OMD co-founder Paul Humphreys reflects on the band's resurgence

Categories: Interview
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Very few bands are capable of putting out quality content years into their careers. For many artists, a new release can leave the fan base longing for past glories. From 1978 to 1989, the duo of Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey, with long-time support players Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper, had hits across Europe and around the world as new wave band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD).

They struggled to get notice in America, finally cracking the top-ten in 1986 with "If You Leave." Three years later Paul and Andy parted ways. McCluskey soldiered on for three more albums as OMD, while Humphreys, Cooper, and Holmes formed the Listening Pool. In 2005 Paul & Andy accepted a request from German TV to perform on program there. They had such a good time they recruited Cooper and Holmes and reformed the group. At first they toured their hits, but last year they released the very fine History of Modern

Shows performed in the U.S. this past spring to support the CD were sold out, and filled with enthusiastic fans. On March 14 in Chicago, the band played about half a dozen new songs, as well as string of hit singles. At times they seemed overwhelmed by the adulation of the crowd at the Park West Theatre. While the band always focused more on songwriting than musicianship, they've never sounded better live.

Gimme Noise talked to OMD co-founder Paul Humphreys in advance of the band's show this coming Monday at First Avenue.

Often when bands come back after a long lay-off, the new material is, well, not so much. Were you worried about that kind of reception?

Paul Humphreys: We were acutely aware of this actually, and so we didn't make big announcement that we were going back into the studio. We thought we'd test the water and see how it went. What worked in our favor was even though Andy and I stopped working in the voice of OMD, we continued writing separately. We've always been writing. We never stopped writing, so in terms songwriting we were totally up to speed. We were constantly writing, and we have two studios, a studio in Liverpool Andy's got and I've got one in London.  Both top of the line modern studios, so we had all of the technology available to us. So it was quiet easy really to go back and work with Andy again. Because of the geographical problem we thought we'd be incredibly modern because we have the same systems. We'd just send huge file on the Internet and bat it backwards and forward. We wrote three songs in a year that way. 

We realized the spark of OMD was me and Andy in a room together. We'd walk in in the morning with an idea and then just bat it between each other until it became something. You to have that kind of rapport. When we realized that was definitely the way to work I went up to Liverpool and thought I'd work for a week in the studio with Andy and I brought an idea into the room and Andy brought an idea, and it ended up being "New Hoy Ground," and we finished it in three hours form beginning to end, the whole song. So it was like O.K. this is the way we need to work form now on. We still have plenty to say that's thing. We still have interesting subjects to talk about. I think toward the end of the '80s, we ran out of things to say because we didn't experience any life, we were just constantly touring and driving each other absolutely crazy. We weren't experiencing anything personal.  It was just about tour busses and backstage areas, and we ran out of things to say.  But because we had such a long lay-off form OMD, we came with new energy and whole huge amount of ideas.

After leaving OMD, you wound up in the Listening Pool with Martin and Mal. You made a great album, but it's kind of hard to find.

We're talking about releasing it. 

Was it weird having essentially 3/4s of the old band together?

I didn't leave OMD to do the Listening Pool, it just kind of happened. We had bunch of songs written. Martin (Cooper) and I had done some songwriting before. Martin wrote "Souvenir" with me, and "Talking Loud and Clear, "So in Love."  So it wasn't different writing with Martin, and Malcolm has always contributed a lot with rhythm ideas so it wasn't a big leap, but yeah that was a nice album 

How is it working with Claudia Brucken in the Onetwo, compared to OMD?

I love writing with Claudia actually she's such it's kind of like working with Andy actually. Because we both bring different things to the table. I'm more the musician and I do a lot of the music and Andy's more the conceptualist the lyric writer. And with Onetwo it's the same really Claudia's a great melody writer and she has great concepts and subject matter. Very proud of the Onetwo album, that's a nice record.

So we're going to see more OMD in the future?

Yeah we've already got plans for the next album Andy and I already have whole load of ideas even the album title but that's under wraps!

It's a lot harder for bands starting out today, isn't it? You have to make money touring, because at 99 cents a song you're likely not going to get rich.

If people pay 99 cents I had an industry magazine come to my house before I left for this tour and it said 90% of music coming from the Internet isn't paid for. The Internet has been both blessing and a curse.  It's a fantastic marketing tool it enables you to get to people you otherwise you may not have been able to get to through press and radio which can be pretty locked up. And it enables people to gain access to music they might not have heard before. Which is great but this whole sort of no money changing hands makes it difficult for musicians to make money Andy and I were lucky because we made a lot of money and out records sold.

