English new wavers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, aka OMD, celebrated the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut album in 2020. Of course, they weren’t able to tour a career retrospective at that time due to pandemic lockdowns. But they are back again now to tour North America in what promises to be a thrilling show.
Celebrating hits across their career, OMD performs at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, April 26, the fourth stop on what promises to be a memorable greatest hits tour. Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass), Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals), Martin Cooper (keyboards, saxphone, etc.), and Stuart Kershaw (drums) promise a big production — the sort of which they usually only tour in Europe. Also on display naturally will be the band’s rare genius — their combination of thoughtful and intellectual music that also truly inspires you to dance the night away.
Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter recently chatted with OMD frontman Andy McCluskey about 40 years of OMD, his working relationship with his co-writer Paul, and his personal art collection. Oh, and Andy shared some info about a new album as well!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mickey McCarter: Thanks for chatting with us at Parklife again, Andy! It’s always a pleasure. How did lockdown days treat you over the past few years?
Andy McCluskey: I basically rediscovered the creative power of total bloody boredom. So I sat in this room a lot writing music, so there’s most of a new OMD album written. I’ve just got to wait for Paul to get around to mixing it. He’s been otherwise engaged, becoming a daddy at the age of 61.
MM: Congratulations to Paul! That’s pretty exciting. But a new OMD album, I’m over the moon. I didn’t expect such great news.
AM: I’ll be honest with you, I really wasn’t sure that I really wanted to sit in this room again for week after week and month after month and try and drag bits out of my soul and my heart and my head, but when there was nothing else to do, I just sat here and did it. And it’s going to be a good collection of songs! We won’t release something unless we think it’s good enough. The last album was too good for us to follow it with a dog. So we’ll see how it goes. But in the meantime, we’re still catching up with all these tours and gigs that have been rescheduled. Everything’s totally out of whack at the moment in terms of scheduling.
MM: You’re coming to the states for your 40th anniversary delayed — [and the tour starts this Saturday, April 23, in Florida! — ed.]
AM: Three years late, but yeah!
MM: What can we expect when we see OMD on stage, starting this week!
AM: I don’t want to give too much away. Primarily, we are celebrating 40 years of having lots of hits, and so we will be playing all of the hits that we normally play anyway when we were kind of a support act. In the last time we were over there, we were supporting The B-52s. But of course, now we’re able to play for an hour and 40 minutes and not just 45 minutes. We will be playing a couple of new things, a couple of deep-dive things for the hardcore fans of things that we don’t often play. It will be a mix, but everybody’s going to get the hits they want to hear as well.
MM: It’s always a great live show, Andy, and one of the things I wanted to ask you about was the chemistry between you and your bandmates. Every time I watch you guys, you seem like you have some sort of like ESP going on, where there are stage cues or something and everybody kind of like, not to say they know their part, but they just seem to naturally fall into it. Does that make any sense?
AM: Three of us have been playing music together now for over 45 years. Myself and Paul started when we were 16, and Martin was a teenage friend of ours who we used to play with even before he joined the band, before he went off to Sheffield University to do a fine arts degree. We have spent a lot of time together. And Stuart has been playing with me for ages. Stuart co-wrote the Sugar Tax album and did the Atomic Kitten stuff with me. We’ve known each other for a long time. There’s an understanding and a rapport. We went into the rehearsal room a few days ago to just make sure that we knew everything. And after two days, we were like, “Yeah, we don’t need to rehearse this any more. We got this” — Which was quite different actually!
We played a couple of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall last month. And then when we went into the rehearsal room for those, basically, we were crapping ourselves. We said, “Oh, my god, we didn’t realize how many songs we’re going to try and play — songs that we haven’t played for a long time.” I had to learn all the words to about nine songs I haven’t done in years, and that was quite tricky. But no, this is going to be a real celebration. We’re all on the same page. And finally, we’ve pushed the boat out and we are bringing over some of our European lighting production, with our screens and LED and content. Finally, we’re coming to the stage where we’re actually bringing some media content with screens.
