Belle and Sebastian: Scottish rockers on not being “indie”

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Keyboardist Chris Geddes talks to Metropolis about the band’s new album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, Scottish independence, and why Glasgow still rocks their world.

Are we right to think of Girls as something of a departure?
To a certain extent. We took some musical styles a bit further than we had before, but it was probably all things that previous records had hinted at rather than a complete departure. You hope every record you make will be different from previous ones in some way, but we’ve never gone for a complete reinvention.

What was the backstory behind the approach?


We’ve always been led by the songwriting, rather than deciding a musical direction first, and then fitting things ’round that. Stuart [Murdoch, lead singer and songwriter] said something early on about making the album like a ’70s Eurovision song contest, with each tune from a different country. It wasn’t meant entirely seriously but it conveyed the idea that it was OK if different songs went in different directions.

Chris Geddes

Tell us about your contributions as keyboardist in the band’s working process.
It varies a lot. Sometimes the songwriter has an idea for a part, and you take it from there; other times, they’ll play you the song, and the very first thing you come up with yourself is what goes on the record. Still, other times, I might work trying to find an interesting sound, and then the sound dictates the part, or I might do some programmed stuff and add that, or something I’ve done on the laptop might be the start of a song for someone else. On this record there was more programmed stuff from me and Ben the producer than on previous records.

What’s your own personal favorite song on the new album, and why?

My favorite is “Ever Had a Little Faith?” because, even though it starts off sounding like a fairly straightforward “old” Belle and Sebastian song, by the end, we’ve taken it somewhere else. I really like “Play For Today” as well. I loved Stuart’s vocal on it, and then Dee Dee [vocalist and guitarist of Dum Dum Girls] came in and did a really great job with her part, and I love the way it builds to the end with all the effects and stuff.

How did you end up recording in Atlanta? What did that bring to the album?



We went there specifically to work with Ben Allen. It was really great. Ben; Jason Kingsland, who engineered; and Sumner Jones, who was the assistant, were all really cool guys. It was a very open atmosphere in the studio, and I learned a lot from each of them. We wouldn’t have made the same record anywhere else. Ben contributed a huge amount in terms of sounds and the direction of some of the songs. I think everybody really enjoyed being in Atlanta as well, the vibe of the place and the food.

Tell us about the press shot that shows the band holding newspapers with Scottish independence referendum headlines.



It just so happened that the photoshoot took place on the same day as the referendum, so the photographer, Søren Solkær, brought the newspapers along to use in the shoot. I was a bit hesitant to do it, from the point of view that all of the mainstream media was against independence, and I didn’t want posing with the papers to be seen as an endorsement of that. I’d been getting most of my news from social media, which was why I was surprised when it was a comfortable victory for the “no” side.

What song do fans call for most in concert, and why do you think that song touched a chord with folks?

People shout a lot for “This is Just a Modern Rock Song,” which we never really play, or “Your Cover’s Blown.” I guess when people shout for things, it’s often not because they expect you to play it, but to show that they are the kind of fan that wants you to play a seven-minute-long track. The song that connects most with the audience is probably still “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” because the lyrics are a manifesto for the early days of the band.

Over two decades of Belle and Sebastian, what’s changed the most, and what’s stayed the same?


Within the band, it’s been the changes in personnel that have made the biggest differences: Isobel, Stuart, David, and Mick leaving; and Sarah, Bob, and for this album, Dave McGowan joining. Everybody had brought something different to the group when they’ve been in it, and making this record with Dave as part of the group was really good. His playing on every song was amazing, and made everybody else raise their game. There’s certain things within the writing that have stayed broadly the same. We’ve always written songs based on the harmonies that evolved in ’60s rock and pop, and not followed recent trends. The records almost always consist of melodic, lyrical songs, rather than any other form of music.



How has “maturity” affected the band?


In terms of the music we make, not much. It’s more people’s personal circumstances that have changed over the years. But we’re in a band so that we can avoid maturity!

How does Glasgow continue to shape your sound?


