OK Go performing in May 2006; from left to right: Tim Nordwind, Dan Konopka, Andy Ross and Damian Kulash
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Genres||Alternative rock, power pop|
|Associated acts||Debate Team, Secret Dakota Ring|
|Past members||Andy Duncan|
OK Go is an American alternative rock band originally from Chicago, Illinois, but now residing in Los Angeles, California. The band is composed of Damian Kulash (lead vocals, guitar), Tim Nordwind (bass guitar and vocals), Dan Konopka (drums and percussion) and Andy Ross (guitar, keyboards and vocals), who joined them in 2005, replacing Andy Duncan. They are known for their often elaborate and quirky music videos.
The band's lead singer, Damian Kulash, met bassist Tim Nordwind at Interlochen Arts Camp when they were 11. Kulash was in for graphic design, Nordwind for music. The band name comes from their art teacher saying, "OK... Go!" while they were drawing. They kept in touch after camp, often exchanging mixtapes which influenced each other's musical taste and their future sound. They met the band's former guitarist and keyboardist Andy Duncan in high school. Nordwind and Duncan moved to Chicago for college, where they formed the band Stanley's Joyful Noise with drummer Dan Konopka. The name OK Go was adopted in 1998, when Kulash moved to Chicago to join the band.
The band plastered the city with posters for their earliest gigs, and within a year had shared the stage with international artists such as Elliott Smith, The Promise Ring, Olivia Tremor Control and Sloan. At the end of 2000, they were personally invited by radio host Ira Glass to serve as the house band for live performances of This American Life in Boston, New York, and Chicago.
The band self-released two EPs, titled Brown EP (2000) and Pink EP (2001), which were culled from an album's worth of songs recorded in February 2000 with producer Dave Trumfio, to serve as demos. The early music had electronic influences, as Kulash told the Chicago Reader in 2001, "We were trying to figure out how we could get a sampler and beats to work in rock songs that didn't sound like rip-offs of Portishead." The demos did not land the band a label deal, but got them the attention of booking agent Frank Riley, who offered them shows with They Might Be Giants, a relationship that has endured as OK Go opened for the band numerous times during this period, and were introduced to their manager by them.
Though the members of OK Go eventually left for Los Angeles and New York, they consider themselves a Chicago band. In a 2011 interview, Kulash described their formative years: “As far as the band is concerned, we only have one home town. We all live in L.A. now but there’s only one period of your life as a band where you’re playing the same clubs every week or every month, and you know everybody in every other band; and it’s all your friends, all the people that work at the clubs, and it’s such a community. Chicago had such a close-knit and intense community five years ago when we were here. It’s amazing. The Empty Bottle was where it all started for us. We played at the Metro and the Double Door as well."
Though the band had offers from bigger labels, they signed to Capitol Records in April 2001, believing that as the first signing by newly hired label president Andy Slater, they would get more attention and support.
The band released their debut album, "OK Go," on September 17, 2002, after it was pushed back by the label from its original June release date. The album was recorded at the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, and though the original plan was to do minor tweaks to the original demos, they ended up rerecording everything and adding five new songs, including the first single "Get Over It," which later appeared in EA Sports Triple Play Baseball and Madden NFL 2003 games. To promote the release, the label sent out miniature ping pong tables to press outlets, a reference to the "Get Over It" video directed by Francis Lawrence. In support of the album, the band toured with a diverse group of acts including The Vines, Phantom Planet, Superdrag, The Donnas, Fountains of Wayne, and Mew., and played a number of festival shows including Leeds in 2002 and 2003, and NoisePop, Reading, Witnness, and T in the Park in 2003.
The band signed to Capitol Records and released their first studio self-titled album OK Go in 2002. The album was produced by Howard Willing and the album's cover art was designed by graphic designer and typographer Stefan Sagmeister. The recording featured instrumentalists Roger Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, The Moog Cookbook) on keyboard and Wendy Melvoin (Prince and The Revolution, Wendy & Lisa) on guitar. The band cited Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, and Prince as creative inspiration for the album.The Los Angeles Times said the album "lashes beguiling pop melodies onto elaborate arrangements with towering guitars, gurgling organs and big-hearted harmonies that burst forth with Imax impact." Alternative Press called the album, "Curiously catchy. An addictive mix that’ll have your head bubbling, if not bobbing for weeks.”
