August 3, 2018 Interview – Andy McCluskey of OMD
What is more important to a musician, commercial success or artistic sincerity? For the best of them, it should always be the latter, but in some cases, artistic integrity accidentally leads to unforeseen success. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, most often referred to as OMD, sort out to satisfy their urges to create something unique, and impossible to predict, here they stand 40 years later.
Unquestionably one of the more important Electronic music artists of the 1980s, OMD would take their need to be different and craft something that was not only out of the box, but compelling to listen to. From the 1979 single “Electricity” to their most recent album, 2017’s The Luxury of Punishment, they are one of the few bands from the New Wave era to consistently produce high quality music. In fact, they are also one who have somehow found a way to be accepted by the younger generation as a contemporary act opposed to merely nostalgic. Taking the time to talk about the unpredictable journey, OMD’s Andy McCluskey sat down for a candid conversation discussing their outlook toward writing music, the trap of pursuing happiness through consumerism, plus so much more.
CrypticRock.com – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s (OMD) history dates back over four decades. Pioneers of Electronic music, you would go on to attain a mass of international success during the 1980s with a list of top-selling records and highly-charted singles. Through everything, how would you describe the musical journey of the band?
Andy McCluskey – A forty year accident. Paul Humphreys and I started writing music with a mutual desire to do something that was absolutely not Pop music. We were just experimenting, having fun, and trying to make the weirdest music we could. We were sort of influenced by some of our heroes from the ’70s, people like Roxy Music, The Velvet Underground, and David Bowie. Essentially, it was a hobby. Then we dared, one day in 1978, to ask if we could play a concert doing the songs the way we had written them, rather than the way our friends in our Rock band interpreted them. That’s when we started as a two piece and gave ourselves the crazy name. We were going to do one concert, it was a dare! Then we got asked to do another concert, and another concert, then we got a single deal with Factory Records. It just kept rolling along. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is a really fascinating story. As stated, OMD truly has been uniquely their own within the realm of Electronic music. Looking all the way back to “Electricity,” there was an inventiveness surrounding the song. That has continued through the years. Tell us a little bit about the creative philosophy behind OMD?
Andy McCluskey – I think there were two elements to our creative philosophy. One was to try to create music that was not what we believed to be a Rock-n-Roll cliche. That is what lead us to use electronics in the first place – not have a drum kit and guitar. Also, lyrically, try to write songs that we thought were about more interesting things than the cliched lyrics in Pop music – things like “Oh baby, I love you,” or variations on that theme. They were essentially the two goals we set for ourselves with our music.
We wore some of our influences on our sleeves. Actually, one amusing anecdote: many years later, when I became friends with some of the guys who had been in Kraftwerk, I was in Wolfgang Flür’s apartment with Karl Bartos and Emil Schult who had done their artwork. They had a gold single from France of the song “Radio-Activity” that had been a hit for Kraftwerk there. I just announced into the air that our song “Electricity” was really a kind of Punk tribute to “Radio-Activity,” and they all chorused, “Yes, we know.” (Laughs) It was quite obvious, but we did on many occasions try to find something that was our own place to be.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly have accomplished that through the years. Another aspect that has always been compelling about OMD is the ability to be different, and at times verge away from the mainstream. That said, you have also had commercial success and composed some wonderful Pop songs as well. Is it a challenge to strike that balance?
Andy McCluskey – To be honest, when we’ve consciously tried to strike that balance, we’ve usually failed. I think the only time that we ever did it successfully was with the song “If You Leave,” that was written for the movie Pretty in Pink (1986). We had a deadline, we knew what we had to do, and we had to write something that lyrically fit with the storyline. To be honest, most of our big hits – that were actually hits more in Europe or the rest of the world, not really in The States – were when we were not trying to compromise and when we were not trying to write Pop hits. We just came up with something we were so excited by because it was different, but it also engaged other people, because it still had a melodic form and lyric they could resonate with. But we were not actually treading a tightrope, we weren’t consciously trying to strike a balance.
Songs like “Enola Gay” and “Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc)” were very, very unusually at their time of release but they were massive # 1 singles. We didn’t really catch on in America until the mid-’80s, when I think we had been a bit frightened by the Dazzle Ships album in 1983 not doing very well commercially, and perhaps we had become a little more conservative for a while in our songwriting.