It’s still important for me. I hear stuff recorded at Green Door, the studio next to our rehearsal space, that really excites me. My friend Holly, who puts on a psych weekender called Eyes Wide Open, has been really good at turning me on to touring bands that have come through. My friend Andrew still does his club Divine, where we heard a lot of stuff that shaped the sound of the band.

What do critics get right—and not—about the band?



Sometimes, I’ve read critical stuff about the band and thought there were some fair points, and other times there’s been both positive and negative things where I’ve read it and thought the person just doesn’t get what we’re doing. Maybe the main thing is, we think of ourselves as more pop than [the] critics, who put us very much in the “indie” or “twee-pop” box. It’s fine, it’s just a label. I sort my record collection by genre myself, although there’s no “twee-pop” section. I’d have us filed under “other”!

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Supercozi: Producer Yukimi Yonezawa finds musical freedom in Bali

supercozi1-380x215One of a few Japanese women electronic music producers to make an international impact, Supercozi (Yukimi Yonezawa) says her new album Bioshifter—the title of which stands for “secret evolutionary process”—represents her growth over a decade as a solo artist. She shared the twisty techno pleasures of the disc and her thoughts on Japan as an outsider, from her home in Bali.

Why did you leave Japan?
The sense of stagnation I felt in Japan became unbearable by the end of 1999. I already had many travel experiences by then, so I was ready to build a new life outside of a familiar matrix.

How does having a career outside Japan compare to staying in the country?
The music industry changed dramatically after the internet became widely available. Where you are located is no longer the critical issue. I welcomed this sea change, because I spent 10 years in the Japanese major music industry, and it was like working in a factory. You have to squash your creativity to fit into the pathetic J-pop system in order to get a tie-up deal with a shampoo ad or something. Compared with this period, running my label outside Japan is like driving a spaceship on my own. It’s fantastic to have unlimited freedom to express myself, releasing whatever I want, and connecting with collaborators and listeners from all over the world.

When you return to Japan, what are your impressions?
There was a mass awakening after March 11 and Fukushima, until Abe’s regime started in 2012. All of a sudden, many ordinary citizens joined SNSs such as Facebook and started discussing nukes, clean energy, our constitution and democracy, forming a new network of grassroots activism all over Japan. Joining a peaceful rally became a normal way to express our concern. This was the biggest change I ever witnessed. But many now practice willful blindness. Sometimes I feel as if I’m witnessing a lemmings march by my own people.

Supercozi Bioshifter Cover

Your posts often criticize Japanese politics. Tell us how life abroad influences your perspective.
Fortunately, I had been always surrounded by people with the mindset of global citizens, no matter where they are from. Being able to exchange opinions on many issues with people of different nationalities inspired me to develop my point of view as a global citizen, too. And yes, I’m very concerned about the current trend of Japanese politics to drag Japan back to the mindset of the pre-war era.

How is life in Bali?
Bali has an ideal balance for me. First, Balinese Hindu culture and Balinese people’s charm remain strong. I fell in love with Bali in 1995, and am still amazed how they maintain their spiritual calmness despite the tsunami of globalization. Of course, there is a huge negative impact from overdevelopment, but Bali still has an unchanged charm if you go to the countryside. Second, Bali has a truly eclectic international expat community—so many creative individuals from all corners of the world. They mix dynamic thinking and an artistic approach in a peaceful lifestyle. I love being here.

There are still very few female DJs. Why do you think that is?
To be a professional DJ for the long term, you need an otaku mentality toward music. You’ve got to spend years developing the knowledge, and keep up-to-date. Looks like males are more equipped for digging into the long tale of the music industry for hours and hours than females. Also, there are technical skills involved to be able to deliver a good mix and adjust the sound to fit each venue. It’s a multitask job that requires wide knowledge and technological ability.

Give us some insight into the making of Bioshifter.
The album is a nice mix of chillout: Slow, sexy techno tunes, and slightly twisted electronica. I’ve got a few exciting featured vocalists, including Sophie Barker from Zero7 and MC Reason. I’m also working on a new album from Zen Lemonade—the unit with my husband Gus Till. It’s a full-on dance album, a mix of techno and progressive psytrance.

