Let this be a warning to any showbiz weasel messing with OK Go frontman Damian Kulash: Don't get him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
When an issue directly affects the singer, he tends to tackle it head-on. To date, the former Brown University Art-Semiotics major has penned three op-ed columns for the New York Times, the most recent a diatribe against EMI Records for preventing Internet sites from embedding OK Go's latest videos. He's even testified before Congress on the complicated topic of net neutrality, and was offered oration pointers by that master of elocution himself, Barack Obama.
"His advice was, 'Remember that you are the person in the room who knows what you're talking about, so all you have to do is speak accurately and don't let [the politicians] derail you,'" says Kulash of his chance 2008 meeting with the then-presidential candidate.
Kulash made the most of his seven-minute testimony. Pushing for a laissez-faire Web, he screened snippets from two self-produced OK Go videos, a backyard-filmed "A Million Ways" and the breakthrough treadmill-choreographed "Here It Goes Again."
"All I really had to do was say, 'Here's the history of my band. And every big event in our career has been something we've done ourselves, in small ways, that managed to amplify itself in big ways through the Internet. So we want a meritocracy, not an oligarchy.'"
Nor is Kulash afraid to fight dirty. When informed that OK Go's previous set, '05's Oh No, would include disc software that prevented it from being copied, and thus transferred to iTunes, he turned in his last-minute masters with a 34-minute bonus track of his wife sleeping that would fill up the disc and leave no space for the anti-piracy program.
"So the quality-control machine kept spitting it back out, saying 'It doesn't work,' 'It doesn't work," snickers the resourceful prankster. "Until eventually, it was too late." So Oh No was released sans sneaky software.
Now, he's at it again. Oh No's long-awaited follow-up, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, just hit shelves three months ago through EMI. An official marching-band-themed clip was issued for the single "This Too Shall Pass," but Kulash wasn't satisfied. With Syyn Labs, the group constructed an elaborate two-story Rube Goldberg contraption and filmed themselves in one long shot scampering through the "Mousetrap"-crazy device. Sponsored by State Farm, the video logged six million plays in six days.
But when EMI blocked sites from embedding it, OK Go went rogue. As of this month, the band has left its major imprint and launched its own DIY called Paracadute. Kulash announced the departure via a Web advert featuring his "new business partners": two dogs, dressed in neckties and suit jackets.
Kulash swears he knows what he's doing.
"If someone's gonna get to go make a three-minute movie, I wanna be the one having that fun! So in general, whenever we can do something ourselves, we do, because it also means that your career doesn't ride on the ups and downs of somebody else's marketing plan."
The ongoing battles influenced Blue Colour's lyrical approach, especially on R&B-edged dissertations like "WTF" and "All Is Not Lost."
"The running theme of the record is someone going, 'C'mon, it's OK!' When it's very clearly, obviously not OK. So I can't say I have a lot of genuine optimism right now."