CrypticRock.com – Well, the approach has worked, because OMD has always put out wonderful music. Since reforming OMD over ten years ago, you have released three new studio records, including 2017’s The Punishment of Luxury. Each of the albums of the new millennium have all had different styles to them. What was the writing and recording process like for The Punishment of Luxury?
Andy McCluskey – First thing I have to say, we only release an album when we believe we have a collection of songs/music that are of sufficient quality to be heard by people. I think sadly there’s a temptation for people, particularly of our generation, who are persuaded there is a need to release an album because they need a new logo for a tour t-shirt or a name for a new tour. And actually they don’t really put sufficient energy or desire into the making of the record; the record is just the thing they have to hang the tour on. That’s the wrong way around.
First of all, when we reformed, we were playing live and just enjoying that moment. Then we remindered ourselves the kind of reason for OMD was to be a band that tried to create something that was interesting, challenging, and going forward. Could we still do that? So, we sat ourselves down and tried to do that again. It took us a while to get the engine running, we were a bit rusty, but I think the three albums that we have created demonstrate we still have some good ideas and we still do have a hunger. Amazingly, we found some new things to talk about and sounds to use. It gets harder and harder with the passage of time – you keep going, we’ve done that, we’ve written about that, we’ve used that sound. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Yes, that is a challenge to keep things fresh. There are only so many keys on the piano as they say.
Andy McCluskey – Absolutely. When we first started everything was new for us, and now, you have been down some well-trodden paths that you have trodden on your own backwards in forward. Trying to find some new little cul de sacs, dark corners, and brand new ideas is difficult.
The Punishment of Luxury album, we were fortunate that we got a great title that we appropriated from a painting by Italian artist Giovanni Segantini in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool that I’ve loved since I was a teenager. Frankly, it’s a misogynist painting, and we don’t hold with the sentiment of the original painting.
We talk The Punishment of Luxury to be essentially the first world problem we endure now of being completely brainwashed by marketing men into thinking we need their product, even when we don’t. It makes people very unhappy. Most people in the Western World are materially better off than any of their ancestors ever were, and yet mentally we’re all depressed and unhappy because we have been lulled into this trap of thinking that we need things that we don’t.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. Many people suffer with depression. People fill gaps with material things or filling gaps with 800-1,000 ‘friends’ on social media that you will never meet or know.
Andy McCluskey – You are absolutely right. People have been brainwashed into thinking, “My kids won’t love me if I don’t buy them the new Xbox.” To thinking, “What will my neighbors think if my car is eight-years-old on the drive?,” “My TV should be wider,” “My wife should be prettier,” “I should be thinner or tall, or have shinier shoes.” It’s relentless. We have been led to believe we should have no self-esteem and self worth if we haven’t bought the latest sneakers, or we’re drinking the wrong beer or whatever. It’s utter bullshit. Yes, obviously, there is an extension into social media which dominates and rules people’s lives in this unreal world that has contaminated ourselves. So few people spend sufficient time actually in the now; we spend most of our time into a psychological time which is either working about the past or worrying about the future – which neither you can really change, unless you try to do something in the now. People are living in this psychological time where they are miserable and unhappy, they don’t spend enough in the now.
CrypticRock.com – Completely agreed. The first step to breaking the cycle is the realization and self awareness. There are people waking up, which is positive. Once you do break it, it is like breaking away from an addiction. You then realize life is so much better without these worries and concerns.
Andy McCluskey – It is. Unfortunately, we all tend to slip into this way of thinking because the society around us is geared to – fear this, you should have done that, you should have bought this, how many likes do you have on Facebook? If you have seen the video for “The Punishment of Luxury,” and listened to the lyrics, it’s addressing those issues. If you can step back and take an objective look at your life and the world, there is another way to do it. You do have to keep reminding yourself because quickly you are consumed by ‘the normal way,’ which has been hijacked.
CrypticRock.com – You are absolutely right. The Punishment of Luxury is a very timely and vital record. Interestingly enough, just a few months after the release of The Punishment of Luxury, you released a follow-up with B-sides and alternative mixes. Was it by design to release the two as separate albums?
