DAMIAN KULASH

NATALIA BONIFACCI MEETS DAMIAN KULASH, OK GO'S FRONTMAN. THEY MEET FOR BREAKFAST IN THE BACKYARD OF HIS HOUSE IN LOS FELIZ, CA. OK GO'S NEW SINGLE 'THE WRITING'S ON THE WALL'S VIDEO PREMIERED AT MOCA IN LOS ANGELES ON JUNE 16TH AND THE BAND IS ABOUT TO GO ON TOUR. WHILE PETTING DORA AND BUNNY, HIS TWO DOGS, DAMIAN SHARES WITH NATALIA HIS THOUGHTS ON HIS BAND, HIS WORK & HIS POINT OF VIEW ON WHAT'S BEAUTIFUL IN THIS WORLD

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Describe OK Go in three words
Loud of Spirit.

If I say Tim (Norwind, OK Go’s bass guitar & vocals), what comes to mind?
Glasses.

If I say Dan (Konopka, OK Go’s drums & percussion), what comes to mind?
Carburetors.

If I say Andy (Ross, OK Go’s guitar, keyboard & vocals), what comes to mind?
Computers.

Who’s OK Go’s best dancer?
Tim, by a long shot.

What was the first concert you ever went to?
MC Hammer (he laughs). I was probably eleven.

When you were little what did you wanna be when you grew up?
The person that designs Lego sets.

OK Go was born in 1998: which one has been the most special moment of its career to this day?
I’m really bad at superlatives, as in “the most anything” (he pauses for a bit). I think the moment we were able to break free of the major label system and start doing things ourselves was the most important. There’s a sense of freedom that comes from not having to be in somebody else’s system. The video for our new single went live last week. I have been reading press reaction and stuff like that and, mostly, it’s super glowing, but the big criticism is that we’re not enough of a band. That somehow the videos are overshadowing the music, which is so crazy to me. We’re part of a small group of bands that get to chase our creative ideas, regardless of medium.

I still get to write songs, and play shows. We still get to do all that stuff , but we also get to do all these other things. The moment that that became really clear to us was only when we got off the label (it happened 2010). Now we don’t have to worry about all these old-fashioned metrics. I mean worrying about record sales now is crazy, because people don’t buy records. I want people to hear our music, I want people to like our music, but from where I see it, we just like to make stuff – trying to fit our ideas into the categories of last century seems ridiculous, and it makes no sense to think of our various creative modes as being in competition with each other.

I feel that ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’s video showcases more of the song with the added text: it was easier to take in both the images and the music. Do you ever feel that the meaning of the songs gets lost because of the nature of your videos?
I think this specific one was was more emotionally connected than most of them have been. So was the ‘All Is Not Lost ‘ video. Some are more emotionally tied to the music than others, but that is not exactly a priority for us to begin with. A video doesn’t have to be a literal transcription of a song’s emotion. The best songs to me are the ones that feel musically multi-dimensional: there’s melancholy and lust and joy and anxiety all are the same time. All these emotions pulling in different directions, that just feels human. So when we’re writing music and we find that sound, then it’s almost a drag to have to write words on top of it. When it all goes right words expand that multi-dimensionality, when it goes right you find the words that fit in like a vitamin.  But a lot of times the sound is nine-dimensional and anything I could say over it would be linear.  Anyway… By the time a song comes into existence it is a lot bigger than just the story of the lyrics- hopefully the lyrics are just one part of a multi-dimensional universe in there. So I think that videos that are literal…

For example: it’s a breakup song and you see two people breaking up and it’s a little short film without dialogue, well, that is just not particularly interesting to me. I don’t see videos as an explanation of the song, I see videos as an amplification of the song’s feeling. They should add a new dimension.

What’s your favorite song in the world?
Right now it’s this song by Hozier called Work Song. It changes pretty frequently, I get pretty obsessive about songs, but at the moment I really love that song… Oh, wait, I sent it to you.

Oh, yeah… I love that song. Before then I had never heard it before
I think that the version I sent you is even better than the album version. The album version is great, but it’s a little distant, it’s a little “professional”. What’s nice about that live version is that it’s so immediate, it’s more emotional, it’s just so beautiful.

What’s the sexiest quality in a woman?
Intelligence.

…and what can be her biggest turn off?
Narcissism.

What’s the quality you admire the most in people?
Intelligence.

Which one is the one you like the least?
Narcissism (he laughs).

What’s the best quality about you?
Intelligence.

What’s your biggest flaw?
Narcissism (we both laugh).

