Bassist Tim Nordwind (right) and his bandmates
Interview by Scott Shetler
OK Go has been one of the more underappreciated rock bands of the past several years. Their excellent last release, Oh No, was overshadowed by its equally excellent videos for “A Million Ways” and “Here it Goes Again” (the treadmill video), the latter of which won a Grammy Award.
In January, they return with the Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, a record produced by Dave Fridmann (MGMT, Flaming Lips) that channels Prince and shows off the band’s funky side. On November 4, they kick off a mini-tour of the Midwest at Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh.
We recently chatted with bassist Tim Nordwind on the phone about the new record, his Grammy Award (which may or may not have been stolen), and the awesomeness of ‘80s weekly countdown show Solid Gold.
Hi Tim, where are you calling from this morning?
I’m actually in South Bend, Indiana. We’re shooting a video here.
On the subject of videos, your previous videos have set the bar really high. What do you have planned in terms of videos for the new album?
We’ve got one in the can and we’ve got about four more that are in different stages of planning. We’re hoping to make a video for every song on the record this time, which is kind of a lofty goal, but that’s what we’re shooting for.
We have a good time making videos. We’ve been making videos outside of the traditional filmmaking industry for the most part, just because it’s more fun for us to have an idea and figure out how real people might make it, versus industry professionals. It’s fun to dream something up and make it guerrilla style, versus doing it the proper way.
Video: OK Go - A Million Ways
Congratulations on the new album coming out. You started working on it a couple years ago, right?
Yeah, we started writing for it about two years ago when we stopped touring. We toured for 31 straight months on our second round, so we were pretty burned out by the time we stopped. I’d say the first six to eight months, we wrote a bunch of crap because we were so burned out. We were just trying to figure out how to be human beings again.
So it took us about a year and a half to get a group of songs together that we actually liked. We spent most of last year in Fredonia, New York recording with Dave Fridmann and we mixed the record over the summer.
I listened to the new album and I’m kind of blown away by how Prince-sounding some of the songs are.
We were listening to a lot of Purple Rain in the studio. I think on the first two records we exhausted whatever kind of guitar rock demons we have inside of us. We all grew up listening to ‘80s pop radio, which was a pretty seriously eclectic bunch of music – it was Prince and Michael Jackson, but then it was Talking Heads and B-52s. So this record we went back to earlier influences like that. So, yeah, there’s a lot of Prince on this record.
Did you happen to be a fan of Solid Gold in the ‘80s?
The dance show? (laughs) Yeah, who wasn’t? They really don’t make shows like that any more, do they? ‘We’re gonna put 150 people in the room and watch them dance.’
That’s my guilty pleasure on YouTube.
Wow, I hadn’t considered that it might be on YouTube. I guess everything’s on YouTube. You’ve inspired me to go back to my Solid Gold years.
One of the new songs, “Before the Earth was Round,” feels like your Kid A moment. What’s the story behind that song?
That was one of the first songs written for this record. It was an early contender for the album. It’s got that vocoder, lonely robot sound. I suppose musically, Blonde Redhead was sort of the referential influence for that song. Lyrically, I feel like I’m not always equipped to speak to the lyrics because I didn’t write them. Damian’s the singer and wrote those lyrics. I know it’s sort of a parable about before the earth was round. The characters are the sky and love.
Do you have a favorite of the new songs?
There’s a song called “All is Not Lost” that I like a lot. I think “Skyscrapers” is really good, a slow and groovy song. It’s roughly about a character who lived his or her life not believing in anything, sort of looking up at a skyscraper and being like, Wow, someone actually dreams that and makes that, and that’s pretty insane. Sort of a song about finding something to believe in, which is kinda nice.
Stream “Skyscrapers” from OK Go’s upcoming album here:
Where do you keep your Grammy?
(Laughs) I don’t even know where my Grammy is, to be honest with you. I moved about two years ago and I packed it up. My Grammy is in storage. Which is awful, I need to get it out.
I’m a little bit afraid that it’s not there anymore. It’s buried under a bunch of boxes. I think it’s probably safe. In some ways it’s probably safer than the ones that are out because I think it would be much harder to find. If someone wanted to come in and steal my Grammy, they’d have to go through an awful lot of boxes.
Are you guys in the camp that doesn’t put much stock in award shows, or was it actually really thrilling to get a Grammy?
It was really thrilling, but I don’t put stock in accomplishments, period. I feel like the minute you are satisfied with something, that’s the minute you’ve lost. I don’t want to say we don’t put a lot of stock in award shows – we don’t actively go out and say they’re bullshit or anything like that. But I don’t think we’re the type of people who sit around and celebrate that stuff for a very long time. We appreciate it on the day we get it, and then it’s time to move on to the next project.
Your band is one of the more fashionable bands in rock. How would you describe your style?
The style for the last record was like an update on turn of the century dandyism (laughs). It was fashion patterns mixed with paisley and formal suits. I think it’s ever-changing, though. The way it’s going this time is sort of colorful. We’re getting out of always needing to be in a three-piece suit. I get the sense we’re sort of headed in a slightly more futuristic and colorful direction.
Video: Tim narrates a video of OK Go recording the new album
You guys have been parodied on The Simpsons, you’ve been in films and tv shows, in video games, on billboards… are there any forms of media left for you to conquer?
Well, we’ve yet to be projected onto the moon. That would be great. We haven’t been on Saturday Night Live, which I would like to do. That’s personally my favorite show - other than Solid Gold. If I could turn back time and get on Solid Gold, that would be an obvious choice, now that you’ve got me thinking.
OK Go performs at Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh on November 4 with local favorites Donora. Find the band online at okgo.net and follow Tim on Twitter at http://twitter.com/timothynordwind.