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Interviews: OK Go

OK Go: Interview with Damian Kulash, Jr.
March 2003
By: Lauren Jonik (Lauren@soundaffects.net)


At its best, art is an invitation--- a kind of welcoming into a place where the distinction between the moment and the creation is blurred, at once becoming tangible and timeless. Enter OK Go, whose self-titled Capitol Records debut proves that the combination of intelligence, accessibility and fun are not antithetical in the world of music, but in fact, deliciously complementary.

photo of OK Go bassist Tim Nordwind, singer Damian Kulash, Jr. and guitarist Andy Duncan, copyright Wendy Herbst

With their instantly catchy first single, Get Over It, receiving airplay on radio stations in the US and abroad, OK Go has been touring with bands like The Music, Phantom Planet, Rooney, and The Donnas to bring their music to the masses. Audiences far and wide have been most responsive to the fun and sassy tale of unrequited love, You're So Damn Hot, Don't Ask Me and Get Over It, which blends the sonic fullness of handclaps and stomps with the rousing reminder of "hey, get, get, get, get, get over it," But, it has been the response to the ballad Return, whose subtlety makes it one of the most undeniably evocative tracks on the album, that has surprised lead vocalist and guitarist Damian Kulash, Jr. "We've gotten an incredible response to Return, which didn't strike me as the kind of song that would necessarily be good live, but people have been enjoying it." As a band that thrives on the energy from the crowd, OK Go appreciates the experience of feeling the same enthusiasm that they pour into their performance being mirrored back to them. Remembering the shows that he saw during his musically formative years, Damian has a special appreciation for all ages shows. "I grew up in Washington, DC and around the time I turned fifteen, I got into rock and roll. I was into what was on the radio before that. DC had an incredible music scene at the time and I started going to shows and all thanks to Ian McKaye all shows were all ages," explains Damian. Noting the influence the plentiful diet of live music had on his consciousness, Damian compares his musical metamorphosis to that of the cognitive development of a baby. "I feel like my young, soft, little head was able to completely form around rock between the ages of fifteen and eighteen." The effect indeed proved to be a positive and lasting one, as it is the totality of the experience of performing that Damian enjoys the most. "I'm sort of vaguely conscious of specifics. . . I notice little things, but I notice them almost more like I would expect a fan to, almost like I'm watching us."

photo of OK Go singer Damian Kulash, Jr. copyright Wendy Herbst

It has been said that enthusiasm rules the world. Following that logic, there is no doubt that when on stage the Chicago-based OK Go is in complete control of the aural landscape and the axiom is simple: have a good time. The band, who in addition to Damian Kulash, Jr., is made up of drummer Dan Konopka, bassist Tim Nordwind, guitarist and keyboardist Andy Duncan and keyboardist Burleigh Seaver, brings their own mix of fun, wit, showmanship, and musical skill--- all while managing to be poignant without being pretentious. "Rock and roll music is about a feeling and inspiration and just entertainment. . . We try not to put on too silly of a show, but we just try to have fun," explains Damian. Cover songs like Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl, Toto's Hold The Line, and Elvis Costello's Oliver's Army are an integral part of their repertoire, but the decision of which song to do on any particular night is usually in part left up to the audience, whose vote is tallied by the volume of applause and cheering when each of the possible selections is named. "The other deciding factors are what else I have to sing that night because some of them I really blow my voice out on and what the crowd seems to be into--- whether they are going to like something that is more absurd and indulgent or something that seems more heartfelt and just what we want to play. . . We try to keep it rotating so we don't get bored and so that people don't see the same show twice."

photo of OK Go singer Damian Kulash, Jr. copyright Lauren JonikFinding inspiration in the work of other writers and in particularly resonant situations has allowed OK Go to create a cohesive album, one in which each song has its own identity. Both the creative process and the sharing of that work with others is something to be equally valued, providing a sense of balance to the life of artists of any kind. "In the short term, for any given half hour, I would rather be on stage, but I am more inwardly satiated by having recorded something that I really like. The spikes of bliss are higher in on stage stuff, but in the long-term level with recording," said Damian Kulash, Jr. "I write feeling like it is an open-ended communication--- I like people hearing what I do." Having musicians like Jon Brion, Josh Freese, and Wendy Melvoin contribute to the album enhanced both the recording process and the final result. "I had a bunch of my musical idols come in and I just had them play over stuff to see what their instincts were." Bouncing ideas off of each other helped to hone the album.

As the seizing of opportunities always leads to other opportunities, OK Go has had a chance to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O'Brien. "It's one of those things where you sit back and wonder am I really doing this? It's a weird experience, but a good one." And, while any kind of exhibition of one's talents is a leap into the unknown, albeit often a fun one, perhaps Damian Kulash, Jr., sums up an OK Go show best. "It's sort of like being on a waterslide. It's exciting and fast--- like a waterslide in the summer."


http://www.okgo.net

Photos by Wendy Herbst and Lauren Jonik


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