EXCLUSIVE Interview: OK Go's Tim Nordwind on Why the Band Left EMI

View more photos of OK Go's LACMA Muse video release party in "CuriousJosh: Burnal Equinox, X Fundraiser, OK Go."

Last Wednesday, OK Go announced both their departure from EMI and the creation of their own label, Paracadute.

Given that this move comes only two months after the release of their latest album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, this might seem like a strange move. It isn't though, if you consider the band in question. OK Go rose to fame when their video for "Here It Goes Again" went viral on YouTube, catching the eyes of millions of web surfers before it went to win a Grammy and inspire a sequence on The Simpsons.

Back in January, the band's first video for "This Too Shall Pass" appeared on YouTube as well, but this time the video embedding feature was disabled per EMI's policy. The move caused an uproar amongst fans and sparked both an open letter from the band and an op-ed piece in the New York Times by singer Damian Kulash. A second video for the same song appeared on March 1 and, thanks to sponsorship by State Farm, fans could embed the clip.

The video, which revolves around a Rube Goldberg machine, earned over six million views in six days.

Tim Nordwind DJing at OK Go's LACMA Muse video release party
Tim Nordwind DJing at OK Go's LACMA Muse video release party
Josh "CuriousJosh" Reiss

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We spoke with bassist Tim Nordwind the day following their announcement about viral videos and the band's move towards independence.

With this video, how did you approach it on YouTube? Did you just put it up there and people started to go for it?

More or less. One big difference between this video and the last one is that people are able to embed this video. Our first two videos for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, which is our newest record, the embed function had been shut off by our label. This time around, we had a sponsorship from State Farm and they didn't care about monetizing the views, so they let us embed the video. Yes, we did put it up on YouTube and since people were able to embed it, in the first day we got a million views. For the first seven days, we got almost a million views every day.

Do you ever try to Google search to see who is into it?

It's funny that you ask that. Someone actually sent us a map of the world recently and the darker parts of the map are where it was viewed. It's viewed a lot, obviously, in North America. It's viewed a lot in South America. South Africa, there's this shaded in part and the rest of it is nothing, so we know where to concentrate.

Why start your own label?

Why not? We left our label, EMI, yesterday and it seemed like the next logical thing to do was start our own label. Someone has to put out the next record, it might as well be us.

It's sort of an exciting time with regards to the label because it really opens up all sorts of avenues for us. We can put out records. We can put out videos. If we want to make a movie we can make a movie. If we want to write books, we can write books. We sort of can do anything under this label and as long as we like it, we can put it out and that's exciting for us. We're sort of our own gatekeepers. We were never truly 100% experienced in that we sort of had to run everything past our label, and then if we don't, we get in trouble for not doing it.

Was the decision to go out on your own a long time in the making or something that happened recently?

I think that this is something that, whether we knew it or not, had been a long time in the making. I think that the way our career has gone has always pointed to this moment, where we would go off and leave the major label and make our independent label. Certainly, in the past few years, it seemed more and more, um, I don't know if necessary is the word, but it seemed more and more in line with how we work as a band and how we enjoy distributing things creatively. It seemed like a natural move for us.

It was a pretty amicable split. There wasn't a lot of hullaballoo about it. At some point, we felt like, hey, label, it's time for us to go and I think that were just, okay, we'll let you go. It was more or less a friendly split in that sense and now here we are.

Did the video embed policy have anything to do with your decision?

Yeah, that certainly is one of the frustrations that came across in recent days. The issue of not allowing people to share videos and stuff like that seemed ridiculous to us. We understood from the label's perspective why they were doing it. If they're going to get a couple million views online, they might as well monetize that. But, what ends up happening is that you don't get those million views because no one can share it, no one can see it. That was a frustrating moment for the band with regards to how the label was operating. That was the beginning of the recent end, as far as getting our minds around maybe going out on our own and making our own label.

Now that you are on your own, is there a sort of, I guess, burden with having to take of the promotion end as well?

It depends on how you look at it. We do sort of enjoy some of the burden of promotion and things like that. Mostly, we enjoy making things, creating things for the world. I think that what we'll do is create our own little team within the band and outside of the band who can help us do things like the marketing and promoting aspect. We'll all work together as opposed to what can sometimes happen at a label, where sometimes a major label has their own agenda and isn't working 100% with the band sometimes. What will be nice now is that we're in charge of creating a team of people who can help us do the things we want to do. The hope is that everyone's vision will be in line this time and we won't have to run into frustrating things like not being able to present our video when we want to put our video up.

When you were first getting going as a band, did you have any experience with viral content?

Not really. Viral videos at that point were definitely in their infant stages. When we started the band eleven years ago, it was things like the "W'sup" video, you know where people are saying "w'sup" all the time. It was videos like that that were getting passed around from cubicle to cubicle, but there was no YouTube, no Facebook or MySpace. There was Friendster at the time and these were the videos that people passed around and looked at. We didn't have a lot of experience with viral anything.

I remember starting out, at least of my friends' bands, we were one of the first bands that had a website. I remember thinking, welcome to the modern age, we have a website. This was in 1998.

I think there has always been a general respect for the Internet and for the potential of the Internet...So much more happens on the Internet now and so much more lives on the Internet now than ten years ago. We've always been open to the idea of promoting things online and putting creative things out online. It's nice to see it grow and actually become the thing that people were promising it was going to be ten years ago, fifteen years ago.

Do you consider yourself to be multi-media artists at this point?

Yeah. It's funny. It's weird, we are a band but we also really love making videos. We love making a lot of different things. Sometimes people make comments like, "Wow, you guys are more than a band. You're like an entertainment unit" or, "You're like some 21st century hybrid of directors and musicians."

I still feel like we're a band because we've spent so much time in the past eleven years playing shows and making records and things like that. But, I really enjoy doing a lot of the other things that we get to do and that's what has been amazing about being in this band. We've had so many opportunities to be in films or make films or write books, write essays, speak on panels, whatever else. I don't know if you would call us a multi-media band, I don't know what you would call us, but we definitely enjoy doing a whole list of things.

People can have a tendency to think of art on a medium by medium basis, like if you're a musician, people wouldn't necessarily think you can paint.

That's what's funny. If you have the opportunity to paint, why wouldn't you paint? If you had the opportunity to come up with a concept and direct a video, why wouldn't you do that? It sounds like fun to me. We do whatever seems like it would be fun.

Tim Nordwind and Damian Kulash will join "This Too Shall Pass" co-directors Syyn Labs on Last Call with Carson Daily next Tuesday to discuss the video. Kulash will appear at South by Southwest tomorrow as part of the "How to Create a Viral Video" panel.

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