"Rock musicians are generally deluded people."1
-OK Go lead Damian Kulash
I am not a screaming teenage fan and I have not paid careful attention to the lead singer of this band (rumor has it Damian is "soooo hot"2), so I can't raise any paeans without dabbling into the band's history and its newly-released CD, creatively titled OK Go.
Who They Are
Damian Kulash, Jr.
: guitar, keyboard, vocals
How They Became
Hints of this eclectic group's style first appeared at Damian and Tim's summer camp; the two eleven-year-olds creatively employed folding chairs as percussion in a startup band, The Greased Ferrets. The duo became a triad when they met Andy in high school. Damian went to Brown University (graduated 1998, concentration in semiotics) and met Dan, a Columbia student. The other two dallied in Chicago: Tim went to DePaul (he got a BFA in 'playwrighting'3) and Andy went to Northwestern. While Damian was still in DC, the other three were rocking up Chicago in a band entitled Stanley's Joyful Noise.
"All of the other three members were already in Chicago at that time. And because they were close friends of mine, and I wanted people to play rock and roll with, I moved to Chicago."1
By the fall of 1998, all four of them had come together in Chicago and they there formed OK Go. Their music is best characterized as intelligent, unpretentious pop rock, unafraid to masquerade as pop to draw followers. The fact that Damian is cute (there, I said it) does not preclude my listening to his music, and the fact that it is happy, hippy, upbeat meant that Chicago crowds appreciated it.
OK Go draws its name from the camp which Tim and Damian no doubt remembered fondly:
"We got the name from this like hippie art instructor at the camp. Damian and I were there to draw like spaceships, but we had to draw practical things like trees. The instructor would come up behind you and hover over you, and he’d say things like, ‘Put your hand on the paper. Put your hand on the tree. Now draw the difference.’ And then when he was done with his instructions, he would say, ‘OK, OK, OK... OK go.’"3
It Gets Good
Within a few months, they had considerable media attention and a strong fan base, too. Of course, they had day jobs--Damian worked in graphic design and later as a radio engineer for NPR, and Andy worked with the radio show "This is Hell" on Chicago's WNUR 89.3. Working at NPR, Damian met Ira Glass, executive producr and host of the program This American Life. OK Go toured with This American Life, playing in between the show's spoken parts for several live performances, and Glass himself best describes this epoch:
"It was like traveling with living catnip. We had huge crowds and people of every age--high school sophomores to senior citizens--just LOVED them, couldn't get enough, couldn't stop talking about OK Go. I wish I could describe what was so special about it; suffice it to say that the band simply overwhelmed the audience with this exuberant buzz of fun and happiness and youth and rock 'n roll."5
They used the media to their advantage--fans sprung up and they happily conducted interviews. Having no full-length CD, they appeased the teeming hordes with two three-song EPs. By early 2001 they had a recording contract with Capitol Records, and their album OK Go was released in September 2002.
"I was in the bathroom for most of the time before we went on ‘Conan.’ I was so nervous. People were asking me afterwards did I see so-and-so, but really all I saw was Conan’s bathroom. Then we got together and watched it in a hotel room when it came on and at first we were all just silent. Then when it was over we were just like ‘Aah!,’ screaming with excitement."3
In the first week of its release, the single "Get Over It" went to number one on Billboard's chart of new artists (dubbed Heatseekers). That song's accompanying video saw exposure on MTV2 and MuchMusic and national radio coverage. Soon, they were playing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. All is good for OK Go--watch this band, they will go somewhere.
(/msg me if you node one of these so I can link them)
- Bye Bye Baby
- We Dug A Hole
- It's Tough To Have A Crush
- Hello, My Treacherous Friends
- What To Do
- Ant Music (Adam Ant)
(I can't find titles for the above two releases; any contributions
would be appreciated)
, Capitol Records
Since this is also the title of their album, in addition to a full list of its various track
s, I'll give a little lyric
- Get Over It, 3:16.
Message: Life sucks, get over it. 'Ain't it such a bitch? What a pain / Well, it's just a crying shame / What left to do but complain? / Better find someone to blame'.
- Don't Ask Me, 2:46.
Message: Stop being so nice, woman, and don't ask me. 'Don't show up so on time, / And don't act like you're so kind / Don't aaask me how I've been.'
- You're So Damn Hot, 2:38.
Message, and the only quote I'm giving you: 'You don't love me at all, / But don't think that it bothers me at all. / You're a bad-hearted boy-trap, baby doll, but / You're so damn hot'.
- What To Do, 3:59.
Message: Finding the right place to invest your talent is hard. (this one is laden with interesting images) 'Sweetheart, you'll find / Mediocre people do exceptional things / All the time.' (in an interview, Damian said this was his favorite line4)
- 1000 Miles Per Hour, 3:33.
Message: We could drive away from all this decadence at 1000 miles per hour. Very powerful resemblance to Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car", one of my favorite songs; it's a sort of a cover-in-spirit. 'But with a little bit of money we could buy us a car / With a little bit of money we could get away from where we are. / Let's get out of here.'
