Oh boy, oh boy, it’s time for the Twelve Months of (Rare, Unreleased) OK Go. There’s really not that much more to explain than that. Every month in 2013, we will be sending out some previously unheard OK Go tracks — demos, cover songs, obscure originals, live cuts, and more. To hear the latest and greatest jams from the archives, simply subscribe to the OK Go mailing list (see the upper right corner of this very screen) and watch your inbox every month.
Below, for archive purposes, are the month by month descriptions of the tracks. In loving, reverse chronological order.
And now, of course, the dramatic conclusion of the Twelve Months of Rare, Unreleased OK Go. If you were one of the many people who requested that we post one of the band’s handbell tracks, this mp3 is for you. Recorded live on tour in 2010, this arrangement of “Return” was ever-so-briefly available as a bonus track for super-earlybird downloaders of the live album 180/365, after which it was sucked into the digital void with nary a scream.
Kittens are all the rage, and why shouldn’t they be? Some of our scientist friends have even told us that the majority of internet traffic is actually made out of cats. We might be misinterpreting that. Let’s be clear, however. Even though this month’s unreleased song has the word “kitten” in the title, it’s not just for SEO bots. It’s for you.
It comes in celebration of the band’s upcoming 15th anniversary, one of the very oldest OK Go songs in existence: “Oh, My Little Kitten.”
I just listened to this song for the first time in a decade, at least. I think I’d filed the memory if it away in the heavily populated mental bin Dumb Shit We Once Did Which Will Make Me Cringe So Avoid At All Costs. But it was actually really fun to listen to. It’s like time travel.
When the band first decided to be a band, Tim and I took a couple weeks off from our jobs and went to write songs in New Hampshire. I think we started six and finished three, of which this is one (although this is a studio recording from a few months later, not the original demo). It’s a direct response to the only other song we’d written together then, ‘Bye Bye Baby,’ which we’d written over spring break a few years before and was, tongue in cheek, about my childhood cat abandoning me for Hollywood stardom. (Which she may have done, or maybe she just died and we never found her.) Anyway, by that first real writing session, I’d just gotten my first dog, and realized I’m more of a dog person than a cat person, so we wrote the sequel: Fuck you, cat, and you know what, stay gone, you little snob.
Listening to it now, it’s like a snapshot of us trying to figure out who we were. The weird time signature was something we thought might be our sound. A bunch of early songs were in odd time signatures, or nearly uncountable rhythms like the weird beat in ‘Bruise Grey.’ That, and the sort of baroque structure (this happens, and then this happens, and then this other thing happens!) were how we dealt with our ambivalence about pop music. We felt, like all of the musicians we knew back then, that we needed to be boldly pushing boundaries, that simplicity and directness were for the simpleminded, and we wanted to make art. Except that we wanted it to be really fun and immediate, too. Hence the bubblegum-on-mushrooms vibe of the whole thing, and the reason we we still get described as “quirky,” which is what people say when something is fun but also weird.
Then there’s actually hearing my voice from more than a decade ago, which is a trip. How different, and how the same. And the lyrical voice, a person I haven’t been in so long, trying to be something I haven’t tried to be for a long time. That nerdy, bitchy, self-consciously articulate thing is a pretty direct reflection of how much I was obsessed with The Magnetic Fields and Morrissey. You can hear me trying to figure out what my voice was. And obviously we decided this wasn’t it, because, until now, we never shared the song with anyone.
October is time for Halloween and a double-spooky blast of unreleased OK Go. We’ve rebooted former OK Go guitarist Andy Duncan from our back-up tapes and ghoulishly present his eerie rocker, “You Are Dead” for your trick and treating pleasure.
Andy Duncan remembers:
This is a song about a first date. At her suggestion we dressed in black and had a picnic at the cemetery. I know its a bit macabre for a first date but look what came of it — one of the best songs I ever wrote. She kept telling me that I had devil eyes, that I was dead and she was alive, and thus the song goes…
September’s song is a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” drawn from the very early OK Go repertoire.
When we first started the band (nearly 15 years ago now! holy shit!), nearly every gig we got was opening for someone else, and we realized that the position of the opening band is damned. The audience paid good money to see someone else, and either they think you’re similar (“rip-off!”) or dissimilar (“this is not what I paid for”), and mostly they want to hate you a little. So we decided we’d open every show with a peace offering: a cover.
We’d pick songs that everyone knows, and anyone with good taste likes, and we could all pay homage to something awesome collectively. Then the ice is broken and you can all be friends.
So we picked songs that were good for starting shows: songs that were upbeat, songs that everyone in the audience would know. But they had to be genuinely great, and not songs that were too current or too overplayed, because we didn’t want it to be ironic or snarky. Our first show ever (in Columbia, MO to five people), we opened with “Crimson and Clover.” Within a year, we probably had 15 covers to choose from on any given night. The Pretenders, The Smiths, Toto, The Specials, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course, Elvis Costello.
August’s song is sure to lull you into that special place. It’s an instrumental elevator version of “Get Over It.” Here’s what Tim remembers about its creation:
The elevator version of ‘Get Over It’ was written in the back of the van with a MIDI keyboard and computer while touring on our first record in 2002 and 2003. It was made to be used as the soundtrack for our instructional ping pong video, written and directed by Brian Perkins.
