As a champion of new wave music in general and synthesizers specifically, one of my biggest musical heroes is Andy McCluskey, frontman for the groundbreaking British synthpop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). A decade ago, Andy reunited with collaborator Paul Humphreys and relaunched the classic OMD lineup, which has been publishing new albums in recent years. And here in the United States, OMD remains celebrated for ‘80s singles such as “Enola Gay,” “So in Love,” and of course “If You Leave” (the band’s contribution to the soundtrack of the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink).
I had the singular honor of chatting with Andy recently about OMD’s upcoming tour of America, recent projects (including a new OMD album in the making), and matters of state in the European Union! [We also discussed more politics, but I cut some of that in favor of length and focus.]
Mickey McCarter: Hello, Andy!
Andy McCluskey: Mickey, hello again, how are you?
MM: Great! How are you?
AM: Great! I just got home from a very successful concert in Stockholm over the weekend, and the sun is shining in England, so all is good. [OMD played in Stockholm recently on May 21.]
MM: Fantastic! Since you mention that concert, you’ve been doing quite a bit of live album shows and releases, and that all seems to be going very well.
AM: Yes, it’s been interesting actually. The last couple of weeks, we have been playing, in their entirety, the Architecture and Morality and the Dazzle Ships albums — every single track, several of which we never played back in the ’80s even when the albums were originally released. And that’s been really quite exciting.
It all came about because about 18 months ago, we did a charity concert for the Museum of Liverpool. Because it was around them having a dazzle ship in a drydock, we thought it would be appropriate to play some Dazzle Ships tracks. And we said to some people, “We will play some tracks you’ve never heard live.”
The response was nuts; the tickets went in seconds. And there was weeping and wailing on the Internet that people couldn’t come and see us. So we decided to do it again. And that’s what we’ve just done. We sold out the Royal Albert Hall in an hour to 5,000 people!
Watch OMD perform “Genetic Engineering” from Dazzle Ships during their weekend at the Museum of Liverpool, Nov. 1-2, 2014:
MM: Terrific — congratulations.
AM: Thank you! It was a most amazing gig — a most amazing gig.
MM: And you’ve got a tour of the United States coming up, which is part of the reason that I’m calling you… [The OMD tour in support of Barenaked Ladies begins this week in Minneapolis on June 3, and visits the DC area with a show at Wolf Trap on June 15. The tour wraps up in Los Angeles on July 24.]
AM: Yes, it’s going to be quite different than doing Dazzle Ships in its entirety but just as much fun in its own way.
MM: What can we expect?
AM: Well, we are not the headline act, so we have a limited time on stage. And we are going to be playing — to be honest — in many places we have not played in *decades*, so we thought we would take this opportunity when we were asked to join by Barenaked Ladies.
We can do quite big audiences down the coasts and across the top and the bottom, but we get in the heartland of the USA here to people who probably haven’t had a chance to see us in a long time and maybe don’t know the entire catalogue. Maybe they’ve heard the “Best of” and a few singles. So let’s take the path of least resistance! Let’s give them a hit set of 45 minutes.
MM: Understood. So Barenaked Ladies invited you and, I presume, Howard Jones along on this tour. But when you’ve been here in recent years, you’ve been doing your own headlining gigs. As an aside, I got to see you three times in 2013, which was amazing. So for this tour, were you looking to tour the States or did this fall into your lap?
AM: It fell in our lap.
After we had done the Dazzle Ships and Architecture and Morality gigs, we were planning to get back into the studio because we’re not far away from completing a brand new album. So we’ve put the album on hold for a little while. That will now be next year.
We literally thought, “You know what, we haven’t done a really big tour of the States.” To be perfectly honest with you, we can draw 2,000 or 3,000 in New York or San Francisco and we can draw 1,000 or a bit more in DC — but if we get out to Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, we would be lucky to get 100 people!
That’s the reality of it. It gives us an opportunity to play to a broader audience who will come out and see us and Barenaked Ladies and Howard Jones as a complete package.
MM: Well, you just said “new album,” which excites me. I was going to ask you about that. Is there anything you can tell us about it? Are you being inspired by anything in particular? We’ll see it in 2017?
AM: Yeah, we’ve been looking to incorporate some more glitchy and industrial sound into the music. It’s still recognizably OMD, but it does have a slightly different sound, this album.
I spoke to you five years ago when History of Modern was out but I didn’t speak to you when we released English Electric, is that right?
MM: I’ve had the opportunity to see you for a quick handshake or a photo but we haven’t sat down for an interview in that time — you’re quite right. [Read my previously published interview with Andy.]
AM: I think English Electric was a step forward from History of Modern. English Electric was a bit more complex and fractured and asking a few more questions musically. I think this will be more along the lines of English Electric. It will have some of the more esoteric tracks we do. Some people might not call them “songs,” rather they are pieces of music with various sounds.
But English Electric was so incredibly well received, I hope this one will be in the same way.
MM: [getting a bit gushy] I absolutely loved the two new albums. They are such a breath of fresh air! And in my opinion, you guys do with synthesizers what Wire does with guitars. Every time you hear something, you know you’re going to get that Wire sound, but you don’t know exactly what form it will take on that next album. And I think OMD is very much the same way, and therefore every album, you make a fresh argument for your continued existence as a band. So yes, they are phenomenal albums, and what you’ve said about the new one is very exciting, so I’m looking forward to that one too now.
