“An essential part of our kind of method was to try to do something we hadn’t done before…”
In 1981 OMD released what has largely been regarded as their most definitive album release. Architecture & Morality brought OMD both public and critical appraisal augmented by the success of the singles ‘Souvenir’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’.
The album was subsequently reissued in 2003 and featured a remastered version of the original album alongside bonus tracks, sleeve notes, photos and restored artwork. As part of the reissue process, Paul Browne interviewed the band to ask about their thoughts about the album then and now.
What do you recall about the ideas and emotions that originally inspired the songs on Architecture & Morality?
I think one of the things we always tried to do, particularly in the early part of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, was desperately try not to repeat ourselves. It seemed to be an essential part of our kind of method was to try to do something we hadn’t done before.
So having done a first album of sort of garage punk electronic and the second album that was a lot more dark and gothic, I think we were looking for a new direction and found a lot of influence in the emotional power of religious music. Although not the actual religious content, but just the actual emotional power of religious music and to that end we started to try and write songs that had some of the kind of pomp and, if you like, bombastic (laughs) nature of large kind of choral pieces and religious pieces of music.
We started sampling Gregorian chants, trying to find samples of keyboards and machines that would emulate choral sounds and of course got a Mellotron with the right choral sounds on it which became the mainstay of the songwriting on that album.
So do you think the finished album was actually pretty much what you set out to do?
In hindsight I think that we went on a remarkable journey and I’m very happy about where we ended up, but that is hindsight. At the time of making an album, you’re so immersed in it and it almost invariably doesn’t end up sounding how you had imagined it was going to sound. It’s impossible to be objective and to really know whether or not you’ve achieved what you tried to set out to achieve. But 21 years later, I can look back and say that I think we went an awfully long way to achieving whatever it was we thought we were trying to achieve! (laughs) Mainly the evocative and emotional power of songs that had choral samples and that created the kind of emotional intensity that we were trying to achieve by emulating religious music.
Did you have any sense that Architecture & Morality was going to be so successful?
I think we’d become very comfortable with the fact that we seemed to be able to do just what we wanted musically, be quite experimental, avant-garde and yet still sell an awful lot of records and have hits because we had a track record of doing so. The fabulous thing about being in OMD was it was a hobby that turned into a musical career so the whole methodology was ‘Hey, we do what we want – and people buy it!’. So I don’t think we were scared in any way. I don’t think we were arrogant, but I think that we were fairly confident that we were going to do exactly what we felt like doing and there was a pretty good chance that a lot of people were going to buy it. Because we’d already had a track record with our previous two albums and the singles from those albums.
I’d have thought you would have felt a bit nervous releasing ‘Maid Of Orleans’ though, because ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Joan Of Arc’ are fairly obvious kind of singles, but ‘Maid Of Orleans’ is a bit weird and wonderful
Yeah, I have to be honest, I didn’t at the time ever think of ‘Maid Of Orleans’ as a particularly strong single candidate. I think that’Souvenir’ and ‘Joan Of Arc’ were the ones that immediately sprang to mind as the first two singles. But it was the record company that suggested it I have to say. Carol Wilson suggested it. I liked the song and whilst I wasn’t sure about it as a single, I was prepared enough to give it a release and it became a hugely successful song. I mean much bigger in fact than ‘Joan Of Arc’, the one that was released before it. It was a monstrous international hit that really made the album sell.
I mean ‘Souvenir’ had been almost as successful as ‘Enola Gay’. ‘Joan Of Arc’ was only released in the UK anyway and so it took ‘Maid Of Orleans’ being a second pan-European monster hit that led to selling an awful lot of albums. I derived a lot of satisfaction after the event – such a peculiar song being such a huge hit.
But then you weren’t prepared to risk it with the release of ‘She’s Leaving’ ?
It wasn’t so much risk it, actually. Then, I was being a pedantic, precious artistic fucker. But no, I mean quite simply then it was “Oh, no we’re not releasing four singles from an album. I’m not prostituting my art!” (laughs) So that was the reason why. It was released I think in the Benelux area but nowhere else and it was not really a hit. It’s hard to know whether with a video and proper promotion it would have done better.
How do you feel about the album today? Do you think that it stands up to the test of time? Do you think it sounds dated
Well I think production values have altered. The sound of drum kits has evolved since 1981. In that respect it does sound dated, how could it not? I think one of its strengths is that so many of the tracks were not conceived to be pop songs and therefore the album, in many respects, was not an album of its time which allows it to stand the test of time better. Because I don’t think an awful lot of music on there necessarily sounds like 1981. It didn’t sound like 1981, even in 1981! (laughs)
I think I’d agree with you actually because when you listen to the album it’s like something else. It’s like a completely different sound
A lot of that album really is just pure musical soundscapes and it’s held together with some strong melodies and, I’d like to think, some good vocals and some lyrics. But in terms of actual song structure and arrangement and the sounds used on those songs, an awful lot of it just was not of its time. Which was why I was so pleased it was successful because it was so different from everything else in the charts. And now, I think perhaps without sounding conceited, it is helped in standing the test of time because it was never really of its time.
