- 4.15.10 - 11:00AM
- - by
- Jay Hathaway
OK Go - Rock n' Roll and Viral Videos - An Urlesque Interview
As the creators of some of the most popular viral videos out there -- The Treadmill Dance! The Rube Goldberg Machine! -- OK Go have more "internet street cred" than any band around. Since they're the internet's favorite band, Urlesque couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask a few questions of OK Go's lead singer Damian Kulash.
I talked to Damian about what makes good viral videos and what it's like to be a band in the age of the web. He had some crazy stories, brilliant insights and favorite videos to share with Urlesque. At the end of the interview, Damian even talked about what OK Go are planning for their next video. Check out the interview and the opportunity to win a piece of the Rube Goldberg Machine from 'This Too Shall Pass' after the jump!
Are there any secrets of the Rube Goldberg Machine that haven't gotten out yet?
As I'm sure you are aware, as a student of the internet, I have no idea what's out there! There were a lot of people involved in the making of that machine and I'm shocked and fascinated by how much interest there has been and how many different avenues it has found its way out through. There were several different panels at SXSW where people were talking about different elements of it. Adam Sadowsky, our lead designer, has done talks about it. We've made the interactive floor plan of it and there are a couple videos of me interviewing the crew about it. There's so much information about it out there and I have no idea how much more there is. There's a really interesting Q&A blog on Make Magazine's site. Stories I haven't told, though?
Yeah, do you have any?
This story has been told, I've seen other people tell it, but it probably deserves retelling. It was the night before camera blocking and large parts of the machine were still being changed and screwed with. We had 20, 25 people ready to pull an all-nighter to just knock it out, get as much of it done as possible and hopefully have it ready for camera blocking. Around 11:30, a drunk driver hit a transformer box outside and shut down electricity to the entire neighborhood. We had no idea how soon it would come back on. We decided to test the paint cannons outside, because they didn't require alternating current, we could just use a battery for them. We used the headlights of people's cars, set up the paint cannons and starting testing them. So I'm getting shot in the face with paint and behind me, over this wall, shows up this gangster dude.
He's really, really drunk and starts screwing with us like "I"m your worst nightmare!" So we lock ourselves inside to get away from the guy and he starts hurling himself against the door. He's body-checking the door. This is a pretty big dude and he's obviously on PCP or something. This is more than just rowdiness. He bashed in my roommate's car and did a whole bunch of unsavory, awful $h*t. So we had to call the police and there are 30 people in this leaky warehouse with a f**king maniac outside.
So Tim and I did scenes from Les Miserables for everybody. We got all our iPhones together, which was enough light to do a performance of Les Miserables, and that seemed to raise spirits.
Now that your videos have millions of views on YouTube, have you gotten involved in the YouTube community or checked out any of the other popular YouTubers?
I'm not as involved as I probably should be. Things that I've been watching a lot recently ... among the many great moments on Fail Blog, my favorite is the Animal Identification Fail, where he points at the moth and says "look at that horse."
The thing from The Tim and Eric Show that John C. Reilly does, where he's Dr. Steve Brule. The genders one is the funniest thing ever, so I watch that a lot.
There's a Morning Benders video where they got 20 of their friends in San Francisco together in a studio and did a Phil Spector Wall of Sound version of a song of theirs. It's just a really beautiful version of the song. It's nicer than the album version of the song.
Eric from Tim and Eric has directed a bunch of music videos. Have you seen any of those?
Yes! Pon de Floor and Dance Floor Dale. [NSFW]
Have you thought about working with any big directors like that on a future video?
We work in whatever way we think we need to, to get a good idea accomplished. Sometimes that means directing ourselves, sometimes that means co-directing with other people. I mean, Eric Wareheim ... we'd totally work with him. It would have to be the right idea. The model of video-making that was pick a talented person and take whatever they give you, that comes from the old version of music videos which were designed for use on MTV. The music videos we make are not an advertisement for our song, they're their own sort of art form.
Even though your videos aren't marketing, they're still one of the main ways people find out about your music. Does that add extra pressure to make something that will go viral?
The pressure we have is an internal one. We make cool sh*t, you know? We don't look at the internet, or YouTube, or videos online as add-on or ancillary to our "real creative project" elsewhere. It's not like you're musicians who make videos or video artists who make music ... you're guys who make both. I think those definitions themselves are outmoded. What's the most rock n' roll thing that Jimi Hendrix ever did? Lit his guitar on fire. There's nothing about that moment that had anything to do with lyrics or beats or chords or melodies. That was an act of -- well, you could call it performance art if you're being pretentious, or filmmaking -- or, what we all believe it to be: f**king rock n' roll! Do you think Elvis would have exploded the entire universe if it hadn't been for his hips? It was all about the danger of his sexy dancing. Music has included a visual element for as long as anyone in my generation can remember.
Have you seen any awkward, forced attempts at viral videos?
Unfortunately, that is the norm, not the exception to the rule. Across the board, people still look at the internet as this extra layer on top of an existing system. That's such an outmoded and useless way to think of it. It's a real space, just like any other. When people believe that you can put something out there and people will engage with your Machiavellian promotional scheme because it's digital, that's crazy.
We have a contest right now, where every day we give away a pair of tickets to the best Rube Goldberg Machine that people have made for us. It's a small prize, it's not like people can't afford to buy a ticket, but people really want to have reasons to engage creatively with one another. People like making things. We just put up the contest a week ago and there's dozens, maybe hundreds of responses already. That sort of feedback loop of art-making was very difficult before the digital era.
What are some of the best ones you've seen so far?
People make their entire garage into a setup. One guy did a whole room as a Lego Rube Goldberg Machine. That sounds like it might be kind of boring, but go watch it. It's f***king mindblowing.
There's somebody who did a Rube Goldberg Machine entirely in fire. They did our logo in matches that catch on fire. It's amazing.
And that's what the embedding fight [with EMI, OK Go's former label] was all about, right? You wanted to make videos under the same rules as everyone else.
Oh yeah, absolutely. The embedding fight is mostly one of common sense. We put our videos out there because we want people to see them. The first wave of information of the internet always comes from aggregators. There's no such thing as a viral video that people just discover on YouTube. We all rely on the big system of blogs, aggregators and filters out there. Putting a video out there that people can't blog about, you might as well not put it out at all.
Everyone's a critic on the internet and, with so many blogs and comments, there are so many opinions out there ...
Yeah, there are. It needs to be recognized that people are much more driven by their frustration and their annoyance than they are by their joy or their wonder or their surprise when it comes to commenting. It's the opposite with what people pass around the internet, though. You'll notice that every extremely big viral video has a real sense of wonder or joy or happiness. People, by and large, don't want to pass their friends bad news.
But they mostly comment when they get annoyed. If you read the comments on anything, it's grievously overweighted in terms of people who are like, "This sucks, you wasted my time." It's a self-selecting group of people who actually want to take the time to comment on other people's videos and they generally are not particularly happy.
Can you tell me anything about what your next video is going to be?
Yeah, I'd love to. We've already shot another video and whether we put it out next or not remains to be seen. It'll come out sometime this spring or summer. We're planning another shoot for June. The one that we've shot already is a single shot that takes many hours and then we sped it up. The one we're going to shoot over the summer involves a lot of other very talented individuals, but I can't tell you much more about it than that.
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