In 2002 during an active time in terms of OMD releases, and prior to the release of The Id EP, Andy McCluskey reflected on OMD’s past, present and future including the forthcoming unreleased material album
Looking back with a sense of perspective, what are your feelings about OMD now?
I’m very proud of what we did. I think it will never be possible for me to be in any way objective about it really, even with the passage of time. I see it differently, but it’s still me and I was still doing it so I just see it from a different perspective. I’ll never be able to be objective about it. But I’m happy with the whole course of the thing. There’s always things you wish you’d done differently. I suppose I wished, in hindsight, that whilst I think Dazzle Ships is a great album, I do also understand why it wasn’t as successful as its predecessor.
And I wish we had made Architecture And Morality number 2. But that wasn’t the way my mind worked at the time. I wish that I hadn’t rushed into the Liberator album and ended up with something that was a mixture of my programming and Phil Coxon’s programming and it all got a bit messy and busy. Probably wish we’d released ‘She’s Leaving’ as the fourth single of Architecture And Morality. And also there’s several sort of third and fourth singles off albums that I probably wish we hadn’t released – we would have had a much more concise single discography then with a lot more hits versus misses ratio! (laughs) because all of the third and fourth singles really, apart from ‘Maid Of Orleans’, didn’t do anything, especially
in the UK.
But yeah, basically I’m very happy with it. Some of the things that I would do differently definitely would be to pay more attention to who was looking after the finances and the legal side of things. But these are the consequences of doing deals when you’re young and naïve. We wanted to make records, write songs and play gigs and were enjoying that very much and you assume that someone else is taking care of your business for you and, unfortunately, very often they’re not really taking care of the business in a way that’s totally to your benefit. So in that respect I wish I’d had the accountant I’ve got now, if I’d had him in the ’80s that would have been great.
It’s not just about the money, it’s just about the frustration of a lot of the things that informed choices that were made in later OMD life were because of the lack of money. I think if we’d had several million in the bank, I’m sure we would have had more confidence to do things that weren’t trying to pursue an obvious commercial route. But being aware that we were skint and if we made an album that really died a death, we were going to be in big trouble, which both consciously and unconsciously informed the way we thought about what we were doing. So I could go on answering this question for the rest of the interview really. How long was it? 18/20 years? I mean there’s so many facets of things. The basic is yes I’m happy and I’m proud.
One of the regular queries voiced by fans is the fact that there was no farewell tour. Looking back, do you think a final tour would have been a good idea?
I think that the only way you do a farewell tour is you go when you’re at sort of the peak of your game. The reason why the band finished and I didn’t tour, it just seemed to me that there wasn’t the audience anymore, either for the records and possibly even for the concerts. The reason why there was no tour with the Universal album was the record sales suggested to me that the tour would not be that well attended. I know that touring takes months and months and months and the last few tours that I did didn’t make any money – they either broke even or lost – and it was just reality, it wasn’t going to happen. I mean I can accept the frustration of people suddenly realising “Oh God, that gig I went to in ’91 or ’93 or whenever it was is the last time I saw them and at the time I didn’t know”. But I didn’t know that Pretoria in South Africa was going to be the last OMD gig either. It was like did The Beatles know that Candlestick Park was going to be their last ever gig? At the time, you’re not planning to stop, but when you do stop that’s it, you bring down the curtain.
Part of the reason for not touring was how hard it is to get a tour together. I think this is something people that don’t understand. I wasn’t working with Nigel Ipinson or Phil Coxon anymore. Nigel Ipinson had left and taken with him all of the live samples I had for all the lead synth parts. I didn’t have them anymore so I’d have to recreate them. So before the band even rehearsed, there would be 2 or 3 months work and I’d have to find 2 keyboard players and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I mean there was so much stuff would have to be done, it wasn’t an undertaking that just seemed to be merited really by my willingness to do it or my perception of how many people would actually go to a concert. I know there are a few people who visit the website regularly who wish the band would have done a farewell tour. But, even if they got a petition together, I don’t think they’d have enough names on it for it to actually justify all the hard work that would have to go into putting together just one concert. I’m sorry.
But do you miss live performances in general anyway?
