“I’m changing the plot basically…”
With the OMD reformation heralding a new OMD album and tour plus a DVD, unreleased material album and Dazzle Ships reissue in the pipeline, it’s going to be a busy time for Andy McCluskey.
This interview was conducted in 2005, prior to the announcement of OMD reforming, and capture Andy’s thoughts at that time…
What are your thoughts on the planned reissue of Dazzle Ships?
Well given the sonic improvement of the first three albums when they were remastered and reissued, I’m looking forward to it because it should sound a damn sight better than it sounds on most people’s CD’s currently. So I do think it’s going to be very exciting.
Having said that,Dazzle Ships is a strange LP, because obviously it was possibly the lowest selling album that we ever released, other than maybe the first album. And yet, I am still inordinately proud of that because although maybe we did something that commercially didn’t really do particularly well, I think that we did that album for the right reasons.
Whereas if I listen now to Pacific Age I kind of think “Well…. you know we weren’t doing it consciously for the wrong reasons, but in hindsight I think some of our thinking on the songwriting and the production on that album was a bit fuzzy and we could have done it different and better”.
Whereas Dazzle Ships, OK it didn’t sell very well but I think we did it for the right reasons even if it didn’t do very well commercially and I’m very proud of the fact that we did it even though I know that some of the other members of the band have never forgiven me for the short wave radios and things like that! (laughs)
You also had plans to do your own music project at some stage. What are your thoughts on that?
The bottom line is I’ve spent the last three years basically working on other people’s material, developing them and I haven’t got anything released yet to show for it. So it’s been a long haul and an expensive one as well. And financially I cannot go on indefinitely spending money on things and not getting any money back. That doesn’t mean that I think there’s anything wrong with the stuff, we just haven’t got it out yet.
So I had thought to myself two reasons of the possibility of doing stuff again, whether it be called OMD or what. One, because after all this time now I actually would quite like to do something that was just for me again. Because I think enough time has passed that I would enjoy doing it again. I had to stop and I had to get OMD out of my system and that has happened. But also, quite simply, I still do like doing stuff and if the other things I’m doing don’t make me any money then I can do my own stuff, be it OMD or something, and probably have a career. Nothing to the scale that it used to be but maybe with the passing of time now and being realistic – I keep getting asked to tour and I always say not this year but I’m not saying never.
And there is this unreleased album which the more I thought about it in the last few months the more I thought it would make sense to put a couple of new things on it as well. Re-work some of the other stuff and possibly rather than putting it out through Virgin, actually take it to someone like Sanctuary who specialise in acts that have had a career and they can still make a certain amount of money out of a certain number of sales from them. Because it’s my belief that actually Virgin don’t own the demos. I own them so I could do with them what I want and it makes no sense for me necessarily, certainly financially, for me to give them back to Virgin, which I’m sure will meet with resounding cheers from most of the OMD community who seem to view Virgin as the devil incarnate.
So I’d like to do it and there is another thought in me that if I don’t do it soon, the kind of vibe of 80’s revival will have passed and I’ll have missed the boat. But I don’t think it’s going to recreate the career. I see New Order again back on the road headlining festivals this summer and going back to the idea of the touring thing, I would crap myself if I had to go and play a festival. It’s one thing to do a small number of indoor things but that would be a lot to take on.
But whatever happens and when it happens I wouldn’t necessarily think I’m going to relaunch my career either as OMD. Or it might just be a one-off and I’ll see how it goes. If it does well then I might be encouraged to carry on but the problem with people of my generation is that people like to go see a gig every now and again, people like to be reminded of their favourite songs. But even a band as huge as Duran Duran – they’re selling out arenas, everybody wants to go and hear Hungry Like The Wolf but no one wants to buy their new album! (laughs)
And I don’t want to get myself back in the position of busting my nuts to make what I think is a great record and then having to accept that people only want to see me sing ‘Enola Gay’ live again, but don’t actually want anything new. Although I am conceited enough to believe that the stuff that I could release would be better than, dare I say it, most of my contemporaries who are still making records. Because I do think that new Duran Duran record is less than excellent. It’s like somebody copying Duran Duran but without the good songs 20-odd years ago. I do think the one thing that I’ve got going for me is because I’ve been writing songs – and hits to boot – in the last few years and I’ve had to re-learn my trade and not think about OMD, I actually think that I’m in a better position to pick up and carry on writing. I think I still write good songs, is basically what I’m saying, as conceited as that sounds.
