April 24, 2007

Tuesday Recap: OK Go

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Before OK Go played a legendary gig at Barton on Sunday, frontman Damian Kulash invited Daze onto the tour bus to discuss politics, jail, ’NSync, Flavor Flav, among other topics. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.
Daze: You went to our Ivy League rival Brown —
D.K.: Are we rivals?
Daze: I think we’re rivals.
D.K.: Nice!
Daze: Does Brown not consider itself rivals with anyone?
D.K.: I’m sure that the competitive types probably do. I was not a sporting fella. I don’t think I undertook any competitive activities whatsoever, so I wouldn’t have known who our rivals are.
Daze: How are you liking Cornell now that you’re here? I know that you’ve only been here a little while, but …
D.K.: Yeah, all ten minutes have been fantastic.
Daze: Have you ever been here before?
D.K.: I have actually. Well, I’ve been to Ithaca before. One of my close friends got her PhD here, so I was here for her wedding. I was here for a weekend once.
Daze: She had her wedding here?
D.K.: Not on campus, but she had her wedding in Ithaca.
Daze: Interesting.
D.K.: Yeah.
Daze: In 2004, during the elections, you wrote, “How Your Band Can Fire Bush,” but your music does not demonstrate any overt politics at all. Will you guys write more political music in the future, or will you keep your politics separate?
D.K.: We might write more lyrically political music. I really don’t know. Songs kinda write themselves. I have never gone to any pains to remove political stuff from my music. The first record we wrote was a very intentionally overproduced pop record. We wanted to make a Cars record or like a Cheap Trick record, something that was just like fucking ear candy, and that’s not exactly the most comfortable situation for political lyrics. With people’s politics in general, there’s a show-don’t-tell quality I believe in where it doesn’t really matter if you screech and howl about policy change if you’re not really doing anything. So I’ve never made a point to make our songs didactically political. But on the other hand, people who are good at that are really great at that. If I were Ian MacKaye [of Fugazi], I’d be writing political songs. If I could do what Neil Young can do, I would be writing more overtly political songs. I suspect our next record might have some less oblique references in it. There are actually a lot of political references on our last record, but they’re pretty…
Daze: ‘Trickle down days?’
D.K.: There’s some obvious ones and then there’s less obvious ones. It’s not particularly our style to beat people over the head with it. But its possible we will get a little more aggressive with it, but I don’t know.
Daze: One of your grandfathers, I’ve heard, invented the fish stick in its current form —
D.K.: Mhmm
Daze: And the other discovered a new species of click beetle —
D.K.: Yes.
Daze: And now it is named after him.
D.K.: Yes.
Daze: Do you feel you could ever surpass the invention of the fish stick with your music? What, musically, would surpass this achievement?
D.K.: Oh boy…the short answer is ‘No.’ Both of my grandfathers were pretty amazing people. I only was lucky enough to know one of them, unfortunately. The discoverer of the click beetle died long before I was born. I don’t know that anyone really thinks they can outdo their grandparents. I suspect future generations of my family will find it just as funny that they had a father that jumped around in red pants on a treadmill once. Who knows?
Daze: Do you guys like fishsticks? Do you eat them often?
D.K.: I do like fishsticks. The pendulum swung a lot: my mom had to eat a lot of fishsticks growing up. They were not a wealthy family at all so he got a lot of free food from the company for which he worked, and she ate fishsticks all the time, and consequently, hates them. And I, because of that, never had fishsticks as a child, and so I still kinda love ‘em.
Daze: Is it true that while trying to convince an officer not to arrest you, you had him watch your video online?
D.K.: That’s the illusion of two stories but I did get arrested, and it took 14 officers to get me from a club in Orlando to the police station because they were so, so excited about it actually — everybody wanted to be involved — and at some point there was like a secret dropoff between one police car and another police car and I had to be sitting in one police car for a half hour with this police cop. Police cop? Police man in the front, and his wife wrote him something, an email, on his onboard computer, and I saw a little LL Cool J banner at the top of it, and I was like, ‘Wait! That means, if he can get LL Cool J banners, he can watch videos!’ And then I was like, ‘You wanna see our video?’ and he got really excited, and we watched it. He was really funny: he was like, what did he say? He goes like, ‘Bet you’ve never heard your music on the way to jail before!’ He was all excited for me.
