Interview: Tim Nordwind; Bassist, OK Go
By Scott Smith in Miscellaneous on Nov 6, 2006 4:30PM
Though the band OK Go has seen its share of success this year, bassist Tim Nordwind feels it’s not quite enough.
After moving to Chicago from Kalamazoo, Michigan in the late 1990s, Nordwind formed Stanley’s Joyful Noise with future OK Go bandmates Andy Duncan and Dan Konopka. When Nordwind’s childhood friend Damian Kulash moved to Chicago, he joined forces with the trio, and they formed OK Go, a band that would become known locally for tireless live shows and an honest connection with its fans.
OK Go’s self-titled major-label debut saw moderate success, but the band broke wide this year with the album Oh No, thanks to a pair of homemade dance videos ("A Million Ways" and "Here it Goes Again") filmed without the assistance of its label, and choreographed by Kulash’s sister. Though the clips used a then-nascent YouTube to its fullest advantage, Nordwind sees it more as an extension of the DIY ethic ingrained in him after a decade of living in Chicago.
The group returns to Chicago this week for a pair of shows this Thursday and Friday at Logan Square Auditorium, in advance of its first ever DVD, packaged in a re-release of Oh No tomorrow: a collection of videos ranging from the now-ubiquitous YouTube clips to studio footage to an obscure appearance on Chic-A-Go-Go. Now based out of L.A., Nordwind talked with Chicagoist over the phone about his early memories of Chicago, the best thing about YouTube, and what it takes to get famous enough to bring a ping-pong table on tour.
Chicagoist: Was Stanley’s Joyful Noise your first your first band here?
Tim Nordwind: We started that when we were freshmen in college. Andy and I had both moved to Chicago to go to school, and Dan was a friend of a friend of mine who lived in my dorm. (laughs) He was the first guy we met, and we basically just liked him right away and have been playing with him ever since.
C: What did you guys sound like?
TN: We screamed a lot. We were heavily influenced by D.C. punk rock. It was a band based more on adrenaline than songwriting. Like kittens on catnip.
C: Are there particular shows that stand out in your mind from that time?
TN: One of our first shows was at The Fireside Bowl. It was this all-ages-total-shithole-awesome place to go see music. I don’t think they had gotten any of the proper permits or anything. But that was such a great place. When I was 18, I spent five out of seven days a week there.
You’d have these all-ages venues in really weird places. I remember going to see The Makeup in Wicker Park when I was 18 or 19 in this really awesome warehouse. There was a grate over half the floor, and they went underneath the grate and set up their instruments, and everyone looked down on them, and it was just fucking awesome. That was the cool thing about Chicago: really crazy weird spaces to go see bands play. I kinda miss that these days.
C: You guys still capture a little of that. You’re doing videos outside of the usual grind.
TN: A lot of that ethic comes from Chicago, in a way. The coolest thing about Chicago is it’s a place where people go to experiment and try things out. It’s not about how many tickets or albums are you going to sell, so much as it is: “How cool is your idea?” and “How badly do you want to do it?”
C: It’s also good timing, because you’ve got this new homemade video revolution to take advantage of. But are you worried of being known as “The Treadmill Band” or “The Dancing Band?”
TN: Thoughts like that definitely cross our minds. In the end, we’re proud of those videos, but it’s probably nothing we want to make a career out of, as far as choreographed dancing goes. (laughs) My knees have already suffered enough. I think the spirit of those videos, we want to carry on for the rest of our career. A lot of people, who I don’t think would have ever heard our music, have heard us because they’ve seen our video and check out the song, or check out the album.
C: It seems like a very direct way to talk to people who might be interested in your music.
TN: What’s super cool about that is, we’ve gotten tons of tribute videos back from people. To me, that’s a way cooler way to communicate with a fan. It’s way cooler than having a conversation on a message board. For OK Go, at least, these videos have helped to build a community of fans that do creative stuff, too.
C: With this experience, does a band need MTV or VH1 to break themselves out into the mainstream?
