In 2017 OK Go released a cover of Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug” on the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated. “It’s a long-time favorite of ours and it summed up that moment so well with its first line: “There are some bad people on the rise,” so we posted it with a video that laid out some of our worries about Mr. Trump,” OK Go singer Damian Kulash tells American Songwriter. “Jump ahead a few years, and it seemed fitting to bookend Trump’s term with another all-time favorite that encapsulates everything: ‘This will be our year, took a long time to come.’”
The band first covered the Zombies 1968 song “This Will Be Our Year” in 2004 for a MoveOn benefit compilation and then re-released it a year later as a B-side to their Oh No single, “A Million Ways,” which is also featured in the film John Tucker Must Die. Last year, the band chose to bring the song back out and perform it as part of the Team Joe Sings series, a weekly online concert series which saw a host of artists perform in support of the former Vice President’s bid to be president alongside Kamala Harris.
In choosing to play the song in this context, OK Go reflected how their own political views had shifted from the previous inauguration. “The big difference is that in 2016, part of me still believed there was an ongoing public debate we could contribute to by saying, ‘Hey everyone, here’s what we believe, and here’s why,’” says Kulash. “We knew that we were mostly preaching to the choir with that message since the majority of our fans share our political leanings, but back then preaching to the choir felt affirmative and cathartic, and it seemed like the argument we were making (‘this man is dangerous!’) might actually reach some new minds, even if that was just around the margins.”
By the time the band performed “This Will Be Our Year,” late last year, Kulash says they no longer labored under the delusion that a public political debate is really happening in America. “Our political tribes live in different realities informed by different news sources and supported by mutually exclusive sets of ‘facts,’ so preaching to the choir now feels more like part of the problem than part of the solution,” he says. “The benefits of catharsis are more offse—maybe even outweighed—by the contribution to general toxicity and rancor.”
The band dedicated “This Will Be Our Year,” he says, “to everyone who doesn’t share our politics.” It was an effort to share in hope itself. “Everybody had a s***ty year last year, so no matter what happened in November, we were all praying 2021 would be the ‘our year,’ which ‘took a long time to come,'” adds Kulash. “I hoped that digging into the universal need for optimism might buy me enough goodwill to advocate for my views in a more quiet, respectful way which stood a chance (even a tiny one) of resonating beyond ‘the choir.’”
In the wake of Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States, the song takes on a different resonance. “Now, the song could feel like the cathartic anthem for all of us who were horrified by the previous administration—and to me personally, it does,” he says.
OK Go has released a two-track EP with different versions of the song, but with the political message removed. “The song is meant to be a gesture across the political divide, not celebrating it,” says Kulash. “I do, genuinely, hope that we’re all able to believe in and work toward a better time. I know that’s a tall order for those who wanted a different electoral outcome, but one day we’ll look back on this time and what will matter is how life was, not which team ‘won.’ So I hope the song’s optimism is bigger than the smug sigh of relief that it can be.”
The EP has a hi-fi version of the recording and a lo-fi, solo version. The way Kulash sees it, compared to a Trump supporter, it might be easier for him to have a sunny outlook right now, but “we’re all in the same pandemic, and the same climate crisis, and living with the same historic wealth gap.” Releasing the song this year reflects his belief that we can all “share some hope that those problems start to get solved.”
Kulash and his wife both contracted Covid-19 last year, and although they’re physically fine now, there have been some lingering symptoms that have caused concern and confusion. The impact on him has affected all parts of his life. In May 2020, the band released a heartfelt music video to accompany their socially-distanced ballad, “All Together Now.”
“As a songwriter, every aspect of the last year has changed me in some way,” he says. “Some of it is thematic and tonal—it’s hard for me to imagine what lyrics you write that don’t in some way recognize that we’re living in a whole new universe. It’s almost like you’re suddenly writing in a new language. A love song is still a love song, but it’s just different now. A song of hope or despair or anger is still a song of hope or despair or anger, but… just different.”
Fearing that his children would lose a parent in the past year has also changed his perspective. “That changes how I think about the world, how I prioritize my time and my life, everything. And that all filters down into what I write, and when and how much I write,” he says. “I wish that the world didn’t have to go through this, and I wish my family’s bodies didn’t have to go through this, but I’m grateful for the clarity it’s brought to so many things.”