And now, your mission: use Vine, GarageBand, ProTools, your webcam, a tape deck, or anything else to add your own vocals. We’ll post our faves.
July’s song is called “The Office Song,” and was demoed in 2004. Listen to the lyrics and guess why we picked it for July. Here’s what Damian remembers about it:
I wrote ‘The Office Song’ in late July of whatever year that was. I was living in Chicago, with my dog Ella, in a downtrodden part of the city where cheap fireworks were considered a high form of entertainment. The fireworks were illegal in Chicago, but could be gotten less than an hour away in Indiana, so once the glut of July 4th supplies made it to the city, we’d have little bursts of explosions in the neighborhood every 15 minutes or so until well into September. Poor Ella was terrified of the sound, so my apartment had a constant air of panic as she slunk into closets or under beds, and the celebrations started sounding the opposite of joyous to me – like people trying to punish themselves into being happy. That was inspiration for the line “the Independence Day Parade’s been going on for half a month now.”
It’s officially summertime. In lieu of the still-in-progress new album, may we humbly present to you June’s Official Previously Unreleased OK Go Summer Jam (Sung By Tim) of 2013: a cover of Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” recorded in prehistoric times. Recalls Tim:
We made this to be the soundtrack for a birthday videogram for a friend of the band while on tour for our first record. It was an animated video that we should probably never speak of again, but it took long hours of Damian and Brian [Perkins] rummaging the internet to find just exactly what they were looking for. Most of it, including the music, was done in the van.
It’s back to the super-secret stash of unreleased covers this month for a totally burning rough instrumental cut of “Nite Klub” by the second wave ska act The Specials. Listen closely and you can hear Damian singing the words live in the room. And just as we’re not sure what ska-wave we’re up to currently, it doesn’t matter that Damian’s vocals never made it to the final mix, because the theme of this recording is DANIMAL IN YOUR FACE. Turn it up and dance. And feel free to sample the living beejeezus out of the five-count-’em-five drum breaks.
As James Brown said: give the drummer some.
Here’s what Dan remembers about the session:
I remember playing “Nite Klub” to a click, which was difficult because of the momentum and solo-ish-ness of all the breaks. Fun as hell, though. You can kind of hear that I was having a blast. I remember I was trying to channel a gospel rave-up church band kind of vibe. Like something from Blues Brothers.
Where we come from, the celebration of spring is marked by the tradition of driving-around-too-fast-with-open-car-windows. To celebrate, this month’s Unreleased mp3 of the Month is a cover song from one of the great drive-around-too-fast-with-open-car-windows albums of all time, The Breeders’ Last Splash. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to do the same. Within all local speed limits, of course.
Here’s what Damian has to say about it:
I spent a lot of high school listening to The Breeders’ album Pod, and so I bought Last Splash the day it came out. It was the end of the summer before my senior year. Those songs will always feel like summer to me, and with today being the first t-shirt outside day I’ve had all year, it feels like the right time for a throw-back.
March’s song is a piping fresh song recorded with Dave Fridmann in Fredonia called “I’m Not Through.”
The reason you have the opportunity to hear this song is because we, OK Go, are working with the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi on the 2013 edition of their Music Video Challenge. Put another way: until we finish this album we’re going to be too busy making music to make a video of our own, so we want you to make one and share it with the world. There’ll be a panel (including Damian) to pick the best, and the winner will be invited to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in June. There’ll be a People’s Choice winner, too, and a website compiling all the submissions. You can learn more here.
Celebrating the Season of the Tim (new PYYRAMIDS album en route!), Tim recounts the recording of his unreleased demo, “Make Up Your Mind”:
“Make Up Your Mind” is a demo that was recorded sometime between our first and second record. I recorded the song in my bedroom while sharing an apartment in Chicago with our former guitarist Andy Duncan. Andy did a lot of the programming, played keys, and a wonderful slow and melodic Duncansian guitar solo in the middle of the song. The solo always kind of sounded like George Harrison to me. “Make Up Your Mind” was written for a friend who was having really difficult relationship problems with her boyfriend at the time. She was incredibly confused by him because he didn’t know whether he wanted in or out of the relationship. She told me he voiced his confusion with lines like, “I mean we’re just two really different people, you like to drive a car and I like to take the bus and ride my bike.” I really wanted to use that line, but couldn’t figure out a way to make it fit rhythmically. But man, I tried. Anyway, I felt bad for her and wanted to try to cheer her up with a song.
The series begins appropriately with a demo from 2004 called “This Thing Has Started” that might sound familiar to some of your ears. Here’s Danimal to explain it:
This was recorded right around the time we were getting ready to record our 2nd record, Oh No. We recorded quite a few of those songs (including “This Thing Has Started”) at Damian’s place in LA in the summer of 2004. We set up the drums right in the center of his living room and tracked for I think about ten days with Ken Sluiter engineering the session. He’s a great friend and engineer we kept from our Chicago days. I remember getting hooked on coffee that session. I had never really drank coffee until then and remember being amazed by the caffeine jolt I got from it. I knew then exactly what everybody was so damn excited about when we’d take breaks for Starbucks while on tour.