When Damian Kulash, singer for power-pop act Ok Go, says they’ve been influenced by The Pixies and The Cars you can hear it immediately. But Fugazi and Ian Mackay? That’s a surprise. “I don’t think aesthetically but methodically,” says Kulash of his fellow Washingtonians who paved the way for DIY musicians around the world. Just take a look at the massive success that was “Here It Goes Again”, their DIY home video on treadmills. “On the other hand we’re on a major label but as far as steering our own ship and not sticking to the corporate rules, we’ve always tried to do our own thing. He’s been a big influence.” The Youtube award-winning video has given their album Oh No a second lease on life. “It’s been wonderful because we’ve been able to tour the world and got more fans and everything on the up and up, but it’s weird to tour for two-and-a-half straight years on one album. Our relationship to the record has really changed.”
Is the art of video having a revolution courtesy of the Youtube generation? It’s changed a lot. No one would say that videos didn’t revolutionise the world once before when MTV were playing them. It’s now a different thing. I think the videos we’re known for, the homemade dance videos, they’re definitely music videos but there’s something else going on. They’re made by a band but they overlap with this online home video, which is a whole new genre.
Do you think the treadmill video has overshadowed the quality of the tune? I don’t look at it as overshadowing. There is no question that numerically more people have seen the video than will ever listen to the album. If you add up all the different sources it’s something like 20-30 million views. You’d have to be a moron to think that that many people were going to go out and buy our record or even listen to it but there is overlapping spheres. For us it’s all one project but they’re clearly two different products. That video was wildly successful because it had a bit to do with music and a lot to do with online videos. If it brings more people to our music then great, but we don’t expect to be selling tens of millions of records because of it.
So has the record label given you carte blanche when it comes to doing your own thing? What any band wants is creative autonomy. No band in their right mind wants to be signed to a major label. You just want to make what you want to make. Sometimes getting into bed with the devil is the only way to do that. What the video has done is set our success in the corporate eye as us doing whatever the fuck we want, so we don’t have to play by the rules anymore. And so yes, to a certain extent we do have the magic wand to say “no record label, we don’t have to do your stupid promotion, we just get to do the things we want”. But on the other hand, major labels don’t have the money anymore to throw around. So we have to do it on our own dime on our own time. But that’s alright by me.
Apart from your own videos you’ve also worked with Olivier Gondry (Michel’s brother). Was that on the “Do What You Want” video? It was actually on the first “Do What You Want” video. I directed the wallpaper one with my friend Mary, the Gondry one is with the camera spinning.
Oh, okay. The wallpaper one is very Gondry-esque then… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heavily influenced by the Gondrys. I think they are geniuses. If my work can be mistaken for theirs it’s a good thing.
Oh No is out now through EMI.