Tell us about your label, Hypo=espresso.
I founded it in Bali in 2005. We mainly release our own creations. So far we’ve released six albums. But I like this pace and Hypo is my life’s work. Sounds from Hypo will mature as we get older and absorb more things. It’s nice to have a personal platform like that. We just released an ambient compilation, Music For A Rainy Season, as a limited-edition CD, and it’s selling pretty well already.

For more info, check out www.supercozi.com or http://facebook.com/supercozi

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis: The three-piece band keep it in the family

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When Metropolis reaches Lewis Durham in England, the singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-taught audio engineer is fixing some vintage recording equipment, trying to get it working alongside the computers at Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ band studio.

“The old equipment has a more honest sound, and for recording real instruments, it captures it more faithfully than a computer does,” Durham says about the sessions for their simply-titled third album, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis The Third. The trio of siblings not only makes music inspired by ragtime, jazz, blues, honkytonk and vaudeville; they also approach the entire endeavor with an old-fashioned family ethic. Despite emerging from a generation whose musical palette is formed by electronic sampling and hip-hop, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis harken back to an era when performing musical families were common.

“My dad used to sing and play guitar, and his family did, and we did it at home growing up,” Durham explains. “At school there was contemporary pop, but at home there were always old songs being sung. We started off playing older songs because that’s the simplest place to start: You pick up the guitar and sing. I guess it’s considered old-fashioned now, but it seems natural to me.”

Notwithstanding their taste for musical styles from a century ago, the Durham siblings have managed to open the ears of a contemporary crowd, signing with BBC Radio 1 DJ and Bestival curator Rob da Bank’s label, Sunday Best. It’s not just the endearingly vintage warmth of their music but the modern way they mix it up that makes Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ material intriguing.

Third, for example, takes in everything from the saucy, vaudeville flavor of “Whenever You See Me” to the boogie-woogie beats of “Good Looking Woman,” to the lively rhythms of “Feeling of Wonder.”

“The rhythm changed entirely from what it first was,” Durham recalls about the latter song. “Originally it had more of a jazzy swing to it. Kitty was playing it in the studio, and I started a new drum beat, and it changed out of nowhere.

“We’re really lucky because we get all kinds of people coming to our shows—young and old,” he continues. “We use all different kinds of feels and approaches, there are lots of variables, even more with this new album—it’s all different kinds of genres.”

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis songs often begin as the siblings have always made music: With loose jam sessions. “A certain groove will start happening and then a song will come out of it,” Durham says. “A lot of it is from just messing around, and stuff comes out of it. Often in between rehearsing songs, we’ll get a nice rhythm going, and then put some words on it.”

The Durham siblings (Daisy is the eldest, followed by Lewis and Kitty—and yes, they do fight sometimes) still live together in Camden, where they grew up. They’ve moved out of their parents’ house but seem remarkably close.

“We’d always had music in the family, and when we first started playing it was because someone asked me to come onstage and do a song,” Durham remembers.

“Kitty joined in because there happened to be drums there, and that was it, really. It was basically doing what we’d always been doing, but doing it on the stage. Then Daisy got involved and we added a few more songs, and a friend of ours asked us to join a festival. We didn’t have a name, so he just put on the poster, ‘Kitty, Daisy and Lewis.’ It all started kind of by mistake.”

A few albums and festivals later, the Durhams found themselves backing the likes of Coldplay and traveling to Japan for Fuji Rock. “We’ve been twice to Japan and it was probably the most different place we’ve ever been,” Lewis says. “The last time we hung out in Tokyo with Gaz Mayall (ska impresario and son of blues legend John Mayall). He’s been in Japan a lot and was showing us around these little bars where you can fit around seven people. He called it ‘piss alley.’ We just thought it was amazing.”

But even if their touring adventures end, Durham affirms they’ll always be a musical family.

“I tell people that even if we’re not playing on stage or making records, we’ll have our music at home, because that’s what we’ve always done,” he says.

“We’ll just see where it goes. We enjoy touring and making records a lot, but we’ll just take it organically and see where it goes. It seems to be going pretty well at the moment. But if we ever did stop playing on stage for a reason, we’d still play at home, because we don’t play music to play in a commercial band—we just play music together because we enjoy it.”

