Alaska music fans may recognize the music of OK Go.
But they have almost certainly been captivated by the band’s wild, inventive videos, which collectively have hundreds of millions of views on YouTube.
With their new “Live Video Tour,” the band is attempting to take the highlights of those videos and move them to the stage. It was a concept that the band initially rejected, according to guitarist-singer Damian Kulash.
“For years we tried to do our rock shows as much like the way we do our videos and music in terms of process,” Kulash said. “We wanted it to feel like it was pushing the edge of what a rock show could be. We didn’t want to put our videos up on the screen, because we didn’t want people to watch TV the whole time.”
But with the current tour, set to hit Fairbanks and Anchorage this weekend, the band believes it’s found an approach that’s as imaginative as its viral videos. It started when the band’s bassist Tim Nordwind watched an old silent Dracula film that was being shown with an orchestra performing a live score. The band took the idea and added some special twists and multimedia surprises.
“So many of our fans aren’t rock-show demographic,” Kulash said. “We have so many fans who are under 10 and so many senior citizen fans who don’t want to go to a sweaty bar. After years of not wanting to put videos on the stage we decided to make that instead of bending a rock show until it turns into a video, we should bend a video until it turns into a rock show. It’s not a film screening and not a rock show. It’s been hard to explain even to promoters. That’s the way we know we have found our groove with it — it defies conventional categorization.”
OK Go’s history of producing eye-popping videos goes back to 2006, when the video for “Here It Goes Again” became an internet sensation. The video featured band members performing a choreographed routine on treadmills.
The videos have evolved into much more than eye candy.
Kincaid Elementary kindergarten teacher Mandy McConnell has used an OK Go video to spark interest in a physics segment for her class. Part of the assignment was for students to create a Rube Goldberg machine, with an elaborate layout that creates a domino effect. OK Go’s video for “This Too Shall Pass” gave the students a large-scale example that inspired them to create their own machines, complete with a musical soundtrack.
“It got their imagination going,” McConnell said. “We all had small groups and they had ramps and PVC pipes, stones and toys — whatever they wanted to use. They had a good time and it was a good way to launch the project. It was at the end of the day and they were so engaged, I felt bad they had to go home.”
The experimental element is key to both the band’s musical and video creations, according to Kulash.
“The thing that drives me crazy is the freshness and newness is a new creative territory to explore in,” he said. “There’s a lifelong marriage to that in itself, but I find something much more thrilling when I don’t know what I’m doing and have to learn.”
While the band is best known for its videos, Kulash said they mainly focus on writing good songs and letting their imaginations take over once the songs are complete.
“I will say we’ve never written a song with the video in mind,” he said. “It’s really hard to write a good song. Most of our video ideas are low percentage proposals. Of course we want to make a video in zero gravity, but what are the chances someone is going to do it with us.”
While the concert will have a number of elements, one of the most interesting is an interactive portion. They created a phone app that will allow concert goers to play handbells along with the band during part of the performance of “Needing/Getting.”
Kulash said the performance is part of the band’s ongoing attempt to explore the full extent music’s possibilities and potential impact.
“Songs have certain colors to me and they definitely are more often talking in terms of shapes and layers in terms of flats and sharps,” he said. “There’s a fundamental thing about music that’s different than literature. You process words with a particular part of your brain. Sounds have an access to emotions that isn’t fully understood and is really amazing. I’m a person who overthinks everything and tries to rigorously break down everything to an atomic scale. Music refuses that logic and works even better because of it. I worship at the alter of logical thinking and I’m proven wrong every day.”
The Live Video Tour
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Herring Auditorium in Fairbanks
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Atwood Concert Hall in Anchorage