Car Talk Talks Shop With OK Go!

Staff Blog

Staff Blog | Feb 17, 2012

If you weren’t one of the millions of people already passed out on the couch from a chili cheese fries-induced food coma on Superbowl Sunday, you may have caught a glimpse of the new music video from the band OK Go, in which a car with mechanical arms plays a thousand instruments while driving an elaborate course set up in a field. In case you missed it, here’s a replay of the Auto-musicological feat:

We knew we had to get the scoop on this, as research for the next time a wacko stuntman calls in on the show. (Added reason? Tom and Ray liked the matching helmets, and asked us to find out where to get them a set.)

Full disclosure: we know OK Go’s manager, Jamie Kitman. In fact, he writes for us. Most of the time, it seems he has good judgement, so we’ll forgive him the blatant transgression of allowing a band under his purview to mingle with the likes of us. Thanks Jamie -- and here’s our chat with the band’s singer and guitarist, Damian Kulash:

Car Talk: You guys are nuts. How long did this video take to make? How many times did you break down during taping?

DK: The video took about four months of prep, and then four days of shooting.  And the car never broke down, thankfully, though I did break off more than a few arms, driving a little to close to the pianos.

Car Talk: How’d you come up with this idea?

DK: I think everyone comes up with crazy ideas.  If I asked you, "what's the most insane thing you can think to do with a car?", you'd probably dream up something even wilder than what we did.  But you'd probably also have the good sense to leave it in fantasy land.  We're just the guys who actually try to make their craziest ideas come true. 

Car Talk: Anything you wanted to try, but couldn't?

DK: I was kind of hoping we could jump the car onto a giant airbag, which would blow a whole brass section.  Also wanted to jump the car into a body of water for the final splash, but couldn't find a location big enough and next to a body of water. 

Car Talk: So, what stopped you?

DK: Budgets -- and the fact that we had to return the car. In one piece.

Car Talk: Do you realize you could have just used Tom's car? We're pretty sure it makes all those noises.

DK: I'm ashamed I didn't check in with you guys first.

These helmets look tough enough to withstand all kinds of things, maybe even the Magliozzi laugh.
These helmets look tough enough to withstand all kinds of things, maybe even the Magliozzi laugh.

Car Talk: Where'd you get all the instruments? Did you have to rent them?

DK: Luckily, the only instruments we rented were the tubas.  If you look closely you can see them in the second half of verse two – I ran over inflated fire hoses which blew out through the horns. Tubas are tough instruments to find in multiples, but pianos can be picked up at any Goodwill or Salvation Army, and if you're in a rock band that makes videos like ours, you stand a good chance of getting an adventurous guitar company like Gretsch to loan you a few hundred guitars.

Car Talk: Was the car really playing all those instruments in real time?

DK: That depends how you define "real time."  The car did play all the sounds you're hearing, but we never played the full song in a single take.  We drove each section of track between 5 and 20 times, and each pass was recorded on 17-20 microphones.  Our final audio mix had several hundred audio recordings for each section, so we edited and mixed carefully to get the most musical rendition we could. 

Car Talk: So about those arms we saw coming out of the car -- how do they work?

DK: There's a pressurized air tank in the trunk of the car, pumping about 80 psi to the arms.  Tim, from the passenger seat, had control of the two lowest arms, the ones that struck the various "drums" and the PVC tubes.  On the column in the middle of the car there were levers controlling the top arms for "cymbals" and aluminum pipe chimes, and the side arms for piano, guitar, 55-gallon drum bass, and "ridge synth," the surface we scrape on the driver's side during the second half of verse two.  Dan and Andy controlled those from the back seat. 

If you look carefully during the drifting moments between musical sections, you can see the guys pulling their various levers.  The only arm that wasn't pneumatic was the one atop the car, which played the glass jars and steel tines in the chorus tunnel.  That one got yanked up manually by Andy.

Car Talk: How much did the Chevy dealer add on for the Glockenspiel package?

DK: The glock package was actually a downgrade from the the thumb piano package we had hoped for.  We thought we could run the car over a giant field of kalimbas, or African thumb pianos, but in the end that wound up being too ambitious.  Ceramic glockenspiel it was.

Car Talk: Did you consider ending with a big "Crashendo?"

DK: We thought the crash into the sheet of glass at the end would sound more like a final cymbal crash.  As it turned out, it seemed like we just added a stunt to the end, but the hope was that it would sound musical.

Car Talk: Do we have permission to make an official Car Talk remix? We’ve got all the parts already made at the Car Talk Car Noise Emporium.

DK: Yes.  We fully endorse this.

Car Talk:  Perfect, we’ll get right on that.  Thanks Damian!  You'll have to come visit Car Talk Plaza and give our hosts a mechanized dope-slap once we’ve had a chance to retrofit our radio studio with your new technology.

So, what do you think?  Is this the craziest thing anyone's tried to do to a car since Richard and the goats? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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