with Earl Greyhound,
8 p.m. Saturday, May 15
In the classic Saturday Night Live spoof commercial for First CityWide Change Bank, whose "only business is making change," the opening caption reads: When you do only one thing, you do it better. Judging by YouTube popularity, then, L.A.'s OK Go, a band almost exclusively known for a one-take, 2006 music video of the four members dancing on treadmills to a catchy song called "Here We Go Again" — it was so popular that it might have even been forwarded to your parents — does music videos better than anyone.
Which is why on this day, barely a month after he knocked over the domino that eventually tripped the Lego arm to fall on the iPod that started the song that went on to set off the bowling balls and sledge hammers and falling umbrellas that finally led to this sentence, Tim Nordwind, 33, is as worried about his quirky rock band recently leaving the embed-disabling killjoys at EMI/Capitol to start their own record label (Paracadute Recordings) as he is about the fact that he's not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day. Which is to say that he's not worried at all.
"It's sort of a sky's-the-limit feeling right now," says Nordwind, the band's bassist, as he watches a popular video by French techno artist Vitalic ("It's just a bunch of dogs jumping in slow-motion, and it's gorgeous," he says.), which has been viewed 500,00 fewer times in four years on YouTube than the first, less popular, non-embeddable video of OK Go rocking out to their new single "This Too Shall Pass" with the Notre Dame marching band has been viewed in four months (1,939,184).
"We're now free to do whatever we want." Except, perhaps, to actually sell records. Despite the 11,812,678 … 11,921,911 … 12,337,493 and counting views of the band watching the dominoes and marbles and mouse traps and falling pianos and all the other fantastically complex and right-on-beat chain reactions of a two-story, warehouse-filling Rube Goldberg machine in the second video for "This Too Shall Pass," the number of copies of their not-so-recently released album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, that have actually sold in the U.S. is staggeringly low: about 25,000.
One would think that, after about five months, during which time the album never hit the Billboard charts, that number would have made Nordwind and Co.'s decision to sacrifice major label security an easy one, especially in the light of disputes over creative control (not of their videos' content but simply their Internet availability). And it was; such is the confidence born of winning a 2007 Grammy for Best Short-Form Music Video with only some exercise equipment, choreography and a camcorder.
"We look at our videos the same way we look at our music," says Nordwind. "We take everything just as seriously as we take the music. Why not? When you have an opportunity to direct and write your own stuff, why wouldn't you? We'd rather have creative control over our projects rather than farm out the conceptual responsibility to someone else."
Still, the peculiarity of the band's chosen business model, revenue streams and creative outlets has not only steered almost all publicity away from their actual music but has somewhat stigmatized them as a one-trick pony with a knack for sometimes seeming, as Entertainment Weekly put it, "more like a prank than a band."
When asked why, embedding issues aside, they made two videos for one song, Nordwind says, "Um, because we could.
"We've always sort of used our band to do all sorts of projects," he says. "Projects" is a useful term to describe what OK Go does — usually in just one take — in front of the camera, most of which has seemingly transcended the music video in both form and style. Music videos are supposed to require editing and effects beyond a toy truck, emblazoned with the logo of the insurance company that underwrote the "project," rolling into a domino. But, for their latest embeddable opus, that's all it took. That, plus the two whole months for an elite and voluntary force of self-described geeks (including scientists from M.I.T.) to construct what amounts to a life-sized version of the classic board game Mouse Trap that required more than 60 takes to go off without a hitch. Becoming a viral hit took just one day.
Uploaded on March 1, the see-it-twice-to-believe-it "project" logged 1 million views by March 2, the same number the treadmill video logged in six days. It kept that pace — nearly 1 million views every 24 hours — for an entire week. Approximately 20,000 people watched the video during this interview.
"At the end of the day, our job is to share the things we make with our fans," says Nordwind. "Now that we're no longer on EMI/Capitol, we're able to make and
share it all."