In the intervening year, the band's career was transformed by the release of two viral videos, the first for "A Million Ways," a video of the band dancing in Kulash's backyard that the band intentionally leaked to their fans after the head of Capitol's Internet department told them "if this gets out, we're sunk." Instead, the video became a global phenomenon "transforming the band from journeymen to superstars and leading to lucrative gigs in Moscow and South America." The dance was recreated by thousands of fans around the globe, frequently performed at live events and in unusual places (an edited compendium of fan tributes can be viewed here). In Japan, the video gave rise to the "OK Go Dancing X / Dancing Americans" meme, in which the video is edited and manipulated to sync with a variety of Japanese pop and rock songs. Some of these videos have themselves received hundreds of thousands of views. (As of January 2012, 450 of these videos had been uploaded to Japanese video site Nico Nico Douga, some of which can be watched here.)
In the United States, the album reached #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart and #107 on the Billboard 200 Chart. In the United Kingdom, the first single "Get Over It" debuted at no. 27, in the UK singles chart on March 16, 2003, and the band performed it on that week's edition of Top of the Pops. Also that week, the single's video was named video of the week by Q magazine.
The band's second album, Oh No, was recorded in Malmö, Sweden in the fall of 2004 and was produced by Tore Johansson (The Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand) and mixed by Dave Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, Jet, System of a Down). After recording, in 2005, Andy Duncan left the band and was replaced by Andy Ross, who auditioned for them in Los Angeles. The album was released in August 2005. Oh No gained popularity for its first single, "A Million Ways", in 2005. Guitarist Andy Ross invented, designed and programmed a web application which allowed people to hear the single and to share it with their friends in exchange for free downloads from the iTunes music store. The site was located at a1000000ways.com. The video featured the band in their back yard performing a dance choreographed by lead singer Kulash's sister, Trish Sie. By August 2006, the video had become the most downloaded music video ever with over 9 million downloads. The band performed the dance live on British TV show Soccer AM, as well as on the late-night American comedy show, MADtv. The US version of the album includes "9027 km", a 35-minute track of lead singer Damian Kulash's girlfriend sleeping that is not listed on the album art. Fans speculated that the track's name is derived from the distance between Los Angeles, California and Malmö, Sweden where the album was recorded and that the track was included to prevent the band's label from using the extra space for Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. On December 6, 2005, Kulash published an Op-ed piece in The New York Times advocating against record labels' use of DRM software.
In support of Oh No, the band toured extensively, sharing dates with artists such as Death Cab For Cutie, Panic! At The Disco, Kaiser Chiefs, and Snow Patrol, as well as a slew of special performances including free shows on New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square in front of 1.2 million people, and in the parking lot before the University of Michigan vs Michigan State University football game, and festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Bennicassim in Spain, Formoz Festival in Taiwan, Summer Sonic in Japan, and Incheon Pentaport in South Korea. These shows were played without founding guitarist Andy Duncan, who left the band after recording the album, citing creative differences, major label pressures, and the band's rigorous touring schedule. Duncan was replaced by Andy Ross, who won the job over thirty-four other guitarists who auditioned for the role, in a process that ended with each candidate being asked about their willingness to do a choreographed dance on stage. Ross introduced himself to the band's fans by writing a blog entitled "The Will To Rock," in which he detailed life on the road beginning with his first show with the band on February 18, 2005.
On November 7, 2006, after the success of the "Here It Goes Again" video, the band released a deluxe DVD version of the album. The DVD contains a documentary on the making of the album, the four official Capitol Records videos, a video of the band's appearance on Chic-a-Go-Go, a 'super cut' of the hundreds of fan versions of the "A Million Ways" dance, a behind-the-scenes video of the making of the "Here It Goes Again", rehearsals for the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, an acoustic performance of "What to Do," a video for "There's A Fire" featuring video game characters, a dance booth version of "Don't Ask Me," and live versions of "Do What You Want" and "You're So Damn Hot."
After visiting New Orleans in 2007, the band returned to record an EP with New Orleans funk rock band Bonerama and producer Mark Nevers, to raise money for musicians who were still displaced by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. The EP, entitled You're Not Alone, was released on Mardi Gras, February 5, 2008. The title is taken from a line in David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," a cover of which appears on the EP, along with renditions of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and three songs from "Oh No." The EP was sold exclusively through iTunes and raised over $40,000, which helped buy a new home for New Orleans musician Al “Carnival Time” Johnson in the Musicians Village. Johnson, who sings on "I Will Be Released," the final song on the EP, moved into his new home in December 2008. In support of the EP, OK Go and Bonearama played two benefit shows, one on Jan 11, 2008 at Tipitina's in New Orleans, and the other on February 2, 2008 at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC, which was streamed live by NPR and featured on a subsequent NPR podcast.
