BULLET THE BLUE SKY
After 5 years of touring, OK Go returns with a great new album
By John B. Moore
Regardless of your musical tastes, you’ve almost certainly heard of OK Go. There’s no way you could have lived through the ‘90s without escaping their incredibly infectious pop songs and videos. The video for their 2006 single “A Million Way” – complete with choreographed dance moves – practically put YouTube on the map. By August 2006, the video had become the most downloaded music video ever, with over 9 million downloads.
After years spent on the road the band finally found the time to work on a new album, Of The Blue Colour of The Sky, which is finally being released five years after their last record hit the shelves. Singer/guitarist Damian Kulash spoke with us recently about the delay of the new record, their work on helping rebuild New Orleans and life on the road.
Tell me a little bit about the origins of the album title?
The title of our new album Of The Blue Colour of The Sky comes from a book written in 1876 by General AJ Pleasonton called The Influence of the Blue Ray of Sunlight and of The Blue Colour of the Sky. General Pleasonton believed that the color blue had healing powers and could cure the world. He got a patent on the color blue and for three years convinced the world over of his theories. The American Journal of Science debunked his theory a few years later because it just wasn't true. But, General Pleasonton went to his death bed believing that he could help save the world. He wanted so badly to believe in something that could help mankind. His beautifully sad and poetic story spoke to us, so we decided to name our record after his book.
They songs sound is just as catchier as previous releases, but the themes seem a bit heavier. What inspired that?
Of The Blue Colour of The Sky is probably the most direct and melancholic record we've ever made both lyrically and thematically. The inspiration behind the heaviness comes from the fact that we were all going through tough times both personally, and also on a global level. This record is about trying to find hope in what feels like hopeless situations.
Were you worried at all that the lyrical content would get lost in the catchy vibe of the songs?
The great thing about music is that it is Ok to mix happy and sad elements. Pop songs are generally only three and half minutes or less, so a lot has to be conveyed in a short amount of time. Some of my favorite music mixes melancholic lyrics with happy music i.e. The Pixies, The Smiths, The Cure. It was never a concern of mine that the content would get lost in the music, it was my hope that we could address interesting things about life in a way that seemed both meaningful, thought provoking, exciting, happy or sad, and sometimes all these things at the same time.
You took your time working on this record. Why the wait so long to release another full length?
The wait was not on purpose. We toured for two and half years on our second record Oh No, and we needed sometime once we got home to get our heads together, figure out what we wanted to sound like, and record. We would have liked to have put this record out much sooner, but sometimes this is just how things work out. We hope to have our next record out a lot sooner. We have a lot of material that didn't make it onto our latest record, and we are itching to get to it.
Do you have a favorite song on this record?
I go through weeks where I favor different songs off the record. This week I am favoring “Needing/Getting and Back From Kathmandu”. Last week it was “All Is Not Lost” and “Skyscrapers”. It's tough to pick a favorite. That's like asking to pick a favorite child.
Having been on the road for a few years straight, are you dreading getting back on the tour cycle again?
I love the hour a day when we get to play for people. What I dread is the monotony of the other twenty three hours when we are traveling, setting up for the show, taking down the show, traveling, setting up for the show, taking down the show, traveling etc... Often our schedule is so busy that most of what we see going around the world are dirty clubs and hotel rooms. It is also hard to be away from your loved ones for so long. I wish I could transport my friends, family, and girlfriend to every show because I miss them a lot. But I do feel extremely lucky to be able to do the things that I love doing for a living. I'm very thankful indeed.
What has changed the most for the band since going from a small club Chicago band to being that group everyone has heard of?
Mostly what has changed for us is that our schedule is busier. As far as I can tell no one has really changed as a person. We're a little bit older and wiser now, but in general we are still just trying make things and share them with people - Same as we did when we lived in Chicago.
You obviously got a lot of attention for your videos. But do you ever regret that maybe they overshadowed the music?
I am proud of both our videos and our music. If the video is someone's gateway into the world of OKGO then I think that is great. I am aware of the fact that not all fifty million people who have viewed our video are OKGO fans; that's Ok. The good news for us is that a small percentage of those fifty million people have decided to delve further into the world of OKGO; buy our records, come to our shows, and generally pay attention to what we do. We will continue to go on and make records and videos, and hopefully people will continue to tune for what's next. And, some of the people that do continue to follow us, I'd venture to say, probably first heard of us through our video, and well, hey, I think that's fine.
You guys have devoted a lot of time and energy to helping Hurricane Katrina victims (the EP, raising money, etc.). What was it about that incident that inspired the band to give so much time and energy towards rebuilding?
New Orleans is the most unique music community in the world. It is common to see a father teaching his son how to play trumpet on the stoop, or a bunch of guys just playing music in the streets in New Orleans. The Future Of Music Coalition and Air Traffic Control, both organizations who help connect musicians to social action, invited us down to New Orleans to see firsthand the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the civil engineering SNAFU's that caused the levies to break.
It is heartbreaking to see so many neighborhoods destroyed by the floods. A lot of musicians and culture bearers from New Orleans legendary music and art community lost their homes and were displaced around the country. We thought a good way to help and make a difference was to record an EP with the New Orleans’ horn funk orchestra Bonerama to raise money and help bring these displaced musicians and artists back home to New Orleans. The initial proceeds went to buying a home for New Orleans’ soul legend Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, who was displaced in Houston. Now that he's home, proceeds continue to be used, through an organization called Sweet Home New Orleans, for other musicians who still need help raising money to get themselves back home and settled in New Orleans.