Daze: So what was the end consequence of that …
D.K.: [Laughs] I went to jail. I went to jail for ten hours.
Daze: Is that the first time you’d been to jail?
D.K.: No … it was the first time I’d been locked up in a jail. I’d been to a jail before, but I had never been jailed before. It was actually like, getting there was really funny as the circumstances were so completely ludicrous. Its was just like, I was signing autographs outside a show and this woman asked me to move. It was just completely unclear that she had any authority whatsoever, and I just totally ignored her, and she suddenly had three uniformed, burly cops basically tackling me, and they cuffed me and tied me to this chair.
Daze: In front of the fans?
D.K.: Yeah. I guess the idea was like it was causing a traffic problem outside this club. Except, I mean, not street traffic. We were at the Orlando House of Blues, which is on Disney property, which is the key element to the story, because first of all obviously there’s no — it’s not in a Disney theme park, but it’s in this area, it’s like a walking street — and so there’s no car traffic problems, and I was about 200 feet away from any door to any buildings, so there’s no fire exit problems or — really no problem whatsoever, but what happened — this is probably more information than you need, but Disney wants to maintain a policy of no crime ever having happened ever on a Disney property, so they have their own security force, which basically like whenever anything goes wrong, you know, somebody vandalized It’s a Small World, they just take the kid into a tiny white room and scare the living shit out of him, and they let him go. But officially, nothing has happened, of course. They just deal with all their own problems themselves and that way, there’s never a police record of anything. And for some reason, our show scared them enough to let the real Orlando police come instead of the Disney police. And you can imagine the real Orlando police who were assigned to Disney are intensely bored, because most of the year they have exactly nothing to do. So when there was actually something for them to do, they were just fuckin’ like looking for a problem, you know? So this woman who was not in uniform — she was in a yellow golf shirt, which I later learned is one of the possible police uniforms in Orlando, I guess — she had the Parking Attendant Complex: the smaller your domain of influence, the more viciously you must wield it. And so they were just super psyched to find some wrongdoing, and the wrongdoing in this case was ‘resisting an officer without violence.’ So, officially, I hadn’t actually done anything wrong in the first place. I just resisted this officer, like by ESP I guess or something: by not moving from the place I could legally stand, I was at variance with the law. And so anyways, that part was really funny because they cuffed me to a chair right in the doorway to the club. Then you had like 2000 kids filing out, like takin’ pictures and like tryin’ to get their picture with me and like tryin’ to get me to sign stuff behind the chair. Eventually they figured out that this was actually making things a lot worse than it had been in the first place, so they moved me into like a secret back room in the club. Two of the officers were sitting there, asking me like, ‘So do girls just like, do you just get like girls all the time?!’ and the other one is like, ‘Is it just like so awesome to be in a rock band?! Tell me, like, how’s you guys get signed?!’ Just the kind of like …
Daze: Typical?
D.K.: Yeah, just all like, rock band questions. And the rotating cast of the other ten officers involved would come in and play cop, you know, affecting their clamp-jawed, like dark whispers. They were trying to figure out how to get me out of the club without more fans seeing, so they’d be like, ‘Get down to the kitchen entrance! We’re going to have to sneak out of the basement!’ They were all excited and they did eventually get me out to a secret dropoff point between one cop car and another cop car. The whole thing was ridiculous. There was an SUV full of girls following with ‘Free Damian’ signs in the window, and the whole thing was totally ludicrous. But when I got to jail, it suddenly got really super depressing, because …
Daze: No fans in jail?
D.K.: No fans in jail! But less that and more just that like … most people I know, friends that have been to jail for any reason, it’s usually either like from a political rally somewhere where there’s thirty people in jail all together or occasionally for kids that are in high school for vandalism or something and usually the point was just to scare the kids and let them out or whatever. And this, they could care less about me being there. I was just stuck in a holding cell with all of them. People were detoxing on the floor, basically. From what I could tell, there’s no one else there who expected to get out in less than a month and most people I talked to, this is their fifth or sixth time in jail and they were expecting to be there for years. The guy who I made friends with there, the police had been called on him by his girlfriend. He was trying to extract her from a crackhouse, essentially, and she had him arrested for trespassing. This is like two years after she had tried to have him killed in his sleep so that she could steal all his cocaine. Just really, really fucked up stories that were just so monstrously depressing. The place that they put us overnight to sleep, it had a two-inch thick Plexiglas wall, basically, in lieu of bars and so they would close the door and you would hear all the air just suck in. Twenty-five people in their bunks waiting for their processing and just the weight of desperation on those people, listening to these seasoned returnees discussing how they’re already fantasizing about the last meal they had on the outside. Stuff that was just really, really depressing.