On October 12, 2008, OK Go announced that they had finished writing new songs for their third album and were in the studios in upstate New York with producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT). The band previewed their third album, titled Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, on a short sling of dates on the East Coast of the United States that March, starting in Philadelphia on March 6, 2009 at the TLA Theatre. The name of the album comes from a pseudo-scientific book written by Augustus Pleasonton in 1876 entitled The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky. They have stated that these songs are the "danciest, most anthemic, most heartbroken, and honest songs" of their career, and the album itself takes a much more funky, dance-prone, yet melancholy sound to it, drawing influence from Prince. On May 7, 2009, a song from the album, titled "Skyscrapers," was released for streaming online. The first single, "WTF?", was released on November 10. On January 8, 2010, OK Go appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and performed a song from the album, "This Too Shall Pass". Of the Blue Colour of the Sky was released on January 12, 2010.
After the first two videos for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky were posted to YouTube in 2009, the band was quickly met with complaints from fans who were able to view them on YouTube but not embedded elsewhere. In response, Kulash posted a long letter on the band's website explaining the record label's policies. The letter itself went viral, after being reprinted in Gizmodo, cited as "required reading" on BoingBoing, and excerpted on many other web sites. At the end of the letter, Kulash included embed codes for their most recent video in direct opposition to the desires of the label. On Feb 20, 2010, the New York Times printed an Op-Ed in which Kulash furthered the arguments he made in his open letter.
On March 9, 2010, the band uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "OK Go Announces new label," in which Kulash, accompanied by two dogs in neckties, announces the creation of Paracadute. On March 10, 2010, the band announced it had cut ties with EMI and Capitol and formed the independent label Paracadute., The split became official on April 1, 2010. That night OK Go performed a single from their newly independent record on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel. Now charting their own destiny as an independent entity, the band has attempted to plot a new course for itself, as Kulash puts it: "We're trying to be a DIY [do-it-yourself] band in a post-major label world."
The first wholly new release on the band's label Paracadute Recordings was 180/365, a live album recorded over several shows in 2010, mixed by producer David Fridmann, and released on June 21, 2011. The album title refers to the number of concerts the band played in the course of one year. A stream of the album premiered on the technology website Mashable before its official street date. To celebrate the release, the band printed and sold two hundred signed copies of 180/365:The Book, a limited edition book of tour photographs by Nathaniel Wood which was made available only to purchasers of the album. The album was sold digitally and on CD in six-panel eco-friendly "Tron Pack" packaging from Norway.
In July 2012, the band partnered with The Humble Bundle for a pay-what-you-will release of the remix collection Twelve Remixes Of Four Songs, alongside titles from MC Frontalot, They Might Be Giants, Christopher Tin, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and Jonathan Coulton.
The band's most successful example of their new business model was a partnership with State Farm Insurance at a point when the company was looking to tap into a younger audience by creating a piece of interesting digital content. The collaboration resulted a music video for "This Too Shall Pass" featuring a large Rube Goldberg Machine built in a warehouse. Released on March 1, 2010, the video quickly went viral, with 1.4 million YouTube views in the first 48 hours and over 40 million total views to date. Since the "This Too Shall Pass" Rube Goldberg Machine video, OK Go has employed a similar brand partnership model in projects with Range Rover, Yahoo,Cisco, Samsung,Google Chrome, Jose Cuervo, and Chevrolet.
In December 2012, OK Go released a collection of rare songs, B-sides and covers called "Twelve Days of OK Go". The collection was released for free on the band's website and includes covers of songs by The Beatles, They Might Be Giants, The Kinks, Adam and the Ants, and Pixies.
Following Twelve Days of OK Go, in January 2013 the band announced Twelve Months of OK Go, a free long form release of new and rare recordings, B-sides, and covers distributed one song per month through the band's email list and free mp3 web store. The collection includes covers of songs by The Breeders, The Specials, and Nelly. In March 2013, OK Go released a new single "I'm Not Through" through "Twelve Months of OK Go" and in partnership with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for The Saatchi & Saatchi Music Video Challenge.
On April 3, 2013, OK Go announced on their YouTube channel that they were in the process of recording their fourth album. An e-mail sent through the band's mailing list in December 2013 promises that they are working hard on the new album, and that it will be released some time in 2014.
