Interrogation style. It feels more like I’m the one being questioned. A splitting blue-yellow light radiates, across my eyes as I feel across the table, grasping for a hand. So this is the world of a rock star. Sure there’s sex drugs, and all that; but there’s also people watching you all day, every day. This sucks.
At least that’s the thought that came to me as I sat with Damian Kulash, singer of up and coming rock act OK GO. The man was perfectly sweet, frank, honest and warm. His only disturbing quality was an ability to avoid the camera’s gaze, acting as if it wasn’t even there.
OK GO just released their self-titled debut and after only three years as a band they’re well on their way to national fame. In the last few months OK GO has been all over late-night television also getting heavy rotation on MTV and MTV2. Their single “Get Over It” has broken all across the country, and their record just hit #1 on Billboard Magazine’s Heatseekers chart. The question isn’t whether or not these guys are going to get big. The question is: can they stay alive long enough to do it?
(my eyes blink as a light flickers then shines brightly across my face)
Hatchet: What’s with that?
Damian Kulash: That’s Scott. He’s filming stuff. You don’t mind do you?
H: No, its fine.
DK: He follows us around with that camera.
H: So everything you do is being documented? You can’t get away?
DK: Yeah but he’s faithful. I try to forget he’s there or else I start getting really conscious of it and I start acting weird.
H: I’m not used to cameras so don’t get pissed if I start acting weird. That light is kind of bright.
DK: Yeah, I don’t really notice it.
H: Anyways, I know you have a big single right now. What are the crowds looking like? A lot of new fans?
DK: The last two or three years we’ve been running around the country trying to get people to buy these little two or three dollar CD’s we made. We play shows and if somebody likes us they buy the CD. Everybody’s who ever heard of us had been to a show.
H: So its not like that now, you guys are touring, like all the time from what I hear. How’s touring, while you have a big radio single?
DK: We’ve been on the road for a while. I think the difference is that it hasn’t always been as hectic. For most of our touring life we had a $4,000-1989 conversion van and the four of us just drove around. We’d play for 15 people in a bar and that would be our night. It’s only in the last year that it started to get crazy. It also used to be that we’d tour for three weeks and then have a month off. Now, its like a week off is unheard of.
H: Do you miss not being on tour, just being able to hang out?
DK: I miss certain things. It always blows my parent’s minds now when I come back. They’ll be like “You want to go see a movie, you want to do something?” and I’ll be like, “Look mom I just want to cook and do laundry.”
H: Cooking and cleaning? That’s you’re bag is it?
DK: We never get to cook our own food anymore. We just eat at Subway, or get gas station food all the time. I mean clean laundry – you would not believe what a pleasure that is.
H: How many clothes do you take with you?
DK: Well I take a ton of underwear and socks and T-shirts. I’ll take like four or five pairs of pants. You can usually make that last like three or four weeks. You just have to be careful about which ones you wear when you’re going to be really filthy.
H: Do you have special clothes for when you’re on stage?
DK: No I don’t. You have to be careful though. Once you rock out a T-shirt on stage its done. Its been rocked to hard to wear again. It stinks.
(interrupted by a rather rude reporter from the AP asking if I’m done yet)
H: You’ve got AP coming out (alternative press)?
DK: I think this is actually the Associated Press as opposed to Alternative Press, which is actually probably bigger.
H: It gets picked up all over the country. I guess you guys really are rock stars now. Speaking of which, how was it going on the late show with Conan? I saw you were on a few weeks ago.
DK: That guy’s tall. And he wears a lot of make-up. He does not look what you think he’d look like up close. I lost my voice that day.
H: What did you do?
DK: That morning I had a cold. I hadn’t slept the night before because we had to get there by seven in the morning, and we played a show the night before.
H: Yeah, so you were screwed for the show?
DK: Yeah, my voice just went out. The guys at the show found out and they gave me the full-on Mariah treatment. I went to a voice doctor and they gave me steroid shots and stuck a camera up my nose and into my sinuses. Then they moved it down my throat so they could watch my voice box as I was talking.
H: And they said you were OK to go on the show?
DK: Well they couldn’t make my voice better. They could give me steroids so I could power through it. I couldn’t sing, but I could scream.
H: I guess you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. How are you making it on tour without sleeping? I heard from one of the other guys that sometimes you go for days without sleeping.
DK: I’ve never been a heavy sleeper. My mom gets like four hours a night. It must be a metabolism thing. I’m lucky. We did the same thing last night. I mean we’re off stage by 11 o’clock, we’re on the road by midnight. We hit DC at 5:30 and we were on DC101 at 7:30. It was another hour and a half kind of night.
H: How much sleep do you need to function?
DK: One or two hours a night – that sucks. If I get five or six hours I can go forever on that. If I start getting eight hours, then I expect eight hours, and that’s no good. Sometimes you can pick up a few in the van. We get by.
H: So right now you’re not even getting time to see the cities, or enjoy yourself? That’s what it sounds like.
DK: Not really. Touring is only like a road trip with your friends when you’re not successful. When its like that it’s really fun. When we were just four idiots in a van it was like “I’m gonna drive 19 hours to play for 10 people in some tiny bar in some tiny town.” When its like that you can stop everywhere on the way, and do whatever you want. Now we’re on a schedule.
H: How much control do you have over your schedule right now? I mean like, do you control your time?
DK: I could wield control if I wanted to be a real pain. But I want to do interviews and I want people to know about the record. Its something I want to do. And I’d rather have other people schedule it, to tell you the truth.
H: Do you feel like your label is handling you in a lot of ways?
DK: In many cases you want them to. Like next week: my sister’s flying out to meet us in New York, to see a couple of shows. It’s funny, because I’ll have to schedule time to take her out guitar shopping. I’ll have to call up the label and be like “I want two hours with my sister to guitar shop.” Its funny because you’d think you could just do that. But . I’d rather do it that way then have the label call me up with ten interview requests and say “you figure it out.”
H: Sounds pretty tough to me. I don’t know. I guess that’s why I’m not on the radio.
DK: Hey man, whatever. You give me enough notice so that I can make sure that I’m not feeling hung over, and that I can get an hour or two of sleep and I’m fine.