Six Questions with Damian Kulash of OK Go

Grammy Award-winning rock band OK Go performed a rare acoustic set at LACMA Friday night in the LACMA West Penthouse. The show was a fundraiser for LACMA Muse and a celebration of the release of the band’s latest video, “This Too Shall Pass”—featuring an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine and filmed in a single take. The clip premiered on the web on Monday night, and by Tuesday had received more than a million views on YouTube. Friday’s concert featured pieces of the Rube Goldberg machine, a Q&A with the band, and a DJ set by OK Go member Tim Norwind. Before the concert we got a chance to talk to OK Go’s singer Damian Kulash.

With the success of your previous videos [“Here it Goes Again” and “A Million Ways”], how much pressure did you feel to raise the bar with this one?

DK: You know, we do these videos as creative projects; we do them because they are fun to make, and we take great pride in doing it. Measuring ourselves only by numbers or by beating ourselves on any scale would become frustrating very quickly. Things on the internet change so fast that judging yourself by numbers—by the way that things spread on the internet—is deceiving. What we take pride in is the video itself. We really enjoyed doing it. It’s a very fulfilling process.

What brought to mind the Rube Goldberg machine?

DK: There were a few scenes that we were passing around among the band members that were really the inspiration. There was a British Rube Goldberg machine set in a print office, and there was a Japanese show, Pythagoras Switch, in which every episode starts with this machine. When we all agree on something that gets us all excited, we know there’s an idea to be uncovered there. There’s an incredible sense of satisfaction to watching this type of contraption. It’s so invigorating to watch a machine that doesn’t seem like it should work, finally work. It’s kind of like watching life go right for once.

Given how intricate the work was, how long did the process take?

DK: The process took about five months total. I [got in touch with Syyn Labs, who collaborated on the video] in late August. By September, we had the team assembled. By October, we had the basic design laid out. We had the song broken down into six-second chunks. We outlined the general parameters for what sort of feeling each section should have, and perhaps had keyed a few specific points. For example, we knew where we wanted the Kabuki screen section to be and where we wanted the paint cannons to be—that kind of stuff. By the end of November, the build started. January and February were construction mainly, and then we shot the first week of February. The final take was done two and a half weeks ago.

Having watched the video a few times—and this is definitely a question that stems from being raised by a Jewish mother—what were you thinking waiting until the last second to put on your goggles before being blasted with paint? Everyone else put them on with plenty of time, but you waited until the last second!

DK: If I didn’t have total and utter faith in things working down to the split second in that machine, there would be much scarier situations to deal with than paint in the face. You know, there was a several-hundred-pound stove hung above my head for a lot of the shoot, and I was shot across the room by a man-made sling shot. If I didn’t have total faith in the Rube Goldberg machine working the way it should, I would have failed long before the paint cannon.

You’re celebrating the video’s release at LACMA with an acoustic set and a special screening. What made you think to bring the party to an art museum?

DK: Frankly, I feel like this video is more an art project than a rock video. I am very thankful that the cultural spot for music videos has broadened so that we can make these crazy art projects and have a reason for them.… The premiere event that we did here [in New York] was really low-key and informal, and that was really nice. This [event at LACMA] is actually a much better way to premiere a video because having a little bit of advance hype—like watching it run around the internet—makes people so much more psyched.

Do you have any surprises for us tonight?

DK: What will be a surprise for everybody from Synn Labs and the team, the band, and my family, is simply the idea that we will be knowingly enjoying ourselves. It has been all work up to this point. It has been such an incredible charge, and there were dozens of people working together, 24 hours a day; but up until now there was a feeling looming over our heads of, “You know, we’ve got a certain number of minutes until this thing has to have run fully from top to bottom.” There was this electricity in the air. We shot this video at 3:30 in the morning, and then the band was on a flight to Kansas City, so we didn’t have any time to celebrate. I can’t wait to just see all of these people again and just bask in the glory of our efforts.

Jason Gaulton, Muse Coordinator

One Response to Six Questions with Damian Kulash of OK Go

  1. Sheila says:

    What a great collaboration between self-proclaimed nerds and cool guys! In the “making of” videos, I keep expecting to hear someone mention the pioneering work of Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Their 1987 movie “The Way Things Go” is the “Citizen Kane” to OK Go’s wonderful music video. If the band hasn’t seen it, I’m sure they’ll be impressed with the 30-minute movie of cause-effect absurdities Fischli and Weiss dreamed up. It’s slow and deliberate, with no beat to dance to. Just a steady unfolding of “The Way Things Go” here in the universe. Watch in on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/4581265

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