Yeah. I miss the travelling, I miss the camaraderie of the band and the crew backstage. I miss going to all the different countries and certainly miss the incredible feeling of standing on a stage in front of sometimes many thousands of people who absolutely adore what you do – yeah, who wouldn’t miss that ego massage! (laughs). But I don’t miss all the hassle of getting prepared for a tour, I don’t miss the nerves, I don’t miss the days when my voice is battered and I wonder if I’m going to be able to sing and I’m in a foul mood all day long before I go on stage! (laughs). So there were downsides to touring as well! But I think to be honest that some of my most incredible memories are actually from tours. In many ways they were the reality-check. You know, millions of people can buy a record but you’re not in the shop when they buy it. But, at a gig, when you sing the song and people applaud you then that’s real. You’re all there at the same time, in the same building and that makes the whole thing much more tangible and therefore in many ways more rewarding.
Universal had a vastly different sound to Sugar Tax and Liberator. Do you think the timing was just wrong for that album?
I don’t know. I mean I spent the 3 years making Universal wondering what it should sound like. Should I sound more acoustic? because in the mid-90’s there was such a backlash against ’80s electronic music and everybody seemed to be going more traditional and, you know, every time I did something it was like ‘Oh that sounds too much like OMD’. I didn’t know what to do. So I tried a different direction and I’m not sure why it wasn’t successful. I think, if I’m to guess, it was a combination of the perception of the band in the media as much as anywhere as being past its sell-by date. No support from radio and therefore no support at retail from some of the major stores.
I think if ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ had been a top 3 hit you would have seen the album sell very well. I mean I’ve said before, if Oasis had released ‘Walking On The Milky Way’, it would have sold all over the world. You can’t separate the actual music from the perceived credibility or perceived fashionability and music goes in waves; what was recently in fashion, quickly becomes out of fashion and I just think that OMD was out of fashion and nothing I could have done – I could have gone techno, I could have gone hip hop – nothing I could have done would have actually made Universal sell more.
Assuming Universal had sold really well, where do you think OMD would be today?
I don’t know. Probably still going unless the next album had died a horrible death. I have to say that part of me is quite relieved not having to keep alive this chain of history. I’ve said it before, it was becoming a bit like an albatross round my neck, OMD. It was like something that’s been going that long is just full of history and preconceptions and pressures. I’m enjoying not having to deal with that. And I also think that having a fresh canvas again with writing for Atomic Kitten has really improved my songwriting. I’ve found a whole new way of doing things, listened to a whole new type of music. Whether OMD fans like what I do now or not. I know some don’t. The bottom line is I am very pleased with the choice I made.
I was relieved in the end to release myself from what had become the burden of being in OMD. I don’t want it to sound like it was terrible and I hated it, but it was just hard. The pressure of expectation and pressure of expectation on me. I mean it’s all relative, but when you’ve been in a band that was hugely successful, it hurts extra when you release records that aren’t successful. If the Kittens had come out and failed, well there would have been no precedent of success so it wouldn’t have hurt so much if they hadn’t had any success. And there may well come a time with the Kittens if they release records that aren’t successful and that will hurt then following on from things that have been successful.
How would you feel about the OMD back catalogue being remastered?
I’d be delighted because particularly when it comes to CD’s, the technology for making CD’s in the ’80’s compared to now is dreadful. I would love to see them remastered. I know how much better the Singles album and the B-Sides album sounded from being remastered from the original analogue master tapes rather than the ’80’s digital masters. So yeah, I would love to get new copies of the CD’s remastered. But, you know, asking Virgin to do it and Virgin actually doing it are 2 different things. Unless they think there’s an actual market they won’t bother going to the expense.
What do you think about the idea of including extra tracks on remastered albums?
For the avid collector I could understand why that’s a bonus. But to me that’s just kind of messing around with the past. I’ll make an analogy, but it’s perhaps not to sound big-headed, but imagine if the Louvre decided that to increase sales or to revamp its image, they were going to get the Mona Lisa, clean it off again – as in remaster it – and to make it extra interesting they were going to glue on a couple of Da Vinci sketches in the corners as well! Not quite finished pictures, but just to spice it up a bit, make it more interesting! (laughs) Because everyone’s seen the Mona Lisa once but you haven’t seen it with the sketches stuck on!
