Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s founding members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have been making music together since the mid 70′s. They were eventually enlarged to a quartet when Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper joined the team and together they broke the musical airwaves with their own unique blend of synth music that married the infectiously fun pop with the melancholy sounds of choirs and strings. Upbeat hits like Electricity and Enola Gaywere matched with equally enduring, moving singles like Joan Of Arc and Maid Of Orleans to help cement OMD’s place in the UK and European charts. But it wasn’t until the mid 80′s that the American public really started to take notice.
When John Hughes’ movie of Pretty In Pink came out with OMD song If You Leave as its single, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it. But American success meant more pressures and eventually the band got to a point of calling it quits. Andy McCluskey continued on, releasing three more albums under the OMD name while the other three remaining members formed The Listening Pool. By the mid 90′s synthpop music wasn’t seen as “cool” anymore so Andy McCluskey turned to writing and working with girl band Atomic Kitten (and later with The Genie Queen).
Fast forward to 2005 and the band agreed to do a German TV gig. It would be the first time in over a decade that they would be on stage performing together but it went so well, and the music scene was once again changing, this time to their favor, that they agreed to give a short tour a try. That tour sold out quickly and was followed by more gigs over a 3 year period.
But being true musicians, OMD weren’t going to just stop at touring and in 2010, fans were given the prize of a stellar new album called History Of Modern. Keeping to the OMD sound, yet updated for the times, it was met with great reviews, even from American Press…Spin Magazine giving it a 7 of 10. A world tour saw the guys finally hitting the American shores in March to a triumphantly sold out crowd everywhere they went!
I had the massive honor of sitting down with Andy McCluskey in Miami a couple days before the start of their North American Tour Part 2 to discuss the tours, then and now, among other things…
Compared to the March tour to now, where do you feel, I mean where’s your mind? Are there the same concerns that you had in March that you have now or the same expectations?
We have concerns, but they’re different. I think possibly we shouldn’t have taken the offer to come back. I don’t think we’re going to sell out as many of the places. I think maybe it was too soon to come back but we were just so excited after the success of the March tour and the feedback was SO positive and the audiences were SO good. And we had a whole line of promoters who didn’t take us in March going “Oh, oh, yeah can we have them now please? Now that they’re selling out and everybody loves them”. So we’ll see, but I think there’s going to be a couple of real stinkers… but then again what we’re doing here is we’re mopping up the secondary markets and there’s a reason obviously why we didn’t come to some of these places first time out is that they’re just really not going to be big ticket sales.
And also, I mean we only ever played one gig in Florida before in our lives for example and that was supporting Thompson Twins way back in the mid 80′s so, you know, there isn’t even a history of having a live audience. However, whoever turns up, I’m sure they will be great and we will give them the best concert we can. So yeah, my only other concern is just these 3/4 in a row. We survived last time, just gotta take it easy. I mean the other reason is Malcolm and I are here early is because we found the first week we were just so tired from jetlag. I mean Friday night.. had we come in today with everybody else, Friday night at 10 o’clock it would be like going on stage at 3 o’clock in the morning for us so we had to try and get over the jetlag a bit but we’re looking forward to it.
Well in terms of what you had with the booking agents and everything from the first tour to now, you said that you had a lot of people popping up after the sell-outs. Is there a different layout from what you did before? Like I know Bright Antenna kind of split the bill for the first one. Were they the ones that were promoting you and now you have a promoter or booking agent?
No, Bright Antenna were literally just offering to cover the shortfall if there was one. In the end, because of the VIP thing, I think it worked out that the shortfall wasn’t that bad. And we used the money from the summer festivals to offset what we did lose in America, which ended up not being that much. The VIP tickets thing really helps actually. That’s a nice way to earn extra money and everyone seems to love it. It’s an opportunity to actually physically meet people and to see a sound check and get a little bit of an idea of behind the scenes. So, you know, we’ll have to see, but we will lose money. As long as we don’t lose like $100,000 or something.
Which was what your last tour was.. the risk right?
Yeah, yeah, I’m not going to tell you exactly what we’re going to lose. Considerably less then the POTENTIAL projection.(laughs)
So what’s your favorite and your least favorite thing about touring?
My favourite part of the tour is actually the gig and the crowd. Because the concerts these day, without jinxing us, are so consistently good. And I mean the American audiences in March were just incredible. I don’t think we really knew what to expect.
Yeah, you could tell by the looks on your faces
They were fantastic crowds and some of them were ABSOLUTELY unbelievable. So yeah, how can you not bathe in the fabulous soaking up of all that love you get on stage?(laughs)
So I would say that would be the most positive… I mean I like seeing places. The dilemma is that these American tours are so tight, so cut to the bone that there’s very little time to see anything.
Unless you do something like this where you come in early. Are you going to stay a little bit later when you guys get done? You finish in Mexico…
Yeah, I’m going to stay in Mexico for a couple of days and see if I can go do Aztec Pyramids for a few days.
