Q & A: Pants Off with OKGo

Treadmills, canines and visual trickery aside, the indie rock outfit OKGo simplifies to childhood friends who just want to “create stuff.” Since forming in 1998, the foursome have spent their career in a steady state of transformation that spans music, film and movement. Their forthcoming album, Hungry Ghosts, is set to debut this fall — preceded by an ambitious summer tour. While diligently prepping on a soundstage, front man Damian Kulash took time from the madness to share his perspective on their musical growth, ridiculousness in clubs and the right moves to sweep a pants off-dance off. Shall we shimmy on? OK… Go…

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LA CANVAS: We’re looking forward to catching you guys at The Echo on 7/23, and noticed that most of your tour dates route through intimate venues. Was that deliberate? And, what can we expect of your live show?

DAMIAN KULASH: We were particular in picking small clubs, but it won’t be small staging. We’re really attempting the ambitious with our live show… musically, visually, and the experience. We’ll be bringing big production on the road with us that small clubs don’t normally have. Think lots of computers, LED screens, projection mapping, and other insane things from this new crazy world of technology. We want to prove that rock shows can be ridiculous, especially since we’ll be touring for the next year or two.

LAC: Speaking of years, it has been quite some time since your last full album. Tell us how OKGo has grown, and about the process behind making this new album.

DK: So it has been about 4 years since our last album, which was a very electronic and deliberate record. I think we’re done being deliberate with songs. For example, with our first single “Get Over It,” there was a lot of nu-metal or bands like The Strokes out at the time. We asked, “what about glory?” and we set out to write a stadium rock anthem. Now when we’re writing, our songs have no starting point. It’s like playing in a sandbox. We’ve grown so much in embracing not knowing what it is that we’re making, and planning less. Being open has really evolved our voice, both the process and result is a lot more unique like that. I feel that these new songs and this new album sound a lot more like “us” than our prior records.

LAC: So, does your mom think you’re famous?

DK: You know, we’ve been together as a band for 15 years, I’ve never felt that we’ve become super famous. I feel like we’re known in creative circles but we’re not really a pop culture band. But yes, my mom does read all the comments online and wallows, she’s pretty proud.

LAC: The story is told that OKGo was sparked from meeting at summer camp many, many moons ago, what was 11 year old you like?

DK: Tim & I have been friends for 27 years. Wow, that sounds weird to say that out loud (laughs). Since age 11, our friendship has been based around making stuff together. We were just 2 camp kids with a guitar and sketchbook, and we still look at things as art projects. From being kids to our career now, it does feel a little  full circle. We’re lucky for this to be our day job. You have to be naïve enough to chase this, as it’s really a one in a billion chance. We understand that, and we do our best to work hard.

LAC: People know OKGo as a Chicago band, but you’re mostly LA residents. Any favorite places and things to do in the city?

DK: None of us have lived in Chicago in about 10 years, we are here now and LA’s a good place to be. Some of our favorite spots include the Magic Castle, for obvious reasons, and Griffith Park. I love being in nature with my dogs and it’s just minutes from the bustle of the city. We’re always hunting for food spots too, we are big foodies.

LAC: Spill on your top taco spot.

DK: Ok, but there are 2 calibers of tacos. If you want fast, cheap yet good, then you have to hit up Taco Zone on Alvarado. There are definitely much better places on York Ave in Eagle Rock though, if you’re willing to make the drive.

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LAC: To ease the drive during the next few months, what’s on your tour playlist?

DK: I’ve just gone through a period of only listening to 60s and 70s soul, now I’m back into Led Zeppelin big time. Some newer acts on my radar are Hozier, such a soulful singer songwriter, and I’ve been feeling Jai Paul. They’re both pretty awesome.

LAC: Your band has earned bonus kudos on your impressive choreography but if there was a pants off dance off right now, which member would win and with what move?

DK: Without a doubt, it would be Tim and he would win with a little move that I’d like to call the “Pelvic Rodeo.” It’s a very intense and specialized dance. However, I should note that I’ve just learned to Vogue. I’ve been watching videos with these guys hitting the floor, and it’s the coolest thing ever. So actually, I think I’d hit Tim with that for the win, he wouldn’t see it coming (laughs).

LAC: Other than music, videos, and dance-offs, what else is in store for you guys?

DK: Our goal is always staying creative and consistently making things… music, videos, and everything beyond! Presently, we’re working on 2 TV shows, and launching another app.

