By MARTY CLEAR
It was meant to be a benign question, not especially provocative and certainly not at all insulting. But it sends Damien Kulash into something that might be called a rant.
"Look, I don't mean to get overly defensive or anything," the frontman for the hot power pop band OK Go says. "But this is obviously a question we hear all the time."
OK Go writes incessantly catchy and wryly witty songs. They've had some hits and their live shows attract a growing legion of avid fans.
But they've become better known for their videos. A lot of people who don't know the band's name know the Grammy-winning video for Here It Goes Again, with the guys dancing on treadmills. The sensational new video for This Too Shall Pass, with a room-sized Rube Goldberg-style mechanism working to fire paintballs at the band, is cementing OK Go's reputation as a video band.
So the question, asked meekly and politely of Kulash during a phone interview from his Los Angeles home, is: "Do you ever worry that your videos overpower your songs?"
For the next few minutes, Kulash is off on a diatribe. He's not angry but certainly a bit agitated.
"When people look at it that way, they're really thinking of a different time," Kulash said. "In the '80s, videos were advertisements for the records. That was their entire reason for existence. You needed a video to get on MTV, and MTV determined what songs became hits. The way a band would show up in a video was exactly the same way a Toyota would show up in a commercial."
That's just not the case these days, Kulash said, and OK Go didn't give a second thought to having sounds from the video, which was shot live in front of an audience, drown out the music on some sections of This Too Shall Pass.
"The songs and the videos are part of the same creative process for us," Kulash said. "If people want to say we're not a rock 'n' roll band, that we're some sort of performance art group or a YouTube phenomenon, that's fine. I don't care what labels people put on us as long as they keep coming to our shows."
In fact, although OK Go's shows — which local audiences will get a chance to see when the band comes to Tampa on Friday for the first time in years — may not be as visually stimulating as their videos, they're often characterized by that same kind of inventive and literate sense of humor. Back before OK Go hit the semi-big time, when they were opening for They Might Be Giants, the band would perform a scene from Les Miserables in the middle of its set.
They don't do the Les Mis scene these days, Kulash said, except on rare occasions when something goes wrong on stage and they need to fill time. The most recent performance was actually during the all-night This Too Shall Pass video shoot. A nearby accident had knocked out the power, so the band performed the Les Mis scene in the parking lot to keep the audience amused.
Meanwhile, a drunken passer-by started screaming threats and insults at the band until the cops took him away.
"That whole shoot," Kulash said, "was a series of incredible adventures."