Formation and early years (1998–2000)
The band's lead singer, Damian Kulash, met bassist Tim Nordwind at Interlochen Arts Camp in Traverse City, Michigan when they were 11. Kulash was in for graphic design, Nordwind for music. The band name comes from an art teacher of the band members saying, "OK... Go!" while they were drawing. They kept in touch after camp, often exchanging mixtapes which influenced each other's musical taste and the band's future sound. They met the band's future guitarist and keyboardist Andy Duncan in high school. Nordwind and Duncan moved to Chicago for college, where they formed the band Stanley's Joyful Noise with drummer Dan Konopka. The name OK Go was adopted in 1998, when Kulash moved to Chicago to join the band.
The band plastered the city with posters for its earliest gigs and within a year had shared the stage with international artists such as Elliott Smith, the Promise Ring, the Olivia Tremor Control and Sloan. At the end of 2000, the band was invited by radio host Ira Glass to serve as the house band for live performances of This American Life in Boston, New York, and Chicago.
The band self-released two EPs, titled Brown EP (2000) and Pink EP (2001), which were culled from an album's worth of songs recorded in February 2000 with producer Dave Trumfio, to serve as demos. The early music had electronic influences, as Kulash told the Chicago Reader in 2001, "We were trying to figure out how we could get a sampler and beats to work in rock songs that didn't sound like rip-offs of Portishead." The demos did not land the band a label deal, but got them the attention of booking agent Frank Riley, who offered them shows with They Might Be Giants, a relationship that has endured as OK Go opened for the band numerous times during this period, and was introduced to the band's manager by them.
Though the members of OK Go eventually left for Los Angeles and New York, they consider themselves a Chicago band. In a 2011 interview, Kulash described the band's formative years: “As far as the band is concerned, we only have one home town. We all live in L.A. now but there’s only one period of your life as a band where you’re playing the same clubs every week or every month, and you know everybody in every other band; and it’s all your friends, all the people that work at the clubs, and it’s such a community. Chicago had such a close-knit and intense community five years ago when we were here. It’s amazing. The Empty Bottle was where it all started for us. We played at the Metro and the Double Door as well."
OK Go (2001–2004)
OK Go at the Albany Tulip Festival (May 2006)
Though the band had offers from bigger labels, the band signed to Capitol Records in April 2001 believing that, as the first signing by newly hired label president Andy Slater, they would get more attention and support.
The band released its debut album, OK Go, on September 17, 2002, after it was pushed back by the label from its original June release date. The album was recorded at the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and, though the original plan was to do minor tweaks to the original demos, the band ended up rerecording everything and adding five new songs, including the first single "Get Over It," which later appeared in Triple Play Baseball and Madden NFL 2003 video games. To promote the release, the label sent out miniature ping pong tables to press outlets, a reference to the "Get Over It" video directed by Francis Lawrence. In support of the album, the band toured with a diverse group of acts including the Vines, Phantom Planet, Superdrag, the Donnas, Fountains of Wayne, and Mew, and played a number of festival shows including Leeds in 2002 and 2003, and NoisePop, Reading, Witnness, and T in the Park in 2003.
In the United States, the album reached #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart and #107 on the Billboard 200 Chart. In the United Kingdom, the first single "Get Over It" debuted at no. 27, in the UK singles chart on March 16, 2003, and the band performed it on that week's edition of Top of the Pops. Also that week, the single's video was named video of the week by Q magazine.
Oh No (2005–2007)
The band's second album, Oh No, was recorded in Malmö, Sweden in the fall of 2004 and was produced by Tore Johansson (the Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand) and mixed by Dave Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, Jet, System of a Down). After recording, in February 2005, Andy Duncan left the band citing creative differences, major label pressures, and the band's rigorous touring schedule. Duncan was replaced by Andy Ross, who won the job over thirty-four other guitarists who auditioned for the role, in a process that ended with each candidate being asked about his or her willingness to do a choreographed dance on stage. Ross introduced himself to the band's fans by writing a blog entitled "The Will To Rock," in which he detailed life on the road beginning with his first show with the band on February 18, 2005.