Daze: Yeah.
D.K.: So by the morning, it became significantly less funny.
Daze: Where was the rest of the band while you were in jail?
D.K.: They were actually [laughs], surprisingly they were — this is so ridiculous — they were at a party at an ex-‘NSync member’s house.
Daze: Do you know which one?
D.K.: Um …
Daze: Was it the gay one?
D.K.: Given that they were in Orlando, it must’ve been.
Daze: [Laughs]
D.K.: If you name them —
Daze: Was it Joey? Jc? Justin? …
D.K.: It was JC — No, no, no —
Daze: Chris?
D.K.: Not JC.
Daze: and Lance … I was big into ‘NSync back in the day.
D.K.: Not Lance. Not … it must’ve been … it was either Chris or … or …
Daze: There’s one with dreadlocks and one that’s like, chubby that was on Dancing with the Stars.
D.K.: I didn’t meet him. I know it’s the one who has a bobble head collection.
Daze: Okay … I’ll research that.
D.K.: Yeah, I know what happened. Basically, everybody was excited about the fact that there’s this ‘NSync guy, obviously those guys made shitloads of money, and this kid, at like fifteen years old, eighteen years old or whatever it was, yeah, suddenly had millions of dollars and bought himself a mansion in Orlando and filled it with bobble heads. They said it was kinda boring because I think they expect the rock band to bring the party, and so it was just a couple rock bands who were on tour with us, just sitting in his mansion, being like, ‘Okay…’ but it was all filled with bobble heads. It’s like, what would you, if you were a sixteen year old with the most distorted life experience of any human possible and you had millions of dollars, apparently you would buy thousands of bobble heads. They did.
And there was a grotto with a stripper pole, I’m told, but no strippers. So, what’s the point of the pole, right?
Daze: What would it surprise people to find out about you guys? (individually or collectively)
D.K.: That’s difficult because we’ve answered that question so many times that I don’t think there’s a lot left that would surprise the people.
Daze: Except for the bobble head story?
D.K.: Yeah, I suppose. Uh, I don’t know. What would surprise you? [Laughs] Like do you have some assumption that I can tell you is wrong or something? I dunno.
Daze: Are you really into Jesus?
D.K.: No, I’m really not into Jesus.
Daze: Not surprising.
D.K.: Yeah.
Daze: How come Tim [Norwind, bassist] lipsynchs the songs in the videos even though you sing them in real life?
D.K.: Um, well look at him. I mean, if you had to choose between me and him for that certain lipsynch je ne sais quoi, don’t you think you’d pick him too? I mean, I’m such an obvious choice, but he’s so … he’s so good at it. You know?

Daze: Yeah, he just epitomizes sex, basically … [note: please look at a photo of Tim Norwind.]
D.K.: Do you know the difference between positive and negative feedback? Like in feedback systems like in economies or in neural networks or air conditioning systems, anything that has a feedback loop in it, there’s like positive feedback and negative feedback, and positive feedback tends to spill out of control. Cyclones are a weather system as a positive feedback but thermostats are negative feedback, like the information is taken in by the environment, then goes to regulating environments. Negative feeback systems tend to be even, you know?
Daze: [blank stare]
D.K.: Most of us, I think have negative feedback, culturally. Like, we’re all sort of becoming more and more like ourselves all the time. Or we normalize with fashion and trends and all that kinda stuff. Tim is like a positive feedback human being.
Daze: He personifies positive feedback?
D.K.: Yeah, it may sound too abstract.
Daze: Is this from your [major at Brown] art semiotics, right here? I have no idea what that is.
D.K.: No, another person like that is Flavor Flav. Chuck D, for instance: If Chuck D had been as crazy as Flavor Flav, then Public Enemy would have been really super boring. You just would have been like, ‘Who are those fuckin’ weirdos?’ But Flavor Flav, there’s something Flavor Flav had that meant, the bigger the clock, the fuckin’ better, right?
