OK Go: Interview
with Damian Kulash, Jr.
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.
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."
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."
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."
by Wendy Herbst and Lauren Jonik