Q&A with bassist Tim Nordwind of OK Go

It turns out there’s a lot more to OK Go than viral music videos. The State Press took some time to chat with bassist Tim Nordwind a few days after the premiere of it’s new video, “End Love.”

State Press: You guys aren’t just stepping up your game for music videos, but also for live performances. About a month ago at the Maker Faire, you guys did a one-of-a-kind underwater performance…In regards to unusual performances like that one, as well as for your music videos, let’s discuss the process of seeing how such intricate plans are feasible. When you guys come up with ideas like those, how do you go about testing them?

Tim Nordwind: Well in regards to the underwater performance, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to test it. We just did it.

We had seen a guy named Water Boy, who had basically come up with all these sorts of underwater contraptions. We had talked to this guy who designed all this stuff, and he basically told us it was possible for us to perform wearing these water bowls over our heads that we would be able to sing out of.

We only really had an afternoon to rehearse, because that was all we had time for. We got what was like a crash course in how to breathe in these things. It’s different for every project. We never really know if it’s going to work.

For the Rube Goldberg machine [the music video for “This Too Shall Pass”], we put six months into that thing, conceptualizing what we wanted to do for the machine.

Every step of the way, there definitely seems like there’s some level of impossibility. We almost always set ourselves up for a high possibility of failure, so overcoming that failure is what’s exciting, in terms of making the seeming impossible possible.

For most of our videos, we try to focus on the time that we can film and film, and hopefully get one or two good takes. The Rube Goldberg machine was shot 89 times, and we only got to the end three times.

You don’t really test it; you just do it and hope that you get it. The more you rehearse and the more you build, hopefully you catch something cool on camera. It’s a lot of hard work and playing around and making sure the camera is rolling. I wish there was more of a science, but there isn’t one.

SP: About two weeks ago you guys performed on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. So you’re working in all these different kinds of environments: a television studio doing musical guest spots, playing huge festivals like Bonnaroo, and then on stage at regular gigs. How do those environments differ for the band?

TN: […] The one consistency that runs through all of those performances is [that] the goal is to connect with whoever is in the room, or the eyeballs behind the camera who are watching at home.

[…]

It’s about conveying several emotions and hoping that the audience picks them up. That’s what we’re always shooting for.

SP: You guys recorded an EP with the New Orleans brass band Bonerama to raise money to build a new home for soul legend Al “Carnival Time” Johnson after Hurricane Katrina hit. You’ll also be involved with the Sixth Annual Switchfoot Bro-Am to benefit the organization Stand Up for Kids. How did you get involved with these projects?

TN: The Bro-Am we were just simply asked [to do]. We live in Los Angeles, so to go out for an afternoon and play for a good cause was a no-brainer.

[As for] the Hurricane Katrina stuff, we had been invited down by an organization to be part of an art and music conference.

They chose New Orleans as the meeting place because the musical tradition in New Orleans is so rich. So much of that tradition was wiped away during Hurricane Katrina.

Everyone had to get out of town, including all the musicians. All the cultural torch-bearers got scattered.

It was difficult for a lot of people to afford to come back to the city, which is a real shame for them in the sense that the great musical tradition and culture weren’t really there.

We decided we wanted to do something about that, so we got together with Bonerama, a brass band. We made an EP and played a bunch of benefit shows to help raise money to rebuild homes of musicians and bring them back home to New Orleans.

We were able to help raise money to rebuild a home for Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, who’s sort of one of the grandfathers of New Orleans soul music.

SP: The band has 18 dates left to play on the tour. Life on the road is different for every band. How does the band balance its music and your personal lives while out on the road?

TN: It’s pretty difficult to balance our personal lives and life on the road. Being gone a lot, it’s tough. You don’t see your family and friends and loved ones nearly as much as you’d like to. It’s not the easiest thing in the world.

I think we manage. Luckily, the band and I are all pretty good friends, so there’s never a whole lot of fighting. I think we’re all lucky that our wives and girlfriends are so understanding of the life we live, and I think we’re all understanding of the positions they’re in. It works, but you have to work on it.

SP: At the end of the month, you’ll be re-releasing your latest album, “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky.”

One of the two new tracks is a remix of your single “This Too Shall Pass” that was done by Passion Pit. Whether it’s in the studio, on tour, or in a video, are there any artists you hope to collaborate with in the future?

TN: There’s a bunch. We’re probably going to be putting out a remix album in the fall. We’ve been able to work with some people we really like a lot. [As for] people I’d still like to work with, I really like Daft Punk a lot. I hope to work with them in some capacity. I think Pharrell Williams is really awesome. I like Pharrell a lot. There’s a band called Discovery…it’s a side project of one of the guys in Vampire Weekend and one of the guys in Ra Ra Riot…and I really like them a lot, so hopefully we’ll be doing something with them. We like collaborating.

SP: What are some of the keys to making a successful viral video?

TN: I don’t know! People ask me about viral videos all the time. How do you make things that people want to watch over and over again? It’s really hard to say. We just make the things that get us excited, and we hope that other people will get excited.

A good idea is a good idea. But I don’t think there’s a perfect formula for making a viral video.

SP: Now that you’ve seemingly conquered the world, what’s next for OK Go?

TN: We’re shooting a new video [soon], and then in the fall we’re shooting another video and going back out on tour of the United States. We have a new remix project that I think we’re going to put out in the fall, and we’re doing projects with puppets. We’re re-releasing our record through our label. That should get us through the year!

Reach Lenni at lenni.rosenblum@asu.edu


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