Be careful! Cause that’s the reason I’m not going, everyone kept saying it’s so dangerous and…
Yeah, but I think that’s more kind of along the borders where you’ve got the drug wars and things. Eh, maybe I’ll just be locked in my hotel room for two days wishing I’d gone home early. And the down side I think it’s just the tiredness. Malcolm and I were SO tired on that American tour. But you know, we hadn’t slept on buses before. We hadn’t flown in and taken on a tour where we were jet lagged like the day after we landed kind of thing so, that’s why we’re here a bit earlier. But that’s not really a big downside… I just worry, as a singer, I’m always worried about my voice. So I can’t party, which is not a bad thing at my age. I can’t party, I can’t stay up late. I literally, I get on the bus, have a jack and coke, a sleeping pill, jump in my bunk with my iPad and pass out and that’s it. No staying up late, no rowdy late nights, just bed. Really boring (laughs)
If that’s what it takes (laughs)
(laughs) But that’s what it takes. You know you’ve got to prioritize. I need 90 minutes of energy on stage and the rest of the time I’m just a vegetable. (laughs)
We were talking about the reviews of your shows, how do you think the American press treats you guys like now versus in the 80′s? Because you got a lot of good reviews from the tour which was encouraging but are they nicer to you this time around for a lack of a better way of saying it?
The general press attitude towards us is generally more positive than it used to be. I mean we do seem to be seen as this sort of, you know, iconic influential group that has stood the test of time now which is considerably more positive than some of the things we used to get. So that’s part of it but I think also aligned with that is the fact that so many of the American reviews were written by people who had either seen us 25 years ago or never seen us and didn’t know what to expect and this pleasant surprise and shock that like “Holy shit, they kick ass on stage!”. (laughs)
It’s not just a bunch of old men going through the motions. And I think that generally was really nice to see. Just every single review was like “Oh my God, they’re so full of energy, the songs are great, they play them just like the record, there’s such a huge interaction between the band and the audience”. So yeah I would probably say that the general press view of us is more positive than ever before really.
Yeah, I mean, when we first came over to the States, there was a real attitude cause a lot of the press was very kind of traditional rock press in America. And their attitude was that “Oh it’s you know, faggot synth music we’re gonna be glued to now”……and not real rock and roll. There was a lot of resistance.
Well even when I was growing up, we had to go to import stores to find you guys. I mean you were pretty much considered “underground” or “college” radio and I was young, I was 11 years old when I heard you so I didn’t have that ability. But was it frustrating for you guys to come over here and be seen like that? I mean in the 80′s over in Europe and UK, you had Architecture and Morality, had all those hits and stuff so you guys were playing a lot bigger…
Yeah, it was very frustrating! It was very frustrating to be selling out big theatres in Europe, having hits and then coming over here and being in little shitty clubs and having to start all over again. It was very frustrating. We weren’t helped by the fact that Virgin gave our license away in sort of block booking: “Here take XTC, Japan and OMD and see what you can do”. And the first label we were on over here, were just hopeless. Their idea of releasing an OMD record was hide it under the carpet. We were totally wasting our time. Basically it wasn’t until we got on A&M with the Junk Culture album that things started to improve. It just felt like we kind of wasted all those first four albums. But there’s people who were literally finding us on college radio or going to import stores and it was nice to see that when we came back here, there were people who remembered the early stuff, not just Crush and Pacific Age.
Yeah, I had a friend who was like “Oh, Enola Gay” and I was like “REALLY? you know Enola Gay?” (laughs) It’s like how’d that happen? What about airplay? Cause you have Bright Antenna now, are they a subsidiary of 100%?
No no, they’re a small label out of the bay area.
OK, so is anything going to be played?
No, they’re not going to get it. You see, they’re a small label, they don’t have a big budget for like radio pluggers and things like that. And radio’s not going to play us. We have this problem in Europe as well though…you know, apart from BBC Radio 2, we don’t get radio play. Cause what tends to happen is you take a new song into a station and the Top 40 stations are like “Well we don’t play it, they’re too old for our demographic” and then the other stations that play more broad or retro stuff or older music go “Yeah OMD, yeah we love that stuff.. let’s play Maid Of Orleans instead” (laughs) “Play the new one” …. no no, our listeners like the old stuff”. So you’re just falling down a hole.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It just doesn’t happen. We just have to accept that. I mean, when we made History Of Modern, we knew we were not going to get the sales, we knew we weren’t going to get the radio play. We weren’t making it because it was a career move in terms of thinking we were going to get a radio hit or it charted. And that’s not how we judged it and I found it quite surprising that some people on the forum were like “Well it hasn’t charted very well or it hasn’t done this” and it’s like, well, you know…we weren’t expecting it to. I mean the fact that it sold about 130,000 copies worldwide… for ME is like 4 times what I thought it would sell.
Well and especially the way the market is now….I mean, growing up we had CDs and you would go to the store and buy something. Now people digital download. I don’t even pay attention to what’s on the top of the charts.
No, I don’t even know what’s in the charts these days. We accepted that we weren’t going to get radio play. It’s frustrating because I think something like History of Modern (Part I)or Sister Marie Says …well you see how they go down live. People just treat them like they were hit singles. I think that had we HAD support, you know, a lot more people would have heard the songs and got into the band. We just have to accept that it is what it is.
What about New Babies: New Toys? Cause I know that was used on America’s Got Talent. Is anything happening?… I mean are you guys really going to release it? I know you made a video and….
Well it’s been available as a download single but we just have to realize that we’re going to be largely flying under the radar. We just hope that it’ll grow a little bit. We’re starting also, almost from scratch again because the band stopped, you know? It’s not like the Pet Shop Boys or Depeche Mode who carried on and retained a residual live audience and sort of fanbase. Ours went down really low so we have to kind of rebuild it from scratch.
Except now you’re getting all the young ones too.