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. Apr 24, 7:30pm. ¥6,000. Shibuya Club Quattro. Nearest station: Shibuya. http://meturl.com/kittydaisylewis2015

Dot Hacker: The LA experimental rock outfit comes Alive

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LA outfit Dot Hacker are perhaps best known for the membership of guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers—but the quartet’s atmospheric meditations are worlds away from the Peppers’ funk­tastic explosions. The band (named after one member’s grandma) debuts in Tokyo, courtesy of crowd­funding site Alive, which conducted a winning campaign on their behalf. Metropolis spoke with bassist Jonathan Hischke.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: What’s it like having the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist in the band?

That’s an interesting question … we were all close friends and had started Dot Hacker—and had recorded our first album Inhibition—before he became the guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, so we knew him as something other than a member of that band for a long time. We are very proud of him, and it is always interesting to hear stories from that part of his life. His experience being in that band has brought out more confidence in him which is a great benefit for our band, as well.

Tell us why you decided to release two albums back-to-back in 2014.

There were a few reasons for that decision. We had too many songs to fit comfortably on one album, and we didn’t know what to leave off. We didn’t want to put out an exhausting album that was too long, nor did we want to release a double-album set; we felt that it would be overwhelming for a listener. Also, we couldn’t come to an agreement about what order the songs should be in. Since our time is limited as a band due to scheduling, we also felt that staggering the releases would be good for the band in that it would extend the life of the album since we can’t tour much or be a public presence in other ways.

What are the main differences between the two?

Well, the songs were recorded together as part of the same “batch,” and the idea of making two releases came much later, so there was no attempt to make them separate or different when we were writing or recording. We feel the song order makes the most sense the way they ended up, thankfully.

You’ve been together for a while, but the recording and touring came quite late. What were you up to?

We are all busy making music and touring with other people, as well as our band, much of the time, so touring has always been a difficult thing for us to schedule. We wish we could tour all the time! However, we started recording early [in] the band’s life; it just took a long time for the first album to be released. We had to find the right label and circumstances; thank heavens for ORG Music!

Members of Dot Hacker have backed the likes of anyone from Beck to Charlotte Gainsbourg. How have these experiences shaped your sound?

We are able to reference different styles and sounds easily because of our experiences, and we can convincingly play live under most circumstances. It also informs our writing and recording because this band is our chance to not be guided or commanded to do anything differently! It’s very liberating. It’s our own safe little world we’ve created.

Tell us about the personalities of the band members and how that translates into the music.

We are all very different personalities, but there are many overlapping interests and tastes that keep us close. We love each others’ company, and we hang out together all the time. We’re all kind of best friends. I can’t imagine the band being any other way, really. Eric is very practical and organized. Clint is emotional and knowledgeable about many things. Josh is sensitive and quite artistic and literary. I am stubborn and idealistic. The other three love sports, and I don’t care at all. We all share our politics and humor. It works out great!

Tell us about Dot Hacker’s place in the current LA music scene.

We rarely play, so I don’t know! We have many friends in a lot of bands in the city, so we do have peers we see often. I don’t know if we sound like any other bands in town, though.

What does music mean to Dot Hacker in the grand scheme of things?

It’s our lifeblood! We all have been playing music as our main focus for most of our lives, and we hope we will always be able to do so. If anyone else hears it and it makes their lives a bit brighter, then that is an incredible bonus.

How did you come to be part of the Alive project?

We were approached by Alive and it seemed like a very constructive and efficient model! Our fans in Japan apparently had suggested the campaign to them, and they are the whole reason this is happening. We are very much looking forward to getting over there!

Shinjuku Marz. Feb 23, 7pm. ¥5,500. Nearest station: Seibu-Shinjuku or Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3202-8248. Tsutaya O-Nest. Feb 24, 7pm. ¥5,000 (adv)/¥5,500 (door). Nearest station: Shibuya. Tel: 03-3462-4420. http://dothacker.org

Sharon Van Etten: Torch songs for the indie era

 Escaping an abusive relationship that she chronicles in her songs, Sharon Van Etten was a late bloomer. But the New Jersey native’s emotive rock ballads are finding an increasingly engaged audience. The 33-year-old spoke with Metropolis about her new album Are We There, from her home in New York City.

