Arts & Culture

From MCM to Grammy: OK Go’s Kulash ’98

By
Arts & Culture Editor
Friday, February 5, 2010

Damian Kulash ’98, lead singer, guitarist and lyricist of the rock band OK Go, is “a little manic” right now, he told The Herald on Wednesday — and justifiably so.

After releasing its third album, “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky,” the band was touring Europe until last week, and is now filming four music videos — one in “a giant warehouse space” in Los Angeles — while preparing for an upcoming tour through Australia, China and Japan, Kulash said. 

Highlights from the European tour included being approached by Iranian filmmakers on the street in Amsterdam with “very particular nerdy film questions” about OK Go’s videos and witnessing bassist Tim Nordwind creating a song and music video entirely on his iPhone, Kulash said.

OK Go also was featured on the soundtrack to “New Moon,” the second movie of the Twilight saga.

“Any musician in the world would have given an arm to get on that soundtrack,” he said.
Despite his band’s success, which includes a 2006 Grammy for the video for “Here It Goes Again,” Kulash said his years at Brown were “probably the best four years of my life.”

Kulash said the people he met at college are still some of his closest friends, even though they are “spread across the globe now.” He even met his wife at Brown, where they took a course together in the Department of Modern Culture and Media.

“I didn’t go (to Brown) to get a job,” he said. “I went there to meet amazing people and generally enrich myself and grow up.”

Brown students are fortunate “to be in a society of people who are so intellectually competent,” he added. “Most of the world is really not like that.”

Kulash played in three bands at Brown, where he concentrated in MCM, before OK Go came to fruition in 1998.

He and Nordwind, though, “have been making all sorts of s— together since we were 11,” including “a lot of videos, a lot of art, a lot of projects of all sorts,” he said. “Our M.O. is chasing down the ideas that thrill us the most.”

The band’s name, in fact, originated as a childhood inside joke between Kulash and Norwind.

“We were 10 years old and we had this visual art teacher, and he would sort of hover behind you while you were already drawing and repeat ‘OK OK OK OK go!’ “

The new album’s title, “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky,” has an equally rich story behind it.

The name is based on an 1876 book titled “The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky” by A.J. Pleasonton, who allegedly “proves that blue light is the general life force,” Kulash said. “He got a patent on the color blue.”

“I am fascinated by the author’s desire to find a way forward,” he said. “His subjectivity was so intensely motivated that he could believe it was objective science and convince the entire world.”

Kulash sees parallels between Pleasonton’s thought process and that of the songwriter, who must “believe in the mystery and power of things and look for a way forward, even if your logical brain tells you otherwise.”

Logic, Kulash said, sometimes poses an obstacle to his songwriting.

“So much of what excites me about music is its ability to communicate intense emotions in a square second,” he said. Kulash added that lyrics can hinder this purely aesthetic experience “because you have to incorporate logic and meaning.”

He said OK Go’s music strives to combine feeling and reason to create songs that, as a totality, speak to both sides of the brain.

“I don’t feel like I write for an audience as much as I write for myself,” he said, and his career seems to reflect this spirit of genuine self-expression.

The main criteria for the band’s videos, known for being low-budget, light-hearted and unconventional, is that they are “the most exciting and ridiculous things we can make,” Kulash said.

“We’re extremely lucky to be able to chase our creative ideas,” he said. “I’ve been doing that since day one.”