That was VERY noticeable on the last American tour. It wasn’t just the 40-somethings, there were a lot of younger people who had obviously picked up on what contemporary bands have said about us or they’d done their research or they’d heard about us and so it’s interesting how the music industry works. I mean if I’d been 20 years old, I wouldn’t have gone to see a band who were a bunch of 50 year-olds who were my parents era.
Now do you notice a difference? Cause I’ve seen the crowd, like you were saying, the American one, I had young kids standing behind me. Do you notice a difference between the American crowd demographics vs. UK and Europe?
There’s more young people in America.
You’re going to be playing repeat cities so how did you guys decide what songs were going to be on your set list?
We haven’t yet… we’re going to argue about it tomorrow. Two things will be in the set in every city that we didn’t do in March. We’re going to start with Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III And VII) as opposed to History of Modern (Part III & IV) and we’re going to play Statues instead of New Holy Ground.
I mean, there’s four others that we will be putting in. One of them might also go in some of the others as well. Then we’re going to have to work out what we’re going to take out. That’s the big issue. Are we going to take out Radio Waves, are we going to take out maybe Dreaming or Seven Seas….
You had taken Talking Loud And Clear I know before. Like you had Pandora’s Boxand then you bumped Pandora’s Box and brought Talking Loud And Clear out so I was wondering if that was one of the ones you’re going to bump since you already bumped it technically.
Yeah, yeah, I don’t know. I was negotiating with Malcolm at the Thai restaurant we were eating in last night going “How about we do 3 tracks as an encore instead of two? We can get one in there”. Beause we’re so used to a set flowing, you’ve worked it out and then you start pulling things out and putting things in, it’s like…Pandora’s Box – I mean we intended to play it, we just felt it didn’t really go down well in Toronto.
I love them all so I was just getting into the moment but I didn’t really notice. I thought surprisingly NY was one of the, at least from where I was standing, maybe it was different for you guys but where I was standing the crowd was not…
Yeah, but I noticed like New Holy Ground didn’t go over so well. I didn’t see anything in Toronto that stuck out as not so great.
Well we got offered Terminal 5 again and we chose not to play it. That’s why we’re doing the two Irving Plaza smaller venues.
I was going to say, it looks smaller than Terminal 5
Oh it is much smaller, it’s like less than half the size. But also it’s safe. We didn’t want to take on Terminal 5 and not sell it out this time.
Yeah cause if you have a smaller one that you don’t sell out, at least you can’t really tell if there’s just like a section in the back.
That’s one of the good things about standing venues. If you get 50 or 60% sometimes still looks full cause people just spread out a bit more. (laughs)
Well, and how far can you see out? I mean with the lights and stuff.
It’s totally dependent upon the venue. Usually depends on if there is a spotlight. If the spotlight is low… if the spotlight is low I’m blinded… it’s like oncoming headlights on a car.
When we were at Covenant he kept asking the guy to turn the lights down. Have you ever had to do that?
No…I mean I’ve sometimes asked Andrew Little to turn the lights up on the audience so I can see them. We can see the audience from time to time but generally you tend to find that it’s only the first few rows you can see clearly all the time and the rest of the time you can’t see past sort of the fourth or fifth row, you’ve just got a light in your eye and it’s dark out there.
I was reading an article and they had asked if you had any regrets in your career and you mentioned Dazzle Ships as a possible one. So I’m just curious, if you could go back and do it differently would you?
No I wouldn’t do Dazzle Ships differently actually. I think we had to do it.
Yeah, I was thinking maybe it helped you get where you are.
I would probably do Crush and Pacific Agedifferently. I think in particular Pacific Age. There’s tracks on there that had we had more time, we would have had better ones. And Liberator as well. I kind of messed up Liberator. And it’s simple, you know, it always comes down to the same problem, not giving ourselves enough time to get it right.
Dazzle Ships you had a lot of time though, was it more you were experimenting?
Dazzle Ships was just a bit of a block really. You have to understand that we, as kids… music had become like our be all and end all. It was like our holy grail and somehow we had it fixed in our heads that we were going to change the world with our music. Now, in hindsight, quite how we were going to change the world I don’t know but it was that important anyway.
So when you find that you’ve sold millions of records and you’ve done everything you’ve wanted, you suddenly realize that, well…. you know what…. it’s one of those things like sometimes when your dreams come true you turn around and go “OK well, that hasn’t transposed my life. I don’t feel suddenly better or different so…”. All of your preconceptions that you’d created for yourself are sort of thrown on the floor and you’ve got to pick them all up and rebuild your whole mental framework again. And that’s kind of what happened with Architecture & Morality. Strangely, the success of Architecture & Morality detonated certainly my mental frame work. And we were ABSOLUTELY adamant we weren’t going to do Architecture & Morality part two.
Which would make sense, you wouldn’t want to.
The record company would have liked us to have carried on doing that.
Well, yeah, of course they would.
But, yeah, we struggled to get a grip on what we should do with DS and that’s probably why it was a lot more overtly political, it was a lot more stripped down. I was talking to Malcolm last night about the new album and he was really excited about some of the ideas but he’s like “yeah but you know, you don’t want to do what you did on Dazzle Ships and just leave it like all the bare bones”.
