs in the arts are VERY hard to get and don't pay you very much. So if you value comfort, stability, etc.... look elsewhere. Also, most musicians, especially thge rock ones, are vapid and self-obsessed and boring as hell to be around. So find people you love. You'll be miserable otherwise.
Any chance of adding another Chicago show to your upcoming tour? Sadly, I wasn't able to get a ticket in time.
sadly, I think there aren't any free days when there are also available clubs to play in... It's pretty likely that someone has bought tickets to scalp on stubhub or equivalent, though...
We are major fans and loved the new video! Thanks for working so hard to come up with new ideas for each one.
My 4-year-old, who has known all the words to This Too Shall Pass since he was 2 and calls you The Drums Guys, says, "I like your song! It's so nice. I hope you can make a new song. From Gus. Do you like The Lego Movie? That's what I wanna ask them."
So...Do you like The Lego Movie?
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