OK Go is a band that needs no introduction. For over a decade, OK Go has been making waves across multiple artistic mediums. The Grammy award-winning group makes songs you will sing along with and music videos you will never forget.
Whether they are dancing on treadmills, singing with The Muppets, or making music with cars OK Go inspires creativity. OK Go continues to show how music and art correlates with physics, math, and creativity with educational videos on okgosandbox.org/ and their new form of live show that is all ages and interactive.
I had the chance to interview OK Go bass player and vocalist Tim Nordwind. We talked about the craziest thing he has done for the band, how a summer camp changed the course of his life, a possible OK Go ASMR video, where he keeps his grammy, and more.
I’m with Tim Nordwind of OK Go, who plays bass and vocals; you are also a significant part of the artwork for the band. I’m excited to be talking to you because I have been watching videos and I feel like you do a lot of the really outrageous things in your videos. I saw you with a half-shaven face for the writing on the wall video, and I wanted to ask what is one of the craziest things you have done for the band?
Tim Nordwind: That’s a hard question to answer because every time we do a video, it always sort of feels like “oh this is the craziest thing we’ve done” then we do the next one, and it’s like “no this is the craziest thing we’ve done” you know? I mean we have done videos in zero gravity, we’ve been launched in the air through paint, and I helped create a portrait of my face made out of junk, we’ve danced on treadmills, we’ve shot things in 2.3 seconds and slowed it down to make a 4-minute video. It’s hard to pinpoint one; the whole experience is generally one big this is the craziest thing we’ve ever done to the next (laughs).
That’s incredible, and the story with OK Go is also amazing. You and Damian met at summer camp when you were eleven at an art camp. Is it crazy looking back that this summer camp sort of changed the course of your life?
TN: Yeah, it is always crazy to think about that. It was at an art summer camp, and it’s funny because that camp you can go there for theater, dance, and visual arts and things like that, but the main thing is music, and neither one of us was there for music. I think that was the beginning of this whole long journey that we’ve taken together, where it sort of like we were in a place where music was the thing, but we were allowed to come at it whatever way we wanted to. We have always been surrounded by music, but we’ve always been really into theater, and visual arts, and technology, and all these different things, and so from day one, we never thought that we have to do one thing.
As we grew up into the music industry, there were moments where it seemed like oh well maybe we do only have to do one thing. But we were very relieved when the videos started doing well, like those first couple of videos of us dancing in backyard, us dancing on treadmills, and things like that we realized that those were the things that people were actually reacting to in a major way. So that was a relief because it was like well that is what we do normally anyway, that is how we have hung out with each other since we were eleven, is we make funny videos, and we bang on pianos and call it a song. So it came as a great relief to know that people really liked the things that we do as like friends. We haven’t really looked back ever since. It gave us great confidence when we started to feel like people liked us for what we naturally do both musically and visually.
So where you were participating in art in multiple mediums, when was it that you started making music together?
TN: Damian and I definitely first bonded over music, we had a very wide spectrum of music that we were interested in. We both listened to everything from Run DMC to Les Misérables. It’s like right when Run DMC was first coming out, and so hip hop and things like that were this very fresh and brand new thing. But then also, we were super into musical theater too (laughs). We were kind of all over the map, but we definitely really bonded over music. I think music, in general, is such an immediately satisfying format in the sense that, like sometimes even just the opening sound of a snare drum, it’s like you know instantly you know what kind of mood you’re in for. I think we’ve always been that kind of like a quick fix in a way when it comes to music. So we have always just been very, very curious about everything else in art and like in anything that seems curious in the world. That goes into science and math and all these different things. I guess we are just very curious people who like to make things.
With that interest in science and math, I watched some of the more educational video series for The Sandbox on your YouTube Channel. One of those was the Surrounding Sounds video, where you took random objects you were surrounded by like scissors, and tape, pens and pencils, and things like that. So the video was a few years old, and now there is the craze for ASMR, so I wondered if OK Go would ever do an ASMR video? (Laughs)
TN: (Laughs) I definitely…sure. When I think of ASMR, I think of people close like eating pizza or something like that (laughs). I think it is kind of amazing, and I am somewhat obsessed with some ASMR videos. Especially head massage videos, which I’m not sure count as ASMR but I feel like it gives me the same sort of relaxed feeling. Have you ever seen the video under “Best Head Massage Ever” there’s a guy who I think is in India and he has this little what feels like a trailer on a sidewalk where people step into, and he does the most amazing 10-15 minute head massages that I could just watch forever. Like someday I will make a pilgrimage to wherever that guy is. (Laughs) I think for like my 50th birthday I am going to find this guy and get this head massage.
I haven’t seen that but I’m excited to look. I have seen like the chubby baby face massages and that craze and those are fun too.
TN: Well, that sounds like my next obsession, probably. If you look up “Worlds Greatest Head Massage,” or I think maybe under the name of Baba Cosmic Barber. He does the massage like before he cuts their hair.
But we haven’t specifically thought about ASMR videos, but again it is something that like, in general, the way our process works we would be like “Wouldn’t it be cool to make an ASMR video?” and then we would spend like 3-6 months really exploring what it would mean to make an ASMR video and whether or not you could make a compelling three and a half minute like visual music video where you can keep getting surprised every 10-15 seconds through ASMR. Or you start to think well ASMR is the base here but what else can you combine it with to keep things surprising and entertaining for three and a half minutes? And that really is at the end of the day is how we would think about it.
