15 Minutes With OK Go

Rachel Poletick

With the goal of creating art as the foundation of all their work, OK Go has managed to create its own music label and continues to discover new ways of surprising an audience. The Weekly talked with lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash about their mindblowing music videos, political activism and connection to Chicago.

TW: You’ve probably been asked this question a million times, but just to give Northwestern readers an idea … where do your video ideas come from?

DK: They come from ourselves or from our friends or collaborators. People tend to see [music videos] as they were 15 or 20 years ago, and a great way to advertise is to get the video played on MTV. But that largely doesn’t exist anymore. Videos are certainly not what they were before, and big budgets are gone, and record sales are down, so that type of advertising is sort of over. So we make things without the commercial aims of selling music.

TW: Are you ever able to incorporate your political awareness into your work? Do you think that you’re able to vocalize your political opinions to your fans?

DK: I’m a very opinionated and verbal person. But I don’t go on stage and try to create a political discourse. There are plenty of people who don’t even know we’re a band; they just know us from the treadmill video. And then there are much more serious fans.

TW: Speaking of people that only really know you by your videos, does that bother you? Or do you think of it as a way to get your name out there?

DK: It doesn’t bother me because the videos are meant to be watched. We don’t look at the videos as advertisements for our music. We look at them as artwork, and we’re happy that people are seeing them. And that artwork sort of directs people to other pieces of our artwork: our music, our shows, our songwriting. We recognize that when we make our videos with dogs and stuff that we might be bringing out totally different audiences.

TW: I know you guys met and started in Chicago, so do you have any special connection to the city? And do you make it a point to come back here whenever you’re touring?

DK: We love playing in Chicago. It’s one of the biggest cities in America and arguably the most interesting, so we love being there. And, in fact, our original guitarist was from Northwestern, and many of our initial recordings were done at the radio station there. We go on tour so much that the last time we really were part of a local scene and would go out and see shows and be part of a local community was in Chicago.

TW: Do you think audiences in Chicago are in any way different from the rest of the United States?

DK: Every time I try to make an observation about audiences in a specific place, the next time I go to that place I’m completely wrong. We’ve always had great audiences in Chicago, I think because it is our hometown. I think the closest thing I can say is that audiences do a pretty good job of reflecting the people from a city in general. Chicago, to me, feels like the biggest small town in America. Everybody smiles at each other on the street, and it seems like people are actually dealing with one another.