And I think Dazzle Ships.. I mean, I heard it when in America Crush andPacific Age were big cause it took us forever, it took 5 years to find it because we couldn’t find your stuff. So I remember popping it on and it started and I was like “…what language is that? What is that?” and then it went to Genetic Engineering which I’d already known and then it went into ABC Auto-Industry and I’m like “what the?” and it was like this ping pong, but I loved it. I thought it was one of the most creative, imaginative….and for me to hear it when you guys were “mainstream” I think is probably just as stark as someone else hearing it for the first time after Architecture & Morality which I hadn’t even heard at that point.
It’s interesting though. You have to put a little bit of energy into digesting Dazzle Ships I think if you’re not used to it. But subsequently, if you sort of had gone into Crush andPacific Age and then you went back to discover Architecture & Morality, there’s some pretty weird shit on that album as well. I mean apart from the three singles and She’s Leaving, the rest of it is quite….odd.
And that’s how I saw Dazzle Ships. You’ve got Telegraph, Genetic Engineering but then you have all these weird things but they were different. The ideas that you…I mean did you…
Well I’m very pleased with those ideas. It might have been a bit of a career wrecker at the time, but in hindsight you listen to it now and it’s coming up not far off 30 years old now. You listen to it now and you think it STILL sounds quite radical. The same way that I was listening to Radio-Activity by Kraftwerk the other day and I was thinking “This stuff would still be experimental. This stuff would still make people scratch their heads” but it’s wonderful. But anyways, we’ve got a load of interesting, new, inspirational music that we’re digesting.
Yes! I was going to talk to you about that.
I’ve only skimmed the surface with the stuff I’ve put up on the website to listen to. There’s a whole new load of stuff in there that is going to freak people out.
You mean your playlist?
OK, I saw the goth/industrial and I just didn’t have time to comment but when I saw that I was like “Wow, I’m proud of you. You go Mr. M. that’s awesome!” You’re branching out, that’s good.
Our mantra for English Electric is quite simple… it’s what does the future sound like? It’s one thing to do History Of Modern where we relied on our own sound and our own history and we just modernized our own sound for the new millennium. The songs were great songs but we have this constant nagging dilemma…we were a band that was trying to be the future. That was part of our ethos, that was part of our appeal to a lot of people when they first got interested. They were great tunes. They liked the lyrics, they liked the melodies.. they liked some of the melancholy emotion in the lyrics and everything, but they also liked the fact that we were quite challenging and it was kind of like pushing the envelope. And THAT still remains an issue for us, that we feel like we should be trying to do that. And there’s been sections of our career where maybe we lost the plot and we weren’t, but now we can clearly see what’s going on. That we have this need to try to do something that is, if we can, going to go forward.
But we’re not going to do something that’s just experimental for it’s own sake. This is something that we definitely feel now that we’ve grown up is that there’s no point of doing something that’s just “Here’s an idea, what do you think?”. lt’s like, OK I’ve got the idea and now it sounds shit so I’m not going to listen to it more than once. That’s one of the dilemmas with experimental music is that if it’s just a theory expressed as a piece of music then it doesn’t bear repeated listening because you don’t get anything from it other than just the conception, sort of a theme. So it’s important to TRY to push, but to do it in a way that is essentially musical, that bears repetition, that has a lyric or a melody or something that you want to hear again. That’s why I think English Electric is going to take a little bit of time. Because there will probably be a lot of experiments that go “OK well that works but it’s not working with this piece of music, we don’t want to listen to that again”. So it’s just trying to pull in all of this kind of gothic and industrial and even MORE than that. Have you heard of a style of music called Glitch? This is really going to be the basis of the next album. Essentially, it’s music made out of pieces that are not musical basically. All the noises that used to be called interference or distortion or damage, people now make music out of these like clicks and bops and bangs and buzzes.
Is it from a certain part of the country? Is it European?
No, it’s a lot of German stuff so bands like Atom TM, Harmonic 313….I actually put up a track I think by Harmonic 313 on my playlist. It’s taking that kind of rudimentary, simple building blocks, not in the same way that we tried to use synthesizers to not be traditional rock and roll instruments. Well synthesizers are now traditional instruments, and choirs and string pads. And so it’s ‘can we find a whole new palate to create a new sound?. It’s tightrope walking. It’s going to be a seriously difficult balancing act. But we have to try and do it.
So when you were finding these things that you were posting on the forum, were you literally just….like sometimes I’ll type in something off of YouTube and then on the side it’ll give you all these different…
It’s exactly how you do it. You’re just following the lead. And then you end up on this safari where you’ve come fifty clicks away from where you started.
(laughs) you’ve forgotten where you started.
How did I end up here, you know? And it’s the same on iTunes as well… people who’ve bought this bought that so you just keep clicking and a new list comes up, a new list comes up and you just find things. I mean that’s a classic example of how the internet is a remarkable kind of learning tool. You don’t have to wait to read it or play it on the local station or somebody recommends it to you. Or going to the import store and pulling something out and going “I’ve never heard of this but I like the cover. I wonder what it sounds like” which I’m sure you’ve done before (laughs).
Or like “That looks good and it’s only $2. Yup, I’ve got it”.
Yeah so that’s a whole new way of discovering things.
Looking back, what would you say is the biggest change in you? In terms of either performance or how you look at things now.
I can only speak for myself. I’m considerably less uptight and intense and precious.
I was quite a quite an intense, difficult shit when I was younger. I was hard work. But if I had not been like that, the music wouldn’t have been the way it was. I was very driven. The music is still important to me but I’ve got a realistic handle on life now.I’ve grown up, I got married, I have kids, my father died. But it’s all the things in the real world that add up to a much more wider and much more fulfilling life than just having your blinkers on, you know, “I’m going to make music that’s gonna change the world!”. And so I’ve mellowed and that helps.