People ask us all the time where we get the ideas for our videos, and it’s not so much like where do we get the base idea for it, it’s what happens once we get in that sandbox of whatever it is we decide to get into and start playing with it. The end result looks like we had a great idea but really what happened is that we played and played and played and experimented for usually a few months at a time until we had enough great things come out of that experimental process to kind of like stitch together to make the video.
It’s funny you ask that because like sure we could try that, and that would be the process. Then halfway through the process, we would probably either learn that we aren’t the one to come up with the 10-15 surprises that you would need with ASMR, or we would learn that we are (laughs).
What has been a place in your art that you have caught yourself in a wow moment like that you couldn’t believe?
TN: There have been a lot of times. I mean, we played Barack Obamas 50th Birthday Party, we did our choreographed dance routine for ‘A Million Things’ on top of a building in New York City on New Year’s Eve in Times Square for like 2 million people, we met and made a video with the Muppets.
That was actually on my list of questions, all these things your naming are all bullet points. It’s so cool.
TN: Yeah, like we won a Smithsonian Ingenuity Award in the company of like really amazing physicists and just crazy. It has taken us to places that we just never really dreamed of doing, and it’s been incredible in that sense.
If someone would have told you the success that you are having, especially success being genuinely yourself when you were coming up in Chicago, what would you have said?
TN: Um, I mean, I don’t know you have to be somewhat delusional in the first place to go after this kind of thing. I think I would have been surprised, but I would have been like, “okay, cool, that’s awesome.” That’s what we hoped for ourselves. I think that the one thing that was most unexpected was that we would become known for something other than music, or that along with the music, we would be known for making music videos. That is something that we absolutely did not set out to do. We really, when we started in Chicago, were going at it like any other Indie-rock band in the country and in the world. We were looking for a label and trying to get on tour, that sort of stuff. If you told me then that what I’d be known for was the videos that would have meant like “Okay, so we’re going to be huge on MTV?” That is the hardest thing to wrap my brain around would be that in a short amount of time there would be this brand new space where people go to live their lives online. Including where you do your shopping, banking, and socializing is also going to be your new space to create. That I think would have been like, “what the fuck are you talking about?” So I think that is the thing I’d be most surprised about.
And the way that OK Go uses the space they have to create art is inspiring. What can you tell me about ways your videos have inspired people that has been unexpected?
TN: Yeah, it’s nice in the last several years now we get emails from teachers and parents who show their kids our videos to teach them a little something about physics, or math, or creativity, or whatever it is the particular videos are featuring. It has been nice because we started okgosandbox.org which is our sort of educational arm of what we do. It makes teaching tools for teachers to use in classrooms to help kids think about how math, science, creativity can all be as one. It doesn’t have to be this textbook thing like you can use music to make really fun and awesome stuff. That is another thing I think if you told me in Chicago, in 1998, that like people would be using our videos to teach with I would be like “what are you talking about? Why would they be doing that?” (laughs) It is nice to see all of this evolve in ways that we couldn’t have dreamt of, and sometimes in ways that we did dream of. A lot of our career has really been surprising. Really nice surprises that have come from the hard work we put into the things that we made.
What are the schedules and budgets like for these videos?
TN: Most of the videos these days take about 3-6 months to make. They have been from like dirt cheap to incredibly expensive. Like think pretty expensive and that is what some of them have cost, then think like roughly $20-40, they have kind of gone all over the map. As we have gone on the ideas have gotten bigger and more ludicrous and it tends to be a higher budget affair.
What can you tell me about the live video shows that OK Go is doing?
TN: So the live video show is a bit more of a sort of cinematic and cultural experience rather than just a full-on rock show. We have been playing performance art centers around the country and it’s basically a video retrospective that has rock show elements and theatrical elements. We play about twenty of our videos chronologically and stop every three of four to talk with the audience. There are some interactive moments where we play songs with the audience and it has been great. It is kind of like a new mode of show for us. The videos that existed online and our rock show we used to kind of keep those things separate from each other, at some point, we realized that it sort of seems like a missed opportunity to not show up and own the fact that we are the band that makes these videos and that we are going to take you through that experience of doing so. It has been super fun and it feels very appropriate where we are in our 21-year career. The show feels very modular and that we can keep adding to it as we make more music and make more videos and all of that. It has been really fun to do, and it is fun to talk to the kids in the audience. They usually have the weirdest and funniest questions (laughs). And there is thing number three that if you had told me in 1998 in Chicago that a bunch of kids would like what we are doing I wouldn’t have believed you. Like we make music for 18-35-year-olds and that’s what we know (laughs).
I have a question I ask in every interview and I love karaoke and I like to ask people that have performed on a number of stages if they do the small stage of karaoke and what their go-to song is?
TN: Gosh you know it’s funny, I used to love karaoke and then I played in a band and started to hate karaoke. I’m probably the rare person who there were periods of life where I would sing on stage sometimes 2-3 times a day or 180 days a year, so I didn’t want to get up and sing in front of anyone, anymore (laughs). But my go-to songs back when I loved it were ‘Take On Me’ by a-ha or ‘Total Eclipse of The Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler which if you know it and can sell it will bring down the house every time.
Where does OK Go keep their grammy?
TN: Well we all have one, and I keep mine in my studio.
Well, thank you, Tim. I really appreciate what you guys do and your time. This was a lot of fun.
TN: Thank you so much. It was nice to talk to you.