Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher would feel right at home in OK Go’s ‘The Writing’s on the Wall.’
The mind-bending four-minute video is full of mirrors, detritus and contraptions. When the camera hits just right, you see words, pictures, even a portrait. In between, band members melt into one another, bicycle upside down and cover themselves in streams of paint.
Band member Tim Nordwind says that OK Go’s been wanting to make a video like this for a while. With this new song, it felt right.
As band member Damian Kulash told the Wall Street Journal:
“It’s about that moment in a relationship when you realize it’s coming to an end and that it’s inevitable. … It’s that feeling of having something coalesce and fall apart, like chaos and order. The song is melancholic and jubilant at the same time, and it felt like the illusions were a good visual corollary to that.”
“Relationships are all about perspective,” Nordwind tells me. “And that’s what we’re playing with here.”
The band spent a couple of months talking through the concept and designing mock-ups on computers. Then they moved into a Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, warehouse for a month, and started building.
That’s when the real hard work began. “A lot of the stuff that worked in theory didn’t quite work in practice,” Nordwind says. A camera angle would be slightly off, or the collection of props they’d assembled didn’t quite look like what they’d imagined.
“We’re like, okay, if we have a couple of blue things, it doesn’t look quite like a square,” he says. “It was trial and error.”
One of their most ambitious ideas was a pile of junk that looks, at the right angle, like Nordwind’s face. “It was really hard,” Nordwind says. “There was a lot of, ‘Can you move the tire a couple of inches?’ ”
OK Go is no stranger to ambitious, meticulous, weird videos. They’ve shot on treadmills, with trained dogs and a massive Rube Goldberg device. (There’s also my favorite, in a tricked-out car and a bunch of pianos in the desert).
This one, Nordwind says, was the band’s most complicated, in part because it was so physically taxing on the singers. “You see us on camera, but what you don’t see is us sprinting to hit our mark, tearing on our next costume,” Nordwind says.
And because the band shoots each of its videos in one long take, one mistake forces everyone back to the beginning. Nordwind says the band tries to front-load its videos with the most complicated tricks. Even so, they do dozens of takes for each one (65 for “The Writing’s on the Wall”).
Nordwind declines to label the foursome as just a band or a video collective (or even a creator of guerrilla parades). “We’re just boys who make things,” he says.