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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Wrecking Crew Orchestra: Street dance meets Japanese hi-tech

wrecking-01-380x215Irregular hours are a fact of life for a dancer. Metropolis’ Skype call to Yuichi Yokoi finds the leader of Osaka street dance group Wrecking Crew Orchestra about to begin rehearsal at 11 in the evening.

“We were all once dance instructors; usually we worked during daytime,” Yokoi explains with a laugh. “So the only time we had to practice was at night after work. It’s a habit we can’t seem to drop.”

The eight members of Wrecking Crew are rehearsing what may be their biggest show yet: A 10-day residency at Tokyo’s Zepp Blue Theater.

“We wanted to test our limits of expression,” says Yokoi of the production, which employs sophisticated projection mapping. “With Doodlin’, we go beyond street dance to create an entertainment spectacle. We’ve used projection mapping in our performances before, but we wanted to try something new in terms of integrating technology with street dance.”

Doodlin’ melds street dance with Japanese hi-tech, taking the integration of projection mapping with performance art to a new level. Working with visual director Takehito Suzuki and a pack of costume and stage designers, Wrecking Crew Orchestra employs what’s called a “see-through screen” that allows them to seamlessly blend the dancing and visuals.

Yokoi says the title Doodlin’ stands for graffiti. “The theme is based on childhood,” he offers. “Kids have a limitless imagination. For example, if you have kids draw a cat, but they don’t do a very good job, the cat’s ears may look like mountains. Then they draw a sky as background, and what was supposed to be a cat becomes a landscape. That’s the idea of Doodlin’—images transform before your eyes into something completely unexpected. When we become adults, our freedom of imagination gets hemmed in by social expectations and common sense. With Doodlin’, we want people to recall the freedom of their childhood. We hope to inspire people to open their minds.”

After decades as a dancer and stints representing Japan at overseas events, Yokoi speaks with the voice of someone who’s had time to consider the meaning of his life’s calling. “It has to be a conversation between the dancers and the audience,” he believes. “Dance isn’t just a tool to entertain—but also to tell a story.”

When they go abroad, Wrecking Crew find themselves in the intriguing position of representing Japan via an art form that began on the streets of the United States. “Street dance isn’t Japanese culture, so for us to represent it to Myanmar people was a bit strange,” he recalls forthrightly. “[The] Japanese first imitated American culture, but then we made it our own over time. So we tried to bring that to Myanmar. It was a powerful experience.”

What makes Japanese street dance unique? “[The] Japanese are subtle,” he says, pondering a good answer. “And precise. We’re able to take advantage of that for performances that, for example, involve projection mapping. We try to bring those aspects of Japanese culture to street dance; and Japanese hi-tech—mixing that with street art.”

Rather than finding overseas habits strange, Yokoi says it’s the local response he finds odd upon returning to Japan. “Japanese people are very shy—they’re always checking other audience members out before they decide how to respond,” he responds. “Nearby Asian peoples are more open. So rather than finding other countries strange, when I get back, I find Japan different. I wish Japanese would learn how to enjoy themselves more easily, and not be so uptight.”

While amateur dance forms from salsa to ballroom to Jamaican-style twerking are wildly popular here, dance at the professional level is still a tiny community divided into factions from street dance to ballet to butoh.

Japan needs someone who can unite dance fans, and in Yokoi they may have the right person. Whether it’s in front of audiences in big Japanese cities, or on international tour, what comes through from Yokoi is that he enjoys being on stage at least as much as his fans take pleasure in watching him.

“It’s all I know,” he concludes. “I’ve been dancing professionally half my life. It’s also the area where I express myself best. And it provides a way to interact with people. I even met my wife through dance—and the members of Wrecking Crew, too. More than art, for us dance is a communication tool.”

http://wreckingcreworchestra.com/

Eri Uchida: mystery at the heart of Kodo

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Tokyo Flow spoke with Eri Uchida, one of a few women members of legendary Japanese taiko drum troupe Kodo. Uchida told us about Kodo’s new work Mystery, its first to feature women in central roles. 

How did you come to join Kodo?

I decided to attend Kodo’s apprentice center when I saw Kodo in Vancouver while I was at high school in Canada. After two years of apprenticeship, we are able to perform on stage with the other members.

Women seem relatively new to the world of taiko: What are the challenges?

Women are not so new to taiko as a performing art which has been around only 50 years or so. In fact, most amateur taiko groups are composed mainly of women. However Kodo is composed mostly of men, and there are lots of challenges as professionals. First of all, the size of the taiko. The taiko that we use are so large that even some men can barely make a good sound. Therefore it is even more challenging for female taiko players.

Tell us about your role in the new piece Mystery.

I think the audience will enjoy the presence of women in Mystery, because we have created both theatrical and comical pieces featuring women in the production. Women are usually not heavily featured in Kodo’s productions, so Mystery is a rare opportunity to enjoy the female presence.

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Why do you think artistic director Tamasaburo Bando chose to feature women strongly in Mystery? Are women mysterious?

Bando has thought about the role of women in Kodo since the very beginning. As he plays female roles in Kabuki, he taught us how to behave and act as women on stage. I think women are mysterious in that they have the ability to create a new life inside their body. However, women are not central to the mysterious aspect of this production. Female performers have an important role to lighten the atmosphere on stage, and to provide a sense of comfort and humor with their charm. I think it was a big challenge to feature women in Kodo, which has a strong image of male performers.

Taiko seems to be getting very popular worldwide. Why do you think this is?

Taiko is essentially one of the easiest instruments on which to make a sound. So it is very easy to start. Taiko cannot be done alone; whether it is for performance, preparation, or actually building the drum, a sense of togetherness is required. I think as individualism becomes a common value worldwide, people’s hearts need this sense of community.

Tell us about your most special experience so far as a member of Kodo.

It is very difficult to choose one experience. The entire experience is special to me. Touring is life-changing. Your views and values change a lot in a short period of time. The sunset from the tour bus, the freezing weather I have never experienced, communication with local staff without language barriers, the encounter of dangerous suburban areas…the ability to find new answers when I’m feeling stuck. These are some examples of touring experiences that lead up to my performances. I am very thankful to Kodo for giving me this opportunity.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

That’s a hard question. I feel like I am reborn every time a tour ends. I don’t know what I will be doing in ten years since my priorities change quickly. All I know is I’d like to have a child someday and want to live for others.

What does music mean to you, and why do you think music exists?

Music for me is healing, joy, and makes my life rich and prosperous, but also the biggest worry since my job is music. If I limit this topic to taiko, I’d like to introduce an idea that a psychologist once offered on the subject: “Human beings have an element of ferocity. Unlike robots, we kill other species in order to survive. Humans may develop mental illness when the balance of these ferocious instincts collapses. The action of hitting the drum provides a very important influence to achieve that balance mentally. Therefore, taiko drumming  maintains wellness for human beings.” Expanding from this idea, I believe that music has a universal power to heal anyone’s mind in our current society.

Kodo perform at Brooklyn Academy of Music, March 19-21.  http://www.bam.org/music/2015/mystery

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

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.”