NPR Music teamed up with power-pop band OK Go this spring for a Tiny Desk Concert like no other. It's a performance that transports All Songs Considered Host Bob Boilen's iconic workspace to the new NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. Watch the video now, over at NPR Music, and flip through the slideshow above to see how it all it all went down (and went back up).
We caught up with a few of the brains behind the operation to find out how this ambitious project came about and how the team pulled it off despite some literal bumps in the road.
OK, Go For It
NPR's old building heralds some nineteen years of news, so when it came time to relocate, the journalistically minded NPR staff wanted to document the process. Soon, All Things Considered Senior Producer Art Silverman and Boilen, who had captured NPR's last move (from M St. to Massachusetts Ave.) on video as well, had the idea for how to tell the story with public radio fanfare.
"We knew we had to go out with a bang," said Boilen said of the Tiny Desk Concerts he launched nearly five years ago out of our old building. He called on the band OK Go to help document the move, and it wasn't just their catalog of visionary music videos that got them the gig either. OK Go has some strong NPR affection as well.
The band's first tour was split between stops in rock clubs during the week and on the weekends, performing as the house band on This American Life's five-year anniversary road tour. And there is also the time Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Host Peter Sagal played air bass in the band's first music video, "C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips."
"I'm an easy sell on NPR," OK Go lead singer and one-time NPR Chicago employee Damian Kulash explained as they were wrapping up the two-day shoot. "Pretty much any chance we have to do something with NPR, we're excited to do it." Being asked to collaborate on this landmark project just sweetened the deal.
"I Should Join Their Tour As a Groupie."
This video is really a team effort, with NPR Music and the band collaborating closely on the creative elements. Be sure to look out for cameos in the video from familiar NPR voices: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Judge and Scorekeeper Carl Kasell; Correspondents Susan Stamberg and Ari Shapiro; Hosts Guy Raz, Scott Simon, David Greene and Audie Cornish; and NPR President and CEO Gary E. Knell.
"I thought I was living out a dream when I came to work for NPR," said Knell, who was excited to make an appearance in the video. "But it turns out being a part of the OK Go Tiny Desk Concert video is really what I was meant to do with my life. I should join their tour as a groupie."
Shot on just one camera over the course of two days, this video is the first-such production effort from NPR Music, and was led by NPR Music Supervising Producer Jessica Goldstein, Assistant Producer Mito Habe-Evans and Audio Engineer Kevin Wait, with the help of Boilen, his All Songs Considered co-host Robin Hilton and, of course, the band.
"Filming with people who are doing something for the first time is always more fun," Kulash said. "You can see the excitement in everybody. This sort of rise-to-the-occasion challenge vibe is pretty infectious."
Notes From The Field: Rubbernecking and a Flatbed Truck
The video takes a tour of Washington, D.C., landmarks and neighborhoods as OK Go performs an NPR-inspired version of their 2010 song "All Is Not Lost," from the back of a flatbed truck.
"The truck was a rattling, crazy thing," said Habe-Evans, who worked closely with Wait and the band to bring this idea to life and even selected the song with Boilen and the band. During a "freezing cold," test run with the truck, she knew the city's uneven streets and countless construction sites would prove to be a challenge for both the band, who had to play while riding through the streets, and Wait, who needed to capture Tiny Desk-quality sound for the final video. However this is when NPR shines, she said. "Part of Kevin's skill [is] making something sound good in really terrible situations."
There was only one major wipe out in the process, Habe-Evans said. "[Kulash] fell backwards into the chimes. But it worked, which was pleasantly surprising."
"It was like a jungle gym. No, it was more like a theme park ride," Kulash said. "There were a lot of people stopping and staring, a lot of beep beeps. My favorite one was when we stopped at a red light a guy came up and started rapping over the beat that we were doing, which was pretty cool. And he wasn't a really good rapper but he did have the gumption."
While this exchange didn't make it into the final cut, you can see it in the outtakes at the end of the video.
A Tiny (Desk) In History
The Tiny Desk Concert was born in 2008 with an in-office performance by Laura Gibson. It was after the soft-spoken folksinger's voice was muted by a noisy bar crowd that NPR Music Editor Stephen Thompson and Boilen invited her to come play at NPR, and things took off from there.
Since then, the desk-sized venue has hosted the likes of Adele, Mavis Staples, Yo Yo Ma, The xx, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – 276 performances in all, each recorded at the Tiny Desk's original residence.
This latest video is not only a celebration of the game-changing series, but also marks a new beginning for Tiny Desk Concerts. Starting next week, full performances from the new NPR headquarters will begin showing up at NPR Music, on-the-go via the Tiny Desk Concert podcast – video or audio-only versions – in the iTunes store, and the NPR podcast directory.
The Tiny Desk is growing in a few more ways: Boilen says he got three new shelves in the move, which means more space to fill with records, books and artifacts left behind by artists passing through the space. And while there are sure to be many more landmarks for NPR Music and singular performances made at this special space, we're excited for NPR Music to have a few public radio fans along for the this particular road trip.
After all, when we asked Kulash what his favorite part about the project was, he responded, "Meeting some of my NPR idols is awesome. I was most excited to meet Susan Stamberg. Would have been Carl if it weren't the fact that I already know him."