The New Jersey native, known for her emotive ballads

What are you up to?

Cooking in the middle of a snowstorm. I’m making a stew—it’s the first time I’m doing a stock from scratch. It’s nice to cook because I don’t get much chance. It makes me feel like a normal person.

Because you’re on tour a lot?

Yeah, and when I’m home in the Village, it’s usually only for a week. I like to watch movies and play the piano. Usually, I’m not composing, just playing stuff. It feels good to play without it being for a specific purpose.

Do you often compose on piano?

I’m starting to—but it was hard to keep a piano in New York, until my friend told me about this brand of Melody small-scale pianos. Mine was only 500 dollars.

How does writing on piano differ from guitar?

The rhythmic patterns are different, and much more simple, because I’m not very good on piano. I naturally gravitate to mid-tempo ballads, and, in a way, the piano favors that. I don’t write a lot of upbeat songs, and I don’t think I could write one on piano.

Tell us about a new song.

I have a song called “Sentence,” that’s only four chords. The lyrics aren’t there yet, but I have a melody. The idea is how in one sentence, someone can change the way you feel about them.

Do your songs tend to evolve gradually?

I have some songs that pour out of me, and they tend to be the longer ones—“Your Love Is Killing Me” is one that just poured out. But for the most part, it takes a lot of work, and the lyrics are the hardest part. If the song borders on personal, then I’d rather take more time to think about it.

Tell us about the creation of one song on Are We There.

“Taking Chances” was one of the songs that I  first wrote on the Omnichord. It’s an electronic autoharp. It’s very ’80s. It has beats and chords on it, with one button you can play a chord. So I started writing like crazy on it. When I brought it into the studio, I started tracking the beats and vocals and melodies separately. Eventually we cut the beats out and let the band do their thing.

A fair bit has been written about your time in Tennessee and how that shaped your experience emotionally. But how did it shape you musically?

I worked at a café called the Red Rose that booked all-ages shows. The people that booked the place taught me a lot about the scene. I learned a lot about touring and bands on the road, and all different kinds of music. Cat Power, Sons of Ohio … all sorts of bands came through. But I also learned about country because I had friends who were session players and whose parents were real old-school Nashville country writers.

Which song do your fans request most, and why you think that is?

They ask for “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” a lot, because it’s the one light-hearted moment I have on the record and it’s fun to sing along to, even though it’s not a light-hearted song.

Have any of your fans credited you for rescuing them from suicide?

I think I’m far from rescuing people, but I think people don’t feel alone. They’re like, “Oh you’re sad too. You say the things I don’t know how to say.” A lot of listeners find comfort that other people are feeling pain, and are able to rise above it. People say my songs are sad but uplifting. I’m not sure I’m saving anybody. But I hope my music helps people somehow—otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this.

Before you found music, did you have other ways of getting those feelings out?

I made music for a very long time, without realizing it was therapeutic. I did choir and musicals and played guitar throughout my childhood, and I didn’t really take it seriously until my 20s. I had no idea what I was doing. But people started responding the more personal the songs got.

Did you find yourself more able to put feelings down in song as you kept doing it?

My mom gave me a notebook in high school at a time when I didn’t want to talk about anything. She gave me a notebook and I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I would write down my feelings, and eventually they became songs.

Why does music exist?

I think people have a hard time expressing themselves and it’s one way of communicating when you’re having a hard time verbalizing. It’s something you can feel without having to know why.

Art-conoclast Jack McLean

"It’s a long story, in full colour, without a happy ending." Installation at The Container gallery in Meguro.

“It’s a long story, in full colour, without a happy ending.” Installation at The Container gallery in Meguro.

From his burnable pyro-sculptures to his pathetic Sad Clown character, Scotsman Jack McLean’s art aims to provoke questions and undermine authority. McLean has spent a good part of the last two decades in Tokyo and now brings his turbulent imagination to alternative space The Container.

Metropolis asked McLean about his new drawing series, It’s a long story, in full colour, without a happy ending.

