They’ve been around for years — holla back, “Get Over It” fans! — but broke through big in 2006 thanks to the treadmill-riffic video for “Here It Goes Again.” Now, after three straight years of touring, OK Go are back with a new album to be released in September, tentatively titled The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Color of the Sky. (It’s the title of a book from the 19th century, asserting that blue light was the answer to all of humanity’s problems.) Frontman Damian Kulash tells the Music Mix that it’s “a more contemplative record, but also much more anthemic, much dancier. And it’s a way more emotional record than anything we’ve done. So it’s both sadder and happier in its way.” As for their influences this time out? “The little bits of Purple Rain that have been trying to make their way to the surface on our last records have no longer been impeded by any other influences. Now all it is is one big attempt to be the records I listened to when I was 12.”
A new track, “Skyscrapers,” will be available exclusively to Banana Republic customers starting May 13 as part of the clothing chain’s City Sounds compilation — but because we love you, Music Mixers, you can hear it right now, no khaki purchase required. Give it a listen, and follow after the jump for a Q&A with Kulash wherein he discusses the factors that led his band to be featured on ginormous billboards nationwide, as well as some behind-the-scenes video of the album’s snowy recording sessions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to put the first song out via Banana Republic?
Damian Kulash: It’s just the luck of timing, really. The record isn’t coming out until September, but most of it is recorded, and Banana Republic, as part of their campaign where they put billboards up of us everywhere, decided that they would like to put out a song. And we like people to hear our songs, so we said yes. It wasn’t any more calculated than that.
You’re on billboards?
It’s a new experience. It’s shocking. And I guess there’s an element of pride involved in seeing oneself that large, but also an element of embarrassment.
Did you get any free clothes out of it?
At the photo shoot, they led us into a trailer that had one of every item that Banana Republic makes, and they were just like, “Which ones do you want?” Probably shouldn’t ask us that, because we’re just going to say, “All.” We don’t get enough free stuff that we’ll turn you down. And everyone’s got girlfriends and wives, so it’s like, “Wow, I bet she’d like those shoes. And if she doesn’t, she’ll like these. Or these. Or these…” Basically, we ordered their entire product line, and then surprise surprise, a couple weeks later we got a note saying, “Uh, it’s gonna take a while to fulfill that order, but don’t worry! Here’s a gift card.” So instead I have to go and do normal shopping like you’re supposed to.
It seems that unconventional ways to get your music out to people — like this Banana Republic promotion — are becoming more and more essential. Would you agree?
Yes. I would say that’s a very positive way of thinking about it, and as a fan of positivity, I’m right there with ya. However, Pessimistic Me says the ways that people used to get their music out have been so utterly decimated — and the ways that people used to make a living from their music have been so utterly decimated — that it’s not so much that these are new and exciting ways, it’s more like, Why bother with any of the old rules, because none of that works. From our perspective, we’re all relatively rational people, and none of us would have gone into a rock ‘n’ roll band if we thought it was a way to make a s—load of money. It’s just not. We would love to be able to pay our rents and so forth. How do we get to keep on doing what we want to do and have people listen to our music and be able to engage with it seriously? Is there a way to still make music where the hoops you have to jump through to get it heard are not hobbling the music itself? Or crushing the spirit of making the music? Which is funny, because the internet obviously makes it easy for us to get music quote-unquote out there, but it’s also a giant quagmire of people throwing up mp3s. It makes for a very entropic world of sameness. There’s a lot of MySpace pages out there.
Surely you must have the occasional nightmare about, “If I had a dollar for every time someone viewed the ‘Here It Goes Again’ video on YouTube, I’d never have to get out of a chair again.”
Um, yeah. That is less nightmare than fantasy. We didn’t make that thinking anyone would see it, really. I feel so lucky about that video that I got nothing to complain about. Sure, I’d love it if I suddenly had millions of dollars in the bank, but if you’d asked me two years ago, Would I rather show this video to the ten friends I assumed would see it, or to 45 million people? I would have said 45 million people. Luckily, there’s enough music world left that when you’ve been downloaded 45 million times, people also then want to come to concerts, and license your songs for commercials or movies. It actually does the job that music videos once upon a time were meant to do, which is get people noticing and caring. So in that respect, it did way more than we ever thought it would. The real place where the injustice and the iniquity of the new music world comes into play is that people are willing to spend an extra thirty or forty bucks a month to have a fast enough connection to download whatever they want, or spend $300 on hardware to play their music, but none of that actually winds up in the hands of the artists.
You’ve been touring incessantly — did the exhaustion of all that time on the road manifest itself on the new record?
Yes. It was very hard to get home and write anything, period. And anything that wasn’t mopey. The last year or two of being on the road, it’s hard to listen to anything but Elliott Smith and Disintegration. Not that life is necessarily miserable, but you don’t get on your third airplane of the day going, “What I really wanna hear right now is speed metal.” You need things to calm you the f— down all the time. I had basically been listening exclusively to ’60s and ’70s soul ballads for two months when I sat down to start writing. A lot of Roberta Flack and Dionne Warwick. These incredibly perfectly written songs. Some music scratches the itch inside your brain — this puts the warm compress on the pain inside your brain.
According to this video snippet we have, you recorded during quite the blizzard?
That was not a singular event. It was three months of that. The record was all done in two week sessions, basically between January and March of this year. And there was one session where it snowed for 13 of the days. It does get to you psychologically after a while, especially the early sunset, where it starts getting dark as soon as you wake up. But otherwise, we’re inside in a room without a hell of a lot of windows anyway, so it kind of doesn’t matter what’s going on outside, and it helps cement the bubble feeling of being in this totally abstract place where the only concern is your music. We’ve made all of our records in some sort of extreme bubble like that, and I think it’s the only way we can get ourselves concentrated enough to get it done.
Still — they probably have recording studios in Hawaii.
Yeah, people go to these lovely places in the Bahamas and stuff like that… There’s different roles within the band, and not everybody’s involved in every take. And so I suppose if we decided all the drums were done, Dan would be much happier if we were someplace where he could go out and loll about on the beach all day instead of charging through the snow to get groceries for us.