Getting back to the choral effects, the impression I get is that the choral influences grew out of Dave Hughes and his choral tape loops with ‘Souvenir’. So are you saying you were all listening to different types of music at the time that kind of fed into that?
Oh yeah, I think that Dave Hughes choral loops were an integral part of ‘Souvenir’.’Souvenir’ would not have been conceived in any way like the same musical form had it not begun with the choral loops Dave Hughes gave us. But having said that, I think that was just one part of the story. I mean at the time, the music that I was listening to were a huge array of religious choral stuff, both modern and ancient, from Hildegard von Bingen, Tavener, just all sorts of masses and arias and glorias, all sorts of religious music and Russian folk music and Gregorian chants. I was really impressed with the power of massed voices. It was the emotional power that was generated by that sound that we wanted to get in.
The choral sounds in ‘Souvenir’ are a kind of much more wistful and pastoral sound. But the choral sounds in, for example, Architecture & Morality and, to some degree, both ‘Joan Of Arc’s’ and some of the other tracks; that powerful “AAAAAAHHH” – That comes from the more religious choral side. But without actually having the confidence or the guts to work with a real choir we had to employ other means of trying to reproduce that massed choral sound, hence the Mellotrons.
Wasn’t there also a new version of ‘Souvenir’ recorded after the original Mike Howlett version?
I think it was a pile of pants actually! As you probably know, I struggled to get my head around ‘Souvenir’ initially, not because it was by Paul but because I didn’t feel part of the gentle pastoral nature of it. I mean I was into this rather bombastic big religious choral stuff at the time. This was a very gentle and wistful piece of music and, at the time, I was concerned that it might actually be conceived as being somewhat middle-of-the-road with the sort of play-along bass line. The bass line is extremely sort of accompaniment bass line, you know. I mean not the sort of bass line that OMD had played before. I wanted to try a re-recording. I was somehow looking to try and make the song a bit tougher, a bit more angular, a bit weirder. But of course the actual original creation of the song didn’t suit that at all so in the end I was persuaded to go back to the more beautiful ambient version that Mike Howlett produced which, of course, was actually the right thing to do and six months after its release I came to realise that the very thing that I thought might be perceived as ‘muzak’, this gentle almost easy listening sound was really its strength and its forte.
I think the most important thing that you’ve touched on is really why we changed the sound of the band. Because the first five albums actually all changed sound quite dramatically from one album to the next. I think that was very consciously part of the whole Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark raison d’etre. It was like we existed to try and challenge ourselves to do something totally different next time: “OK, we’ve done that. Now let’s do something that’s totally different. Different sound. Different subject matter. Let’s use big military bass drums, choirs, radios etc “. I mean that’s another thing, is the sound of the drums for a lot of the tracks on Architecture & Morality. As well as the kind of gothic choral stuff, I was listening to military marching music like the Edinburgh Tattoo and stuff like that. So I was into this idea of big massed drums, so ‘Maid Of Orleans’ was a big BOOM-TCH-TCH, BOOM-TCH-TCH you know, and also the drums on ‘Romance Of The Telescope’ are very specifically trying to emulate the sound of the drums from pipe bands, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
You wonder actually how they remember the beat because it seems to be so complicated as it has a skip and a stop. So what we were trying to do was sort of get that but at a funeral march, kind of like BOOM—BOOM—TCH, BOOM—BOOM—TCH and the ambient sound of it is, of course, the sound that you get from a large ambient band outside, so you get a lot of natural ambience. So there you go, something you didn’t know: consciously trying to recreate the sound of military marching bands!
What do you recall about the production of the album?
We had so many problems when we were mixing the second album at Ridge Farm with the computer on the SSL desk that we refused to use a computer for mixing at Mayfair. Even though we were supposed to be this technical cutting-edge electronic band, computer technology had just come into use on mixing desks and we refused to use it because it had such a bad time on the second album that every single mix was all done manually. You know, there’d be three or four of us on the desk going “Right, you push the snare drum up in that bit and I’ll move this down to this mark and then switch on the reverb in that bit and switch it back up again!” (laughs).
So all of the mixes were done manually-ridden. You know, pushing things up and pulling things down rather than using computer automation because we had so many technical problems when we were mixing Organisation.
Original interview by Paul Browne 2003
Revised text 10th February 2014