Watch OMD perform “Electricity” live in 1980 via YouTube:
MM: That’s cool! I actually thought that was an exciting thing to see when you were supporting the B-52s, because as you said, when you come to the States, you normally don’t have that sort of digital backdrop but the B-52s gave you one. You had this wonderful thing. And I was wondering sort of what level of input you guys had into that, A, but then B, never having seen you perform in England, I didn’t know that was something that you were doing already.
AM: When we reformed the band, and we played back in 2007, and we did all of the Architecture & Morality album, we were starting with some quiet ambiance and quiet songs, like “Sealand” and the title track. And we just thought, well, we’re going to be standing there for 10 minutes doing almost nothing. Maybe we better get something to look at. So, we commissioned some films then and that’s when we started using video presentations. We’ve now got some of the original films that have been re-worked, re-edited, re-colorized. We’ve had this content now for about 15 years, and rarely do we ever get to bring it over with us to the United States. This time, we said to our manager, “We don’t care. We’re not going to earn any money out of this tour. Rent us an extra truck and we’re going to bring some lights.”
MM: I’m really looking forward to that. You are a person who appreciates visual arts. So being able to marry some visuals to the OMD music just seems like a no-brainer, right? It’s a fantastic opportunity for us in the States to be able to see that.
AM: I’m really happy for it. Obviously, you have to strike a balance. You don’t want people sort of just watching the screens and not looking at the performance. You have to strike a balance between the people on stage. We want you to watch us as well! But it’s nice when you can enhance it with some extra content.
MM: I made a footnote to myself just now because you mentioned the fact that Stuart helped you write Sugar Tax. And I so assume *maybe* we’re going to hear some of those songs in the show as well?
AM: You will, but the dilemma is, when you’ve got over 40 years of songs, you can’t play everything. We’re definitely playing one from Sugar Tax.
MM: Well, that’s something!
AM: We scatter our guns right across pretty much all the 13 albums really. There are two or three from most albums.
MM: And speaking of 40 years of OMD, that original album, the self-titled debut album, is such a great album. It truly stands the test of time. The sound of that album, that Futurist sound, well, I’m pleasantly surprised by the longevity of interest in that particular sound. And I say this in part because Gary Numan, who was just here in DC, explored that sound early in his career and he keeps those songs in his set. And another champion that sound was the original incarnation of The Human League and now Heaven 17 are finally touring the USA this year. I’m wondering if you have any reflections on the evolution of when you guys made that very first album?
AM: When we played at Royal Albert Hall recently, those shows were delayed by two years. We initially advertised them as celebrating the 40th anniversary of that first album! And when we reminded ourselves, we were like, “Oh, shit.” So we played seven tracks from the first album. We played “Pretending to See the Future,” which we hadn’t played for 37 years. So, there was an awful lot of learning going into that gig. That first album, it’s a collection of songs that Paul and I wrote between the ages of 16 and 19. We were just kids. We described it as synth-punk. Literally, we were teenagers when we wrote it. We recorded it in our own studio, which we decided to build rather than going to somebody else’s studio, largely because we were budgeting for failure. We assumed nobody would buy the album.
At least, we’d have a studio when we got dropped by the record company — which didn’t happen, fortunately. But we recorded it ourselves. And so it has a rather kind of lo-fi garagey feel to it, and in hindsight that is part of its charm. At the time, it didn’t sound that great, but it’s now become part of the charm. If you listen to very early The Human League records like “Being Boiled,” the mix of that is shocking, but it doesn’t matter because it’s just a great piece of music.
Watch the official music video for “Messages” by OMD on YouTube:
MM: That particular time is really resonating right now. People are eager to hear those songs. So I’m very pleased to hear that you’ll be bringing some of them.
AM: You’ll definitely get “Messages” and “Electricity,” and we are going to play a song that we don’t often play. In fact, I think we’re going to play a song from the first album that we haven’t played in America since probably the first early days in the early ’80s. So, that should be nice as well. I’m trying not to give too much away here.
MM: I understand entirely. At the beginning of our conversation, you mentioned a new album, and I’m wondering what you can tell us about that? For example, with The Punishment of Luxury, you had told me that you were exploring more industrial sounds. Was there any sort of sonic palette on your mind when you guys made the new album?
