Tired from a tough two and a half years on the road, OK Go releases a new album thats a departure from their traditional high-energy sound.
OK GO FRONT MAN DAMIAN KULASH WILL BE THE FIRST TO TELL YOU HE FEELS A CERTAIN KINSHIP WITH THE ABSURD.
Its that very spirit that guided the bands brilliantly ridiculous and visually arresting video for the song Here We Go Again, with band members dancing their way through a low-rent Busby Berkeley number on treadmills. Released in 2006, the video became a viral sensation and ended up earning the group a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video. To date, the clip has logged more than 50 million views on YouTube.
Thats tens of millions of people whove seen that video, and I dont suspect there are tens of millions of people who know our music, Kulash admits. That thing has a life beyond anything else the band has done or probably ever will do.
OK Go which also includes bassist Tim Nordwind, drummer Dan Konopka, and guitarist Andy Ross has been gaining attention since the release of the bands self-titled debut in 2002 and their breakthrough follow-up, Oh No, in 2005. With their Grammy win and high-profile role as the house band for some live performances of Ira Glasss syndicated radio show, This American Life, it has occasionally seemed like OK Gos focus has been more on bells and whistles than on music.
I dont feel like our career is a case of the tail wagging the dog. It only would feel like the tail wagging the dog if you tried chasing those things, says Kulash, who notes that the groups new album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (Capitol, $13), marks a sonic and philosophical change for the band, plunging them into darker territory than theyve previously explored.
The Chicago-bred, Los Angelesbased group formed in 1998, and its famously exuberant style was born as a reaction to the dour postrock and math-rock styles dominating the Windy City during that time. We looked around at the musical scene we were living in, and it seemed so un-fun, Kulash says. There was a lot of academia and very little fist-pumping. Our first record was definitely our response to that.
Of their more recent efforts, Kulash says, The second record came out of a similar vein, but after years on tour, we expended a lot of those desires or influences. This time, coming home off the road and settling down into my garage, I had no desire to plug in to a big amplifier and feel the glory of a power chord anymore.
That may have been the somber result of a tough 30 months on the road promoting Oh No, which left the band members lives in shambles. We more or less steamrolled everybody and everything out of our lives in the two and half years we were on the road, Kulash says. It was a difficult time personally but also a difficult time globally, so I think it was hard not to [write] depressive music. I made an effort to steer it away from being all grumpy, moany music. Although the personal and collective difficulties surfaced, we were trying to find a way to be hopeful.
To help strike the balance between light and dark, the band tapped Dave Fridmann known for his similarly sad/beautiful work with the Flaming Lips and MGMT to produce the album. OK Go headed up to Fridmanns studio in upstate New York, where they spent a month recording in rural isolation. The resulting work, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, plays in the cleft between Kulashs left and right brains. The songs alternate between hope (This Too Shall Pass, All Is Not Lost) and despair (White Knuckles, End Love), with the band expanding its power-pop palette to include more danceable grooves and beats, a nod to Kulashs childhood favorite, Prince.
The albums title was inspired by an 1876 book called The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky, in which a retired general and inventor claimed that blue light has healing properties. Its a fitting concept for a band of outside-the-box thinkers as they strive to heal themselves.
I think we liked that notion, Kulash says. As a band, weve been incredibly lucky to have had our own ideas and especially our odder ideas succeed. If we get to have a career of chasing down our weirdest and craziest ideas and seeing if they work, then I will be very happy.