LAC: It’s half way through the year. Be honest, have you fulfilled your resolution yet?

DK: My resolution has been pretty effective, working harder and thinking less.

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This one’s a no brainer, come dance! OKGo performs at The Echo on Wednesday July 23rd. In the meantime, listen to the Upside Out EP for a small taste of what’s to come.

HYBRID PERFECTION: DJ/PRODUCER, GEORGE FITZGERALD

George Fitzgerald first caught our ears with an impossibly smooth remix of one of our adolescent favorites – Groove Theory’s “Tell Me”. Admittedly, singer Amel Larrieux’s silky vocals were the perfect material for such a remix. Though he’s been releasing music for about three years – the first being on Scuba’s Hotflush label in 2010 – the producer, DJ, and label boss has a sound that’s perfectly polished, exhibiting a finesse that peers in the industry have taken many years to develop. We’re huge fans of his hybrid sound melding together deep house, 2 step and techno, and we’re not alone. Earlier this year, Fitzgerald was selected to do an Essential Mix on BBC Radio 1, and later was featured on the “In New DJs We Trust” program–a sure sign of a rising star and where many a DJ and producer have showcased their talent to an eager global audience.

We’re happy to announce that he’ll be playing this Sunday at Medusa and have picked out some jams and mixes for you to listen to in preparation, if you aren’t already hyped up like we are:

Groove Theory – ‘Tell Me (George Fitzgerald Remix)’

George Fitzgerald – ‘I Can Tell (By The Way You Move)’

George Fitzgerald – ‘Thinking of You’

Kimbra – ‘The Build Up (George Fitzgerald Remix)’

George Fitzgerald – BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix – January 19, 2013

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Purchase tickets for George Fitzgerald’s show this Sunday at Medusa and get more info here.

LET THE PEOPLE DANCE: AN INTERVIEW WITH MYSTERY SKULLS

Rising dance music star, Mystery Skulls, is a one-man-dance-party whose electronic beats are laced with funk, soul and disco. His performances have so much energy and infectiousness, one might find it hard to believe it’s just one guy up there. Mystery Skulls, aka Luis Dubuc, sings his own vocals, lacing them over layers of beats and poppy melodies. We caught up with the rising star before he took to the decks to DJ our very own “Future” issue release party.

 

LA CANVAS: So, you released an EP in 2011 and in 2013 you signed to Warner. When can we expect your next release?
Mystery Skulls: I’m putting out a single in December through Warner and then we are going to do another single in the early part of next year. Then the record is going to come out in Spring of next year — so it is mostly written, I’m just kinda finishing it up right now. It’s really cool, there are some interesting people on the record.

 

LAC: You grew up in Toronto when you were younger, and eventually moved to Dallas — have either of these places influenced your sound at all?
MS: I think Toronto definitely did the most. I was really young, and the thing about Toronto, for whatever reason, there’s just so much European music. I remember there were bands I liked when I lived in Toronto and I remember when I moved to Texas, no one had heard of them. It was all radio and Matchbox Twenty and whatever. And I was into like Daft Punk, and Chemical Brothers and Portishead – I was fucking cool! ::Laughs:: Anyway, the thing about Texas, I sort of picked up this other side. There’s just a different type of music that they like there, and it did rub off on me. It’s not all bad.

 

LAC: I read that you’ve also done metal music, yet you also really like doing disco. Is there one that you feel you make stronger music in, and why did you gravitate toward this genre or sound rather than metal?
MS: Well I wouldn’t even say it was disco…to be honest with you, I just love all music in general, I know it sounds super cliche, but I think to me it’s sort of one in the same – they are both really rhythmic genres. I don’t really know how to describe it. The thing about metal too is it’s just such larger than life personalities, and it’s sort of these people attempting to be something else, and with dance music it’s also these people trying to be something else. You would think there wouldn’t be so many similarities, that they are just polar opposites, and I don’t know, I just love that…

 

LAC: Do you think that you would go back to making metal music? Or are you just going to do dance for now?
MS: I don’t know about full time, no. I have so many friends that play metal for a living and we’re still great friends, so I think it’s fun. To those dudes, what I do is so foreign. They tell me I’m so lucky cause I get to fly with a laptop, and I’m like “oooo  you can be in a van for dayysss.”