So can you envision a timescale for the Unreleased Material album?
No I can’t. I tell you why, because originally the idea was it was just going be a load of old demos thrown together and released. But the more I think about it, the more I’d actually like to possibly rework some of the stuff, I think ‘Sister Marie Says’ is actually a single and I’d like to see someone do something with it and I’d probably like to put some new stuff on there. And also, like I said to you, I actually think it might be better not giving it to Virgin. Because they don’t own it so why should I? And somebody else might do something more with it if it had new stuff. So I’m changing the plot basically. Its not just going to be a load of old demos chucked out. I’m actually thinking of reworking it a little bit and adding a few bits to it and maybe a couple of new songs as well. But as to when, I don’t know.
I’m not sure how much you can talk about the Atomic Kitten situation, but it would be interesting to get your comments on that.
I’m close to resolving that and it’s been very unfortunate that something’s come up at the last minute which has delayed the final resolution of it, completely something that we’d never seen before. Something that everyone had forgotten about had to be resolved first.
Actually, it’s probably better to talk to me now rather than after the event because the settlement agreement is actually going to have a clause in it which is basically a confidentiality clause and I’m not going to be able to talk about it. So the situation is I am still heartbroken about the whole thing. I mean that project, those girls were like my daughters. Liz and Natasha in particular left school to join the band and I felt some kind of obligation to them. Kerry was the first one in and I love her to bits. I met her before Christmas and she’s been through hard times recently but she’s still actually fabulous. Kerry is what you see is what you get. She is a wonderful person. And in some respects it’s very sad and quite telling that the two people that I’m allowed to talk to these days are the two girls who left Atomic Kitten – Kerry and Heidi Range. The ones that I carried on working with I’m not really allowed to talk about anymore.
I feel sad for the girls because now it seems evident that their careers are over, certainly as Atomic Kitten. I’ve got not idea whether they’ll ever do anything as solo artists. I just think that they were frankly walked down the garden path by people who possibly didn’t have their best interests at heart or weren’t able to prevent the girls from doing things that in hindsight possibly weren’t the best things for their careers.
I can understand that Natasha’s difficulty in combining motherhood with pop stardom but I just feel that there was a better way to go about it, than this blurting out at the beginning of last year that the band were splitting up and then it was like “Oh no, no, no. We’re just taking a sabbatical” was obviously trying to bolt the stable door after the horse had gone and what somebody needed to do was sit down with Natasha and analyse the problems she was having. Just say, “Listen, we know you’ve a problem here. We know that your maternal hormones have kicked in and you want to spend more time with your son. That’s understandable. But, just remember this, just because you got into this band when you were 17 and you probably think it was a piece of cake and you can do it all over again – you won’t. You throw this away, it’s gone and probably your career as a performer is gone forever”. There are very, very few people who actually have a career after the band they were in, you know? Robbie Williams is the only exception that I can actually think of really. George Michael – well he was the band! (laughs) Andrew Ridgley was really just a passenger.
So I just think someone just have just sat her down and said “Listen, yes all of you have worked your socks off for the past few years, maybe you need some time off. Let’s finish off promoting this album, let’s finish this tour and then I’ll tell you what – stop, leave, go away for six months. Go and be a mum, spend every day with your son. Enjoy it whilst he’s young. All you’ve got to do is come back to the studio for a couple of days sometime later in the year to cut some vocals for a Best Of album which we can release at Christmas 2004 and then by the time you’ve spent six months with your son, maybe you’ll be sick of nappies and you’ll want to be a popstar again”.
