There’s the treadmill one. And the zero-gravity one. How about the massive Rube Goldberg machine? Or remember the one with the marching band? Then there was the one filmed in 4 seconds and played back in slow motion.
Those are all music videos from OK Go, the rare band perhaps known for its videos as much as its actual music.
The rock quartet has been releasing viral videos since 2006, when “Here It Goes Again” debuted several months after the launch of YouTube, becoming one of the site’s early success stories. (The video has pulled in a total of 95 million views on YouTube.)
In the video, OK Go’s four members dance, for lack of a better term, across several treadmills moving in opposite directions. And they didn’t stop there.
Until now, OK Go’s famous videos and its rock music have been largely separate. The band’s concert tours haven’t incorporated elements of its videos.
But for a few shows this fall and winter, OK Go will bring its live concerts and videos together for a show that features the band playing live while its videos roll in the background and taking short stops to explain how the complicated pieces were created.
Omaha is one of about 10 stops on the live video tour, and we caught up with bassist Tim Nordwind to talk about the band’s videos and this special tour.
Q: Have you done any of these shows yet?
A: We’ve done proof-of-concept shows to get it up and running, but this is kind of the new style of show. We’re live-scoring our videos, so we’re essentially our symphony to the film we’re watching. That was sort of the initial plan — to live-score and show the videos and do it in a setting that everyone could come to.
It’s more of a cinematic theatrical art show than it is a rock show. There’s obviously the rock show element, because we are playing loud.
It’s one of those things where we want it to be for everybody. It’s great to go and play a club show, but it’s typically an 18- to 21-and-over. There are a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to be in a club environment, and this is a really nice way to hang out with everyone.
Q: I’m sure you have a lot of fans who know you better for your videos than for your music.
A: That’s the thing. For I think a lot of our career, and I don’t feel weird admitting this, we looked at the videos we made as, “That’s a thing that we do online. But when we come to your town, we do a rock show.”
It’s not that we don’t like the different type of energy of a rock show, but this does help connect the dots for the majority of people who found us online.
People who know our band mostly know us from catching our songs in video form.
Q: And then you also explain how they were made, right?
A: The original thing was, “Let’s live-score our videos.” As we got going with the idea, we realized, “We got everyone there, and it feels a little weird to only do that.” Generally speaking, people are usually curious.
It is fun, too. It’s a nice break between things, and we do end up getting some really unique questions, typically from our younger fans.
It allows us to connect in that way and get a little bit closer to our audience. We started doing that because it was a fun thing to do. We started realizing, too, that it doesn’t have to be live performance. There’s an interactive element where we play a song with an audience. We re-create some of the videos onstage or aspects of the videos onstage.
It’s turned into a little bit more of a variety show — an OK Go variety show. It’s fun. It keeps people’s attention. You’re never doing any one thing for too long.
Q: How much have you had to change the songs? OK Go’s songs can be pretty lush, but seeing you live in the past, you play them a little more lean. But if you’re playing them faithfully to the videos, I imagine you have to rearrange them a little.
A: We definitely ended up rearranging some of the songs because of how we did them in the video.
We also resurrect some of those instruments onstage, so when you’re watching the video, it’s more like seeing it online. There’s a lot of videos where in the video we take breaks from the recorded music, so we’ve had to learn how to play those songs that way.
So yeah, a lot of the songs that we’re playing, as far as seeing them live, this is sort of unique to how we’d play them in a club.
Q: Will you do more of these concerts?
A: We’re doing a limited run this year between now and New Year’s. We’ve got a handful this year.
We’ve got other projects going on at the moment, and people are enjoying their families and things like that. We’re sort of hand-picking what we’re doing right now.
I think as we get further into ’19, we’ll be making more music and adding more shows.
Q: Have you made new music since “Hungry Ghosts”?
A: Only in demos. At this point, it’s been several years since we’ve done something, and we’ve amassed probably 100 demos. Not everything is finished or complete. It’s 100 ideas or so. I think we want to write more. Some of that was written two or three years ago, and that was who we were then. But yeah, there’s definitely a place to start from, and it doesn’t feel like a total overwhelming thing.
Q: You said it’s been several years, but it doesn’t feel that way. But you guys don’t exactly do a normal album cycle with all the other stuff you create.
A: We’ve never done it normally, and that’s part of the reason. We end up making videos for half of our record. A lot of those projects are three to five or six months. And in the past, we’ve toured a lot. We spend a year and a half on the road. Any downtime, we’re making videos. We’ve had a fairly nontraditional album cycle and career in general.
Q: You’ve been able to carve out a place in music that very few artists could pull off. How have you done it?
A: Were just really lucky. We happen to be four guys who have a lot of interests in entertainment, technology and performance. And somehow we’ve managed to incorporate all of that into what we do and have people believe it.
We definitely started as a band. We started in a very traditional way. I remember thinking 20 years ago, “It’s kinda weird that we’re focusing in on this one thing.” Our interest in film, our interest in performance, our interest in technology, we’ve managed to incorporate it into a lot of what we do and have people like it. It’s great. I’m very thankful for it.
That’s a little bit different than what you imagine it to be, to the extent that there is a typical rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Q: Most artists would probably not even care to do what you guys do. They’d be content to let someone else do the videos, whereas you guys do everything for them.
A: Most of them don’t make (videos) themselves. That’s a little bit different than our experience. Most bands don’t care to do that. That’s not what they’re interested in. That’s just an aspect of what we do. We didn’t want to farm it out to anybody.
I get it. It’s not surprising that a really awesome musician who started a band doesn’t want to spend a ton of time making videos. I get and respect that as well.
Q: And it’s a lot of work. I’m almost as interested in the behind-the-scenes videos as I am in the actual videos. Like seeing how you did the zero gravity for “Upside Down & Inside Out.” You guys didn’t look so good.
A: That was not an act.
As we’ve gotten on in our career, we realize the importance of documenting these things. We didn’t always do such a good job of that in the beginning.