Damian Kulash is absolutely right.
“There are not many people in the world who have the good fortune to be in a position where they can call Dr. Ken Dye and be like, hey, would it be cool if several hundred of your kids came out and made a video with us?”
Chasing down crazy ideas like calling the director of Notre Dame’s marching band and then trying to shoot a coherent short film in one take with the band and a small army of children is the kind of thing he likes to do when the moment presents itself, say Kulash, the OK Go frontman, while attacking a burrito in the Ricci Band Rehearsal Hall.
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The inventive rock group got this particular chance in October, working with the students for a week on a music video for their forthcoming single, “This Too Shall Pass.”
“OK Go is known for their videos,” ND assistant band director Emmett O’Leary says. Their 2007 power-pop hit “Here It Goes Again” may be better known as “the treadmill song” from the one-take clip in which the four musicians perform a tightly choreographed dance ode to hilarity on eight treadmills. It earned the L.A.-based rockers a Grammy for best short-form video. More than 50 million people have watched it on the Internet site YouTube and not a few fans — including the creators of The Simpsons and the Band of the Fighting Irish — parodied the dance.
Notre Dame’s version, performed once at home and once at the Los Angeles Coliseum, also made the YouTube rounds, which is how OK Go discovered it last year while recording its new album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. “From a bird’s eye view, they make two giant treadmills with people walking on it,” Kulash says. “This couldn’t be more up our alley. It’s big, it’s absurd, it’s this massive explosion of joy and music.”
“It’s neat to serve something into culture and then see someone hit it back in a slightly different way,” adds bassist Tim Nordwind.
That helps explain OK Go’s latest marketing experiment: Getting other acts to cover their songs before they’re even released. Should you hear — as Kulash puts it — “acrobatic handbellers from California” or mariachis or a section of the nation’s oldest collegiate band playing an OK Go song during the next year, it’s intentional.
In Notre Dame’s case, asking Dye & Co. to record an arrangement wasn’t enough. Soon the idea of a video in which the two bands perform the song together in a live recording emerged.
Over fall break, OK Go staked out a field near campus and rehearsed with the student musicians. On the final day, producers added children from South Bend’s Perley Elementary and Good Shepherd Montessori School.
It required 20-odd tries to lasso the chaos into OK Go’s trademark single take, but it worked.
The group is tight-lipped about the content of the video, which should pop up on YouTube early this year. They extol O’Leary’s “hot” marching formations, fellow assistant director Matt Merten’s sound recording work and costumes created by senior saxophonist Angelica Hernandez. “What else can I say about it?” Kulash says. “It starts out with the four of us in a field and it ends up with 125 band members and 50 kids from local schools having a giant party.”
Nordwind was school-age himself 20 years ago when he visited his older brother William ’89, slept in William’s Saint Edward’s Hall room and went to football games. This time he got a charge out of hearing the students play fight songs to keep energy up through rehearsals.
One of Kulash’s favorite moments was senior drum major Aaron Hernandez marching directly toward the camera. “He’s exactly the stereotype of what that perfect marching band guy is, except he exceeds that expectation somehow,” he says. “Every time I see it I get this little shiver. . . . You could never dial that much style into rock and roll.”
John Nagy is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine.
Photo by Matt Cashore ’94.