AM: No, well, there was certainly no kind of conscious forethought in terms of where we wanted to go sonically. There’s quite a variety on there. There are a few tracks that don’t sound terribly like Orchestral Maneuvers in The Dark actually, which is interesting. Some songs just came together where they’re just kind of grooves and rhythms, and they’re not our usual way of putting things together. The album, by the way, is going to be called Bauhaus Stairway.
MM: That evokes a certain image.
AM: And the title track is great. It’s all analog synths, 808 drum machine, but we’ve also had a couple of really nice extra remixes done by a guy called Uwe Schmidt, who is Atom TM. We finally got to play in Chile, and he came to see us. We’d known his stuff for ages. We were talking to him and he’s taken a couple of tracks and put a nice Atom TM spin on them. So again, it’s a slightly different sound for us.
MM: Do you think we will see that album next year?
AM: I certainly hope so. It’s down to Paul Humphrey finding the time between moving house between England and France and back again and changing diapers really.
MM: As far as you and Paul go in that working relationship, I’ve always been fascinated by that. I’ve seen you guys chat in interviews about how you work together. The fact that you have such a strong rapport, and I’ve always found your friendship and creative partnership to be quite heartwarming.
AM: Through all these years, we have a way of interlocking, and we have a way of interfacing. It’s been frustrating recently because of COVID and various other issues. We haven’t had as much time together as we would’ve liked in the last two years. Some of the tracks have been a little bit more where Paul has given me things, and I’ve worked on them on my own, taking some of his ideas, trying to expand them into songs. He’s now in the process of listening to a couple of tracks and probably thinking, “It’s too linear! Can we not put a change of key in here or expand that bit or put a middle eight in?” And that is what Paul always does to songs, because I am lazy. I’ll stay in one chord progression all the way through and he’ll say, “I think by two and a half minutes, you need to have a change, Andrew.” And I’m like, “Okay, can you write me one?” “I’ll try.” We still find our ways of working. The chemistry still seems to be there.
MM: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you a little bit about some of your interests outside the band. You made some news in the UK for having an art exhibit of Maurice Wade there in England. How did that go for you? I know the exhibition is still ongoing now. Was there an opening night? Have you enjoyed the process?
AM: It was like releasing an album, but in a completely different way because it wasn’t my work. I was celebrating somebody else’s creative output, and he just happened to be a genius. The important thing was really that I love this guy’s workbook. I’ve been fortunate enough to actually own 21 of his paintings. And he only made 320. A lot of artists make thousands of paintings. This guy only made 320, so it’s not a lot. I actually felt quite guilty that I had them all in my house and nobody else could see them, because I grew up as a poor kid in the suburbs of Liverpool.
If I couldn’t get into the art gallery for free, I wouldn’t have had all the inspiration from seeing these paintings. And so because I have so many of his paintings in my house, I want somebody else to see them. It’s been great. We’ve made a book. We had a Q&A at the Wedgwood Factory, because of course he painted scenes of The Potteries from the Stoke-on-Trent area. Wedgwood is a famous ceramics manufacturer in England. It *was* great — doing radio and TV, plugging this artist who had been gone for 31 years. I’m not making any money out of this. A lot of people think I’m nuts, but not as nuts as the gallery owner who has got them all in there and can’t sell them.
MM: Given your love for these things, it must indeed be extremely satisfying to share.
AM: It’s interesting actually. If you have a chance to go online and Google some of them, you’ll see they are these incredible industrial landscapes. They are largely monochromatic when you see them in person, but they’ve actually got more color in them than you think. But there are no people in them. They’ve got this kind of very tranquil melancholia to them, but it’s taken industrial landscapes and kind of processed it into quite a modern-looking way of painting that doesn’t have the sort of sentimentality and chocolate box vibe. I really have enjoyed the experience of sharing them with the public.
MM: Thanks as always for the time, Andy. We look forward to seeing you here in DC on April 26, and of course, we wish you a great tour launch in Florida this Saturday, April 23.
OMD visit the Lincoln Theatre in DC on Tuesday, April 26!
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
w/ In the Valley Below
Tuesday, April 26
Doors @ 6:30pm