TN: That’s a difficult question. In all honesty, I think it takes getting on there if you want to be in the top 40 of whatever chart you care to be in. But does every band in the world need that? Probably not. Does our band need that? I don’t know. It’s very hard to say. The story is still being written. If YouTube is a way of previewing stuff to see if you can get on that, then cool. I think we would like to continue to be on MTV and VH1. Whether bands need that in the future, that’s too hard to answer, but it does still help right now.
C: It seems that a lot of the songs on the album, and particularly the songs you’ve co-written, have involved bad relationships with women. Is that based on personal experience?
TN: Yeah, unfortunately. I more or less have been through 2 or 3 years of insanely weird relationships with women that the band likes to comment on and then write songs about. I remember one girl that I dated, in particular, who a friend of mine later referred to as “just another pop song.” Which I thought was pretty apt, because that’s exactly what happened to her.
C: Was the MTV Video Music Awards the biggest audience you’ve had to date when you factor in the television viewing audience?
TN: Yes, definitely. I can’t even say we played to them. We danced for them. That is a weird, weird mindtrip when you think that through that portal are millions and millions and millions of little eyes looking back at you.
C: Did that enter into your mind before you went on?
TN: Yes, that entered my mind as soon as we got asked to dance. (laugh) I was scared shitless. Luckily, we did a lot of preparation the week before. We rented a space in the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio, which is the most dancerliest studio you can rent in the world. We had all these superstar or up-and-coming dancers watching us all the time. And they were like “Who are these chumps in the basement on treadmills?”
C: Do you make it back here often, outside of touring?
TN: I do. I still have a lot of really good friends that live there. L.A. is where we live, but Chicago is, I feel, where the band is from. I lived there for about a decade. It’s hard to feel like that’s not home. I mostly miss the people in Chicago and my friends.
C: What was the most interesting thing that was dug up for the upcoming DVD?
TN: Probably the first choreographed dance we ever did, which was on Chic-a-Go-Go. That’s where we first got the idea of doing choreographed dance. You can’t play live on that show, you have to lip sync. We decided instead of playing air guitar, we would swing for the fences and choreograph a dance routine. It’s really crazy to see what we looked like then. We look like babies. Damian has a mullet.
C: You said once: “If you ask me how I define success, I define it by being able to bring a ping-pong table on tour.” Have you reached that level of success yet?
TN: No, sadly. We haven’t hit what I consider to be successful yet.
C: What do you think it’s going to take to reach the “ping-pong level?”
TN: That’s a great question. I don’t know what it’s going to take. Man, I don’t know. (sighs) I think maybe I need to start dating someone famous.
C: That would probably do it.
TN: I think maybe if I start dating someone famous that’ll catapult our whole career to the next level where people are willing to throw a lot more money at us, and then I can use that money to rent a semi large enough to carry two to three ping-pong tables on tour.
C: A lot of people probably saw you on MTV. You could probably make a few calls and line up somebody famous for three months or so.
TN: That’s true. I guess it just takes a few photographs, doesn’t it? That’s a good idea. Maybe on Chicagoist, you can Photoshop me in with Faye Dunaway or someone.
C: So Faye Dunaway is your go-to famous person?
TN: Yeah, yeah. I think she’s really talented, and she’s really pretty. I think she might like me, too. We’ll see what that does with the ping-pong tables.
C: OK, we’ll see what we can do. You owe me a game if that happens though.
TN: Man, trust me. It’ll happen. I would be very happy to play you.
C: I haven’t really played since high school gym class.
TN: I got really good in junior high because they had ping-pong tables in the lunchroom. For two years, five days a week, I played ping pong. There were really good players in Kalamazoo, kids that brought their own paddles to school. A lot of kids would cover one side with sandpaper, and they might use a slightly more traditional covering on the other side. One side was for slamming, and the other side was for spin. It was pretty awesome.
C: Is that legal to do, according to the official ping-pong rules?
TN: No, that’s street rules. My methods and styles are definitely more street than most. I come from the mean streets of Kalamazoo.