 

LAC: You’re a transplant now here in LA. What do you love most about the city?
MS: I love everything about it. I’m such a fan. I wake up constantly and just think “I’m so fucking lucky to be living here.” I really like having my windows open all the time, so that’s kinda my favorite thing. Other than that, musically, it’s the best place. Movies – you can see anything!
LA is the main place. I love it.

LAC: Speaking of music, are there any LA bands we should be looking out for that you really like?
MS: I like that band, Tapioca and the Flea. I played with them the other day, so they are the only ones really fresh on my mind. They are really cool

 

LAC: I read somewhere that you really like Halloween, and that you have like a whole tattoo in its honor. Why is that such a favorite of yours?
MS: I don’t know, it probably goes back to that thing about getting to be someone else. You just get to put on this personality of something that you are totally not. You get to put on a mask and just be that, its fucking awesome. There’s something super precious about that.

 

LAC: It’s kind of magical.
MS: Yes! And it’s super awesome that adults do it too.

 

LAC: Do you have plans on expanding your tattoo at all?
MS: Yeah, I’m pretty tattooed, so I definitely have plans

 

LAC: People have described you as a one man dance show. Are there other people out there that you think are doing something similar? 
MS: I feel what I do is a little different – I’m a little more visual. Im DJing and singing, I don’t have drums or a band. When I perform, there’s more of a vibe and a story – it’s less visceral. It’s deep in a way.

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LAC: You mentioned Nile Rodgers and working on the album with him. Is there anyone else you have collaborations with on the horizon?
MS: Yeah, I’m working on a track right now with Viceroy and I did a track on the new Kimbra record.

 

LAC: Lastly, the issue that you helped us celebrate was The Future Issue, so I thought it might be fun to ask – if you could travel forward in time, how far would you go?
MS: That’s a really interesting question. You don’t know how interesting that question is. I think if I could go any length of time, and return, than I would go thousands of years.

 

LAC: I guess I was asking more of how far you would want to go to see yourself?
MS: OH! I was just thinking of going realllly far – uhm yeah, I don’t know…I would like to see myself in 20 years. I have so many goals and ambitions, so it would be cool to see that come to fruition. As cheesy as it may sound.

 

Photos: Frank Maddocks

INTERVIEW: MIDNIGHT MAGIC

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with some of the band members of Midnight Magic, a live disco-funk-electro-anything-that-makes-you-dance act out of NYC. Self-described as the “lovechild of Donna Summer and George Clinton”, Midnight Magic are the kind of band you ditch your lazy Sunday night plans for. As vocalist Tiffany Roth told the crowd “You could be watching Oprah, but you’re here tonight.” We watched and danced on as the band’s undeniably groovy vibes transformed the Fonda into a bonafide discotheque.

Read our interview with band members Tiffany, Morgan and Andrew as we caught up with them during the Los Angeles stop of their tour with Holy Ghost!

LAC = LA CANVAS; T = Tiffany, M = Morgan, A = Andrew

LA CANVAS: You’ve been compared to LCD Soundsystem and Hercules and the Love Affair. How would you describe your sound?

T: There are so many elements of funk, soul, a little bit of disco, a touch of R&B if you will (laughs), a sprinkle of house, nu-wave.
M: And a tug of dubstep. (laughs)
T: Yes, and a tug of dubstep (laughs) not really!

LAC: How did you get into disco and funk? Is the nostalgic sound of your music intentional?

M: The nostalgia? No, I don’t think so. We just do what we do and try to make the best music we can. I know a lot of our influences definitely come through in that. Maybe that’s where the nostalgia comes from. We’re influenced by a lot of older music, so it definitely comes through, but it’s not like an intentional thing where we’re like ‘let’s bring it back.’ (laughs)
A: I think it’s also in the equipment we use and the way we record as well. We have what is considered to be old school sensibility. We use a lot of outboard gear and vintage analog drum machines and synthesizers. Those have that quality and that color that remind people of that era in which these things were made—which is the 70s and the 80s.

LAC: Speaking of instruments, with a nine-person band, it sounds like you guys might have a lot of instruments?

A: Actually, we’re a lot of people but we’re not a lot of stuff. Most of the instrumentation is coming from, like, the keyboards, and all that stuff is coming from Morgan. Really, at the end of the day, his rig, which is 3 or 4 keyboards, and then a drum machine maybe, or sequencer of some kind, and then it’s like two trumpets, trombone, percussionist, drum kit and bass, and Tiffany singing through a delay pedal. We always show up and people always think we’ll have a lot of inputs like we’re fuckin’ Radiohead or something. They’re like ‘Oh, you only have 11 inputs. That’s amazing!’
M: But in the studio we have a ton of instruments. When we record, we use a lot more. Then we interpret it live.

