On Your Mark, Get Set, OK Go
Band Talks About Fishsticks and Its MIT Heritage
Associate Features Editor
I walked into the Zesiger center room with the band members, chairs, tables, and papers all strewn about. The only thing that was still seemingly organized was the MIT food plate that had been given to them.
“Will this interview be played on the radio?” asked lead guitarist Damien Kulash.
“No,” I said.
“Good,” he replied.
And, with one audible fart, Kulash set a juvenile tone that he would maintain for the rest of the interview.
I was going to enjoy this.
Damien Kulash: I want to tell you this right now because you may never have gotten this: Tim’s grandfather was a professor of metallurgy here and my father got his undergraduate and I believe his PhD here. So we are an MIT fucking band ... So now you can ask us questions. Or you can ask about Tim’s grandfather ... apparently he made this metal strengthening alloy that won him the Japanese equivalent of the Nobel Prize. My grandfathers were both heavy into science ... one discovered a species of beetle ... my other one invented the modern fishstick. I mean, here is the only part of the interview where I will not be lying. He was a biochemist working for General Foods, and he discovered the chemical by which you could stick together pieces of fish in a solution.
Tim Nordwind: I believe that’s what George Lucas based the idea of carbon freezing on.
Kulash: And they gave him no credit.
Nordwind: Neither did the fishstick company.
The Tech: So Mark McGrath came here last year with Sugar Ray. Are you guys going to try to out-sexy him?
Kulash: That contest was over before it already began. I mean, that’s all I’m going to say ... I have heard tell, somewhere in the ether, that Sugar Ray will be covering a great Jo Jackson song called “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” ... I think they’re going to ruin it. I suspect they will be doing it for a movie ... possibly for Shrek 2. And I like Shrek. I would like to do a song for Shrek, but I’ve heard different sources say different things. But I really don’t wanna hear that awesome song done by them.
Nordwind: I have heard people say Mark McGrath is not sexy.
Kulash: I have heard people say that they were not impressed with Mark McGrath’s sexiness or his basketball playing skills. Yet they were with ours. And we’re not that good at basketball. So what I’m saying is this guy’s easy to impress.
TT: About the movies: You guys have your song “You’re So Damn Hot” in “The Real Cancun.” So are you guys fans of reality TV?
Kulash: Well, it’s disgusting, yet it’s intriguing. For me, it’s like ... chicken rings. Now onion rings make sense because they are already in rings, and I know I shouldn’t be averse to foods in shapes because my grandfather was all about that. But look, chicken rings could not be good for you, but they may be interesting to eat ... like that, the voyeurism in reality television is attractive ... it’s gonna be fun to watch, and I feel strong enough about our music for it to be used for the movie. So while I’m super-psyched for the movie, I’m embarrassed for the world.
TT: Was “Get Over It” based on the Eagles song of the same name?
Kulash: No, I didn’t know there was one.
Nordwind: Somebody told us that.
Kulash: Even more, there was a straight to video movie called Get Over It and I was worried about that interfering.
TT: What classical bands do you think you take inspiration or style from?
Kulash: Cheap Trick, Queen, David Bowie.
TT: English bands?
Kulash: Yeah. Well, Cheap Trick is American. But everybody takes from the Stones and the Beatles ... that late 70s powerpop and the early new wave. See, I think the term powerpop was overused and given a horrible connotation in the 90s as every Southern California band was given that term. But Elvis Costello, Jo Jackson, and even in some term KISS, that’s what inspired us.
TT: When you think of any bands on the radio, many seem to be mixes of various genres.
Kulash: Well it’s hard to see what things are mixes nowadays. I think like Aerosmith and Run DMC is a mix, but then, what really about Shania Twain is a mix anymore? Or Creed? ... So I’m inclined to disagree with you there ... It all seems so similar to me that there are so many rock bands doing so many similar things that it’s a breath of fresh air to hear when a band like the White Stripes gets through ... I think of radio rock as being more homogenized. The only really good thing about it is when kids get sick of it they have to look somewhere else.
TT: Damien, you were a semiotics major at Brown, analyzing popular culture. Now that you have reached a national stage, do you try to analyze your music that way?
Kulash: I think that actively is part of our music. You know, we try to be sure that we’re not putting our academic theses into our music ... one thing that has never had any relation to school is that what I like about music the most is that it works on a purely emotional level. No matter how clever or witty or groundbreaking someone’s lyrics or ideas are, people respond to music from the gut unsoiled by the trickery of human rationale. Something fucking feels great about it ... it can really just be a primal instinct ... It kinda saddens me to see that rock has become a more cannonized form than it used to be ... Elvis really made people dance.
TT: You guys have been on tours in England before, how was that?
Kulash: It was great.
Nordwind: It feels to me that music was more embedded into their culture.
Kulash: They have more of a common culture. I mean, their TV has four or five channels. And back in the 60s, we would have all seen the same episode of Gilligan’s Island ... I don’t think that exists anymore. there are so many inlets into the mass culture that the unity is not there anymore.
Nordwind: The audiences were definitely just more vocal ... they would say things like, “I like this one!” or “I’m going to go get a beer!” and they would.
TT: What’s your role with the radio show, “This American Life?”
Kulash: One of the best things made in America right now ... It’s a documentary and literary show that just picks a theme ... it ranges from four or five segments or one long one and is as frivolous as summer camp or vague as amateurs and professionals and it always has the ability to make someone laugh or cry. It is crazily emotional and yet really intelligent ... it is like universally accessible and yet not pandering. It’s the golden egg of making cultural products.