INTERVIEW: Talking Tour, Music Videos and Kicking It Old School with OK Go's Tim Nordwind
Throughout its nearly 20-year career, OK Go has never been what you would call an ordinary rock band. Long before the viral videos and trippy blend of indie, rock and pop, OK Go was always a batch of creatives. Now, they're looking to bring that on tour.
Starting today (March 20), OK Go will embark on a six-week North American tour in support of its latest album Hungry Ghosts and bassist/singer Tim Nordwind is promising a "multimedia experience" with interactive elements... just another new thing for the always-evolving rockers.
But, of course, that's not all. OK Go is also working on new music videos, a game show or two and a million other projects. Music Times recently chatted with Nordwind, trying to dissect it all, and revisiting the band's roots in the meanwhile.
Music Times: OK Go recently got back from China and is about to embark on a U.S. tour. What are you doing to get ready?
Tim Nordwind: We're sort of building upon the show that we put together over the summer, which is a very active, kind of multimedia experience. In general, we were inspired by and feel pretty lucky to be able to, on a nightly basis, have access to stages where you can be in a room with 1000 or 2000 people. So we tend to just look at the live experience like, OK, what can we do in a room with 1000 or 2000 people? Obviously, playing music is one of many things that you can do, but what else is there? So we're sort of building upon the interactive and multimedia experience, and we're trying to make it a little bit bigger, a little more varied and make it feel even more like a party than it already does.
MT: What kind of interactive elements are you adding?
TN: Already right now we do things. We make a song with the crowd and go into the crowd and play with them. We do question and answer sections, and we're adding on a couple more things that, well I don't really want to give them away, but a couple more things where there's a chance to actually just connect -- one way or another -- with the fans. Something that goes beyond just us playing music for them, but I kind of want to keep the rest a secret because we haven't done it yet.
MT: Throughout OK Go's career you've always seemed to be band that expands on what something can be, like what a music video can be. Why is that something that's so important to your band?
TN: I don't know if it's important to us, it's just a thing that we do. It's just kind of what's interesting to us, and I think we get really inspired by people who do the same...
All the sort of definitions from the 20th century of what a band is and what a filmmaker is and what an author is, all those definitions are sort of dissolving as we're realizing all these things can kind of intersect now. So to us, it's just very interesting. And why wouldn't you try to do something in a different way? We're not fond of repeating ourselves for the most part, and if we do we usually try to do it in a way that still there's a difference or at least in the context of the way we're repeating it you feel a difference in it. But for the most part we like to challenge ourselves and chase the things that are most interesting to us, so we've ended up kind of turning a lot of things sideways to see how it would work that way.
MT: Your first album was pretty straightforward indie rock. When did OK Go start exploring on expanding what a rock band could be? Is this something that happened organically?
TN: Well, I think it's pretty organic. Our first record -- I think what was seen through the media and all of that -- it didn't necessarily represent as well who we were as people. I've known Damien [Kulash] since I was 11, and he and I have been making stuff together that entire time, whether it's videos at home, or music or some type of weird performance project. We've been doing crazy stuff together since we were 11, and I think on the first album we were very young. We were a little bit naïve and scared at what would happen to us if we busted the system sort of, so I think what we presented to the world wasn't quite indicative to who we were as people.
Actually if you go back and search online for things that we made back then, you can find little short films and things like that that we made in this time period. We're technically supposed to be related to the record, but because there wasn't YouTube at the time and people didn't pass things around in the same way online, all that stuff hasn't been seen, but we were actually looking at a thing we made for our first record yesterday, the ping pong instructional video.
MT: I was just going to bring that up!
TN: Yeah, I haven't seen that in years. It was something that technically was supposed to be used to promote the video, but we just used it as an excuse to make something absurd and funny. And so we've been doing that stuff all along, but we didn't get the confidence enough to really own it until our second record [Oh No] and with a couple of videos that we made at home, just exploded online.
We realized people actually like us for us. And then I think as time has gone on, we've just embraced that more and more. We realized, wow, it seems like when we just follow our ideas and our hearts and our dreams, things happen. So why don't we just do that?
MT: If I remember correctly, you had a video game to go along with the ping-pong thing too, right?
TN: I don't think we had a video game at the time... That's sort of something that's familiar. Yeah, no you're right, you're right. I think it was like a game where the concept was we had lost one of the members of the band on tour and we had to go through all these different levels to find him. I think it was something like that. Man, you have a good memory; I never would've remembered that if you hadn't mentioned it.
MT: I was looking at some of your setlists from when you were in Japan and you included a fair amount of your older material. Do you find that it's a little difficult to incorporate because it does sound different? Or do you get a kick out of performing it?