The album was released in August 2005. Oh No gained popularity for its first single, "A Million Ways". Guitarist Andy Ross invented, designed and programmed a web application hosted at a1000000ways.com which allowed people to hear the single and to share it with their friends in exchange for free downloads from the iTunes music store. The video for "A Million Ways" featured the band in a backyard performing a dance choreographed by lead singer Kulash's sister, Trish Sie. By August 2006, the video had become the most downloaded music video ever with over 9 million downloads. The band performed the dance live on British TV show Soccer AM, as well as on the late-night American comedy show Mad TV. The US version of the album includes "9027 km", a 35-minute track of lead singer Damian Kulash's girlfriend sleeping that is not listed on the album art. Fans speculated that the track's name is derived from the distance between Los Angeles, California and Malmö, Sweden where the album was recorded and that the track was included to prevent the band's label from using the extra space for digital rights management (DRM) software. On December 6, 2005, Kulash published an op-ed piece in The New York Times advocating against record labels' use of DRM software.
In support of Oh No, the band toured extensively, sharing dates with bands such as Death Cab For Cutie, Panic! at the Disco, Kaiser Chiefs, and Snow Patrol, as well as a slew of special performances including free shows on New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square and in the parking lot before the University of Michigan vs Michigan State University football game, and festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Bennicassim in Spain, Formoz Festival in Taiwan, Summer Sonic in Japan, and Incheon Pentaport in South Korea.
On November 7, 2006, after the success of the "Here It Goes Again" video, the band released a deluxe DVD version of the album. The DVD contains a documentary on the making of the album, the four official Capitol Records videos, a video of the band's appearance on Chic-a-Go-Go, a 'super cut' of the hundreds of fan versions of the "A Million Ways" dance, a behind-the-scenes video of the making of the "Here It Goes Again", rehearsals for the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, an acoustic performance of "What to Do," a video for "There's A Fire" featuring video game characters, a dance booth version of "Don't Ask Me," and live versions of "Do What You Want" and "You're So Damn Hot."
Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (2008–2011)
After visiting New Orleans in 2007, the band returned to record an EP with New Orleans funk rock band Bonerama and producer Mark Nevers, to raise money for musicians who were still displaced by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. The EP, entitled You're Not Alone, was released on Mardi Gras, February 5, 2008. The title is taken from a line in David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," a cover of which appears on the EP, along with renditions of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and three songs from "Oh No." The EP was sold exclusively through iTunes and raised over $40,000, which helped buy a new home for New Orleans musician Al "Carnival Time" Johnson in the Musicians Village. Johnson, who sings on "I Will Be Released," the final song on the EP, moved into his new home in December 2008. In support of the EP, OK Go and Bonearama played two benefit shows, one on January 11, 2008, at Tipitina's in New Orleans, and the other on February 2, 2008, at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC, which was streamed live by NPR and featured on a subsequent NPR podcast.
On October 12, 2008, OK Go announced that the members had finished writing new songs for its third album and were in the studios in upstate New York with producer Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, MGMT). The band previewed its third album, titled Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, on a short sling of dates on the East Coast of the United States that March, starting in Philadelphia on March 6, 2009 at the TLA Theatre. The name of the album comes from a pseudo-scientific book written by Augustus Pleasonton in 1876 entitled The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky. The members of the band have stated that these songs are the "danciest, most anthemic, most heartbroken, and honest songs" of their career, and the album itself takes a much more funky, dance-prone, yet melancholy sound to it, drawing influence from Prince. On May 7, 2009, a song from the album, titled "Skyscrapers," was released for streaming online. The first single, "WTF?", was released on November 10. On January 8, 2010, OK Go appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and performed a song from the album, "This Too Shall Pass". Of the Blue Colour of the Sky was released on January 12, 2010.
After the first two videos for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky were posted to YouTube in 2009, the band was quickly met with complaints from fans who were only able to view them on YouTube. In response, Kulash posted a long letter on the band's website explaining the record label's policies. The letter itself went viral, after being reprinted in Gizmodo, cited as "required reading" on BoingBoing, and excerpted on many other websites. At the end of the letter, Kulash included embed codes for the band's most recent video in direct opposition to the desires of the label. On Feb 20, 2010, the New York Times printed an Op-Ed in which Kulash furthered the arguments he made in his open letter.
