“I believe we’re in a post-modern era of music”
It wasn’t an easy task but at the end, I’m very happy to steal this moment while on tour to write for you! So congratulations for ten years of The Athens Voice and hello to your readers and all our fans in Greece on behalf of Paul too! So about the return of the voice of OMD through the voice of Athens…
The Past (Off All The Things We’ve Made)
Perhaps OMD haven’t got as much recognition as we deserved for our output in the ’80s. One of the things that Paul and I said to each other when we decided to play again was that, by the very nature of the band, because we weren’t trying to be pop stars and weren’t terribly interested in presenting ourselves as sexy or colourful, when people think back to 30 years ago, we’re often forgotten. Because we were just about the music.
And especially when people talk of ‘the 80s revival’, they remember Spandau Ballet, Wham! Culture Club and Duran Duran because they were the most visible. It’s like going to the zoo; you remember the elephants and the lions and the tigers because they’re the most visible. You forget the gazelles and the tortoises even though they’re a lot more of them and they’re actually more important! So, yeah, there was an element of that. We were fed up of being the forgotten band!
But the dangerous thing is, once you get into the nice position which we’ve got into, where people have remembered us, and Architecture & Morality is considered to be an “iconographic work of genius”, that Dazzle Ships is our “fractured masterpiece”, it’s a really stupid fucking thing to do to make a new record and stick your neck on the chopping block again. Because the likelihood is that you’ve lost the plot and that you’ve made a crap record! And then all the good work you’ve spent the last three or four years doing has completely unravelled. So either we’ve made a catastrophic mistake or we’ve made a good album.
We did History Of Modern without the weight of a record company expectation. Which was exactly how we did our first album. When we were at our best. And I think this is one of the best albums we’ve ever done, precisely because we just did what we felt like doing. Which is the way we’ve always done our best stuff. And (on this album) we felt like we were teenagers again. We just made a record because we wanted to have a conversation with ourselves in the language of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. But whenever we were conscious about having hits or selling records, we didn’t do a very good job usually!
You can imagine how depressing it was at the height of Britpop to be perceived as an 80s synth band and past your “sell by date”. Especially because we were the last of the modernists. Our generation i.e. Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire were trying to be the future.
And so fifteen years later to be told “You’re no longer the future. You’re the past. The future is actually the ’60s and ’70s!” was a bit of a hard pill to swallow. So yeah it’s amazing, but it’s allowed us to play again and to make a record again. And kids who are my children’s age are tipping their hats to us and saying how cool and influential we were. And I’ll happily take that!
We wouldn’t say we were the synth pioneers that played such important and influential part but other people are saying it for us, and it’s great. Especially when you think it seemed like we were on some bloody crusade in the early days, fighting against the very reactionary music journalists for whom electro music was neither rock and roll enough, manly enough, sweaty enough, genuine enough, guitarry enough¸.we were swimming upstream¸and then, the guitar bands had their revenge in the ’90s, and all of a sudden the whole thing’s flipped over and at the age of 51 it appears that I’ve got more bloody respect and credibility than I had at 21. I’m not going to complain about it. It’s been a long bloody fight though!
I think the only saving grace is that I believe we’re in a post-modern era of music. Pop music is old. Whether you consider it started with jazz, swing or rock and roll in the ’50s, it’s old. There is nowhere new go to. Seriously! There are new bands who have their own voice and style but in terms of the type of music they’re making….it’s just recombinations of other historical styles. There is nowhere new to go. There just isn’t, I’m sorry to say, and it’s not because I’m old. We were lucky that there were still new places to go to be the future when we started. So I think…..if there’s no new fashion, then nothing is out of fashion. And it just boils down to “Do you do your genre in a good and credible way?” But if you do, then carry on.
We started on an indie label, on Factory records, releasing ‘Electricity’ and doing the tours with Joy Division and other factory bands and in some ways that kind of spirit of independence, just doing it and not caring how many you sell is absolutely the early spirit we had, the Factory spirit. It was just about believing in what you did and doing it because you believed in it, not because you wanted to have a big mansion or sell millions of records or shag loads of women. In that respect the internet is great because it allows you to spread the word.
The Present (The History Of Modern)
History Of Modern as a title of an album it seems entirely appropriate. What are a bunch of late ’70s modernists/futurists doing making another record? What does a modernist do in the post-modern era? We believed that we still had something that was worth saying, in a sound that was worth saying it in – that was current and very fashionable as we’ve discussed – but the most important thing was that we felt we had something worth saying both lyrically and musically. And in songs that were good songs. That weren’t crap. Once we decided that we could do that and not just make a record that was rubbish and embarrassing, then we got into a long conversation with ourselves about what to call the record.
And History Of Modern seems to be so appropriate. Are we making a retro-futurist album? Is it the history of ourselves? Just for a million reasons that’s the right title. And we’ve even ended up with two songs of that title on it as well! When we decided to make an album and call it History Of Modern it seemed entirely appropriate that we would finally say thank you to Kraftwerk. Which it says: “I loved you when I found you/I loved you like a son.” They were hugely influential. But ‘Electricity’ was a homage in its own way. In the same way that with OMD, technology and humanity and the tension between the two was what we were about…everybody said that Kraftwerk were cold, but they weren’t. There was a very melancholy beautiful romance to them in albums like Radio-Activity and Trans-Europe Express.
The 21 year old Andy would quite frankly be horrified that the 51 year old Andy McCluskey is still in the business. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Young Andy would have thought that old Andy was complete anathema, you know like a kamikaze pilot with a long service medal! It’s not supposed to happen! So whilst old Andy would like to go back and say “Listen, this is the first time. You can’t do the first time again. This is as exciting as it gets. Love every minute of it. Because when you’re older you’ll wish you could have enjoyed it more.” I wouldn’t have listened.