OK Go has earned considerable fame for their creative but often low-budget music videos, most of which have been promoted through Internet video sharing sites like YouTube. Many of these have become viral videos; the 2006 video for "Here It Goes Again", in which the band performed a complex routine with the aid of motorized treadmills, has received over 50 million views four years later. Their video for Needing/Getting, released February 5, 2012 in partnership with Chevrolet, debuted during Super Bowl XLVI and has over 27 million views on YouTube. Samuel Bayer, who produced many music videos in the 1990s, asserted that OK Go's promotion of music videos on the Internet was akin to Nirvana's ushering in the grunge movement. Many of the videos also use long or single-shot takes, which Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz claims "restore[s] a sense of wonder to the musical number by letting the performers' humanity shine through and allowing them to do their thing with a minimum of filmmaking interference". The success of OK Go's music first won the band the 14th Annual Webby Special Achievement Award for Film and Video Artist of the Year. The video for "This Too Shall Pass" was named both "Video of the Year" and "Best Rock Video" at the 3rd annual UK Music Video Awards."This Too Shall Pass" won the LA Film Fest's Audience Award for Best Music Video, UK MVA Awards – Music Video of the Year Winner 2010, among others.
The band has worked with directors including Francis Lawrence, Olivier Gondry (brother of Michel Gondry), Brian L. Perkins, Scott Keiner, and Todd Sullivan. The videos have been screened and displayed at museums, art galleries, and film festivals around the world including The Guggenheim Museum, The Museum of the Moving Image, The Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Saatchi & Saatchi New Director's Showcase.
In 2008, Damian Kulash said that the band had not produced the YouTube videos as part of any overt "Machiavellian" marketing campaign. "In neither case did we think, 'A-ha, this will get people to buy our records.' It has always been our position that the reason you wind up in a rock band is you want to make stuff. You want to do creative things for a living."
Also, "Here It Goes Again" was featured in Rock Band, Guitar Hero 5 and SSX on Tour; while "Do What You Want" was featured in a back to school television campaign for J. C. Penney and the video games EA Sports NHL 06, Guitar Hero On Tour, and Burnout Revenge. "Invincible" was a theme song for ABC's Saturday Night Football for the 2006 season.
The band contributed a cover of The Zombies "This Will Be Our Year" as the lead track of Future Soundtrack for America, a political benefit album put out by Barsuk Records in the fall of 2004. Lead singer Damian Kulash wrote a how-to-guide entitled "How Your Band Can Fire Bush" for bands hoping to help unseat President George W. Bush.
After visiting New Orleans in 2006, the band recorded an EP with New Orleans funk rock band Bonerama, to raise money for musicians who were still displaced by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. The EP, entitled You're Not Alone, was released on February 5, 2008.
In 2007, OK Go wrote the fight song for the Chicago Soccer Team, Chicago Fire S.C.. The song was offered on the team's official website as a free download. Also in 2007, OK Go covered the Pixies "Gigantic" for American Laundromat Records Dig for Fire: A Tribute to Pixies CD.
In April 2010, OK Go collaborated with Brett Doar of Syyn Labs to build a speciality Rube Goldberg Machine called "The Colbert Machine" for the band's appearance on The Colbert Report. At the end of the episode, the band performed "This Too Shall Pass" with host Stephen Colbert singing lead vocals. Later that year, the OK Go song "Here It Goes Again" was included in the soundtrack for the children's movie Ramona and Beezus.
In 2011, OK Go were featured in the meta-documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold by Morgan Spurlock with the song "The Greatest Song I Ever Heard". In the movie Damian Kulash says: "Does that mean.. Hold on, if we make the theme for The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, does that mean that we're the greatest rock band ever to write a theme song?" whereby Morgan Spurlock responds: "Absolutely."
On May 9, 2013, the band, through its label Paracadute, released Say The Same Thing, a collaborative word guessing game app for iOS and Android in which two players attempt to guess the same word, by finding common points between two random starting words. The app, which was created by guitarist Andy Ross during the band's down time, is based on an improv game which the band plays together while on tour. The band advertised the app by releasing a comedic video that introduces and explains the game. On May 15, 2013, "Say The Same Thing" became the 50 billionth download in Apple's App Store.
In 2007, the band released You're Not Alone, a charity EP whose proceeds raised money for musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The successful EP, which helped purchase a home for New Orleans musician Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, was the most public example of the band's increasing interest in politics and social issues, as the campaign included promotional appearances on Late Night With David Letterman as well as charity concerts. Earlier examples of the band's activism include a ten page PDF titled "How Your Band Can Fire Bush," which was written by Kulash and distributed on the band's website. Other efforts have included direct appeals to their fans via the band's email newsletter, auctioning themselves off on behalf of Sweet Relief Musician's Fund, and "The Burrito Project" in which the group enlisted fans to join them in handing out burritos to homeless people before concerts. In Chicago, the band partnered with the Inspiration Corporation, a local provider of services to the homeless. The band has played several high-profile political and charity events, including a Super Tuesday Voter Awareness show hosted by Stella in 2008, and a star-studded benefit in Los Angeles led by Frank Black, and including Weird Al, Tenacious D, and others. Lead singer Damian Kulash has written Op-eds in the New York Times on Digital Rights Management and Net Neutrality, an issue he also testified about in front of the House Judiciary Antitrust Task Force about in March 2008, and also discussed with the FCC commissioner. The day after that meeting, it was announced that the Internet would be reclassified under Title 2 of the telecommunications act, one of the band's short term goals, which they nodded to in their five word Webby acceptance speech: "Fight for Net Neutrality now."