- !Shortly Before The End, 4:19.
When asked what this song is about, Damian replied: "It’s about the end of the world."4 So that settles that. 'Sing us a song, sing us a song / To hum through the hours of dying'. This is probably their saddest song, and it's still got a few perky chords lurking in harmony.
- !!Return, 3:51.
Message: You (girl) went away and didn't come back, and now I can't remember your face. 'For a while, with the vertigo cured, / We were alive, we were pure. / The void took the shape of all that you were. / But years take their toll, and things get bent into shape / Antiseptic and tired, I can't remember your face.' Another low song, the guitar is nonetheless powerful so that it's sort of an upbeat downer.
- !!!There's A Fire, 3:50.
Message: There's a fire, believe me this time please. 'I never say quite what I mean, / and never mean quite what I say' Repetitive; good music, but it begs to be seen in its allegorical boy-cries-wolf sense.
- !!C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips, 3:26.
Message: You so fine, me in love. 'Have you landed yet and, if so, would you tell me so? / I've never felt this way before'. Refreshing and fun, this song forms a smooth transition from the last.
- !!!The Fix Is In, 3:53.
Message: Society is oppressive, its well-defined standards a rigorous straitjacket on a free life; we want intangible, meaningful goals. 'We'll forge a little life dear, / And double down our debts dear, / And I guess it stands to reason / The the passing seasons / Will slowly dull regrets.'
- Hello, My Treacherous Friends, 2:59.
Message: People are interconnected, and not all of them are good. 'New fellow from my new town sat me down / And explained it to me / How when I spin from him I spin from myself, / The center can double the speed of the crust'. This is my favorite song on this disc. It uses beautiful images of spiders and circularity's double-definition, and it is well-sung, too.
- !!Bye Bye Baby, 2:13.
Message: It's hard to live with rejection and loss. 'It's not just that I'm selfish and scared, / It's not just that I'm so unprepared, / It's just you'd think I'd grow out of this'.
Authorship information: Damian Kulash, Jr. is credited as having written all of the songs on the LP (I can't find information on EP authorship); on the one marked ! ("Shortly Before the End") Tim and Neal Hefti are also credited; on those marked !! ("Return", "C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips", "Bye Bye Baby") Tim is additionally noted; and on those marked !!! ("There's A Fire", "The Fix Is In") Andy is acknowledged as well.
These short explanations and highlighted quotes don't do the music justice, for each of these songs has a more delicately impressed meaning. If you would like to read the lyrics and see for yourself, you can find them online easily. If you would like to explicate them, I have provided handy soft links above. If you'd like to hear the music, buy the album (the first CD I've bought in a few years, this set me back $9) or download a single (their website, www.okgo.net, may facilitate that) and then buy the album.
If I met Damian, I would say to him, "Thank you for releasing upbeat pop music which insidiously conveys deeper meaning and also contains underlying images whose potency was certainly developed in your semiotics studies at Brown." He would reply:
"People do like to focus on that. There's a lot of people making rock music who are not particularly bright, but having studied some ridiculous, navel-gazing academic stuff in college does not necessarily mean I'm smart."1
But I'm all about understanding the music, and I would glean as much as I could from this music anyway. One last symbol for you to ponder: their eponymous CD is featureless white on first appearance, but under direct light it reveals their carefully-etched emblem and, on the outer edge, a track list. Like my mind after listening, this CD is (superficially) the prototypical tabula rasa.
Obligatory List of References: (there are so many because Damian is good at media manipulation; that is he's popular)
1 http://www.illinimedia.com/buzz/2002/10/10/music/stories/music_story01.shtml -an excellent review/light biography which is full of quotes
2 http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/o/ok_go/ok_go.php3 presents a ridiculously amusing litany of praise, posted anonymously. If you're into that kind of thing, "omg omg omg check IT OUT!!!!".
3 http://www.thedepaulia.com/story.asp?artid=370 - that's DePaul University!
4 http://www.popzineonline.com/okgo.htm - an excellent July 2002 interview with Damian
5 http://www.okgo.net/html/info/info_content_04.html - the biography Ira Glass wrote
Supplementary References (cause you just can't get enough!):
http://www.browndailyherald.com/post/stories.asp?ID=168 - good ol' liberal Brown
http://www.stp.uh.edu/vol68/48/arts/arts5.html - a review of a performance they gave in Houston, which mentions that Damian owns a Powerbook
http://www.digitalcity.com/chicago/music/article.adp?aid=3192 - this article, while otherwise on track, thinks that Columbia University is in Chicago (!)
http://shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1927486322&clink=dmmu.artist&a=b -- an abbreviated biography by Scott Sepich of the All Music Guide
http://www.thisishell.net/1rShow.htm - Andy's show, 'This is Hell'
The band's own web page is available (see reference 5 above) but is not terribly informative although interesting and pretty.