Yeah, yeah, treadmill, yeah, yeah, yeah. OKGO are awesome – they’re a weird and innovative band that are always pushing visual boundaries and occasionally pushing their musical ones as well. This chat was Tim, their bassist, was surprisingly fantastic – he was just in a great mood; and the interview flowed really well. Hopefully, they’ll have a new record out soon.
– DJY, April 2014
“Greetings from Copenhagen!” reports an enthusiastic and talkative Tim Norwind, bassist and backing vocalist of Chicago band OK GO. Yes, kids, “the treadmill band” are back. Only this time the band aren’t playing anything that sounds like Here It Goes Again. In the five years since the release of their last record, the breakthrough Oh No, a lot has changed in terms of how the band creates their music.
“We spent two and a half years touring on the back of the last album, playing songs off our first two albums,” Tim explains. “All those songs are really sort of guitar-centric. We all learned music through guitar, in a way – we just learned a bunch of punk rock songs and then wrote songs using those chords.”
Seems simple enough, and it certainly garnered the band a few major hits along the way. However, the formulaic ways of writing had become stale and dissatisfying.
“In those five years, we just sort of expended all of our rock & roll and our punk rock influences,” says Norwind. “Hitting a big chord on a big guitar plugged into a big amplifier just wasn’t exciting to us anymore. We needed to search for something different.”
This search lead them to Dave Friddmann of Mercury Rev, best known for his production work with MGMT and The Flaming Lips, and resulted in the band’s third album – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, its title a reference to artist General A.J. Pleasonton. Norwind cannot speak Friddmann’s praises enough, emphasising how different his view of producing and creating music is as opposed to other producers.
“He’s known for his really three-dimensional, psychedelic sonic universes that he creates,” Tim muses. “He kind of let us into his world, and we were allowed to play around his studio – there’s lots of synths and noise machines and Kaossilator pads, things like that.”
So did Norwind have a favourite experiment when recording Blue Sky’s tripped-out, groove-based rock? “I can’t really point to a singular thing that is the sound of the record,” he comments, “but I can point to this kind of universe that you can only really make when you’re working with Dave.”
The band spent approximately six months in the studio with Friddmann, working profusely on every last detail of Blue Colour’s widescreen, technicolour sound that takes in not only influence from Friddmann himself, but early funk, Queen-like harmonies and the logical progressions from the power-pop that was so influential on the first two records. With such intricate work done on creating these multi-faceted tunes, one could easily assume that they would be incredibly difficult to perform away from the studio in a live environment. Not true, says Norwind.
“It’s really surprising to me how well everything mixes together,” he comments on the transferral of Blue Colour’s songs from disc to stage. “It’s interesting to me that as long as we’ve been playing these songs that there was never a shift of energy between the old songs and the new songs. I don’t know if it’s because the new stuff is groovier, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised to see the songs get a really good reaction live.”
One similarity remains between Oh No and Blue Colour – we have been introduced to the record by a unique and thoroughly enjoyable music video. For Oh No, it was the infamous video for A Million Ways, where the band performed a thoroughly choreographed dance routine to the song in a backyard (“I think the cost of that video was pretty much the tape we used to record it,” Tim laughs).
This time around, the distorted groove of WTF? is the soundtrack to a bizarre, brightly coloured one-take video that prominently features stop-motion photography. It looks incredibly outlandish for an OK Go video, but Norwind insists that the video was actually “insanely cheap.”
“Every prop in it is from the dollar store, and everything you see with stripes we made with gaff tape,” he explains. “All we really needed was a room with a green screen and a couple of computers. It probably looks more expensive than it is, but in actuality we’re just using a computer plug-in and just a few really colourful things.”
With the band’s popularity a few years back circulating almost entirely around their music videos (the Here It Goes Again treadmill video remains one of the most-watched videos in YouTube history), it’s safe to say that OK Go stress importance on them, perceiving it to be a very successful medium to the music itself. Norwind is quick to agree.
“With our band, we go about making videos the same way we go about making music,” he affirms. “It’s just as much part of the definition of being in a band for us. We see them as an art, and we enjoy directing ourselves and coming up with the concepts. It’s part of what we do – it’s fun, and why wouldn’t you want to make a film? That’s more or less how we’ve always looked at it.”
Even though the live show has no treadmills, dance routines or brightly-coloured objects (save for the band’s famously clashing attire), Norwind is still very enthusiastic about the live show. “People’s heads get blown off, and that’s fun to see,” he mentions somewhat ambiguously with a laugh. He’s also quick to point out just how much the band are looking forward to returning to Australia for a series of intimate shows, as well as the Playground Weekender festival.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been in Australia, and we’re just happy to be coming back with a new record,” says Tim. “We don’t get down to Australia very often, so it’s always a real treat.” Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to the band’s excellent new album – easily the best out of their three releases – as well as their live show. No WTF? moments, we swear.