The band has also used the massive popularity of its videos to further their favored causes. Downloads of the "White Knuckles" video went to ASPCA and were earmarked for rural animal shelters, and the video itself ends with a call to support animal rescue. A marching band costume from "This Too Shall Pass" was auctioned off to feed the homeless and eleven of the signed Gretsch guitars and amplifiers used in "Needing/Getting" were sold to benefit the Fender Music Foundation, which provides instruments to music education programs.
OK Go has also allowed their music on benefit albums, most notably Dear New Orleans, a 31-song online compilation that benefits a variety of New Orleans organizations. Lyrics from the band's contribution, "Louisiana Land", reference a number of New Orleans personalities and institutions, which the New Orleans Times-Picayune called "indicative of just how deeply the members of OK Go waded into the local gestalt." and The Future Soundtrack For America, a compilation released by Barsuk records that benefited MoveOn.org and Music For America, which included OK Go's cover of This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies. In both cases, OK Go's contribution leads off the collection.
From 2002-2005, OK Go toured across North America and Europe on tours with The Vines, Phantom Planet, Superdrag, The Music, Fountains of Wayne, Kaiser Chiefs, The Redwalls, Brendan Benson, and She Wants Revenge.
In May 2006, OK Go toured with Panic at the Disco; in September they toured the U.K. supporting Motion City Soundtrack before returning to the United States to tour with Death Cab For Cutie in late 2006 and Snow Patrol in Spring 2007. In Summer 2007, OK Go for The Fray on their North American tour.
On February 4, 2008, OK Go headlined a fundraiser for the Barack Obama presidential campaign at Bowery Ballroom in New York City on the night before the Super Tuesday elections. The event was hosted by singer/songwriter Craig Wedren and the comedy group Stella.
On February 23, 2008, the band performed at the release party for Ben Karlin's collection of essays Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood. Lead singer Damian Kulash contributed an essay for the collection entitled "A Dog Is Not A Reason To Stay Together." Comedians Stephen Colbert, Will Forte, Andy Richter, Dan Savage, and Patton Oswalt also contributed essays to the collection.
From 2009-2011, OK Go headlined an extensive tour across North America, Europe, South America, and Asia in support of their record Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, including festival appearances at Kanrocksas Music Festival (Kansas City, U.S.A.), Festival Cultura Quente (Caldas de Reis, Spain), and Positivus festival (Salacgrīva, Latvia).
On May 23, 2010, the band performed live underwater on stage at Maker Faire in San Mateo California. The band members' heads were each submerged in water bubbles attached to breathing apparatuses for the duration of the performance, with lead singer Damian Kulash completely submerged in a tank of water.
In October 2010, OK Go performed acoustic versions of "White Knuckles", "Here We Go Again", and "This Too Shall Pass", along with a handbell version of "Return", at the Poptech! Conference in Camden, ME.
On November 17, 2010, OK Go visited The Today Show for a special Today Goes Viral series and helped hosts Ann Curry, Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer, and Al Roker create a stop motion video set to "White Knuckles." In the video, the hosts were enclosed in glass containers filled with brightly colored ping pong balls.
On June 23, 2011, the band gave a free concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the Millennium Stage. During the show, they performed "Return" on handbells. In advance of the performance, the Kennedy Center invited 15 Twitter followers and guests to film the show, in order to produce the organization's first crowd-sourced concert video.
On August 10, 2011, the band did a live television performance of the dance they created with Pilobolus (dance company) for their All Is Not Lost interactive video on the NBC show America's Got Talent
On January 31, 2012, OK Go appeared on the children's television show Sesame Street in a video called "3 Primary Colors" meant to teach the young audience about red, yellow, blue, and the colors made when you mix them. "3 Primary Colors" was simultaneously released as a game on the Sesame Street website.
On May 10, 2012, OK Go was the featured band on This American Life Live!, a special performance of the show telecast live to movie theaters across the US and Canada. By downloading a smartphone app coded by guitarist Andy Ross, viewers were able to play along with the band's handbell performance of "Needing/Getting".
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