Cyberspace cowboys

OK Go have a self-made code and a creed to live by, outside of a big record label.

DIY pop-stars OK Go have advice for UMN's graduating class:

Day 19/OK Go

DIY pop-stars OK Go have advice for UMN’s graduating class: “Be the rowdiest you can be.”

Sally Hedberg

 

WHAT: OK Go

WHEN: 7:15 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Riverbend Plaza, 300 Washington Ave. SE.

COST: Free

It all began with a videotaped dance rehearsal that was meant for some inside laughs among friends. 900 million views later, Los Angeles power-pop outfit OK Go realized that theyâÄôd accidentally tapped into something uncharted in the realm of a label-dominated music industry, something that would radically change the course of their career as a band.

Their DIY videos have become a viral Web sensation (youâÄôve probably seen âÄúthe one with the treadmillsâÄù or âÄúthe one with the dogsâÄù), and theyâÄôve ditched their former label in order to escape the harness of corporate management. This Saturday, rowdy Spring Jammers will be  privy to an outdoor performance from the buzzed foursome.

Despite the divergent behavior thatâÄôs traditionally glorified, OK Go is a group that critics love to hate. Many people resent the punk-rock mentality exhibited in a group that, while not breaking any musical ground, has become so commercially successful on its own.

But thatâÄôs just not the point. OK Go has no delusions about its place in the state of modern music. In fact, it has a hell of a lot of respect for the rock gods who built the boat upon which they currently sail.

At the root of it all theyâÄôre just like any other four guys with a Pixies obsession and a dream: They love making music. The difference is, through marketing intelligence and a belief in their efforts, theyâÄôve found a way to make mediocrity profitable.

âÄúThe music is very important to us,âÄù vocalist/bassist Tim Nordwind said. âÄúBut when it comes to making a living and carving out a career for ourselves, we didnâÄôt necessarily want to be relegated to only making and selling CDs. ThereâÄôs a lot of things we like to do.âÄù

One of the activities heâÄôs speaking of is the self-made videos. Upon the success of their initial Internet phenomenon, a video for the 2005 single âÄúA Million Ways,âÄù the band saw every reason to keep pleasing its fans with more material.

And they enjoyed it. It wasnâÄôt supposed to be interpreted as some Machiavellian money-making scheme. After the release of their third LP, âÄúOf the Blue Colour of the SkyâÄù in 2010, Capitol and EMI records finally threw down the gauntlet of viral video regulation, which was enough to send the band out the door to form their own independent label, Paracadute Recordings.

âÄúItâÄôs really no disrespect to the labels,âÄù Nordwind said. âÄúThey have a way that has worked for them for decades now, and I think theyâÄôre sort of scrambling, trying to figure out how theyâÄôre going to exist in the 21st century. Things just donâÄôt work like they used to.âÄù

Since going solo, itâÄôs been smooth sailing, and the band has been able to focus on more video-making and touring for âÄúOf the Blue Colour of the Sky,âÄù an album that takes an experimental stride away from their first two pop-heavy releases. Much of this can be attributed to a collaboration with long-time Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann.

âÄúâÄòThe Soft BulletinâÄù is definitely the album that made me fall in love with Dave FridmannâÄôs production,âÄù Nordwind said. âÄúIâÄôd never heard a rock record that sounded like it had been recorded in outer space. It was really fun for us to get to play in his world for a while. He encouraged us to take chances and experiment.âÄù

FridmannâÄôs mark on the record is undeniable. The simply structured tracks still have a strong emphasis on being catchy and fun, but theyâÄôre layered with spacey, intricate synths and heavy percussion.

At times this marriage of influence is overambitious for a strictly pop-oriented band (very few musicians can get by with what the Flaming Lips can), but itâÄôs admirable that theyâÄôre at least attempting something different and challenging in the scope of their own repertoire.

The record as well as the video for âÄúThis Too Shall PassâÄù have been well received by their fanbase, so the accusations of being gimmicky donâÄôt cut very deep. TheyâÄôre firm about what theyâÄôre doing.

âÄúAll of this is really just about a shared love of music between the four of us,âÄù Nordwind said. âÄúI mean, none of us are particularly amazing musicians, but it was always just like âÄòyou like The Smiths? I love The Smiths. You like The Cure? I like The Cure too.âÄô ThatâÄôs the common bond between us. WeâÄôre always going to want to make music.âÄù

So much profit has been lost in the music industry due to an inability to gracefully adapt to modern realities of the Internet. Even if theyâÄôre not provoking Hendrix-esque guitargasms, OK Go is a story of quintessential American success. And thatâÄôs more than OK âÄî itâÄôs cool.