I think Architecture And Morality has a great running order and is not going to benefit from having a few extra tracks lobbed on the end and you could say that for several of the albums I think. So, yes, do you like my analogy?! (laughs)
I mean, I’ve got to be perfectly honest with you Paul, I’m very happy with the site because the site is what I want – the OMD archive. If it offends people it’ll offend people but I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life reworking my history. That’s why I do Atomic Kitten, that’s why I’m developing local bands. I want to – I’ve said it a million times – I want to go forward looking forward. I don’t want to spend all of my time, or even much of my time, looking backwards. It doesn’t matter how happy you are with the memory or fond of it and proud of what you did. We’ve all got things we want to keep doing in the future. I’d rather spend the day writing a new song for Atomic Kitten than spend the day wading through tracks and cutting them and reorganising them and talking to Virgin about which pictures are going on an OMD box set blah blah blah. The B-Sides thing was one thing, The Id thing, you know, they are particular projects which I think have a reason, they’re a couple of little untied little loose ends there that could be tied up. And also, frankly, it’s a way of keeping people happy who are still interested in OMD and also it’s a way that if we sell these things it helps make a bit of money for the website so that the website effectively costs nothing to run. But that’s it. So if Virgin want to remaster things, great. If they want to make a box set, great. But I’d rather spend my time doing now stuff rather than old stuff. If that offends people who think OMD are wonderful then I’m sorry but I hope that they’ll understand.
Sure, but that’s the questions they will ask
But it does seem to offend people though. I mean some people are well pissed off that I’m doing Atomic Kitten instead of making another OMD record but, you know, tough.
Regarding the as-yet untitled unreleased material album, can you describe your thoughts on the choice of tracks and maybe give a few descriptions of what’s actually going to be on there?
The bulk of it is from the very late ’80s and first half of the ’90s because that’s when I had demos of things on DAT’s that I still have access to. There’s a few older and a few newer. It’s a real mixture. I mean they’re all basically mostly finished songs with vocals on. There’s a couple of instrumentals but they’re just songs that for whatever reason or another didn’t seem to fit onto the body of work I was working on at the time. And yet having said that, I actually think that the vast majority of them are very interesting and pretty good pieces of music in their own right. And I’m sure people will listen to them and go “Oh, why wasn’t that on Liberator?” and “Why wasn’t this on Sugar Tax?”. So as you yourself have said about a couple of the tracks that you’ve heard. I can’t really describe it.
There’s ‘Sister Maria Gabriel’ which is kind of like a ’90s techno-pop version of an OMD track. There’s a track called ‘Jerusalem’ which is quite abstract and experimental, but is actually like a techno track. There’s a couple of late OMD songs like ‘Never Let You Go’ which is the last track that all four of the original band worked on. And it’s a finished song. It’s a totally finished song. There’s one line of lyrics I think which are sort of scat vocal because I didn’t actually have the words then.
It’s quite broad actually. There’s quite a lot of stuff from Ireland of things that were done during the Universal sessions which didn’t get onto the album. Interestingly enough, in the ’80s because we were churning albums out basically annually and we were touring for 4/5 or 6 months of the year, we would write 10 songs and that was the album! (laughs) And usually we were scrabbling for the last track in the studio and putting together a weird instrumental, abstract thing. So, I seemed to have more to spare later on and that was partly to do with I was trying out different directions and going Oh I don’t think I should do that and Oh I don’t think I should do this, whereas in the ’80s, with that clarity and confidence we had, everything we did we thought was the right style and we didn’t have time to write 20 songs and pick 10, it was like we wrote 10 and that was the album! (laughs)
Talking about the forthcoming Id EP, which I’m sure is going to surprise a lot of people because it features some of the OMD classics in their earliest forms, does The Id period feel like ancient history now?
A lot of OMD feels like ancient history now. Well, that thing at Noddy’s now is, what? 23 years old? I mean by the time I was 23 I’d made 4 albums and had loads of hits. That, to put it in perspective, is like someone who was born in ’78 is now as old as I was when we were recording Junk Culture.
So you’re looking forward to seeing these Id tracks finally cleaned up and out there?
Yeah, I hope so. I mean Sebastian, our computer programmer, is going to work on them at the weekend actually. I think they’re interesting. I don’t think they’re going to be of interest to anybody other than I think OMD fans and collectors. I’m sure if we manage to put them in hand-numbered sleeves, Aggy will probably buy the entire catalogue! (laughs)
Paul Humphreys has asked you to write lyrics for some of his new material. Can you tell me how that’s all going?
