Wednesday, November 1, 2017
“In mostly good ways, we’re in a state of arrested development of about 12 years old,” said Tim Nordwind, a founding member of the alt-rock/pop band OK Go. Its youthful sense of whimsy shows in its playful and amusing videos, beginning with its wildly popular choreographed treadmill dance in 2007’s “Here It Goes Again.” It was so inventive, OK Go won a Grammy Award for it. Since then, the group — which also includes Damian Kulash, Dan Konopka, and Andy Ross — has been creating catchy tunes and captivating videos and a catalog that includes four albums. I recently spoke with Nordwind over the phone about OK Go’s music, muses, and upcoming show in Santa Barbara.
It looks like the show is a little bit different than usual. This is definitely a different type of show for us. We are live-scoring our videos, which means that we will be playing live and in sync to our videos while they play above us [on a screen]. The idea came to us a couple years ago. I had gone to see a live scoring of the silent film Dracula — the 1931 version with Bela Lugosi. … Philip Glass had been commissioned to write a new score for the film. He was there conducting the Kronos Quartet as they played his score…. I started thinking, “We make a lot of short films. We play all that music. We could totally go and do this.”… Most people experience our videos on their phone. Maybe the computer. I just started thinking, “It’d be pretty cool to create an experience for us and for an audience to come and see these videos in a larger-than-life kind of way.” …We did our first two trial runs last month. It worked really, really well. …We do other things besides playing live to the videos. We break out from that a bit and do question-and-answer sessions with the audience. We take a break from it completely and play a song with the audience. We do a little bit of recreating of the videos live at a couple different points …. It’s turning into a fairly immersive performance.
I was reading that you and Damian met at Interlochen Arts Camp. What programs were you studying? Yeah, we met at Interlochen Arts Camp in ’89, I think it was. We were 11. I was there for musical theater. … Damian was there for visual arts, but he was a sculptor/painter type…. That’s where we became friends. I grew up in Michigan. Damian grew up in Washington, D.C. We spent summers together at Interlochen.
Musical theater and visual art — both elements are represented in your videos. Those were certainly our interests as kids. Also, he and I just bonded over music, and we bonded over a love of making things together. We always made crazy stuff together, whether it was music or some kind of weird performance or something with one of our parents’ video cameras. The videos are a direct extension of things that we made as kids, basically.
The videos are so fun but wouldn’t be as engaging if your music wasn’t as dynamic as it is. For us, the music has always been the bedrock and the place of origin for the rest of the OK Go world to bloom from.… We certainly started as a very traditional rock band in Chicago. We did all of the traditional rock band things. We made records; we went on tour; we got signed to a label. I think the thing that gave us the confidence to really follow the ideas that excite us the most and stay truest to ourselves is when the first two videos that we made on our own made it onto the internet. There was a backyard dancing video for a song called “A Million Ways to Be Cruel,” which was really a rehearsal tape for a dance that we were doing live.…When we saw that people actually liked those things, it really gave us the confidence to be like, “Okay, we really should just follow our hearts on this and really make the things that we think are fun to make.” … Also, I think musically we started doing that as well. If you listen to our first record versus our fourth record, there is a bit of a stylistic difference. I think [from] record to record we have become truer and truer to what we like musically. We’ve become truer and truer to what we like visually as well.
In your video “Upside Down & Inside Out” you’re in a plane. Were you really flying around with no gravity? We were in what they call a vomit comet.… It goes about 30,000 feet up in the air, and then it takes a 15,000-foot dive in about 27 seconds. We did 21 flights. For those 27 seconds when the plane is diving, you’re experiencing simulated zero gravity, basically.
The things you do for your art. Everyone around us was throwing up. I saw a lot of people throw up. We were spared. It was not a comfortable feeling. There was vomit behind the camera for sure.
OK Go makes its Santa Barbara debut Sunday, November 5, 7 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.