Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on May 25th 2011 1:00PM by Robert Ham
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Spinner had a chance to catch up with OMD's singer Andy McCluskey to talk about the band's reunion of its original lineup, its legacy and how they've avoided the traps that so many of their peers have fallen into.
Had it really been over 20 years since OMD has played in the States?
Scary, isn't it? The original band split up in 1989, so it was 17 years before we got back together to play at all. It took us a little bit of time.
What was it that made the original lineup decide to try this again?
A combination of things, really. We always stayed in touch and were friends. It wasn't some horrible falling out where we all hated each other. We just went off to do different things. Initially, Paul [Humphreys] and Malcolm [Holmes] and Martin [Cooper] had a band together [The Listening Pool], and I carried on using the OMD name for three more albums. I stopped in '96 and went into writing songs and started my own label. As the millennium turned, there was something in the air. The electro vibe was starting to come back after the '90s resurgence of rock music. We started to get asked to do TV shows and tour and produce new electronic artists.
So, by 2005, I talked to Paul and said, "We've been offered to do a TV show in Germany. Fancy getting away from the wife and kids?" We were just going to go to Germany and do the show and have a few beers and have a laugh. While we were there, I asked them, "You know, we keep getting asked to do gigs, and we're all together again now. Do you fancy trying some gigs?" We put nine on sale. They all sold out. We ended up doing 40 that summer. Bang, off we went again. It seems in keeping with the band because Paul and I started the band completely by accident. We never started writing songs because we thought we'd make a huge career out of it. Getting together again by accident seemed to be quite appropriate [laughs].
You mentioned that period where you were just a songwriter. What can you tell us about that and your work with Atomic Kitten?
Basically, I was frustrated. By 1995, the height of Britpop, OMD was considered past its sell-by date, which is understandable. Every generation rejects its predecessor and fashion trends come and go. So, I reluctantly decided to stop OMD but was conceited enough to think that I could still write songs. It wasn't the messenger, it was the message.
The crazy thing about Atomic Kitten, do you know who I blame for inventing it? Kraftwerk. I got to know Karl Barthos in the '90s, and I told him, "I'm going to start writing songs." And he told me, "Don't just be a songwriter and give them to your publisher and have them whored around. You'll have no control. Why don't you create a band as a vehicle? What sort of band should it be?" And I said, "Girls. Girls create the best pop music around." He said, "Well, do a girl band then. What's the best girl band?" I said, "Oh, a three-piece." And he said, "There you are: invent a three-piece girl band". So Kraftwerk invented Atomic Kitten. It really was good for me. I had to sit down and figure out what a modern song would sound like. I did an album for them that sold almost 2 million and was responsible for my only UK No. 1 single.
On the new OMD album, the songs have a decidedly throwback sound to what the band did in the '80s.
To some degree. It was a very difficult decision to make. It's one thing to play live and play the songs that you know people like. It's a whole different thing to dare to be stupid enough to make a new album. Thirty years after we created our own sound, now the electronic thing was back in fashion and these young artists are naming us as important and influential and iconic and seminal and all these other flattering words. The last thing that we wanted to do now that we were cool again was to f--- it all up with a s--- album. We really had to think hard about it. We have friends that are still in bands and they've made albums that they shouldn't have. They made them for the wrong reasons, because they didn't really have anything to say. It was important to us that, now that we were motivated to do this, we had something we wanted to put into a song. Our first four albums, we created our own voice and our own sound. And we wanted to go back and speak in that OMD voice. However, we didn't want to pastiche ourselves. So, since both of us have been making records since our OMD days ended, we're up to date with studio technology. We know how to make something that sounds modern but balance it with the original OMD sound. And from the feedback we've received, it seems that we've achieved that.
And there are songs on the album like 'Pulse' that could easily be a modern pop hit by a group like Atomic Kitten.
It was interesting to try and weld into our sound some of the musical things that have come along since we stopped. I wouldn't say all of it was completely successful, but it was nice that we tried to weld that together. Some people love 'Pulse.' They told us, "Wow, I never thought that that would be an OMD song." Others say "It doesn't sound like an OMD song and we hate it!" [laughs]
There's also a song on the album, 'Sister Marie Says,' that you began working on in the '80s, correct?
