OK Go Talks Bands, Brands and Creative Freedom

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OK Go Talks Bands, Brands and Creative Freedom

When I chatted with OK Go’s singer/frontman Damian Kulash Jr. yesterday, the band’s new video for “Needing/Getting” had received around eight million hits. I checked YouTube before I started writing this morning and it had about 10 million views. Now as I’m finishing this story, “Needing/Getting” has surpassed 11 million.

Oh, and the video has only been posted for five days.

For their most recent single off 2010’s Of The Blue Color of the Sky, the indie quartet transformed a Chevy Sonic into a self-contained instrument, racing it around the California desert and musically recreating the entire song. Clips from the “Needing/Getting” video appeared in Chevy’s Super Bowl commercial and the American car company’s new coup featured prominently in the band’s musical production.

More impressive than the driving stunts, intricacies of the course and thousands of instruments (junkyard pianos, homemade percussion, tubas and Gretsch guitars) that are featured in “Needing/Getting,” however, is the successful collaboration of band branding that the video represents.

OK Go  is no stranger to this kind of partnership with big companies. Over the course of its 14-year career, the band has worked with brands like State Farm, Google Chrome, Range Rover and Samsung.

And while the indie group is known for it’s viral videos—from treadmill dancing to launching an epic Rube Goldberg machine—Kulash revealed that the trick is finding the right company to sponsor such projects in a way that also supports the band’s creative vision.

“Anyone can come up with lots of fucking batshit insane ideas,” he said, “but how many big corporations will actually risk the money on something?”

While many bands’ practices are still perceived with an air of romanticism, everything came together quite practically for OK Go. The band had been ruminating over the video concept for “Needing/Getting” for a while and Kulash explained that one of his friends working in Chevy’s ad agency had, “heard around the agency that Chevy was looking for outside-the-norm ideas to try to market their new car.”

Kulash and his friend emailed with each other to formulate a more cohesive video pitch. And Chevy bought it.

“We wanted to make this video, you know, and there’s gotta be some car in the video,” laughed Kulash. “It’s gonna be someone’s car. And so the best thing we can do is find somebody who’s brave and smart enough to say, ‘Look, we know your video’s going to be awesome and we want it to be our car. And yeah, we’ll pay for your video. And then some.’”

OK Go  seems impervious to the negative connotations associated with such blatant advertising. In fact, embracing this marketing tactic in a changing music industry has helped them thrive as a band.

Kulash stated, “I think there’s a golden era for the ideology of ‘pure music’ and ‘pure art’ in the ‘60s to the ‘90s, maybe, when the music industry was so robust that it actually pretty much shielded its chosen few artists from any commercial concerns.

“The hilarious thing is that that’s the exactly the same period during which music was itself a commodity, when you could actually limit where music went because it only traveled there on a piece of plastic and you had to buy that piece of plastic. That’s when music was at its most fiercely capitalistic. And now that those rules have started to break down, you have both the good and bad. It means that the big bad beast of the music industry no longer has all the power. It also means that we don’t get to live with the fantasy that musicians and artists are somehow in a bubble outside the worldly concerns of having to eat.”

Treading the line between artistic and commercial successes has become rock and roll lore. But for OK Go, that distinction seems pretty clear.

“Everyone’s gotta figure out where their line is,” said Kulash, “but for me, the line is like, if I get to make the things I want to make, then it’s not selling out because I’m funded. We gotta get paid somehow.

“At the end of the day, we come up with the ideas that we want to make and go find people who fit those ideas. And to me, that’s where my personal line in terms of maintaining some kind of artistic integrity is.”

“Needing/Getting” Official Video