OK Go can write a catchy riff, but what really makes the band stand apart is its videos. Each new production gets millions of hits on YouTube, and the band has had a huge hand in changing how we think about music videos.
The funny thing is, the band members never meant for this to happen. Their first video, “C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips,” was intended to be a one-off. But opportunity and curiosity combined to lead the band down this multimedia path.
“The process of ... saying, ‘You know what would be cool?’ and trying it seems like such an organic one to this particular group of people,” said lead singer Damian Kulash.
We spoke with Kulash about some of the band’s past works.
The band was invited to be on “Chic-A-Go-Go,” a “Soul Train”-like public access show in Chicago, so they choreographed their first elaborate dance.
“They didn’t have the technology to record any performance so we’d have to lip sync,” Kulash said. “Being the contrarian indie band we were, we were like, ‘If we have to lip sync, the last thing we’re going to do is shuffle our feet and look like we’re not actually playing. We’re just going to f---ing swing for the fences and try to out-Timberlake Timberlake.’”
After some encouragement from their friend Ira Glass (really!), they took the boy band routine on the road and audiences loved it.
“A Million Ways,” 2005
At this point, the dancing was solely intended for OK Go’s live shows. Kulash’s sister choreographed this new routine, which was again inspired by boy band dancing.
“We didn’t think of it as a video until we filmed a practice session and realized that the resultant video was itself pretty wonderful,” Kulash said.
“We were expecting it to be as successful as ‘A Million Ways,’ or maybe even a little bit more,” Kulash said. “When it hit a million views in the first day or two, that completely shocked us. It seemed impossible.”
He said that working with the treadmills wasn’t that much different from the process of songwriting: “We just put ourselves in a room with a bunch of toys and started playing. When that play is keyboards and guitars you get one thing, and when that play is treadmills in a dance studio, you get a different thing.”
The video features a Rube Golberg-type machine that dances along with the song.
“I sort of naively thought that we could get that done with, I don’t know, one or two engineers, maybe a month of full time work for a person or two,” Kulash said. “It ended up being that we had … a team that was anywhere from 12-40 engineers during the course of that [shoot].
“The big challenge for us was to make it actually function as a music video. We wanted the thing to dance. It had to actually line up with the song. Which is really f---ing impossible. If we had unleashed those 40 engineers on just make the coolest cause-and-effect machine you can … we could have worked with musch crazier things, chemical reactions, fire, all sorts of things that we had to cut out of this because their timing isn’t specific.”
“White Knuckles,” 2010
In addition to choreographing themselves, this time the band added 17 trained dogs to the mix.
“The way we did this was two weeks of choreography, it was just five dogs, two trainers, the band and my sister,” Kulash said. “By the end of those two weeks we had a video of all of these tricks but edited together. ... Then the trainers went and rounded up 10 more trainers and 12 more dogs and taught everybody their parts. We came in for two weeks at the end and just did it over and over and over again.”