AM: Essentially what you just said there should be the blueprint and the mantra for anyone making an album, whether they are 20 years old or 60 years old. You should have something to say. You should be walking a tightrope — yeah great! if you’re lucky enough to have created a distinctive sound, a distinctive palette, for yourself, you’re not going to lose that because it’s in your DNA, it’s in your bones, that’s the way you work. But you also have to put in some energy, some ideas, and some hunger. And that way, hopefully, you are walking the tightrope between “yeah, OK, we sound like ourselves but we are still trying to do something that has value and isn’t just some shallow pastiche of our former selves.”
That’s the important thing to be doing.
MM: Say, I know you get this question all the time, but you have such a great ear. What are you listening to these days?
AM: My favorite album of the last two years actually is by an artist called Atom TM — an album called HD. He’s a German guy, and he’s actually managed on this album to walk the tightrope between using glitch sounds and actually making them listenable and musical. It’s quite a fascinating album. I would recommend it to you. That would be my number one chance.
In recent years, I’m a big fan of Robyn. I have been for some time.
And this may have some resonance with you! I was asked to review the last album by Future Islands for an online magazine. And I gave it a glowing review. And the band were beside themselves with joy. When they conquered the world with it and came to Liverpool, I went to see them in Liverpool. I met them in their dressing room, and they were to me like I was to Kraftwerk. They acted like fanboys! — “We love you, and we’ve seen you at the 9:30 Club the last few times, and we couldn’t believe the review you gave us!” [chuckles] — That was beautiful.
What an amazing album they made! They already had a sound, and obviously Sam [Herring] has an incredibly distinctive voice but they really distilled their whole raison d’etre and upped their performance. And that last album, Singles, was an incredible collection of music. [Read Andy’s review of Singles by Future Islands for The Talkhouse.]
Watch a video by OMD drummer Malcolm Holmes, set to “Night Cafe,” capturing the band’s experience of visiting the 9:30 Club in 2013:
MM: Yeah, I missed their first album or so when they started out, but I got caught up, and I’ve seen them at the 9:30 Club myself. And I agree they are quite unique and fantastic.
So hey, I want to switch topics a little bit because I’m sure you have a very intelligent perspective on the question…
AM: You are trying to hook me into the conversation using flattery! It won’t work!
MM: Yes, indeed, but whenever we here in the United States hear about something going on in the United Kingdom these days, at the top of the news is the issue of the Brexit and relations with the European Union.
So I felt surely, given that you’re fond of many German artists and you are a touring musician, that you might have some perspective on whether or not what Britain does will have an impact on musicians. [The United Kingdom votes in a referendum on the question of whether to exit the European Union during an upcoming vote on June 23. Britain + exit = Brexit, or anti-EU movement.]
AM: Let’s face it: There would be a very specific impact because if we left the European Union, we would be back to how it was in the early days where we had to fill in a card every time we moved across the border. Everything would have to be broken down and investigated and checked. We would have all kinds of withholding tax in every country we played in because there wasn’t some synchronicity between the monetary systems and arrangements between countries where you can earn money in certain countries and not have tax taken out in every country you played in.
So in terms of simple specifics, it would really screw things up if we come out.
I have always been somebody who is an internationalist who believes in people coming together and trying to break down the barriers of “us” and “them.” I have no time for nationalism, just as I have no time for xenophobia or racism or religion. Anything that divides people, I’m against it.
I understand the theory of the European Union is wonderful but the reality is much harder to finesse. You have hundreds of millions of people who speak different languages. They did rush into a common European currency, and we have seen the problems that Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland have had. It has caused problems with undervalued economies.
There are an awful lot of things wrong with it, but I would rather hang in there and try to fix things rather than run away and stick our heads back in the sand.
Politics continues to depress me. I’ve been reading the most wonderful book recently by James Garvey called The Persuaders. I don’t think it’s actually released in the States ’til June, but I highly recommend it. It’s not particularly new, but it pulls together a theme which is essentially that ever since broad democracy, ever since that universal franchise of all people over a certain age and men and women, the people who are in positions of power and control have tried to find ways to wrest the control away from the electorate.
And they along with their PR and marketing men now completely control everything. Everything you and I think we think, think we know, think we like, and think we want has been placed in our minds by a PR man who has done his focus group and his research. They are appealing to the Neanderthal within us rather than the Homo sapiens. And they know how to do it. That’s what Trump is doing in America.
So you’ll see us when we’re in town?
MM: Yes, I will! You’ll be at the Wolf Trap, which isn’t too far from home.
AM: I’m looking forward to it! I don’t think we’ve played the Wolf Trap before. But I have to say, this is going to be a party. It’s not going to be a cultural evening! Barenaked Ladies do a particular thing very well, and it’s joyous and it’s fun. And we are going to get up there and play 11 singles. Crash! Bang! Thank you, ma’am!
Watch the classic official music video for “If You Leave” by OMD:
Andy and OMD will visit our area soon as openers for Barenaked Ladies. Tickets are available online!