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It’s All About Story: An Interview with Damian Kulash of OK Go

Culture

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It was all about story.

And technology.

And the Mediterranean.

“With the medium changing so quickly and change changing so quickly, [today’s technology] is really going to look prehistoric in six years,” said Damian Kulash, famed maker of things and singer for the alternative rock band OK Go.


 

Damian was speaking early Friday evening with Frank Scherma and Jon Kamen, founders of transmedia company @radical.media, during a cocktail party overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The sun was high and shining brightly even though it was already 7 pm. Such is the glory of the south of France in June.

The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity was beginning to wind down. General Motors and ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners had invited guests to the Chevy Sonic Showcase for hors d’œuvres and rosé. The intimate setting gave us a chance to discuss the advertising and media trends that had been discussed during the week among the Cannes Lions 10,000 delegates.

Damian had talked on a YouTube panel during the festival about the important role that online video plays in storytelling. The musician was riffing with Jon and Frank about the limits of technology and how connecting with people in a meaningful way still requires artistic ability.

“Using technology in new ways is exciting but if it’s not emotional…it doesn’t resonate,” Damian said. “I hope our things don’t look dated but our technology sure will.”

“A good idea holds up across time,” even if the technology around it does not, Jon said.

Frank agreed. “It’s still about story.”

Like Jon who had told Damian, “The combination of everything you do is so inspiring for all of us,” I have been quite taken by Damian’s many talents. I was thrilled to get the chance to interview him myself. I wanted to talk to him about his work with Chevy Sonic and Goodby, his future plans, and how technology parallels his career as a musician. We walked away from the crowd.

Standing in front of the car that starred in the Chevy Sonic video, Damian described how it all came to be. Brian Perkins, Damian’s long-time friend and a co-director of the Chevy “Let’s Do This” campaign asked, “What would OK Go do with a car?”

“We sent him five ideas and one of them was to use the car as an instrument. It’s easy to say and not easy to do.”
 

 
The band spent two months in a warehouse in Van Nuys, California, with an instrument physicist from MIT and a “guy who is in a band where all they do is hit found objects.” They all rubbed and scraped things to make different noises. “One guy was taking exact ratios of this while hammering something else.”

Once they agreed on the sounds the car would make they spent another month planning the two-mile course it would ride. Damian, who took stunt lessons, was behind the wheel. 

The final product: a music video for the song “Needing/Getting” in partnership with Goodby as  part of the Chevy Sonic campaign. The work won the team a bronze lion on Saturday night in the “best use of music” category. Check out the music video here:
 

 

Plans, Lots of Plans
Damian and his band mates have their own record label now and a diverse set of plans. They are producing the new Lavender Diamond album due to come out in September. He plugged it with a simple, “It’s awesome.” The band is also working on “episodic things that would not be music videos but will be video.”

Damian says he is not like other musicians. “I don’t wake up in the morning dying to play the guitar. I wake up in the morning dying to chase my idea.”

He looks at the creation of music historically and futuristically. Whereas 500 years ago music was an oral experience, it took on a new life with paper, morphed to the compact disc and now lives an entirely different and visual life on the Internet. 

“The format defines the type of art we make, and now the format we are working in is the Internet… It’s not that the pure recording of a pop song isn’t a form of art. It’s that there are so many other types of art connected to it that you can be engaging in. It’s not advertising or marketing. It’s just content… It’s all part of one big ball.”

And to make that ball, the band is looking for brand sponsors and collaborators for their next album cycle. He said that one OK Go video can get 50 million views and then the “next day you are sort of back to normal.”

Moving forward, they’d like to keep the momentum steady. “To get the art going, we need to plan A, B, C, D, E… so if we can plan a 12-16 month cycle, then BINGO!”

 

Sally O’Dowd is a VP and head of the social media team at DiGennaro Communications, a firm specializing in corporate communications for ad agencies, media-buying concerns and entertainment companies. @digennaro @sallyodowd.

 
Images courtesy of OK Go.




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