There’s a song actually that Paul and Claudia have taken from an idea I had which was written in America in ’94 which sounds pretty good. Paul has got a stunning song called ‘Sister’ which I think with a bit of arrangement is a really strong song. So he just wants me to write a second verse really for this one that started out as a sampled loop in America in ’94. So I’ll see what I can do.
So you like what you’ve heard so far?
I do actually. I tell you what was nice actually was to hear Claudia sing again. I’d forgotten how much I liked her voice and how distinctive her voice is.
Yeah, it’s good stuff. Moving on to Atomic Kitten, do you think Atomic Kitten have strayed much from the original idea?
Completely. I conceived Atomic Kitten as sort of Bananarama meets Baby Spice Girls meets Manga cartoon and they were kind of like that with the first couple of singles but they kind of got modified and grown up a bit.
The first 4 singles were fairly sort of brash and bright and breezy. We had this song ‘Whole Again’, that was recorded at the same time. You see in my mind I had no problem with a beautiful song like ‘Whole Again’ or something as cheesy and in-your-face as See Ya. It worked for me. But, we had that song and all of a sudden it was like the marketing campaign shifted. It was like “OK we’re not that anymore. We’re 3 sexy, sophisticated young ladies”. It wasn’t even gradual, it was just like ‘turn the page – chapter 2 – Now they are sexy, sophisticated and grown-up!’ (laughs) It was just like that! It worked.
The new album we’re writing is going to sound I think a bit different from the first one. Although having said that… What ‘Right Now’ was 18 months ago when it was released in Japan, and what it is now on its re-release, I mean it’s a much more sophisticated and slick album. The Japanese one was pretty ‘crash-bang-wallop’ really which is how they were conceived.
It must have been a pretty tense time when Innocent dropped Atomic Kitten just prior to the success of ‘Whole Again’. What were your thoughts back then?
We still believed in them, maybe stupidly, but we thought ‘well, we’ve had 4 hit singles here’. We hadn’t actually received the final advance so we conceived this kind of mad idea that we would say to the record company that we would waive the advance if we could get the catalogue back. Because we really believed ‘Whole Again’ could be a hit single. So the girls didn’t actually know they were dropped because they were in Malaga or Marbella or somewhere on board a British Navy aircraft carrier still filming the Jim Davidson Christmas Special. We didn’t even tell them because they wouldn’t have been able to do it if they’d known. The air would have gone out of their balloon basically. So whilst we were conducting all these negotiations, they were out there blithely carrying on doing their song.
It was funny really, because as the promotion campaign started for ‘Whole Again’ we started getting this feedback about what a really great song it was. I’m not sure I believed it because I just didn’t dare to believe it really. But the record company decided in the end that maybe our attempt to get the catalogue back actually bluffed them. They possibly thought that we had another licensee lined up. Hugh Goldsmith who’s the boss of Innocent Records, he was sure that the band should be a hit and he didn’t want to let them go and it wasn’t him that wanted to drop them, it was the accounts department at the parent company Virgin. I think us saying “Alright, give us the catalogue back” just gave him the impetus one more time to go back to Virgin and just say “Please, please, please – let me have one more go at this. Please let me release this record. Give me one last chance to show you that I think this band could be huge”. So they gave him a second bite of the cherry. Limited budget, I mean that’s why the video looks so simple, and yet in some respects that’s why it works. Because instead of spending a fortune on sets and choreographers and dancers and swooping cameras, they could only concentrate on what they had – a good song and 3 good looking girls. So they kept it short and sweet.
It was one of the more amazing musical history anecdotes – the rise phoenix-like from the ashes of Atomic Kitten after they’d been dropped. People find it hard to believe, they think “Ahh, you’ve just made that one up for extra publicity”. If we wanted the publicity we would have told people before the record came out. It was absolutely for real. The bottom line is that I guess the record company had spent about 2 million and they’d only got back about half a million, so they were considerably out of pocket.
Can you give a little background to the Atomic Kitten songwriting method? Because some people are under the impression that you record some kind of guide vocal yourself and then give it to the girls. Can you perhaps explain what happens and how it works?
