OK Go long for simpler, more joyous times.
The Chicago quartet is fed up with predictably yearning hard rock, overly provocative teen pop and down-tuned metal for children of the divorced suburban set. OK Go hate songs with too much meaning and are convinced that good music means enough sonically without some sort of heavy message tacked on.
The band’s self-titled debut is filled with catchy, driving rock songs that combine the new-wave feel of the Cars with the straightforward rock of troubadours like Everclear. OK Go like power but loathe muscle, and while there’s a hipster element to their sound, they avoid the pretensions that often accompany alternative rock.
“We all grew up listening to music that’s accessible but smart,” said singer Damian Kulash. “Now the stuff on the radio is so much more narrowly focused and there’s a real divide between that stuff and all the ‘good music,’ which seems like it has to be very left-of-center, super-art music. We just wanted to do something that had the breadth of Queen or the Cure.”
The band’s current single, “Get Over It,” starts like J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks,” then turns into a fist-pumping rocker with squiggly keyboards. The song was written after OK Go penned and then trashed an album’s worth of material before landing a record deal. At the time, they were recording in basements and late at night in cheap studios whenever they had the chance.
“We had to do it in all little tiny pieces,” Kulash said. “We couldn’t focus our attention on each little thing. And it just came out over-thought and overwrought and just kind of arty. It had all our ideas, but it didn’t rock. So ‘Get Over It’ was written in response to that. I wanted something that would require a stadium to be played, and that wouldn’t feel comfortable in indie-rock clubs. We were trying to do exactly what it said, f—ing get over it.”
The second single from OK Go will likely be “You’re So Damn Hot,” a simple song that succinctly communicates the band’s dumb-is-fun ethos.
“It’s certainly not at all ultra-brainy,” Kulash said. “It’s about people who are really hot.”
Kulash co-formed OK Go in Chicago in 1998, but the earliest seeds of the band germinated when Kulash befriended bassist Tim Nordwind in summer camp at age 12. Years later they met guitarist Andrew Duncan in high school. In college Duncan and Norwind formed the band Stanley’s Joyful Noise with OK Go’s current drummer, Dan Konopka. At the time, Kulash was living in Washington, D.C., but he was in regular contact with Norwind and Duncan, who convinced him to move back to Chicago to form OK Go. The group took its name from a high school memory.
“It’s really stupid,” Kulash said. “We had an art teacher who was a real stoner, and in order to get us to do anything he would come up to you and whisper in your ear, ‘OK, go, man. OK, go” even if you were already in action.”
In addition to touring, OK Go are writing a batch of brief songs for a baker’s dozen of short films by San Francisco filmmaker Brian Perkins. The cinematic snippets are all one minute long, and the last half of each is filled with a 30-second rock song. In addition to composing, OK are acting in the project.
“They’re mostly all one long shot with everyday-ish situations [taking place],” Kulash said. “In one of them, I play an office manager and I’m screaming at this poor underling in her cubicle about her misfiling a purchase order. I keep screaming at her, ‘A PO needs a dollar amount. You only put the name plus tax plus shipping when it needs a dollar amount. This isn’t a dollar amount.’ Then the scene ends and in comes an [OK Go] REO Speedwagon[-type] power ballad to which the words are, ‘A PO needs a dollar amount.’ ”
With their music and their side projects, OK Go continue to stress their theory that if art rocks, who cares if it has a message?