And who would? The painful, precious, pretentious fucking pain in the arse that I was – and still am – wouldn’t have had anything to do with me now. It’s just the band wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t been that way. In the same way that the band wouldn’t have been the same if Paul hadn’t been the way he was. And we always used to joke that two Pauls would have got nothing done, but two Andys would have ended up strangling each other after a week!
Basically, whatever stage you’re at, you like to think you know it. And then time passes on. But what I will say is that there have been times when we’ve done the right thing for the right reasons. And then there were times when we did the wrong thing for what we thought were the right reasons but which weren’t. It’s the same in everybody’s life, there’s ups and downs. I think we’re in a good place now. Because it sounds crazy but I do think that whilst I’m not as pretentious as I used to be, and hopefully not as painful, I’ve learnt to roll with the punches.
I think we made this album for many of the reasons we made our first album. And it’s a good thing. I think that’s why it’s a good album. If we really wanted to make an album to strike whilst the iron was hot, we would have put something out at the end of 2007, after we’d come back from playing 40 gigs and everybody was talking about us. And even people on our website were saying “Oh, you’ve had your chance, the electro thing isn’t going to last forever”, but we couldn’t release a record because we didn’t have anything to release. And we know from our own painful history that rushing something out because it’s the right time to do it or you need to get something out is not the right reasons. You should present something when you think it’s presentable.
We’re not multi millionaires but we’ve got money. We’re fortunate that we wrote some songs that still get played on the radio and we earn money from them. We don’t need this album to make money. In fact right now it’s cost us a bloody fortune because we hadn’t got a record company to give us an advance. We think we’ll get our money back. We’re doing it just because we wanted to do it. Not because we need to pay the mortgage. As long as we keep reminding ourselves that we should only make records when we have something to say and we’re saying it in a listenable and quality way then that’s cool.
I’ve already said to myself, and I hope Paul agrees, that we’ll go through this, we’ll do the promotion and touring – and we hope to go to America and to play festivals in the summer – and then we’ll just stop. We’ll get off the conveyor belt and have a think. Because if you stay on the conveyor belt you might find yourself going in a direction you didn’t want to go in.
And as for doing the tour for the album, we understand that there is the majority of people that still expect ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Electricity’ and the other hits. Of course we will play them. The reality of playing live is that, we’re walking on a tightrope: on the one hand 10-20% of the people who know lots of our records, would like to hear the new album, the weird stuff and B-sides. But the other 80% have got the Best Of, and you’ve got an obligation to those people as well. You’re charging them £30. You’ve got to give them what they want, so we try and strike this balance. When we tour we will probably play five or six new songs. There will be at least one really weird old song off the first album that we haven’t played for 28 years and that is ‘Bunker Soldiers’, and then there’ll be 15 hit singles. Because we’ve got them and we can play them!
We keep going on about electro’s back. Unfortunately, a lot of it is people who want to be famous, who are copying the current fashion and they’ve got actually got nothing to say for themselves. But it was ever the case. Every genre has a few leaders who have something to say. And there’s all the rest who jump on the bandwagon.
Funnily enough, from a fashion point of view, the men’s high street clothing looks of the last few years – skinny ties, epaulets etc – is very OMD circa 1983. I suppose it’s chimed in with the resurgence of electro and the early ’80s. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw Franz Ferdinand a few years ago. I was like “am I looking at our Dazzle Ships photographs? Bloody hell!”
Forever After (Pretending To See The Future / Experiments In Vertical Take Off)
And as for what the future holds for OMD? Well, I don’t like writing when I’m on tour regardless if technology allows that. I get my lap top on the road but I end up using it only for my e-mails. But still I have my note book. My mind is collecting ideas. Now with History Of Modern we took out of our system what we wanted to be the return album and this really opens the way for the next that its direction will be further towards the sound we want OMD to have.
We are aware that the fans love the intellect side of OMD, it’s a strange thing in a way, if the songs are strong, still it is not enough for them. They want the style and the intellect behind, it has to do with the way we were in our early days when we recorded our first four album. But this still interests me. I am a man who’s constantly observing and collecting ideas for possible new songs. Like when we did Dazzle Ships, the modern sound of technology then was the radio waves and there was the cold war tension. Now it is the internet era. As a sound explorer, I wonder what the sound of internet is?
The direction of the new album, and the OMD purists of the 81-83 will love this, will be like a modern version of a similar approach. Now that we are done with the more conventional album which we still consider was classic OMD, we feel more free to experiment and we already know tomorrow’s ‘OMD SOUND’ will have to do more with songs like ‘The Right Side’ from the last album and we will even be far into exploring new paths without caring about what sells or not. Already we tried some more abstract ideas for B-sides we used for the singles but there is going to be much more to expect from OMD. After the tour’s end, there is going to be a two and half to three year break from playing live again.
But we will start working on new ideas right away and the new OMD album will not take as long as History Of Modern did. We just want to concentrate on that and this is why we will take a while to return on stage. I even already had a new working title on my head and I’m looking forward to return to the studio and start working on the next OMD album.
And A Bit Nearer (Almost)
Definitely we would love to come back to Greece, play live again and go with Alex and George to this amazing taverna with the best food we tried (Manolis!)! I want to wish to your paper another ten creative years and hopefully Athens to has her voice heard!
Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.
This piece was written by OMD’s Andy McCluskey for The Athens Voice newspaper anniversary issue published on 23rd November 2010.
Special thanks to Alex Machairas and Undo Records.
The Greek edition of History Of Modern with a bonus CD of remixes and additional tracks was released by Undo Records on 21st November 2010.