Well you were so young when it started too, that’s kind of all you had. And then you had that break when OMD wasn’t performing… did that kind of help you expand?
Well, I mean it was good in a sense that I saw some other angles of the music industry. I had to think differently about music. I learned programming and production techniques that I wouldn’t have learned had I just sort of wandered away. So everything you do in life you should learn from and I did.
How did we get here? Yeah we were talking about things that we wished…no no Dazzle Ships! Let’s go back to this… Dazzle Ships I’m glad we did. The biggest mistakes we made were all the mid to late 80s stuff. The long tours in America, the getting sick to death of each other…
Those two albums sound like they were kinda your black sheep almost.
Yeah and I think Americans, they’re kind of a bit depressed about what we say about them because they were the big American albums.
I think if anything, it was more sad to know that, the whole “America broke us”. I know that those two albums were so hard for you guys, the touring and trying to break through to radio thing, I don’t get so bummed out that you don’t like the albums so much that…
It’s soul destroying. I mean, in some respects this is why I’m not worried about not getting radio play. I will do interviews but really it ground the love and the life out of us. Whoring ourselves around America month after month going to W…KRAP and whatever…. all these stations where they don’t give a shit about you, you don’t give a shit about them but you’ve got to shake their hand and smile and brown-nose them and move onto the next one and in the end you just feel shallow and horrible and shit and you’re tired. And you realize that without even noticing it several years down the line that you’ve turned into the type of band that you’d be horrified at the thought of when you were 19 years-old. And that really the business has taken over from the music. It was wrong all the way around
Were we like the main market so to speak to break or did you have a lot of trouble in Europe too?
That was where the money was. And we had American management. We’d been so frustrated that we hadn’t done well in America in the early 80s that when the opportunity arose, that things were starting to go well, 3 month tours around America, SUPPORTING other bands, losing money… losing HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars so the record sales just got eaten up in the tour losses. Cause we didn’t have a very good handle on the business. We were just being in a band, someone else was looking after the accounts – or not as the case may be. So yeah it just kind of ground the love out of us really..
It pretty much became more of just a job. Get up and do it and you didn’t, you couldn’t enjoy it.
Yeah, yeah it was really. And we got really tired, fed up and I think that THAT would be my greatest regret is that we allowed that to happen.
So if you could go back, how would you change that? Would you just put your foot down and say “Look, we’re not doing this. We’re going to look out for ourselves”?
Well, you know what, we could have put our foot down. I think it’s just…if we had a management or a label that had just been a little bit more long term and just said “guys, OK you know we’d like the album before Christmas but you know what… if you need another 4 months or 6 months just go home, chill out, recharge your batteries”. I’ve used the analogy before that we were just constantly going back to the well and the well was empty. There hadn’t been enough time for it to fill up. It’s like what I’m doing now. I mean I’m not writing at the moment, I’m collecting, accumulating ideas and influences. You’ve got to stock up on all this stuff. And then when you’ve got all the raw material floating in your head or in your notes or on your lap top then you can start to play with it and see what comes out. When you just go back in the studio… I mean we were rehearsingDreaming last year and I said to Paul I said “The music’s alright in this song, but the lyrics are shit”
(Laughs) I read you said that in an interview but you didn’t say which song and I thought “it’s gotta be Dreaming“.
So embarrassed, so embarrassed about the lyrics, cause I had nothing left to say. We had to write a song and I had nothing I wanted to say (Laughs)
So in 2005 when you guys got back together and did the German gig, Martin wasn’t with you for that one right?
He’d booked into going camping with his kids. He couldn’t get out of it.
Do you think if you hadn’t said yes to that one, would OMD have still gotten together eventually or…
It’s hard to know. I mean obviously that was a catalyst. It was the first time that certainly Malcolm and Paul and I had been together doing something under the name OMD for 16 years or something. We had a great time and we were with Stewart Kershaw who was great, he was there as well cause Martin couldn’t be there.
I can remember we sat at the bar in Cologne and I just said “Right guys now listen. Look at this picture here, we’ve been here for two days and somebody else has paid for our airfare, and somebody else has paid for our hotel, and we’re sitting here drinking beer and yesterday we did six minutes work and today we’ve done 3 minutes work. Would you like to do this again for a living?” (Laughs)
(Laughs) So is that why you said yes, because everything was paid for? Compared to like some of the other stuff that you got offered…
Nah, it just made you realize what a great life it is you know? But we have to balance it. Particularly because Martin’s wife works, his kids are still young. So we have to balance taking Martin away from his family and letting him spend time with them. The rest of us are a lot more flexible so….yeah that also has to be born in mind.
So you guys hadn’t really talked. If you hadn’t done that gig it wasn’t something that you were already kind of tossing about in your head?
No, no it wasn’t.
It was that gig that did it.
That was the thing where we just thought “Ah, this is fun”. Beause we hadn’t really spent much time with each other. We’d gone our separate ways and that was it. And then Paul and Malcolm and Martin sort of had a falling out with each other over Telegraph Records and so everybody just sort of atomized into different directions. So yeah…enough water under the bridge, and we all got back together and we remembered why we all liked each other and off we went.
