"That odor of car exhaust, chicken tacos and trash? Why, that's the sweet smell of victory," read the Twitter feed of pop-rockers OK Go just before 10 p.m. Pacific time on Nov. 17.
The band had just completed "Dance With Your City," an eight-mile parade/collaborative concert through the streets of Los Angeles, playing with battery-powered amps and dragging several wagons of acoustic instruments, percussion and glow toys to allow passers-by to join in. The parade route spelled out "OK Go," visible via the "Pulse of the City" iPhone app that creates GPS drawings. The event and app are part of a larger campaign to promote the Range Rover Evoque, for sale in 2011.
OK Go frontman Damian Kulash says the idea for the parade came after the band, best known for their bombastically creative music videos, had been touring for 31 months to support second album "Oh No". "We're cruising around the country trying to convince people to buy our records, when in truth we know people don't really want to buy records anymore," says Kulash. "Around the same time, I went to New Orleans to do a bunch of political work and was blessed to be involved with a bunch of second line parades [wherein bystanders join], and nothing will invigorate your love of music like seeing 500 people in the streets banging on pots and pans, playing trombones, hollering along in their crazy costumes."
For the event, OK Go came up with a songbook of about 50 songs that most people would know, "everything from 'I've Been Working on the Railroad' to 'Eye of the Tiger', with a heavy dose of Al Green and the Beatles," says Kulash. "We tried to choose songs with the simplest chord structures--yes everyone knows 'Happiness is a Warm Gun,' but can you imagine trying to play that with 100 people?" Appropriately fitting with rock history, the band opened the parade with "Rock Around the Clock".
Range Rover got involved through the Evoque campaign's City Shaper's program, which will track artistic projects put on in 11 cities over 12 months by people including fashion journalist Louise Roe, singer Solange Knowles and actor Miles Fisher, in addition to OK Go.
"They were sort of like 'you're good at what you do, can we come to your party and we'll cover the cost?'" says Kulash. "What makes it wonderful from our perspective is that in 1995 any type of brand partnership would have been beyond crass, not only from a public perception but from what the brand would expect from the band, you'd become the shilling frontman for the product." Now, says Kulash, "all they care about is that we have fans, that people like what we do. It's vastly more creatively freeing than what we had or could have had on a major label." OK Go split from EMI in March of this year and launched their own Paracadute Recordings to re-release third album "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky". Kulash adds that the band has no obligation to endorse the Evoque, and hadn't seen it until the night before the parade. "Not having been paid to say so, it looks like a pretty cool car, but then again my car is a piece of shit."
A glowy, free-for-all moving concert certainly aligns with the creative impulses of OK Go, who are as much performance artists at this point as musicians. The band's mainstream fame largely stems from elaborate viral music videos such as the Rube Goldberg Machine version of the video for "This Too Shall Pass," and the precision-choreographed video for "White Knuckles," starring a bunch of dogs.
"When a band has their first massive hit, they then have to spend the rest of their lives either remaking that hit or making a giant leap to try to do something else," says Kulash. "The lucky thing for us is that our big hit was having a crazy idea. I like to think that our music is awesome and that the ideas are awesome, but we don't have to keep creating the same song or video. We just have to keep having an idea hat other people think is exciting. I can't tell you how lucky it feels when we have these discussions with brands or media outlets--they're not saying 'Oh can you do that thing again,' they're saying 'You are the guys who always have the crazy idea, what is it this time?'"