Not a happy clown

What moved you to create your first color works for The Container?

I’d been working in black and white for a number of years, and I had wanted to try the same style of drawing in full color for a while. Hendricks Gin company were sponsoring the next show at The Container, so Shai Ohayon the director asked me if I wanted to try full-size color drawings in a solo show specifically for the space.

Tell us about the genesis of your Sad Clown character.

The Sad Clown started as a performance for an art event called “Dirty, Dirty, Sex, Sex” in Shinjuku-nichome. I wanted to do something clichéd and absurd that had elements of ’70s comedy TV and British working-class, naughty seaside humor. I’ve always hated clowns, and I find most performance art awful, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. A truly awful piece of performance art from a sad clown.

The ending is not a happy one… How did you feel after completing the work?

I work very hard on the big drawings—hours and hours in front of the canvas—so there is a sense of relief when they are completed. Then it’s time to start another one.

Your art, such as your micro and pyro sculptures, often takes aim at the commercial art establishment. What then are your thoughts on Banksy?

Success—in the sense of “commercial success”—means that you are involved in the commercial art world establishment, and that world is far removed from the street. Due to his success, Banksy is now part of the commercial establishment whether he likes it or not.

On viewing It’s a long story… a few artists that come to mind are Francis Bacon, Salvador Dalí and outsider artist Henry Darger. Please tell us your thoughts on them and any other possible influences on your artistic development.

Francis Bacon developed a unique style that elevated him beyond his limitations. Salvador Dalí’s eccentricity and flamboyant personality promoted his technical ability within the context of his time. Darger was discovered by an insider, and the obsessive nature of his work was easy to understand. But none of them have really had any direct influence on my work. I’m not sure if I recognize any artists who have influenced my work, but I’m sure to others looking at my drawings they will find connections.

McLean’s turbulent imagination

How have two decades of living in Japan on-and-off shaped your art?

I’m not consciously aware of living in Japan shaping my art except from the ability to sustain myself economically and thus allowing me to create my art as a result of that. Perhaps the shaping, if any, has been in more subtle ways to do with the how and why I live here, and the respect I have for Japanese society.

How do people in Scotland and Japan approach art differently?

I think the way people go to see art in galleries in Tokyo is different. The great European masters are more accessible in Scotland than in Japan, so when there are “visiting exhibitions” here, I think there is probably more enthusiasm. Also, I think art shows are promoted more here—or used to be; maybe that is also the same now in the U.K.

Tell us about your favorite museums and galleries in Tokyo.

I like the museums in Ueno because they are older. I sometimes go to a rental gallery complex in an old apartment building in Ginza, but as it becomes more well-known, it is losing its appeal. But one day, I’ll go there and it will have become a vacant lot, so it doesn’t really matter.

What could be done to improve Japan’s art scene?

Affluent Japanese should spend their money on interesting and intrinsically valuable art rather than designer goods and the equivalent brand-name artists. This would create a healthy situation that  would help to develop a more positive Japanese art scene.

The Container, 1F Hills Daikanyama, 1-8-30 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku. Until Feb 15; Mon & Wed-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-8pm. Nearest station: Meguro. http://the-container.com

OK Go: Viral masters go Tokyo

When Tokyo Flow reaches OK Go’s Damian Kulash, the singer is in Phoenix for a funeral. Despite the circumstances, Kulash’s trademark enthusiasm bubbles back as talk turns to the band’s tour-de-force video for “I Won’t Let You Down,” shot in Japan.

“It really was a new experience in a lot of ways,” he says. The piece features thousands of Japanese high school girls dancing en masse, filmed by drone from above, and the four members of OK Go gamboling about on Honda U3-X personal mobility devices.

“Director Morihiro Harano and the band saw eye to eye,” Kulash continues about the video which, at this writing, had been viewed
15 million times on YouTube. “It’s always magical when you align with someone creatively, and you feel like the whole is more than the sum of the parts. It’s even more magical when you’re crossing the language barrier.”

Choreographed by Japan’s Air:man, “I Won’t Let You Down” is a disco-flavored trifle of a dance number that sees the high school girls—epitomizing kawaii—deploying umbrellas in precise movements to create what from above looks like a shifting work of contemporary art.