TN: I guess because it's us writing it, there's got to be some type of line there. When we get to playing it live, it all just makes sense and I don't know why... I guess there's some kind of undercurrent of consistent aesthetic running through it all that just works. So it's nice. It's fun to go play something like "You're So Damn Hot" from the first album and have it still work in the context of the entire set.
I kind of can't believe -- it's sort of amazing to me -- that we have a catalogue now. I can't believe we have upwards of 50 or 60 songs to choose from now. It's just, I don't know. I guess I never thought we would get to the point that we could say that, and it's kind of fun.
MT: Yeah, so do you have some songs of yours that are favorites?
TN: It's a little bit like we have some songs where we know if we play it, you're going to get a certain reaction, and that reaction is very seductive. So with that alone, you want to have that reaction every night you're playing. I wouldn't necessarily say those songs become my favorites, but they become attainable, in a way. And it's like, there's songs from every record where you're like OK, we play "Here It Goes Again", but there's also songs from the new record which seem to always get a really good reaction and it's surprises us. There's a song "Obsession." It just kills live, and I don't know if I would call it a favorite, but I like that we have something like that in our arsenal that we can just drop and people go crazy for it.
MT: Do you have any future plans for more videos from Hungry Ghosts?
TN: Yeah, we've got a stockpile of ideas at this point, and we are actually investigating a couple different opportunities to make videos. A lot of the ideas that we have that our favorites right now are a little bit excessive, so we're trying to find the money to make these things. But, if we get the funding, there's pretty awesome things on the horizon. And hopefully, we'll know in the next month or two what the next video will be. We do have an idea of what's coming next. Unfortunately, I can't tell you.
MT: Have you ever had an idea that was just way too out there that it was difficult to put together? Or has it turned out nothing is impossible?
TN: There's one idea that we've been trying to get made for the last three years, and it's just cost prohibitive really. On top of that, it seems like an incredibly difficult thing to rehearse and then nail, but that one seems near impossible just because there's so many different hurdles. Even if we had the funding, it would still be an incredibly difficult thing to rehearse, and then an incredibly difficult thing to shoot. I don't know, I think if we get the chance to make it, we will be able to make something out of it, and I think it will be good. But that one, yeah there is one particular idea that seems impossible for a lot of different reasons. But I still believe that it could happen.
MT: I take it you can't give away hints as to what that is?
MT: So recently you and the band also did a song for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 "You're a F*cking Nerd and No One Likes You." How did that come about?
TN: The director for Hot Tub Time Machine and Hot Tub Time Machine 2, a guy named Steven Pink, who's great and he came to us and asked us if we wanted to write a song for the film and had the suggestion that we us a line that comes from the film. The actors, in an improvised scene, had sung the song "You're a Fucking Nerd and No One Likes You." Two bullies are singing it to the third guy in the friend group and so it seemed like a funny thing to do basically. It's rare that we get the opportunity to write, in the studio, a very funny song. So we thought it would be fun to write it in the perspective of the two guys who are singing it to the third and just chair our inner assholes. But I guess as big records, we thought it was a funny opportunity to rip on something absurd and ridiculous. Yeah it was fun to make.
MT: Would OK GO ever consider doing more of a full soundtrack? I feel like you'd be good at that.
TN: Yeah, I think it would be awesome to do more of a soundtrack of some sort. The right opportunity has not struck us yet, but I hope someday at some point to do something like that;, I think it's super fun.
MT: What is the nerdiest thing about you?
TN: Probably my love for musical theater, I would imagine. That's just me personally. I grew up doing a lot of musical theater in general and I was like a specific type of a nerd, which was theater nerd. Yeah, I was a theater nerd.
MT: What's your favorite musical?
TN: Les Miserables.
MT: That is a little nerdy.
TN: Yeah, a musical based on a book by Victor Hugo.
MT: Any other new projects that OK GO is working on?
TN: Not too too much. We have the six-week tour coming up. We're currently developing two separate TV show ideas, both game shows. We'll see if that comes to fruition, but that's kind of exciting and fun right now.
MT: I want to hear more about the game show thing. Can you talk more about that at all?
TN: I don't know if I can or not. Our guitarist Andy Ross developed an app about a year and a half ago for a game called Say the Same Thing. So now we're looking into possibly making that into a televised game show of some sort, and from pitching that idea around we actually got the opportunity to just come up with something else for another network. So we're working on that right now, we'll see if it comes to fruition, but it's been pretty fun. It' been pretty fun to develop these things.
MT: Yeah, that's really interesting. Really are blurring all those lines together.
TN: We're blurring lines, we're blurring lines.
OK Go's tour will begin tonight (March 20) in Santa Cruz, California. For a full list of dates, check out the band's official website.