(Laughs) Good ol’ German TV show! So this may have been asked at some point, it’s kind of a silly question but I’m just curious to get the nitty gritty. Who came up with the idea to actually do a new album after you guys had done the 2007 Architecture & Morality tour and Messages and stuff,? It sounded like it was a natural progression but was there something where like you called up Paul or you guys were over dinner….
I think it was my idea but it did seem like a natural progression. But also again it was a dangerous thing to do because there’s a lot of bands of our generation who’d reformed and….I hated doing interviews where everybody’s going “Oh, yeah, you know all you guys are all getting back together again now”. And I’m like “Well, no, I’m not back together again with Spandau Ballet or The Police” or it’s like we’re not doing it for our pension fund or cause we have nothing else to do. We’re doing this because we really wanna do it. And obviously making a new record gives it a certain veneer of being contemporary and relevant. Which not having a new record… because after we did a couple of tours we were like “Are we just gonna keep playing the old stuff? Is this just always going to be a nostalgia tour?” But the problem is, and ALL bands think this, we need a new record to make us seem relevant and contemporary. The problem is they’ve got absolutely no f*cking ideas. They’ve got nothing to say. They’re just doing it because they think they need to make a new record, so that they’ve got something new to hang their tour on. And that was the big issue for me. I think all of us wanted to make a new record but it was really important not to make a bad record. Not least because we would then undermine all the good work we’d just done previously with touring again and everybody talking about how great you are and how wonderful… if we then capped our career with a piece of shit (Laughs)
There are bands who are our contemporaries who’ve made records recently and quite frankly, they just shouldn’t have been allowed in the studio. They should have stopped themselves cause they didn’t have any good ideas, they didn’t have any good songs. They had nothing to say, nothing of interest. They’re just doing it because they think they need a new record. If they could only transport themselves BACK to when they were 18 years old and remember why they wanted to make music THEN and try and recapture some of that energy and desire. They weren’t touching back on that. And I said to Paul: “IF we can get some good songs, some great ideas then we’ll think about making a record”. And it was only when we started to accumulate things and it was like, yeah you know it’s really exciting writing songs about the end of the universe.
So did you send him something first or did he send you something first?
He sent me stuff because of this geographical issue of him in London and me in Liverpool. We thought right, let’s be terribly modern and we’ll just ping things up and down the internet.
Couldn’t you have just taken a train? I mean from London to Liverpool is not that bad. (Laughs)
Well the thing is… how can I put this diplomatically? Paul is often very “busy”. (Laughs)Just trying to nail Paul down is quite hard so he would send things to me and then I would work on them and send them back to him. But it was just so slow, SO slow. So it wasn’t until we really got into the studio together, when I insisted he come up. In fact, it was Claudia. I was just bitching to her one day about “Paul is SO slow. He’s always doing this or doing that” and she just said “Yeah well how long have you known him? You’ve just gotta tell him. Put it in the diary: ‘You are coming to Liverpool TODAY for a week. No escape, no excuse.’
(Laughs) Have them put it in their calendar book or whatever.
Yeah, so that’s on Claudia’s suggestion, I started insisting he came to Liverpool and that’s when we started to really work.
So History Of Modern, when you guys put it out you said you had wanted to make an album, like you said, you’re saying it in your own words and your own language but you didn’t have a record label when you first started making it correct?
So it was all just on you guys. So when you had the 13 songs, did you start shopping it around? Was there somebody that you already knew that you could go to?
There were a few people we knew at labels who were interested. But it became quite obvious quite quickly that the major labels weren’t gonna put… Their attitude was “OK, so OMD, let’s all sit down. What do we reckon they’ll sell? Worldwide they’ll probably sell, eh, 40,000. OK, right so we will give them an advance of 10,000 pounds, we’ll get that back, we’ll do no promotion, we’ll do no radio work and we’ll just put it out there and we’ll get our money back and that will be our predict”. And I just thought, I don’t wanna go through labels like that who just aren’t interested in it. Who just see it as bottom line that we’ll sell this, we won’t spend any money on X, Y and Z.
Do you think they would have gotten that money back?
Yeah they would have because they wouldn’t have spent any money. I mean 40,000 people would have found that album and bought it out of curiosity with no money being spent on the promotion and that’s what they would have done. They wouldn’t have done any promotion. We were just very fortunate that we know Mirelle Davis.
She’s part of the Barmy Army originally wasn’t she?
She was yeah. I went to Mirelle and I said “You are the best person in England, possibly the world, at independent international marketing and licensing deals. Here’s our new album (Laughs) So we gave her the record and she thought it was a great record and she just started calling people. And so we ended up with 13 different distribution deals around the world from people who wanted it, who were going to put a little bit of effort in.
She got a lot of people interested. But the whole thing essentially has been self funded. We had to pay for a lot of the stuff and we used 100% as our kind of mother label. We did a deal with them where they would put up the money for manufacturing and artwork and stuff, and videos and we’d lock in and we’d do a deal…. but see the great thing is, in the old days, you sold a record and if it sold for like $10, you’d get $1. Whereas now if it sells for $10, you get $4 or $5. So we don’t sell as many but because of the licensing and distribution deals, you get a much higher return. YOU bare the burden of the possibility of having to pay the costs which the label used to do but similarly you get more money back if you sell.
So you take the risk and then hope that it works out.
Exactly, you have the potential risk but also you can do better.
Has it paid back for you guys?