Andy McCluskey – Basically what that was essentially putting together on one record a collection of things that had only been available in different places – on singles or digital downloads, etc. It was just collating the other material that were the B-sides and alternative remixes to allow people to have access to them. It was really just a kind of a catalogue housekeeping exercise. (Laughs) It wasn’t intended to be a brand new album, it was just to take it further on and allowing people to have a hard copy of somethings that hadn’t been available.
CrypticRock.com – They are both wonderful releases, and it is recommended to listen to them back to back.
Andy McCluskey – You get a different perspective. Many people actually love our B-sides, if not more than our A-sides and albums. When we are doing B-sides, we completely have the shackles off and we are doing something where we really allow ourselves to experiment, freeform, or just do whatever the hell we feel like. That is because the album is done, the singles have been chosen, and now we can just play – it’s play time. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – That creative freedom has to be exhilarating. Helping to celebrate the 40th anniversary of OMD, you released a career retrospective book, entitled Pretending To See The Future. There is a lot of really cool material within this package. What was it like putting it all together and looking back on the legacy the band has built?
Andy McCluskey – It is strange, very, very strange to have been in a band for forty years. A band that was genuinely only created to do one concert. Frankly, that is why we have such a bloody stupid name. All we cared about was letting people know that we were a bit different, weird, and not what you would expect from a normal band in a New Wave club in Liverpool. We never expected to be stuck with that ridiculous name for forty years – it’s the most pretentious, crazy name on the planet. (Laughs)
It’s been remarkable. Funny enough, recently, Paul and I were in his studio in London listening to things that had been trolled out of the tape archives. Anything that we couldn’t remember the name off. There was a whole bunch of stuff that were just looking at going, “Do you remember this? I don’t remember this. Obviously we wrote it.” I said to Paul, “I vaguely remember the guys who wrote this, but they are different people, aren’t they?” We are so different, we are both nearly sixty, not in our late teens like when we started OMD. It’s just an incredible journey. As I said to begin with, it’s a continuing, beautiful accident that we are delighted to be able to consciously pick back up. It wasn’t an accident that we reformed again, that was deliberate, and we are having a great time.
We are very proud of a great deal of what we’ve done. We are also very proud the stuff that we’ve done recently. What we’ve known, in particular, when we come to tour America, is our age demographic has shifted dramatically. There are a lot of young people that seem to value us as a contemporary and relevant band, not just a nostalgia trip.
CrypticRock.com – That is wonderful to be able to see your work connect with a younger generation. Speaking of touring, OMD is currently performing select summer shows in Europe. Can we expect the band to make a return to North America sooner than later?
Andy McCluskey – We are planning to basically do a 40th anniversary celebration tour. It will begin in the UK and continental Europe at the end of next year. We will come to the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Now that seems like a long time away, but we actually only just completed a very long 28-date concert tour of the U.S. in March and April. It’s not long since we were last in America, I don’t think we want to play every year. We will be back, you know we will.
CrypticRock.com – That all sounds very exciting and it will be wonderful to see you return to the USA in the future. Last question. We also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films on CrypticRock. If you are a fan of either or both genres, what are some of your favorites and why?
Andy McCluskey – I am a Sci-Fi fan, but not really a Horror fan at all. Like many Sci-Fi lovers, I approached the latest Blade Runner 2049 movie from last year with fear and trepidation because the original Blade Runner (1982) is my favorite Sci-Fi movie of all-time. That is including all the various rehashes, director’s cuts, etc. I just loved it, always loved it. I was pleasantly surprised: I thought the new Blade Runner worked; I thought it was quite interesting, well directed, and it engaged. I think the two Blade Runners work as a pair.
Most recently, I enjoyed Interstellar (2014), which surprised me, because the lead male actor – I have never been one first in line to watch a Matthew McConaughey movie. (Laughs) I still go back to the classics, to when I was a kid, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I enjoyed the early Star Wars as well. I am not so enamored with the reboots. Although, I thought Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) was probably more interesting than the main Star Wars movies. (Laughs) You can’t carry on with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story though, because most of the main characters were kind of done at the end of it.