Tim Nordwind of OK Go
Since their first viral video success, a simple dance in the backyard, OK Go has become pioneers in the art of both video-making and viral marketing. The video for their latest single, “This Too Shall Pass,” is their most ambitious yet; it took months to develop and involved a team of creative engineers with day jobs at NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The two-story Rube Goldberg machine is a wonder of science and art, and received 1 million hits a day in its first week on YouTube.
But the video itself is only half the story. Just after the release of the band’s new album in January, “Of the Colour of the Blue Sky,” a furor erupted because fans could not embed earlier OK Go videos due to contractual issues. When lead singer Damian Kulash posted a candid explanation of the situation to fans, his letter itself went viral, netting over 500,000 hits in two days. The band was able to secure corporate sponsorship by State Farm of the Rube Goldberg machine to allow fans to embed it and post it anywhere on the internet.
Just a few days ago, the band announced it is leaving its label and has launched its own. Starting April 1, OK Go will be in charge of its own distribution and promotion. And they take off with a vengeance, making a flurry of appearances on late night TV before setting off on a North American tour and hitting music festivals like Bamboozle along the way.
In the midst of all this, bassist Tim Nordwind took some time to talk with TWRY about videos, record labels, and OK Go’s apparent penchant for nerdy high school pastimes.
Interviewed by Laura DiBetta
Earlier this week you announced that the band is leaving EMI and has launched its own label, Paracadute (Italian for “parachute”) Recordings. Was this something you’d been thinking about doing or was it prompted by the recent issue with the fans not being able to embed videos?
It’s something that’s been building up for a while now. I can’t quite remember when it was that we thought ‘maybe it’s time we tried this on our own.’ Certainly things began to heat up with issues like embedding. The music industry as a whole is changing very quickly. It’s not what it was even just 10 years ago anymore. We wanted to have a little freedom to be able to embark on projects we wanted to without having to go through all the red tape of a label, and it seemed like this was a good time to try to make the split. I think both the label and we agreed that the path we’re taking and the path they’re taking are going in two opposite directions, so it seemed like an opportune time to make the split.
So the biggest change that this will make for the band is greater creative control and greater freedom?
I think ultimately that is one of the big differences. To be honest, as the years went on Capitol was less and less hands on and it let us do mostly what we wanted to do, but there was always an underlying ‘we can do whatever we want to do’ but it’s going to have to go through all these different channels a lot of the time before we can actually get it to our fans. The nice thing to think about now is that we can go and make whatever we want and we don’t need to get it Okayed by anyone anymore. If we like it and think that people will enjoy it, we can put it out. The great thing about being independent is we might make something that we think 1,000 people might be interested in and that’s something that a label might not care about so much. But we as people and as a band sometimes think that, well, it’s worth it if 1,000 people are going to enjoy this. This video we put out last week gets a million views a day basically, so that’s on orders of magnitude much larger than 1,000 people seeing it, obviously, so that’s great too, but now we can have the freedom to appeal to a lot of different people without having to have someone say, ‘well, it’s really great guys but only 500 kids are going to really like this.’ Because we think well great, then 500 people like it then.
Well, you seem to have a good sense of what people will like.
More or less we’ve always sort of done whatever we’ve felt like doing anyways, but what’s nice is that now I think we’ll also be able to be in control of how it gets distributed. Whether we think one person is going to like it or 6 million people are going to like it, we can make that call, and if only one person is going to like it and we think that one person is going to really like it, we can put it out.
Speaking of videos, as a result of the embedding issue there are actually two videos for “This Too Shall Pass”: one featuring the Notre Dame marching band and the other, of course, is the Rube Goldberg machine. How many takes were there before getting the final shot in each case?
The marching band video…I’m trying to remember…we did probably 20 takes of which 15 we completed. I can’t remember which one we actually used, but I know we did about 20 takes of the marching band video. The Rube Goldberg machine was much more difficult to control because it was a machine doing most of the work. I think we did over 60 takes of the Rube Goldberg machine of which we got to the end three times. What was difficult about that one is that you’re really depending on this machine and there are some parts that are more reliable than others and the parts that aren’t as reliable, when we really wanted them to be reliable, weren’t. You’re depending on things to hit in actual beats, depending on marbles to hit on the beat and things like that. It was a real science triumph.
If OK Go is invited to perform at the Grammy’s again, will there be an attempt to pull off a Rube Goldberg machine live?
We can give it a shot for sure…maybe that would be a pain in the ass. We could certainly give it a shot. It would require a massive amount of space, probably more space than they could give us. It would be interesting to see, to try for sure. It would definitely be a challenge to get it all in one live take like that without being able to reset it. We could give it a shot for sure. It would probably make good television.
You’ve featured ping pong, handbells, marching bands…you guys seem to be on a mission to make historically uncool pastimes cool. Is this some kind of high school revenge? What’s going to be next?
(Laughs) I don’t know, I don’t think we think of it like that. I think we actually think these things are kinda cool. We’ve been really lucky, we’ve been connected with projects and opportunities where, “Hi, we’re a marching band of four…kids, would you like to do something with us?” That just doesn’t happen very often where you access something like that. We just kind of listen to things that get us excited and, you know, we were all nerds in high school so maybe we’re attracted to the things we were attracted to in high school. I think we look at it like this is a kind of cool and exciting adventure or challenge or project and that’s what we react to.
For all the latest on OK Go:
Upcoming Tour Dates
* Apr 13 Salt Lake City, UT The State Room
* Apr 14 Denver, CO The Bluebird Theater
* Apr 16 Milwaukee, WI Turner Hall
* Apr 17 Chicago, IL Metro
* Apr 18 St. Louis, MO The Old Rock House
* Apr 20 Columbia, MO The Blue Note
* Apr 21 Indianapolis, IN Earth House
* Apr 22 Detroit, MI Magic Stick
* Apr 23 Toronto, ON Mod Club
* Apr 25 Ithaca, NY The Haunt
* Apr 27 Northampton, MA Pearl Street
* Apr 28 New Haven, CT Toad’s Place
* Apr 29 Brooklyn, NY (SOLD OUT!) Music Hall of Williamsburg
* Apr 30 Brooklyn, NY (SOLD OUT!) Music Hall of Williamsburg
* May 2 East Rutherford, NJ Bambooze – Meadowlands
* May 3 Philadelphia, PA Theater Of Living Arts
* May 5 Washington DC 9:30 Club
* May 7 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club
* May 9 Baltimore, MD Ram’s Head Live
* May 11 Raleigh, NC Lincoln Theater
* May 12 Charlotte, NC Visulite Theater
* May 13 Atlanta, GA The Loft
* May 14 Tampa, FL Crowbar
* May 15 Orlando, FL Firestone Live
* May 16 Gulf Shores, AL Hangout Festival
* May 18 Dallas, TX Granada Theater
* May 19 Austin, TX The Parish
* May 21 Los Angeles, CA Henry Fonda Theatre
* May 22 San Diego, CA House of Blues
* May 26 San Francisco, CA The Filmore
* May 28 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theatre
* May 29 Quincy, WA Sasquatch Festival
* Jun 11 Manchester, TN