On March 9, 2010, the band uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "OK Go Announces new label," in which Kulash, accompanied by two dogs in neckties, announces the creation of Paracadute. On March 10, 2010, the band announced it had cut ties with EMI and Capitol and formed the independent label Paracadute. The split became official on April 1, 2010. Paracadute then assumed ownership of the album, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky", though the band's first two albums, "OK Go" and "Oh No" remained catalog items of EMI. That night OK Go performed a single from its newly independent record on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel. Now charting its own destiny as an independent entity, the band has attempted to plot a new course for itself, as Kulash puts it: "We're trying to be a DIY [do-it-yourself] band in a post-major label world."
The first wholly new release on the band's label Paracadute Recordings was 180/365, a live album recorded over several shows in 2010, mixed by producer David Fridmann, and released on June 21, 2011. The album title refers to the number of concerts the band played in the course of one year. A stream of the album premiered on the technology website Mashable before its official street date. To celebrate the release, the band printed and sold two hundred signed copies of 180/365: The Book, a limited edition book of tour photographs by Nathaniel Wood which was made available only to purchasers of the album. The album was sold digitally and on CD in six-panel eco-friendly "Tron Pack" packaging from Norway.
In July 2012, the band partnered with the Humble Bundle for a pay-what-you-will release of the remix collection Twelve Remixes Of Four Songs, alongside titles from MC Frontalot, They Might Be Giants, Christopher Tin, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and Jonathan Coulton.
The band's most successful example of its new business model was a partnership with State Farm Insurance at a point when the company was looking to tap into a younger audience by creating a piece of interesting digital content. The collaboration resulted in a music video for "This Too Shall Pass" featuring a large Rube Goldberg machine built in a warehouse. Released on March 1, 2010, the video quickly went viral, with 1.4 million YouTube views in the first 48 hours and over 50 million total views as of February 2016 . Since the "This Too Shall Pass" Rube Goldberg Machine video, OK Go has employed a similar brand partnership model in projects with Range Rover, Yahoo, Cisco, Samsung, Google Chrome, Jose Cuervo, and Chevrolet.
Hungry Ghosts (2012–present)
In December 2012, OK Go released a collection of rare songs, B-sides and covers called "Twelve Days of OK Go". The collection was released for free on the band's website and includes covers of songs by the Beatles, They Might Be Giants, the Kinks, Adam and the Ants, and Pixies.
Following Twelve Days of OK Go, in January 2013 the band announced Twelve Months of OK Go, a free long form release of new and rare recordings, B-sides, and covers distributed one song per month through the band's email list and free mp3 web store. The collection includes covers of songs by the Breeders, the Specials, and Nelly. In March 2013, OK Go released a new single "I'm Not Through" through "Twelve Months of OK Go" and in partnership with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for The Saatchi & Saatchi Music Video Challenge.
On April 3, 2013, OK Go announced on its YouTube channel that the band was in the process of recording its fourth album.
On May 6, 2014, OK Go announced that its fourth studio album, Hungry Ghosts, would be released in October 2014. The album was made available for pre-order on the direct-to-fan platform, PledgeMusic. The first single, "The Writing's on the Wall" was released on June 17, 2014, along with a music video that had reached over one million views within a day.
On October 14, 2014, Hungry Ghosts was released. Since then, the Pledge Music campaign has stopped. A music video for "I Won't Let You Down" was released on October 27, 2014. In its first two weeks, the video has hit 12 million views on YouTube. The video features a cameo from the J-pop band Perfume (see Other appearances)
The video for "Upside Down & Inside Out" was released on February 11, 2016, where the band perform the song while moving about in microgravity, with the aid of a reduced-gravity aircraft provided by the Russian S7 Airlines.
On July 20, 2016, OK Go released "I Don't Understand You", a song that was a collaboration with the group Perfume.
On November 24, 2016, OK Go released the music video for "The One Moment", featuring multiple seemingly unconnected events filmed in the span of a few seconds. The video is then slowed down to reveal each action being played in synchronization with the song.
On November 23, 2017, OK Go released the music video for "Obsession." 567 printers were used to create a multicolored backdrop in the video.