After more than a decade of creating epic music videos, you think OK Go wouldn’t be able to top motorized scooter chair choreography or a warehouse-sized custom Rube Goldberg machine. But the just released video for “Upside Down and Inside Out,” from the 2014 album Hungry Ghosts, defies not only our expectations but gravity, too. The band makes the most of brief moments of weightlessness in a Russian reduced gravity aircraft—the same type, NASA points out, used for space research and training—by pretty much having a party in the air. Without ruining too much, we’ve learned that disco balls, aerial acrobats, electronic devices and exploding paint balloons look incredible in zero G. The band has written a helpful FAQ that will answer most questions about the making of the video, from the science to the total number of “puke events.” But we had a few more burning q’s, so gave OK Go lead guitarist—and badass programmer—Andy Ross (who’s dressed up in red) a quick call.
How long were you in Russia?
Andy Ross: It was about a total of three weeks. We first flew out there in October, for a week of what we call “testing.” This is really like, we have no idea what this is going to be like, we have no idea if we’re going to be able to handle this at all—let’s go up and see what happens. We did about six flights that week, and we just took in as many props as we could fit on the plane. We had all the stuff that you see in the video, but we tried a million other things like decks of cards, feathers, and confetti. We learned quickly, for example, things like feathers—you would think they’d look really cool in zero gravity. But feathers already look kind of weightless in real life because they fall slowly, so in zero gravity, it’s not that much different than if you had thrown a bag of feathers up in the air. That’s one of the things you start learning right away: bigger, heavier objects. Like a laptop! When a laptop floats in the air, it looks really weird.
Was it dangerous having so many props flying through the air? I was worried when the suitcases and disco balls came out.
We got hurt a little bit, but there’s nothing really dangerous. So the disco balls are plastic, and the biggest problem actually wasn’t the props. It was hitting your head on the wall or the ceiling. Just learning how to operate without gravity is incredibly confusing and really hard. You sort of take for granted how much you expect gravity to be there, whenever you do anything. A simple thing like just hopping off the ground a little bit, you expect gravity to stop you from going up and start pulling you back to Earth. But when it’s zero gravity and you jump off the ground, you fly straight up to the ceiling and hit it at a constant speed.
Is your life forever changed now that you’ve been in zero gravity multiple times?
It feels like you’ve been on a boat for the day. Your balance and vestibular system are definitely tossed around a little bit. But you’re in gravity for most of the flight; there are 15 periods of about 25 seconds where you’re not. You actually get quite a bit of gravity because when the plane does the maneuver to get zero gravity, you have to go through a period of double gravity first when the plane is shooting up. You feel heavy but you also feel like everything is pushing against you; it’s a really uncomfortable feeling. It’s not like a warm blanket of gravity.
The band has become so well-known for the music videos as just as much as the music; what’s the approach, or driving feeling, been behind making each successive video?
I feel like we go about the process in the right way, in that we’re trying to make the best thing we can. The idea is the easy part, but it’s the process that really generates what we do. We just get in a room—or in a plane, in this case—with a set of constraints and just keep trying stuff until something good comes out. And if something good doesn’t come out, we probably won’t do the video. You get one thing that works well, then you build on it, then 21 flights and a lot of vomit later, you get a music video.
Music video screenshots courtesy of OK Go