OK Go's Damian Kulash on leaving Capitol Records
On Feb. 20, Damian Kulash of OK Go published an op-ed piece in the New York Times expressing annoyance at his label, Capitol/EMI, that his band’s wildly popular videos are forbidden from being embedded on sites other than YouTube. He’s not going to have that problem in the future -- the band officially announced today that it's parted ways with Capitol to go it alone on its own label.
“Major labels are facing a difficult future,” Kulash told Pop & Hiss. “The conditions we were signed under have passed, and we were likely to wind up funding ourselves anyway. I just didn’t think we were going to be able to do this so quickly. I don’t feel bilious about it. They’re not bad people at Capitol. They’re really doing us a favor.”
Kulash stressed that there was no tension between band and label over the op-ed piece. He said that OK Go had been more or less seriously planning to leave Capitol for months, and that the New York Times just happened to schedule his piece at a moment when the band had begun earnestly pursuing a dissolution of its contract. His list of difficulties with the label was more prosaic -- slashed budgets for the band’s much-beloved videos, less tour support and small, infuriating gestures such as unembeddable videos. (A representative for EMI was unable to comment yet.)
“All the people we worked with at the label wanted to see our videos embeddable. They aren’t morons,” Kulash said. “That was just a decision that made its way down the chain. Now, it’s just having one less useless cook in the kitchen.”The band has a new album, “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky,” to promote, and OK Go's members admit that the burden of self-financing is simultaneously liberating and daunting. But they feel that the goodwill they’ve built up from their videos and constant touring will be enough to carry them forward.
“We’re one of the small percentage of bands that are actually fiscally solvent,” Kulash said. “The issue is just start-up capital; the business is already running well. A larger business like Capitol needs to aggregate its risk, and while we’re sorry not to have access to their pockets, they were only really available to the biggest acts anyways, and we’re not Coldplay.”The band will release new material through its own new label, Paracadute, and the group's marketing savvy (the band’s embeddable clip for “This Too Shall Pass” pulled more than 6 million views in its first week online) makes it as likely a candidate as any to survive as a self-sustaining act. But Kulash also has a creeping fear that the new necessity for business savvy among young artists might distort the question of who gets to make art.
“We only want to understand the logistics of the record business as long as it keeps us afloat creatively,” Kulash said. “Whenever I read music business magazines or blogs, I get nauseous. With the op-eds, we’re usually just chugging along as band, and when something gets in the way, I’ll say, ‘This counters common sense’ and write about it. But my great fear now is that if every musician is their own business, we’ll be self-selective towards very calculating musicians. I don’t think that being a clear thinker and being a great musician are mutually exclusive, but that’s not historically the trend."
-- August BrownFrom left to right: Tim Nordwind, Andy Ross, Damian Kulash, Dan Konopka. Credit: Dusan Reljin