Although Ok Go’s new record emits a new sound, bassist Tim Norwind says it’s a natural progression on themes present in their last effort. We got the chance to chat with Nordwind and find out more about the band’s new material, mixtapes and their future tour plans.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Los Angeles. I was in Europe for the last three weeks touring. We’ve been dealing with some scientists from NASA. We’re making a video with a bunch of scientists. Some work for NASA, some work for jet propulsion labs – we’re working with them for the video for “This Too Shall Pass”. We’ve made a video of an alternate version of that song with a marching band, but this will be to the album, studio version.
As a boy, after you first met your bandmate Damian, you kept in touch by exchanging mixtapes with him. Whose were better, and what sorts of songs were on your mixtapes?
Well, I would say they were equally interesting. Mine had lots of Brit pop because that’s what I was listening to back in junior high. So lots of Stone Roses, Blur, Happy Mondays and then some earlier groups like The Cure and The Smiths. Damian was in Washington D.C. so he would send lots of D.C. punk rock. He sent me everything from Nation Of Ulysses to Fugazi, Jawbox and also Candy Machine and just lots of 90s’ punk rock. We were always sending each other mix tapes.
What do you consider when putting together a mixtape?
Well it really depends. There is almost always a specific reason when I make one. I couldn’t tell you the countless number I’ve made for girls. I never include anything that I dislike, even if I think they will like it, but I do try to play to their tastes. It’s the same as any good DJ does; read a person or read a room. I don’t have too many guilty pleasures. To me, a good song is a good song, so I have a wide range of things I feel okay putting on a mix tape.
Mix tapes are the most fun thing in the word to make. You can make a late night mix, a sleeping mix, one for trying to win over a girl, a road trip, one to work out with – it’s fun and they’re always different from one another.
Plenty of lyrics from this record, and also on Oh No, are about keeping a brave or hopeful face when up against seemingly impossible situations. How do you relate to underdogs and the seemingly impossible?
I think we do relate to the concept of the underdog. I feel like the band has always been looked at as underdogs in situations. Back during our time in Chicago, we were the odd men out; no one was really doing melodic music as it was mostly math rock or punk rock, so our friends always sort of appreciated what we were doing in that town because it was different. We were always underdogs in Chicago. Even when we came up through the major label ranks we’ve been the black sheep in every situation, but we’ve always managed to come up with our own version of how to do that, whether it be DIY videos or whatever else we did.
On our second album, what was going on locally and politically was that former U.S. President George W. Bush had just gotten re-elected and it really kind of felt like the ship was sinking. So our attitude was, how do you keep the party going when the ship is sinking? With the new record there’s a continuation of that, but now it’s five years later. It’s a more mature look at us personally and in a global world. There’s still that ship-sinking feeling, but we’re trying to keep a happy, hopeful perspective – even in situations where there’s no hope left.
Isn’t it true that even the title, Of The Blue Colour of the Sky, is about blind faith and impossible hope? What’s the story behind it and Civil War general A.J. Pleasonton?
His story seemed appropriate to the themes on the record. He’s this guy who believed the colour blue was a life force with healing power. He actually managed to convince the United States patent office of this and got a patent on the colour blue – which is kind of crazy. He managed to convince the world for a few years that blue light could heal sickness, and grow crops twice as fast.
Did he really believe it or was he just a con man?
That’s the thing – he actually believed it – he actually did believe the colour had healing power. There’s something poetic about this guy who just wanted to help mankind and to believe he knew the answer. He really believed that could help people. Something about his story thematically goes with themes on our record; wanting to find something, anything to believe in.
As time passes, do you still feel influenced by music you listened to in high school?
I think so. This new record draws on influences even earlier than high school. There’s an awful lot of Prince on this record. But it’s a much more groove based record. There’s distorted drums more than distorted guitars. Our new songs are more based on what we heard in our heads than what we knew how to do with our hands on a guitar. So instead of saying we’re going to write a “stadium anthem”, and shoot for that, what we did is wrote beats and searched for interesting sounds and put them together.
Does new music you’re hearing for the first time inspire you in different ways than a classic familiar tune?
In the last few years there have been several bands that I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve been influenced by MGMT. A lot of the stuff I’ve been liking lately is definitely groove or electronic based. It’s hard to know just how much it’s rubbed off. Obviously, if you like something it’s got to be a bit of an influence, taste-wise if nothing else. I’m always hearing new stuff that I like.
What’s it like knowing your sound appeals to such a wide range of different age groups?
I’m happy to reach such a wide audience. For a very long time we only played 21+ events so our fans were all young professionals and local hipsters. We started playing more all-ages shows and we finally had a nice range of fans from all sorts of age groups. Our early fans are probably all 31 now. Certainly, now that we’ve put out three records – it’s nice playing for young kids. It’s cool when kids discover us.
Members of your band have testified in Congress in favour of network neutrality. What motivates those against net neutrality?
I think it’s money. I think the big argument is that the Internet started over phone lines and there were laws that prohibited them from charging money. Now that the Internet has been largely taken off the phone lines, Internet providers say they own the services and want to charge more but the government says they can’t. It’s all about the money game.
It could potentially slow people’s access to the Internet. It would kill Web sites because there are a lot of them out there that can’t afford thousands of dollars to stay up. It would hurt music a lot and people just wouldn’t have access. It’s important to keep the net neutral.
When you’re away, and you are a lot, what are a few things you really miss about being at home in Los Angeles?
Well, there are a lot of the obvious comforts of home: I miss sleeping in my own bed every night, I miss my girlfriend and I miss having access to good food all the time. It’s really hard to eat well on tour. We usually stop in small towns to eat and your options are generally McDonald’s, Burger King or Subway. It’s incredibly easy to eat well in LA.
How does the next leg of your tour look?
We’ve got one more show in North America, a free show in Kansas City for a radio station there and then we’re off to Australia, China and Japan. In April and May we will be touring all over the United States. We’re still finalizing those dates. There is at least one Canadian date; definitely a Toronto date and a possible Montreal date.
Finally, Stephen Colbert – great talk show host or greatest talk show host?
Stephen Colbert…he just might be the greatest talk show host. He’s a unique personality. When I met him he was incredibly nice and seemed like somewhat of a fan of the band. I was surprised but when he came in to meet us we were equally struck by one another. I get the sense that he’s kind of a music fan; when he has music guests on there’s a certain amount of appreciation he has for that. We were definitely starstruck.