Because I think it’s really sad to see that the Kittens and the Sugababes paths have basically crossed over and the Sugababes have gone up and up and up and the Sugababes are no more intelligent than the Kittens. The Sugababes are not more street cred and classy. The Sugababes do not write more of their own songs than Atomic Kitten ever did. But they’ve just been well managed and well A&R’ed by their record company so that the Sugababes are still perceived as cool. And they’ve consistently made interesting singles that have kept them moving forward, whereas unfortunately, Atomic Kitten just became a repetitive pastiche of themselves unfortunately.
Obviously there’s nothing more out of fashion than something that’s just finished being fashionable, but the Kittens are totally unfashionable. Even if they wanted to get back together again they probably wouldn’t get a deal because I don’t think people want to buy Kitten records anymore.
I just think it’s a shame because I think that they could have had a longer career if they kept their music moving forward. I don’t see why they had to be part of the “Make two or three albums, burn yourself out, get thrown away and replaced” because the Sugababes are breaking that mold. They’re volatile, they don’t always get on. There’s ego problems, there’s clashes of personality. But somebody’s managed to keep a lid on it and explain to them which side their bread is buttered on.
So yeah, there’s a long rant about the Kittens. The main thing is I’m just sorry it ended up turning out the way it did. I thought it could have lasted longer and been better.
I’m very, very proud of starting with them. I’m very proud of all the songs I wrote for them in the early days and anybody that ever bought their first album – I think as a collection of songs it’s fucking amazing.
So do you think in working with Genie Queen you’ve learnt from that experience and that you now do things differently?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s made it easier. Working with teenage girls is always a pretty volatile thing to do. There’s lots of times when you’re basically all the king’s horses and all the king’s men – you’re always trying to put someone back together again. But yes there are things that I’m definitely doing better with Genie Queen and also there are things that Genie Queen can do that will hopefully give them the opportunity to go above and beyond Atomic Kitten.
We’re in a bit of a quandary at the moment because we’ve lost a girl and we’re actually changing the band. We’ve gone from a 3-piece all singing, all dancing band to a 4-piece. The two main singers remain, they’re going to be doing most of the lead vocals because they’re great and we’ve got a bass player and we’re looking for another girl to play keyboards. So they’re actually going to be a very different type of band. But, the bass player can play the bass and we’re looking for a keyboard player who can play because I don’t want a bunch of dolly birds miming and looking like they don’t know what the hell they’re doing because that completely undermines any kind of credibility the band would have. So we’re changing the tack a little bit but I’m very confident with the music we have.
Stephanie McMichael is doing her GCSE’s this year so everything’s gone a bit quiet there, but she actually has a band and we’re hoping that they will actually be playing some gigs before the summer. She’s actually got a 4-piece rock band playing with her which is great and they’re all 17/18 year old lads.
The Aeroplanes I’m hoping to sign and release. They’re just great songwriters. They’re going to make great records not dissimilar from the mold of Keane, Coldplay, Travis, Snow Patrol. Not earth-shatteringly radical but just very, very good songs well played and recorded. I’m very optimistic that that’s going to be reasonably successful and then there’s obviously the Satin Dolls who I think are getting better and better and better who I’d like to sign in the summer. They’ve come in here and they’ve done a good version of ‘Walk Away’ and they’ve done a good version of ‘Tell Me’ – for me their two best songs – they’ve topped them with ‘Tonight’. ‘Tonight’ is even better than ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Tell Me’.
So you’re envisioning big things for the Satin Dolls then?
I’m optimistic. I mean I think the next thing they have to do is they’ve got to work on what they’re going to look like and obviously they’ll need a band at some point. But I think that Rob and Julie now that they’ve just been working on their own have actually got a really got a good plot going and the songs keep coming and assuming all stays together I’m hoping to sign them in the summer.
And Lucy Styles continues to utterly amaze me. Stuart Kershaw’s been doing a little bit of work producing her. Sometime in the next two years she is going to release the must-have female singer/songwriter album of the year. She is a genius. And she’s now a grand old lady of 18 as of last week. And she writes and programmes, performs and sings all of her own songs. All I did was give her a room and a computer. She’s turned into a bloody genius. She is unbelievable.
The full version of this interview appears in Issue Four of Messages.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and The Electricity Club.