From Screen to Stage: Viral video icons OK Go return to Kalamazoo with new interactive live show

Treadmills. Stunt tracks. Zero gravity acrobatics. Indie-pop band OK Go has done it all on its way to internet celebrity and musical acclaim.

The band first broke through in the summer of 2006 with the release of its now legendary DIY video for the song Here It Goes Again. The clip quickly became one of the most popular videos on YouTube at the time — racking up more than 50 million views and earning the band a Grammy — while reshaping the way music videos are made and viewed in the decade to come.

“I have seen people refer to us as the godfathers of viral videos,” OK Go vocalist/guitarist Damian Kulash told Revue. “(It’s) super flattering to hear, but … the nature of the digital world is so fast-paced and so inherently fragmented that we’ll never be a household name. (But) that’s the nature of finding your own way in the digital world. 

“You’re not part of this huge monolith of culture which is handed down by the four big TV networks or through the record labels or something. You’re a little river through the world that clips the people that speak your language.”

Embracing their own quirky, free-thinking form of creativity, the band has made a career out of crafting clever new videos. Often done in one continuous take and incorporating elaborate elements, like an improvised Rube Goldberg Machine in the video for 2013’s This Too Shall Pass, the band has continued to spark the imaginations of music lovers and tech fanatics alike with its innovative approach to the art form. 

To celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, OK Go decided to reinvent the live rock show, and late last year devised a way to merge the analog with the digital by bringing many of its most beloved videos to the stage.

“This show is so different from a rock show,” Kulash said of the band’s Live Video Tour. “I think once upon a time we’d probably be a rock band in a traditional sense, but as it’s gone along and we’ve chased bigger and bigger ideas, we’ve realized that the rock show format doesn’t really match what we do, nor does it match the types of fans that we have. Don’t get me wrong, we love playing sweaty cathartic rock shows, but there’s whole sections of what we do that appeals to people who are under 10 and who are senior citizens.”

For years, the band has tried to make its rock shows appeal to its increasingly diverse audience. Without making people sit and watch videos in a venue, the group realized it could bend its videos to work more in a live setting by including more interactive moments with the audience.

“Rather than make the rock show get weirder, we made the weird stuff more rock show,” Kulash said. “There’s a lot of question and answer with the audience, and a lot of surprise elements, and an interactive app that our guitarist programmed, and there’s some dancing and we play some hand bells, and we bring audience members up onstage. It’s a very live experience, but it’s also in a weird way a movie screening, because you’ve got the 15 to 20 videos that we do up there, and we show you how we did it.”

The band’s unorthodox path to success actually started right here in Michigan, when Kulash met OK Go bassist Tim Nordwind — who’s a Kalamazoo native and 1994 Loy Norrix grad — while both were attending Interlochen Center for the Arts as 11-year-olds. The two formed a fast friendship that has stood the test of time and distance, and what they learned there laid the foundation for everything that was to come for the band.

“We met at Interlochen and not only would we not be a band if it weren’t for that, I’m not sure I could have been so clear about what I wanted in life in general,” Kulash said. “We both went to this arts camp and neither of us primarily studied music there. He was there for theater and I was there for visual arts and in some ways that all makes sense now. Even as kids, we were more excited about chasing creativity than chasing a particular form or a particular outlet.”

“We are sort of living proof how important creative education is,” he added. “You’re not just learning a set of skills, you’re learning a way of parsing out the world around you, a way of expressing yourself and communicating with others. So I reflect on that time there in same way that you reflect on being born.”

Now a new father to twins, Kulash is currently working on a feature film with his wife, while the band gears up to release some new music later this year.

“Hopefully, for the first time ever, we will actually release a song with its video at the same time,” he said. “But it remains to be seen if we can figure out how to do that.”

OK Go: The Live Video Tour
Kalamazoo State Theatre
404 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo
April 28, 6 p.m., $39.50-$49.50, (269) 345-6500