In the early '90s, after Paul and Andy stopped working together, they decided to have an audit done of their record sales. Turns out they were owed quite a bit of money.

CP: How great was it getting the phone call from the record company saying "oh, yeah we owe you a lot of money."
Oops! That was fantastic. We finally made all the money we should have.

You guys have always been forward-thinking, is that one of the reason OMD still works so well today?

Andy and I came from working-class families neither of our families had any money. My hobby was electronics form belong a very young child. I would build loads of things. We decided at some point we wanted to be Kraftwerk. We were just kids. We heard Kraftwerk and we thought Kraftwerk is the future. We want to be Kraftwerk. I think it was fortunate we didn't have all that technology because I think we would have ended up emulating Kraftwerk. And so there's no point in sounding like Kraftwerk because Kraftwerk sound like Kraftwerk  I think the fact that we had to beg borrow and make stuff created a whole different pallet of sound which made it uniquely OMD.

Having always been more forward thinking, is it easier for OMD to fit in to the music scene as it exists today? It might be harder for say an older guitar band, say.

That's true. We always have been forward-thinking. We've always seen electronic music to be the future and then us hit the '90s and Brit pop and all these mono-brow bands from Manchester came on the scene and all of a sudden electronic music wasn't the future it was the past.  The future was music influenced by the '60s. "What's going on?" That's when we put a full stop to OMD.

In a 2009, during an interview for City Pages, I related a story to Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys. Years earlier Andy McCluskey told me that he decided to stop OMD in 1996 after asking himself "what if people don't want another OMD record?" I asked Lowe if he and his musical partner Neil Tennant ever felt that way. He said "no, and Andy McCluskey is wrong. The world needs more OMD records." I told this to Paul Humphreys

Is that what he said? That's cool (Laughs)

Your other project is the Onetwo with Claudia Bruken (ex-Propaganda). How is that going?

Claudia and I have already done half an album.  We'll be continuing that, so I'll be jumping between doing a new album with Andy and Onetwo, and we also have a lot of OMD commitments. We're doing loads of festivals throughout Britain and Europe.

You were at South by Southwest this past March, and got a great reception.

It seems a lot of shows were added. We did four shows. Two were full band and two were just me and Andy. We did that throughout Europe before we did the full band production. Andy and I went and played record stores. It's kind of back to our roots. Andy played bass, I played keys, and anything we couldn't play we used the tape machine, Winston. Now we have a laptop to replace Winston. All our drum tracks are on it and we just play along. 

There was a program on breakfast TV in England about great songs, and you and Andy turned up talking about "Enola Gay," and you and Andy both had a o on the old synth. Did you still have that stuff, or did you have to find somewhere?

Funny story on that. Nearly all the stuff had fallen apart or blown up, or rusted or we'd lost. We were on Ebay every night trying to find these synths and there was this one instance when Andy and I didn't realize we were bidding against each other. We could have bought it for a lot less, but I'm in London, "no, I'm having it!" He's in Liverpool, "no' I'm having it!" 

What are your best memories of OMD?

All the best memories, and I think Andy would agree, was the first time we did anything. The first time we toured Europe. The first time we did Top of the Pops. The first time we played the Liverpool Empire Theatre, where we'd seen so many bands as kids, and all of a sudden we were on that stage. First time we went Top 5, our first number 1 in Germany. All the firsts you really remember. 

What do you enjoy most now about the band?

We're just older, wiser, calmer. We enjoy every moment. We're not touring nine months a year, we're doing it for 3 and 4 months. It's a lot easier. We're old men.   

You and Martin don't have the physical demands that Mal, and certainly Andy have. How's Andy holding up bopping about the stage every night?

He's had two surgeries on his left knee and one on his right, and he takes lots of medication to keep him going, and we're not as young as we used to be but we seem to defy our years when we get on stage. I think in some ways were a better live band than we ever were. We were never great players it as about the songwriting and not about the musical proficiency, but by default, after playing for 33 years, we've all become really good musicians. The technology we take on stage is incredibly reliable. It's state-of-the-art, so we don't walk on stage going "oh, I hope my synths work tonight!"  The band is in good form, we're playing well. 

For the audio version of this interview, listen to PF's Tape Recorder Episode 10. It also features some post-'80s OMD tracks, including a song from their latest album, The History of Modern.

OMD perform Monday, September 26, at First Avenue. 701 First Avenue North, Minneapolis. Tickets are $25 in advance, $27 at the door.  



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