LAC: With nine band members, what’s the creative process like, both in songwriting and how you interpret that for performances?

T: Two things kind of happen. Sometimes we will write a horn line and it’ll come from something Morgan’s doing, like a keyboard line. We’ll translate that and they’d be like, ‘Oh that’d be really good if the horns played that.’ Sometimes those guys will be in the studio and be like ‘I have something,’ and it’ll strike and we’ll write something down.
M: It depends, the process is always different. At first it wasn’t like ‘Oh, we’re gonna have a nine-person band,’ it just happened to be people around and we all played music together anyway, and eventually Midnight Magic kind of ended up having three horns and two percussionists and all that. Later on, that kind of informed the writing as the live band developed and the writing kind of informed how we’re going to do it live. They both kind of play off each other.

LAC: In talking to other dance musicians, they say their biggest motivation is getting the audience to dance.

A: Oh yeah! It’s huge. You know if something’s working by looking at the audience. I’ve seen someone who’s standing still just react to something that Morgan’s just done and they’re transformed.

LAC: Would you say that’s part of your creative process? Thinking about how someone will dance to your music?

A: I dance in the studio, if Morgan’s programming something and I’ll be dancing behind him and be like ‘yeah, this makes me dance.’ Sometimes, though… the piano makes me cry (laughs).

LAC: So what’s the best dance move you’ve seen at one of your shows?

A: Probably Morgan’s. You’ve got some really good moves.
T: Erik Tonneson from Holy Ghost! was dancing like a crazy person during our show in Santa Barbara. Like out of his mind…like he was on bath salts.
A: It was beautiful.
M: It’s like a gazelle in the wild.

LAC: Top three disco records?

A: Lists are tough. You know what’s an awesome disco record I found in my record collection? It’s pretty obscure. It’s called Off the Wall by this artist named Michael Jackson (laughs). No, I’m serious though. I forgot about that album…
T: I didn’t, I heard it all the time.
A: I found it in my stack of CDs driving around this summer in my car. Man, favorite? That’s tough.

LAC: Maybe just name one that has been most influential?

A: As a bass player I think a lot of about Bernard Edwards from Chic. He’s amazing. I’ll go with I Want Your Love by Chic.
T: Sparks’ Number 1 Song in Heaven produced by Giorgio Moroder. Every track is nuts—it’s like eight minutes of amazingness.
Morgan: I’ll pick Jones Girls’ Nights over Egypt. Maybe, although it’s not my favorite, I’ve been listening to it a lot lately: Mind Warp by Patrick Cowley. A lot of inspiration has come from that recently.

LAC: What are some of your non-dance music influences?

A: When we’re asked this question my mind goes to a lot of influences outside of music, cause there’s a lot. There a certain things that unite us, that we’re passion about, beyond music, I mean.
M: As far as artists, we all really like Bohannon, we’re all really into The Fatback Band, The Gat Bands, Grace jones, Isley Brothers–the classics, you know? We all listen to a lot of music from all over the world. Salsa, and a lot of Brazilian music.  It all kind of falls into the realm of dance music, I guess, so it all has that common ground.

LAC: Have you guys had the chance to go to Brazil yet?

M: Yes! Not to perform [as Midnight Magic]. But Tiffany and I were there 10 years ago. We partied… hard.
T: They know how to live!

LAC: I’ve heard they don’t even start partying until midnight.
T: Oh yeah, we performed at 3:30 in the morning! At Razzmatazz in Barcelona. That was so fun.
A: Just wanted to add, going back to influences, the films of Dario Argento and David Lynch, things like that—these are all things we talk about a lot.
M: The band Goblin has been a huge influence too.

LAC: I was listening to one of your tracks and heard one of the guys on the track saying something about ‘drinking yerba mate.’ I thought it was hilarious. What’re the most ridiculous lyrics in your tracks?

A: ‘Let the honey dip trickle on your stick!’
T: I don’t even know what that means.
M: I know what that means (laughs)
A: ‘Sharing your love with Tiffany’
M: ‘Waves of liquid gold flowing through your world.’

Let the honey dip trickle on your stick over with Midnight Magic’s tunes over on Soundcloud