I virtually never put down a guide vocal. What usually happens actually when we write a song is that Stuart and I will write it in a key that we can get a buzz of because we’re singing it and it sounds good with our voices. The dilemma is that when it comes to the girls then, we usually have to bang it up about 3 semitones or more for them to feel comfortable in their key.
The songs come about, similar to writing OMD songs, from an idea – you hear a record or you get a sample or you find a new sound that inspires you to do something. Very seldom does it come from a lyrical idea first, which is the way it always was with OMD – the music was created first.
So Stuart and I come up with the music, try out different ideas. If we’re recording backing vocals first anyway we’ll get the backing vocalist to throw down a rough guide lead vocal. That’s what we’ve done recently because the girls really do just come flying in, record it and leave again because they’re so busy. Unlike the early days when they were hanging around all day and so we could try things out with them. We’ve really only got a few hours to nail it so these days we give them something with a guide vocal on, but sung by a session singer so they can hear the tune. So when they come in they know the tune. Whereas in the old days we’d sit with them and play it and sing the tune to them and then they’d sing it back and we’d sort of develop it: “It’s a bit louder – a bit quieter here – you’re going into the wrong note there” or whatever. I mean it’s quite incredible now, considering that Kerry and Liz used to have a flat around the corner two and a half years ago and would just wander in, sing a few songs, eat some chips, lounge around. These girls now, if we want them to sing we’ve got to book them a couple of months in advance! You know, “What are they doing on October 20th at 2 O’Clock in the afternoon? Can they sing a song for us?!” (laughs)
You’re also working with a range of other bands in a production role. Can you briefly tell us a little about those artists?
Because of the profile we have in town we get people coming to us wanting to see if we could help them out or “how do we get a deal?” or “can we do some demos?”. We try to help young bands and artists and give them free studio time and such.
We have people coming through all the time who we sort of have an interest in. But basically we cant write songs for people, we write for Atomic Kitten so we can only really help people who effectively are in a position to help themselves, you know, write their own songs. We have to balance it though, because these things can be very time-consuming and our primary concern has to be that we write songs for Atomic Kitten.
The final question – which is, of course, the most obvious question – do you ever foresee the possibility of OMD being reactivated in the future?
It could happen. I won’t say never. But right now it’s not something that I’m planning for. You know, I’m pleasantly surprised that my post-OMD career is rewarding and, so far, successful .
I mean people ask me “Do I miss being in OMD?” and I am surprised that I don’t that much. Obviously the fact that I’ve now got something that is successful again helps. I’m sure if I was sat at home walking the dog and cutting the grass all day long I’d miss it a lot more. I’m sure if I was on the dole I’d really miss it a lot more! (laughs).
I’m very, very fortunate that I don’t have to do it because I need the money. There are some people who rationalise carrying on doing things – the bottom line is they only do it because they need the money. I’m not saying you shouldn’t carry on. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong singing songs that people want to hear and that you’re proud of that were hits ten, fifteen, twenty, how ever many years ago. I’m not saying it’s wrong but I never wanted to have to do that and I’m fortunate that for financial purposes at least that I have to do that.
Assuming you did decide to do an OMD concert again, can you forsee having Paul, Mally and Martin back on board?
They’re very frustrated that I won’t go on tour! (laughs) Because if I did, I’d ask them to come and everybody would be excited. I would look at trying to take the original line-up out on the road. And I think that two of them, maybe even three of them, would come. And Stuart said that if Martin wouldn’t come he’d play keyboards so, you know, it would be quite good but – I don’t feel the need to do it I’m sorry to say! (laughs) I just don’t.
Also I have to say, the worrying thing is that the longer time goes by, the less chance there is. Because the more terrified I would get of going on stage with such a long gap since the last time. You know, I was standing backstage at that gig on Monday (the Party In The Park), the more I thought about going on stage, the more I thought “God, if that was me…”. I was just sat around eating hotdogs, drinking beer, having a laugh. But If knew that I had to go on stage I would be crapping myself! (laughs) I wouldn’t have enjoyed a second of it!
So that’s sad. It just strikes me that the longer time goes by, the more unable I would be to get on a stage through sheer fear factor! (laughs)
This interview originally appeared on the original Messages website in 2002 and also featured in issue 1 of the Messages magazine.
Original interview by Paul Browne
Photos by Neil Taylor
Revised text 26th January 2014