Daze: Yeah.
D.K.: Most people put a clock on their and you’re like, ‘You fucking annoying guy!’ But for some reason, Flavor Flav has that certain something that when he puts a clock on his neck, you’re like, ‘That’s awesome.’ And then when he puts a bigger clock on his next, you’re like, ‘That’s even more awesome.’ And then when he puts on a bigger clock, ‘That’s fucking awesomEST.’ You know?
Daze: Yeah.
D.K.: And Tim is sorta like that. If I dressed like Tim, or acted like Tim, you would just think I was like really super fuckin’ annoying. Whereas when Tim does, you just want him to act even more like Tim. He’s like one of those people who are like, you just want them to become more and more intensely like him. You want him to become an even crazier version of Tim all the time. That is the quality that makes him such a good lipsyncher, because the more absurd he acts, the more you’ll enjoy it. Whereas if I acted like that, you’d just find it super annoying.

Daze: Is that how you met him to begin with? You were just sort of attracted to his Tim-ness?
D.K.: No, we met playing ping pong at summer camp.
Daze: [Laughs]
D.K.: We did get along immediately, but our first conversation was about girls and rules of engagement with girls, ‘cause my sister — I have an older sister who had taught me some really good fundamentals at age 12. And I was like, ‘Tim, let me tell you some rules here.’ He had older siblings too, but I don’t think they had given him such clear, concise rules. I felt like I was being really helpful, and he enjoyed it, and we got along.
Daze: Did he get a lot of girls after that?
D.K.: Tim’s always been quite the ladies’ man.
Daze: In the videos, you guys are usually wearing suits and sweater-vests. What type of image do you want to purvey? Is it four fun-loving mop topped lads? [Thinks of balding Tim] Or three?
D.K.: [Laughs]
Daze: Is it Geek Rock, maybe?
D.K.: I guess I don’t think about it in that particular way. The suits came about because we just got sick of jeans and t-shirts. At some point, it felt so restrictive to have to pick between your five pairs of equally tattered jeans and your ten various shades of gray t-shirts. The whole point of jeans and t-shirts is that they’re like freedom from the uniform. I remember being jealous of all the people in the background of a Beatles photo once. I was like, ‘Everybody in 1968 wore a suit!’ Well I guess probably like 1963, but look at them! They all look so good back there. They’re all just casual, normal people who wear suits all the time. So I resolved I just wanted to wear suits all the time, and it collided with a fascination with clashing patterns, which generated the particular look that you have seen in the last couple of years.
Daze: And then everyone else just followed suit (no pun intended)?
D.K.: Tim and I tend to share a brain with respect to things like that. So that kinda happened, and as we were doing press photos for this record, and started making videos and stuff, we all just fell into it together. It’s fun. It’s obvious there’s an intentional angle to it, like yeah, no one just winds up accidentally in a paisley suit, but if you don’t have to wear the annoying khakis and sweater of everyone else’s day jobs, then why would you?
Daze: I just talked to Chris Funk of the Decemberists about his experience on the Colbert Report.
D.K.: Mhmm.
Daze: What was yours like? How did you find Stephen?
D.K.: I was very respectful and very quiet, because he is a genius, that man. He’s really fuckin’ smart. The rhetorical system they have set up is completely airtight. Because he’s in character, and he’s making your point by making fun of you, you have to let him make your point for you and you have to let him make fun of you. And if you try to agree with him, it kills all the jokes. And he’ll figure out a way to totally flay you anyways. If you try to disagree with him, he’ll flay you, and if at any point you actually make a valid contradictory point to whatever he’s saying, whether it’s a joke or it’s not, one of his character traits is to step out of character, and then flay you anyways. So the whole idea is to go and just get fuckin’ reamed. The show is obviously about him so my tactic was just to shut the fuck up and let him do the thing. And he actually was extremely complimentary and nice to us, and during the run-through, he actually completely skewered me. And then between the run-through and the actual show, he came to our dressing room, and he was like, ‘You know what, I’m not going to do that. I’ve decided that what you guys are doing is really awesome, and rather than pretend to make fun of it in a way that it’s not gonna make sense, I’d rather just talk about it.’ And so then he was really straightforward with us actually. I mean, he made jokes but it was real easy in the end.