At a recent tour stop in New York City, OK Go’s shaggy-haired frontman Damian Kulash apologized to the crowd, “I’m a little sick.” Admitting to being fueled by prescribed steroids for his flu-like symptoms, Kulash performed through the show unfazed, jumping from the banisters, delivering a cover of the Violent Femme’s “Prove My Love, ” and of course their intensely choreographed, lip-synched rendition of “A Million Ways.”
“I think you sort of have to be a lunatic,” Kulash says of their constant touring in support of the band’s latest sophomore album, Oh No. “It’s not a remunerative lifestyle. You don’t get paid anything unless you sell millions of records.”
And OK Go isn’t selling millions of records. The music world already has its Franz Ferdinand and Fountains of Wayne, and OK Go, fitting somewhere in between, was set to get lost in the shuffle of garage-rock sport coats. But the Chicago-formed band — Kulash, bassist Tim Nordwind, drummer Dan Konopka and guitarist Andy Ross — managed to garner buzz through a format tossed off by MTV but currently being resurrected via the Web and iPods: the music video. For “A Million Ways,” their first single off Oh No and the song they dance-perform at the end of each night’s show, the quartet shot some video footage of themselves rehearsing the dance, choreographed with the help of Kulash’s sister, a retired ballroom dancer.
“The concept was just that accident, that we recorded it,” Kulash explains. “But once we saw the tape we were like, ‘Holy shit! This has to be our video!'”
Ironically, “A Million Ways” — which was made for around twenty bucks — now boasts over a million online views, proving that there is a place for the seductive garage-rock outfit.
Formed in 1998 after D.C.-based Kulash relocated to Chicago at Nordwind’s request (the two had met at summer camp as kids), OK Go gained an audience on the Windy City circuit. That same year, the band signed to Capitol, on which they released their 2002 self-titled debut — best known for the moderate hit “Get Over It.” “While we liked all the songs, it still had this mixtape feel,” Kulash says of their debut. “It was like we had quilted our band together with these songs.”
Following the release, OK Go hit the road for two years — a touring ethic that took its toll on the band’s lives, relationships and founding guitarist Andy Duncan, who was replaced by Ross. “When we got back to Chicago, everybody had completely demolished their lives,” says Kulash. “There were stacks of dishes exactly where they had been two years prior when we left, relationships that were completely screwed up, girlfriends gone and new girlfriends gotten. So everyone needed to get out.”
After relocating — to Los Angeles and New York — the band set about recording Oh No with Swedish pop producer Tore Johansen (Franz Ferdinand, the Cardigans). “The whole record isn’t as over-produced as our first,” says Kulash. “We were so anal with the first one because we wanted this super-shiny gleaming slab of pop. Oh No sounds like us — it sounds like our live show.”
Never mind finding their voice — OK Go have realized the importance of a solid music video. New video releases for “Here It Goes Again” and “Do What You Want” are currently available on the band’s MySpace and official Web sites. But the latter, directed by Olivier Gondry (the Vines, Hot Hot Heat), is “a more traditional rock video,” says Kulash. “We got together seventy friends, just got them wasted, had this party where we played the same song thirty-five times. It’s shot on thirty-seven cameras and has this spinning effect around the band. It’s on the brink of nauseating.”
OK Go wrap up their tour on Wednesday in Los Angeles. They plan to tour with Motion City Soundtrack beginning in February.