The melody is from 1981 and the lyrics are from 1994. We could never get it into a format that seemed to work. We always remember good ideas even if they didn't work as a whole. We finally got an arrangement and production that seemed to really work for the song.
You mentioned the early albums and it was interested to consider that a record like 'Dazzle Ships' wasn't very well received when it was released but the 2008 reissue had glowing reviews.
It was almost a career-ending move, that album. Hard to imagine it now. Paul and I just wanted to write songs, in our own way, inspired by Kraftwerk without having any of their equipment. [We] had to learn to play as we had to learn to write songs with whatever we could get our hands on. And our best friends at the time thought that what we did was utter s---. We didn't think it was crap, but we didn't think it had a market. So for three years we just wrote this stuff and didn't play it. We finally dared to go onstage in 1978, and called ourselves Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark because we wanted people to know that it was a stupid, crazy idea. We borrowed a friend's tape recorder and threw everything on it because no one we knew was willing to play with us and we went to do one gig. Amazingly, we got offered to do another gig and that was at the Factory in Manchester. There, we met the guys who were going to start Factory Records. They said, "What you're doing is the future of pop music." And we said, "F--- off, we're experimental. How dare you call us pop?" But, of course, Tony Wilson was right and we were wrong. Within a year, we had a hit single and were on 'Top of the Pops' and were on tour and had a real band. How the hell did this happen?
Our first four albums, we completely 100 percent wrote our own rules, no A&R man, no one said you should do this or that or sound like this. We told them where we would go to record and with what producer and engineer. They just gave us the money and we gave them the tapes. It was incredible. That kind of naive confidence we had led us to incredible heights. 'Architecture and Morality' sold over 3 million. It was incredible. The 'Dazzle Ships' album, we walked ourselves right off the end of the plank. It's almost like a blueprint, pure bare bones of ideas of songs. We didn't sugarcoat them with the choirs and melodies. Some of it was really stripped down and raw. A lot of people who bought into the gothic splendor of A&M heard 'Dazzle Ships' and said, "What the hell is this?" We went from selling 3 million to selling 300,000. We lost 90 percent of our audience.
After that, both consciously and unconsciously, we reeled ourselves in. Paul was married and we all had houses, so we got a little conservative. That's when we lost our original direction, quite frankly. We wrote some good songs but I don't think we were as great as we had been when we were doing what the hell we wanted to. 'Architecture and Morality' is now considered to be a seminal masterpiece. And as you said, [the reissue of] 'Dazzle Ships' got all these incredible reviews. I wish people had said that about it 25 years ago; it might have sold a few more. Paul finally said he forgave me for the album. It was very much my idea. "We're gonna write songs that are samples of radio. Gonna write songs that have sounds of robots. Gonna write songs that have speaking clocks from around the world." Paul would say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Then it came out and Paul said, "Andy I really think you f---ed us here." [Laughs]
Have you seen any of the footage of Owen Pallett playing 'Dazzle Ships' in concert using just his voice and violin?
I have, yes. It's incredible, isn't it? We actually talked to him about doing some arrangements for us because we were going to play with an orchestra. And he did some really cool arrangements of things for us. Then he backed out, because he really didn't want to try and arrange one of his favorite bands for a 75-piece orchestra. It's a shame. I hope we can work with him some time.
It's somewhat of a rarity to find a band like yours that has been around for as long as you have but have avoided going on nostalgic package tours or showing up on 'Celebrity Big Brother.' Was that a conscious choice by you and the band?
We've been offered some very lucrative things. You get tarred with this nostalgia package thing. There's this tour called "Here and Now" where loads of artists from the '80s play together. I'm sure it's great fun and I'm sure the audiences go home having had three to three-and-a-half hours playing all their hits and had a great time. We just thought that once you start going down that route, there's no going back again. You'll never get taken seriously as a touring band on your own right. People talked to us about playing again and said, "Oh, you're back to top up your pension, eh?" I lost 70,000 pounds in the summer of 2007 because I wanted to tour again. We've now worked ourselves up so we don't lose money on tour. This North American tour had a chance of losing a lot of money. If we hadn't sold the tickets, we were going to be in a big hole. We took a big chance. Once we prove to people that we're not just a bunch of old men trading on the past that we actually still kick ass on stage then we'll be able to come back and do an even bigger one next year.