People may be reminded of Japanese painter Yayoi Kusama’s dots or North Korea’s mass games, but the main inspiration goes back to 1930s Hollywood. “Busby Berkeley was a famous American choreographer from the ’30s, and he liked graphic aerial shots a lot,” Kulash explains, “so what you see in our video with the kaleidoscopic shots from on high, he often did that in the studio with dancers.”

Forming in Chicago in the late ’90s, OK Go have become known as much for their peppy pop-rock and their stint as the house band for NPR’s “This American Life,” as for their elaborate videos, which collectively boast over 100 million YouTube views.

To what does OK Go ascribe the remarkable audience for their videos online? “We don’t try to spell out our lyrics or match the song’s emotional content,” hazards Kulash. “We look at the shape of the song, and try to match the arc of it. For example, with a sad song, rather than trying to make a sad video, we try to make something with the same ups and downs. What we hope is people will see that this three-minute thing is not about the lyrics, it’s just this piece of art for them to like—there’s a radical transparency of process.”

ok go 3 Ok Go goes Tokyo

The success of OK Go’s videos means the revenues from them form a key part of the band’s income, and Kulash even appears on panels devoted to the secrets of making viral videos. The band has become something of a poster child for the way post-analog bands leverage numerous media formats to get their music out.

“We like to think that recorded music in the 20th century existed in a bubble and there were no commercial pressures on it, and it was art,” Kulash reflects, “and no wonder we hated the labels—they were doing all the dirty work and paying themselves 90 percent of the profits.”

Kulash observes that in the current, more complex environment of downloads and streams, it’s more difficult to figure out the commercial side of one’s artistic endeavor. OK Go’s solution has been to, so to speak, get in bed with the enemy.

“We find it creatively freeing to go into business with people directly,” he says. “We know then what’s expected of us and vice versa. So rather than having a record company who thinks they know better than you what to do with your art, we work with people who want to be associated with what we do. It’s a much healthier relationship.”

In the case of “I Won’t Let You Down,” there’s the obvious promotion for Honda’s mobility device. “I can’t discuss the specifics of our deal with Honda—but we knew what was expected of us and what wasn’t,” says Kulash. “We knew they would let us make the video exactly as we wanted and have creative control. They didn’t want to change what we were doing because they liked it.”

Kulash says people need to get over the idea of sponsorship as crass. “That’s where a lot of the music is to be found these days because radio plays only a few extremely well-funded acts,” he says. “I have problems with corporate domination of culture, but as long as I’m not in a position where I’m shilling products, I’d rather be where culture is actually happening than try to avoid it.”

OK Go has had a fan base in Japan ever since touring its eponymous debut album in 2002. Last summer’s packed Fuji Rock appearance and the upcoming sold-out date in Tokyo indicate just to what extent “I Won’t Let You Down” has cemented the band’s relationship with people here. “In Japan, it feels like everyone is a nerd about something—whether it’s film or rock ‘n’ roll or bowling,” Kulash says. “Having our music finally take off there just feels right.”

The singer is an astute observer of the way music scenes have evolved since OK Go’s days on the Chicago band scene. “Those communities used to be based around physical proximity,” he notes. “They still exist, but now they’re based around concepts or styles or artistic choices rather than geographic locations.”

Whether in a close physical community of bands, or a digitally diffused community of creators, the social role of music is clearly one of its most important. But Kulash says it’s music’s secret sauce that made it his life choice.

“For me, music is the only thing that can scratch that itch,” he says. “I think the reason why is, life is not simple. In your most joyous moments there is melancholy. For example, I’m talking to you from a funeral today. Being human is so complex and magnificent, and for me the interplay of sounds speaks to me in those complex emotions.

“An amazing fact is that when people sing together, their heartbeats align, and they release oxytocin on the level of sex. Oxytocin generates feelings of loyalty and love, and if you can generate that in a society by performing music, then it has a huge function in making society whole. It’s amazing that you can get the same answer scientifically and emotionally and evolutionarily—which is that music is fucking magic.”