Yeah! I mean listen, it’s made a bit of money. To me, it didn’t matter that it made any money. Again, it was like touring… do we want to do it, did we believe in it. So 130,000-140,000 people have bought an album that wouldn’t have existed had we not taken a chance on it. We are in the fortunate position that we have a fan base, we have a history. It’s not like trying to be a new band getting and doing this yourself. We knew that there would be a certain number. We just thought listen, if Virgin Records or Universal think there’s 40,000 people out there who will buy it, then let’s get those 40,000 people ourselves and do it ourselves. F*ck the major labels (Laughs)
So this whole risk taking with the album and with the touring…. did you have to run it? And – this is kind of personal, you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to – but run it past the families? I mean, cause that would be a big money risk for you guys. Your wife must be pretty understanding. She’s a fan right?
To a degree. But she knew that that was what I wanted to do. And she’d seen that I was much happier being in Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark than I had been the previous 10 years in trying to develop other artists. So I think she understood that it was…. I don’t think she thought I was going to lose money. I’ve done plenty of other stuff that’s lost money. Trying to develop a band called The Genie Queen lost me a shit load of money.
Yeah, I don’t really see too much, I mean you hear everything about Atomic Kitten and you don’t see too much…
Well The Genie Queen never got a release. The girl who put it together, the lead singer, decided there was a better living to be made out of f*cking a football player and she was right (Laughs) She’s now a model and he makes $100,000 a week playing football and she makes several hundred thousand a year just by wearing a bikini for a photoshoot every couple of months, so nice work if you can get it. She’d seen how hard work it was in the music industry so she chose to abandon it so, there you go. Cost me a fortune trying to make her famous and I failed.
So English Electric, obviously it’s going to be the same thing as History Of Modern…you guys will put it out when you feel you’re ready. There’s no contract so to speak….
We’ve got a target.
That’s what I was going to ask you. Do you have something in mind?
Well, yeah, I’ll tell you…but don’t hold us to it. We would ideally like it for the spring of 2013
I know last year at the beginning of the tour, you had come out and said that tour, America in the spring and then some summer festivals you were going to take like a 2-3 year break and it seems then the second American tour… you didn’t really get a break.
We’re not going to tour Europe or England or America next year. We may do festivals if we get good ones offered to us. We, tentatively have been offered South America and Australia and Singapore and the Philippines but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. And they’ll be very short tours so no, basically 2012 is going to be writing English Electric.
Which is good because you guys had so much going on this year, your well is going to be dry!
Well this is what it’s about exactly, giving ourselves time to get it done.
Do you feel more of a pressure? Because History Of Modern kind of seemed like that was your way to get your feet wet. Do you feel more pressure, either from fans expecting English Electric to be all experimental Or is it more of an open book, like there is no boundary where History Of Modern was more pressure?
Well, I think you kind of answered your own question Lori. I mean the thing is, in this sort of, well it’s not even post-modern, it’s now NEO post-modern era, (Laughs) um, there’s no tribal music anymore. There’s no “This is in, this is out”. A whole cultural circus is being atomized now. So, the bottom line is quite simply, whilst we keep saying to ourselves “What is the future of music? What does music sound like in the future?”. The reality is in a broader picture. As OMD we are going to try and stick to our mantra and see what we can do. But the reality is that in this kind of non-conformist, non-tribal, non-fashion music scene, music can be…you know the future of music can quite frankly be anything you f*cking want it to be. (Laughs)
You don’t think it’s going to run another cycle like before?
Well, eh…it will but I don’t think that what we do will go completely out of fashion again. It’s just that everything now is all up for grabs ya know. Because it’s not linear anymore. It’s not like “This replaces that, replaces this, replaces that.” Now it’s going round in swoops and swirls and remixes and everything, EVERYTHING… it’s not just music I mean art, film, fashion, architecture. Every sort of creative exploit has now become self referential. There’s almost nothing done totally new anymore. Everything’s going round and round in circles so it can be anything. I mean these days it’s almost like… being an artist is like “Why does that pile of dog shit on a silver platter with a spotlight on it..why is that art?” “Because I’m the artist and I said it is!” (Laughs)
(Laughs) I mean I’ve gone to museums and I’m like “Um, why does someone have that on their wall?”
Why is it art? Because the artist says it IS art. Full stop.
And then you believe it (Laughs)
That’s it exactly. So ya know, what is the future of music? Anything I f*cking say it is OK?(Laughs) Pardon my swearing, I’m just trying to make the point.
(Laughs) That’s alright. You don’t feel the pressure then? Like you don’t feel like you have to go in a certain way?
Yes and no, I would like to come up with something that… if we could push the envelope a little bit it’d be quite nice, but we’ll see. But it’s fun to have a challenge isn’t it? Fun to have a goal.
Is Paul going to sing another song on it? I have to ask you all English Electric questions now.
yeah, I would like Paul to do some more singing.
Does he have one yet that he feels he wants to do?
He hasn’t told me if he has yet. I mean Paul has spent this entire year, basically when he’s not been playing with us, he’s been mixing Claudia’s live album. He’s been really nailed down with that.
You had mentioned Dresden and Final Song were a couple of your songs. Are you still working on Atomic Ranch?
