FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE
Crocodile Cafe, 206-441-5611, $14/$12 adv.
9 p.m. Wed., Nov. 20
IF YOU PLAY pop-rock, there's bound to be comparisons. For OK Go, the Chicago quartet whose self-titled debut features a dozen precisely melodic, sardonic, and occasionally ironic three-minute movements (including the heat-seeking single "Get Over It"), that list has bordered on legion.
A lot of it's well deserved and happily accepted. Lead singer and chief songwriter Damian Kulash Jr.—calling from New Jersey, where the band is taping a show for MTV2—chats easily about all the musicians he admires and/or has worked with. There's berplayer, -producer, and -composer Jon Brion, who noodles brilliantly all over OK Go; guitarist Wendy Melvoin (Prince, Sheryl Crow); and drummer Matt Chamberlain (David Bowie, Tori Amos), who also contributed; and Fountains of Wayne, who OK Go are currently opening for on tour. And then there's Queen. The 26-year-old singer says, sadly, he never saw the band when Freddie Mercury was alive but recently caught survivors Brian May and Roger Taylor at a special L.A. club performance.
"It was one of the loudest, fiercest shows I've ever seen. For the encore, Steve Vai came out and they did Zeppelin's 'Rock & Roll.' It was pure bliss." Considering OK Go's arrangements are in many ways as well thought out and executed as Queen's best work, the appreciation is understandable.
Still, above these and all their other obvious influences, two names loom even larger, and they couldn't be more unlikely: Ira Glass, the popular National Public Radio journalist, and They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh.
"If I'd heard myself say that three years ago, I would have shat my pants," Kulash admits. "That I'd be listing Ira and John among my friends and influences would have seemed totally ridiculous."
In fact, the two diverse talents have contributed considerably to OK Go's burgeoning success. When Kulash, who majored in semiotics at Brown University, moved from D.C. to Chicago three years ago, he landed a job as an editor at NPR. He'd already decided he preferred playing rock to his studies and formed OK Go with childhood friend Tim Nordwind on bass, later recruiting guitarist Andy Duncan and drummer Dan Konopka. The band played local clubs, garnering a reputation for a contagiously energetic act. (Indeed, you've probably already danced around like a little potty-trained bipedal ferret to OK Go's hit "Get Over It," and should be commended for doing so. It contains perhaps the best modern rock chorus of the year, a collision of haywire synth and slacker fuzz punctuated by Kulash Jr.'s fey "Hey! Get-get-get-get-get over it!")
"I admit I pestered Ira to listen to our music a lot, but I never assumed he would actually like it," says Kulash. "Around the same time, we were lucky enough to get some shows opening for They Might Be Giants. John really dug what we were doing; it was a very fortuitous couple of months.
"Ira is a very smart, talented guy. When he took his radio show on tour a couple years ago, he took us with him. It was a huge boon. He's not only a great friend but he also gave me some musical criticism early on that helped shape some of the ways I write. And John is really bright and really lucid. I don't think we're that similar to They Might Be Giants, but when I've needed a kick in the ass, he's been really good at giving it.
"The thing is, in most jobs you can find mentors: people to give you help and give you the right advice and criticism. Unfortunately in rock, most people that step up to assist you are just there to make sure the shows get booked."
That said, Kulash doesn't deny needing help getting the shows booked and getting to them.
"Our schedule doesn't make much sense; they're having us do whatever we can to publicize us, and who knows where it will take us. I like to travel, and I like to be kept busy, so it's all right with me," he says. "Even a hint of boredom can get me . . . well, venomous. I get pissy and irritable and mean when I'm bored. But doing these crazy Star of David back- and-forth routes across America, with spontaneous jumps to Jay Leno or New Jersey, it's crazy.
"So right now, touring itself, playing for people that already know us and like us is, unfortunately, almost kind the last priority," admits Kulash. "It's up to all these departments at the label telling us where to go the next day. Who knows where it will take us?"