With the release of their post-reformation album History Of Modern, OMD embarked on a tour which took them back to the USA in 2011.
In the second part of this exclusive interview, Lori Tarchala spoke to Andy McCluskey a few days before the start of the second leg of their North American Tour to discuss the tours, the past and plans for the future…
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 rehearsing ‘Dreaming’ 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 ’50s 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)
All photos by Lori Tarchala.