Damian Kulash and Andy Ross head up the guitar-work of the not-so-guitar-driven band, Ok Go, but have found unique ways to blend the instrument into the band’s rhythm-focused sound. We recently had a chance to discuss with Andy how the band utilizes guitar in their music.
SSS: The guitar tones of the OK Go sound involve a lot of clean funk rhythms and some fuzz/distortion leads. What guitars, amps, and pedals do you both use to achieve these tones?
On a tour stop in New Orleans, Damian bought this little yellow guitar off some guy on the street. It’s unbranded and kinda feels like a cheap toy, but has this really nice, little boxy sound. We ended up using it almost exclusively on “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky” (OTBCOTS) for the more “funky”, Motown-style guitar parts. A lot of the distorted sounds were done on a Telecaster knock-off made from spare parts. The natural twang of the Tele lets you crank up the gain without the threat of your track sounding like Staind. For the really crazy sounds, our go-to pedal is the Electro-Harmonix Micro Synth. You can make a guitar sound like a bloodthirsty, chainsaw-death-machine with that thing, and why wouldn’t you want that?
Damian and I are pretty married to our boutique amps: he uses a Guytron GT100 head and I play most of my stuff through a Bad Cat Hot Cat 30 2×12 combo. Whenever we have to rent amps on the road, it’s absolute torture as none of the rentals sound quite right (or as good).
SSS: What gear do each of you have in your collection?
Since I’m a die-hard Led Zeppelin fan, I’ve had the obligatory, beat-up Gibson Les Paul Studio since I was a teenager (yeah, I know I should have gotten a Standard in cherry sunburst, but caddie money wasn’t that great back in the day). In Portland, I bought a nice Epiphone Riviera with mini-humbuckers. We’ve had the good fortune to be endorsed by Gibson, so I’ve got a Epihopne Paul McCartney Texan, which sounds really nice for quiet stuff.
Damian’s guitar collection is really impressive. He’s got…
SSS: The guitar seems more of a complimentary role to the overall OK Go sound. Can you tell us how the various instruments are used during the composition stage of your music?
Yeah, it’s interesting: the first two records were very guitar-driven (I think “Get Over It” has 14 overdubbed, distorted guitars in the chorus), but we’ve moved away from that sound on the OTBCOTS. The focus for the record was more on rhythm, on creating music that felt good and resonated with your soul. A lot of the time our demos were just simple grooves with vocals on top, and they usually sounded pretty complete. Sometimes we’d add a complimentary guitar or keyboard part; sometimes it would feel good enough that we’d leave it pretty sparse. Dave [Fridmann, the producer] would spend down-time playing with his trademark synth and space sounds, adding that beautiful 3rd dimension that’s so characteristic of his records.
SSS: What are some of the ways that you balance two guitars in the mix?
We usually balance guitars by making sure their parts and sounds are complimentary. For example on “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe“, one guitar is big and crunchy, playing the main rhythm figure of the song, and the other is small and clean, playing accents in the space left by the main guitar. In the bridge, when both are playing, the sounds are so different and complimentary that they don’t fight each other. A lot of the acoustic rhythm guitars were tuned way down (sometimes two whole steps) to create at sloppy, thick sound. We usually doubled and hard-panned those parts because it sounded pretty nasty (nasty being good, of course).
SSS: Your group gained a lot of popularity through choreographed music videos, but the videos wouldn’t work if the music didn’t resonate with so many people. Do you ever struggle with the co-existence of the videos and the music itself?
I think if some big-shot directors were making our videos for us, or we saw them solely as marketing tools for the recorded music, it might be feel weird. But to us, the videos are art projects from which we get a ton of creative satisfaction. We also put a lot of creative effort into our live show, merch, artwork, fan correspondence, politics, etc. For us, if we’ve made something we’re proud of, had fun doing it and other people enjoy it. We don’t really worry about what “it” actually is.
SSS: Talk about the Moog session, particularly what was possible with the Moog guitar.
The Moog guitar was pretty cool. It had an infinite sustain feature, sort of like six eBows in the body of the guitar. You could just use your fret hand and make really trippy sounds. We only had a few minutes to play with them before recording, but I think we came up with something cool.
SSS: What’s next for OK Go?
We’ve [have] a music video with the Muppets [that came] out in August (yes, making that video was as awesome as you think). In the fall, our touring schedule is pretty light because we’re going to be writing and recording new music for a (hopefully) 2012 release.