If you were to explain what you do for a living to a small child what would you tell him or her?
If a kid asked me what I did I would say ‘I’m a singer.’ It happens all the time, on airplanes especially…

…children running after you on airplanes asking you what you do for a living?
Not kids, just people (he laughs) and the narcissist part of me treats them all like children (we both laugh). I’m asked what I do all the time, and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a kid or not, because my answer is so misleading in the first place. Yes, I am a singer. I do spend a lot of time singing (he smiles). I do a lot of the things that other singers do: I record, I write songs, I go on tour… But I also do other things: I run a lot of businesses for the band as well, I direct, I work on art projects, I write for journalistic enterprises (he says it self-mockingly), I do political work with the Ford Foundation. You know, I do a bunch of other stuff.

What current project are you excited about?
Tour. We’re redesigning our live show and it’s really fun. All summer we’ll be playing in really small clubs. We’re bringing in trussing and we want to hang kabuki screens, and crazy projections, all things that you’re not supposed to fit in small clubs. So if it works, it will be really great.

Do you ever get nervous before shows?
Not frequently. I get nervous when I’m doing something that I don’t do a lot. Last weekend I gave a talk and then played some songs at a conference called Foo Camp, it stands for Friends Of O’Reilly. It’s 300 hundred uber nerds, it’s really really smart people. They are people I am really enamored of. The format of the talk is five minutes, you have twenty slides and they are auto-advanced, so you can’t control that. Doing that in front of a lot of people that are a lot smarter than I am made me really nervous.

What scares you?
In life, in general? Loneliness (he pauses). Boredom. I mean, I don’t run around terrified of those things, but, yeah… Also, I’m very hard on myself when I am writing. It is scary to know that you have a part of yourself that wants to eat yourself, that you have a super self-critical part that will destroy you if you let it.

How do you deal with it?
Therapy (he laughs). Therapy and practice. And then again I also don’t deal with it, I mean, I try, but it doesn’t… It’s always there.

If you could host an imaginary dinner party and invite seven people, alive or dead, whether you’ve met them or not, who would you invite?
David Foster Wallace. Tom Friedman, the artist Tom Friedman, there’s other Tom Friedmans. Elan Lee. Eleanor Roosevelt. A.J. Pleasanton, General A.J. Pleasanton. He was an Army General from the 19th Century who wrote this unbelievable science book. Moses, he seems more interesting than Jesus. James Booker, the New Orleans pianist (he pauses). Man, that would be a great fucking party. Although too many boys. Eleanor would have to hold the whole thing down by herself.

Which book has touched you the most?
Infinite Jest. Every fucking word of that book is so beautifully written, it’s just shocking, but there are four pages in the middle of it… Someone is new to rehab and it lists all the things you learn when you first get to rehab: it is the most concise and beautiful explanation of everything that is important in life that I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing.

What’s important in life?
Love. Peace. I mean, I guess, for me it’s wonder. Mystery and joy and a feeling of some new vista opening in your mind.

If you were to meet your fifteen year old self, what advice would you give yourself?
I think I would just say ‘Dial it back, dude, slow your roll’ (he laughs).

Like ‘Slow down’, is that what you mean?
No, not quite slow down because I think that the good things that have come to me in life are largely because I just worked so hard, you know? I mean, in a good way: when I’m after something I’m after it with incredible focus and persistence. That being said, looking back at all the versions of me through the years it’s like a monkey trap. Do you know what a monkey trap is?

Oh, the banana! Oh, yeah, I love that reference…
I feel I’ve had my hand in a monkey trap a lot of times in my life: just loosen your grip a little bit buddy (he smiles).

You were part of that viral video First Kiss, how was your experience of kissing on set?
I barely remember the kiss itself. I remember that what I was thinking at that moment was ‘Wait, now, when do I stop?’. Because normally when you’re kissing somebody there’s a rhythm to it: it starts, then escalates, and then maybe there’s a pause and then really escalates… Or a pause. And then something else happens. But there was this arbitrary thing that as soon as you pause ‘I think this is the end of the film, I don’t know.’ So if you keep kissing someone that you don’t know you think ‘Is this weird and rapey? Are you into this?’, but if you stop kissing someone maybe it seems as if you’re not into it? So I just remember taking a moment to think about what to do…

…so you just went for the biting?
That was instinct (he laughs). I don’t even remember doing that. I guess I’m a biter (he smiles).

What makes you happy?
Wonder, again. Learning things. Sex.

What’s the musical moment that changed your life?
Herbie Hancock’s Rocket. I was six when I listened to it for the first time. It was the first sound that grabbed me by my soul. I sang it to my dad, and to his great credit he got me the seven-inch. I still have it. Many years later, three years ago, we got to play at the President’s 50th birthday party, with Herbie Hancock, and I got to tell him the story backstage. I think he was genuinely moved. I mean, I am sure his music changed a lot of people’s lives, but ‘I’m literally here, doing this ridiculous thing, playing at the President’s birthday, and my entire love for this came out of your song.’ He was pretty psyched. I was pretty psyched.

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