Damian Kulash Of OK Go On Lolla, Obama's Birthday And More

08/05/2011 10:37 am ET | Updated Oct 02, 2011
  • Lauren Drell

Who: Damian Kulash

Years in Chicago: From his early 20s into his late 20s

Current City: Los Angeles

Current Gig: OK Go’s lead vocalist

Lollapalooza brings you back to Chicago and the August heat. How does it feel to come back?
It always feels good to come back to Chicago. I lived there for all of my early 20s; in fact into my late 20s and that’s such an intense part of life and I feel like every corner of Chicago is full of memories for me.

Are you psyched for Lolla?
I’m totally psyched for Lolla. It’s our second time playing it and last time was amazing. It was the first time they made it into the non-traveling Chicago-only version. We didn’t know what to expect then and it turned out to be incredible. We’re really fired up.

Are you bringing along any treadmills?
We’re not bringing along any treadmills.

Where can we find you when you’re not on stage?
Well, recently we’re not often not on stage. We just released a live album that chronicles the 180 shows we did last year and that’s a lot of touring when you add travel time in; that’s three-quarters of the year. Often when we’re not on stage, we’re making videos that we really love, and those don’t often happen the way most people make videos. They don’t take just an afternoon or a weekend. So they’re often a couple-of-months-long projects. Personally, what I like to do with my free time right now is all pretty boring. What you do to calm down from that [hectic schedule] without being terribly funny; I like to garden and I like to bicycle and I like to play with Legos.

I meant where can we find you when you’re not on stage at Lollapalooza? But the answer you gave me was fantastic.
Oh… [Laughs] in Chicago. One, we’re playing Obama’s birthday party, so you can find us there. Tim [Nordwind] and I are doing a couple of DJ gigs while in town. We’re doing one on Thursday night and one on Friday night. So we’ll be doing some DJ gigs and mostly just enjoying our return to Chicago. Also, Lollapalooza has such an incredible lineup that basically we’ll just be like setting from stage to stage.

You traded Chicago in for Los Angeles. Aside from the weather, what do you like better?
Well, I followed a girl. Love always trumps location if you ask me. It didn’t really have to do with the cities, it had to do with personal life. LA is a wildly different place. The private space in LA is amazing, like it’s really easy to have a beautiful garden and have enough space to build a little recording studio, and to let your dogs out, but what it lacks of course is this sort of density and bustle of Chicago and this sort of connective tissue of Chicago’s social scene. You know, bars and bands and other things that make people feel like they live in an urban place. LA is basically like people living in their own little bubble.

Do you have a favorite local dive bar that you frequent when you’re in town?
Well, of course the Empty Bottle. It’s where we played our first 40 shows. We played there every couple of weeks, every month for years, and so that place, it’s like going back to your childhood, you know every little corner. And I really like Helen’s Two Way. I like the Whirlaway in the Logan Square area. One of the songs on our most recent album has a line about the Whirlaway. There’s a love song called “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe” and one of the verses is “Outside the Whirlaway in the middle of the night.”

What do you dig most about Chicago?
What I dig most about Chicago is that people are down to earth and don’t have the strange pretense of being in something more important than the rest of the world. I think the only other cities that you can compare it to in the States are New York and LA, where they are in the relation of urbanity, not humanity. There’s this sort of metropolitan thing in New York and LA that prevents people from smiling and waving on the street. I love that in Chicago people still relate like humans.

On to your recently released video “All Is Not Lost.”
Things shave been pretty kickin’ in the last few days by our new video [“All Is Not Lost”], which just came out and is busy literally breaking Google servers, which is pretty exciting. The interactive HTML5 version is running on servers from Google Japan and we like shut them down for four hours this morning. It’s [the video] collaboration with the Pilobolus dance company and our first interactive video where the viewer can be involved and help choreograph the dance. It is I think the most emotional and most confident video we’ve made.

The head of Apple’s marketing called you the first post-internet band. Can you explain a bit about that?
That’s super flattering. I think musicians, you know, I think we’ve all grown up with such a rigid concept of what music is; it’s something you record in a studio so you can sell it on records or CDs. What we think of the value of music is studio recordings, and shows are promotions of that, and then videos are advertisements for that, and now of course the internet somehow seems like it should be a distribution and promotion machine. We spend a ton of time touring the world and playing in front of people every night, so it’s not that the digital world is our entire life, but it would be ridiculous to treat it as a separate reality.

On the live album, “180/365,” there aren't any songs included that were recorded from shows in Chicago. How come?
Unfortunately we could only use certain shows, for either rights reasons or sound quality reasons. It wasn’t a slight against Chicago in any way.

So you still have love for The Windy City?
We have an incredible love for the Windy City. Playing for Obama’s birthday is like a crazy, crazy dream come true.

OK Go plays Lollapalooza at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5 on the Google+ stage. They will be DJing at Debonair Social Club on Thursday, Aug. 4 at midnight and at 11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5 at The Bedford.

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