If you haven’t seen the latest video from Chicago alt-rock outfit OK Go, “This Too Shall Pass,” do yourself a favor. Log onto YouTube and join the 13 million others who’ve already been dazzled by the surreal Rube Goldberg-crazy clip, which ends with frontman Damian Kulash and his bandmates being spattered with perfectly-timed paint guns.
The warehouse-huge, “Mousetrap”-complicated contraption was built by the group and SYYN Labs, and underwritten by State Farm Insurance, not their record label.
Why? “Our philosophy has always been that we’d rather make things we like making, and do it ourselves,” says Kulash, 34. “So we’d rather make our own videos than pay someone else to have that fun.”
The singer — who brings the Grammy-winning OK Go to The City this week — has taken this DIY approach to its logical conclusion. Angered when he discovered his imprint Capitol/EMI was blocking fans from embedding videos like “This Too,” he launched his own company, Paracadute Records, gaining unlimited artistic freedom in the process.
He’s not following some Machiavellian strategy, Kulash says. “Doing things ourselves means that your career doesn’t ride on the ups and downs of somebody else’s marketing plan. Like, if a label decides to not work us, it doesn’t mean we go back to some Starbucks job.”
The Brown University-educated Kulash has written several op-eds for the New York Times, and even testified before Congress on subjects like Internet neutrality and digital rights management.
Long before he regained control of OK Go’s new “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky” album, he was tinkering with the music-biz status quo. When execs attempted to include anti-downloading software on the band’s last “Oh No” album, he says, “We got around it in a sneaky way. We turned our record in with a 34-minute hidden track on it that was just a recording of my wife sleeping, so there was no space left.”
When the quartet sensed “Oh No” promotion flagging, they promptly directed, then self-posted, two breakthrough song clips — the backyard-dancing “A Million Ways” and a treadmill-filmed “There It Goes Again,” considered the most-viewed video of the last decade.
“And when the treadmill video blew up, the label went ‘Oh, look! We have a rock band!” Kulash says. “So now most of our connection to our fans is direct, without requiring this massive distribution network of major labels.”
OK Go acolytes can even self-remix their new “WTF?” video. “Because every great event in our career has been something small we’ve done ourselves that managed to amplify itself in big ways,” says Kulash, “usually through the Internet.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Fillmore, 185 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Contact: (415) 346-6000; www.livenation.com