Atomic Ranch Part 1 is finished
Oooo! There’s two parts? (Laughs)
Well see Atomic Ranch started as a lyric that I was writing for myself to sing and then I got this vox machine app on my laptop and I started putting the words into that and trying out different voices so I’ve now got a vox machine version of it which is quite cool. It sounds quite good actually, it’s all about the sort of utopia of the 50’s that never quite arrived so that sort of …. that sort of ‘45-‘70 where everyone thought they were going to turn into George Jetson and the future would be great and the atomic power would solve all our problems and science would fix everything in medicine. This sort of utopian vision that everything was gonna be great and of course in reality, it didn’t turn out that way. So Atomic Ranch is about that kind of utopian view. I mean I think the opening line is “I want a house and a car and a robot wife, I want two kids, a yard and a perfect life.”
But now what’s part two gonna be? Is it actually happening?
Well part two will be me singing the song with those words. So you’ll get the robot version and my version. It’s almost like a remix version. Because it starts out very positive. You’ve heard the opening line which is “I want a house and a car and a robot wife’ and then I think the last line is probably “The future came down like an avalanche and it f*cked my house… it f*cked my life and my atomic ranch”.
Yep, I remember reading that and was like “OK!”
So it kind of closes itself up in a sort of self-fulfilling negative prophecy. We’ve got another song called Our System, which utilizes a lot of noises from space probes. Voyager and stuff like that, so that’s exciting. Dresden is half finished. There’s also a couple of other bits and pieces like that. Final Song is finished.
It is done? OK
It’s our first completed song and it’s BEAUTIFUL! And it will be the last song on the album
Is it another New Holy Ground where it just grabs you and makes you want to cry?
It’s not quite as sad as that. I think there’ll be some good songs. It’s not all going be just bleeps and noises. There’s going to be some good songs – and there’ll be some really exciting bleeps and noises on it.
(chuckles) Is it too early to have Martin and Mal in? Have they come in at all and done anything with you guys?
Well no, I mean literally, Final Song just happened to get finished by accident. The rest of it, you know, everything is in its infancy and there will be contributions made along the way.
Do they come in when it’s pretty much done? Or do they put some stuff in even when you guys are only part way through the song?
They weren’t particularly, deeply involved in History Of Modern. I would like them to be more involved in this one, if we can get them involved.
I know History Of Modern had songs that’d maybe come from elsewhere either from your history or from some of the other ones… is that going to happen on English Electric?
Uh, well no because we’ve kind of used up everything we had lying around so it’s pretty much all going to be brand new material.
That’s cool. Anything aside from English Electric? If you had unlimited resources, unlimited time, is there any other project that you want to do?
Yeah, I would like to do another concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Yeah, that was one of my questions, if we were going to get another one of those.
I’d like to do that, really like to do that.
Weren’t you originally looking at doing it this year?
Yeah, they offered us this year and I said no we’re busy with the History Of Modern stuff. We did tentatively talk about the possibility of next summer. That might be something to do in the summer, maybe just throw in a quick orchestral gig. I was SO nervous before that gig. I was SO far out of my comfort zone.
I’d done, you know playing with the band again and all four of us had gotten used to that, but that was so nerve wrecking. And I was mostly involved in the arrangements because all the arrangers lived up in Liverpool. And of course it had the Energy Suite as well. And Paul had to go to his daughters graduation 2 days before the concert and he arrived the day of the concert.
So he had never played any of it before, like he’d never played with the orchestra up to that point? Couldn’t he have come like the week before or something and done something?
It’s so expensive to rehearse with an orchestra that you only rehearse the day before and the day of. So I was there the day before on my own. 75 people on stage who are all classically trained and I can’t read or write music and I’m just like “What do you think?”
So I was sort of saying to the arranger “Can you tell them that I think that better go… OK so yeah D57 row…. this should be a minus 7 third. Wait on, is that what I said? Minus 7 third diminish…K whatever” (Laughs)
(Laughs) “As long as it sounds the way I want it when it’s done, that’s all”
yeah, so it was pretty nerve wrecking but it was such fun! And some of those songs just sounded SO good!
I would have loved to have gone. I just couldn’t come over, but if you guys do another one there’s no way I would miss it.
So I’d like to do that and I would like to do another installation actually.
Like the Energy Suite?
Actually that’s something else, we need to get the Energy Suite out. We need to get that released.
And the no hits thing that you guys were talking about? Are you still thinking about that or…that’d be so much work for you.
It would be a HUGE amount of work. I mean there would be 2 or 3 months of programming, there would be probably 2 or 3 weeks of rehearsals because we’d have to do everything from scratch. It would be a MAJOR undertaking. And I think as much as I’m sure there is a certain number of people out there who would love to come to a no hits gig, I think if it was a trade off between that and English Electric, I think people would probably go for a new album.
Well even you guys would probably… I mean I can’t speak for you but if you had a choice, would you rather do your album?
Yeah! But ya know what, it’s nice. There’s lots of possibilities on the horizon! So as long as we’re still enjoying it and people still want us to play or do things, then we’ll do it.
Who would have thought in 2005 you’d be doing all this!
Yep, not gonna make a load of money out of it but we’re very fortunate that we have residual royalties that keep coming in.
Well from a fan’s stand point, hearing you guys say that it’s not about the money and it’s about your love of music and you wanting to do that type of stuff, I mean you can’t ask for anything more than that. I think if anything, I think fans will be more appreciative because they’ll know.
Well the main important thing is you strike the right balance. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t have to do something for the money but the trouble is that they then can be rather self indulgent. They just do it because, “Hey it’s for me”… and it’s like “Yeah, well YOU listen to it then cause it’s shit, I’m not listening to it ya know?”(Laughs)
Previously posted at omd-messages.co.uk