OX Interviews Andy McCluskey of OMD
"It’s all about cramming as many hit singles in as we can!"
Rewind Festival is a master of harnessing this new desire for hearing the live acts which formed our musical landscape and laid the foundations for modern artists.One such act is a distinctive Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
We talked to co-founder of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Andy McCluskey, festivals, the vinyl chart and the name OMD…
So you are appearing at Rewind Festival this year, which is great news! There are lots of 80s bands doing the festival circuit at the moment. Did you take a while to decide whether to join in with this? Was there a point where you thought ‘shall I just sit in my garden and soak up the sun instead’?
I think that spending weekends in the garden was not the issue but certainly you have touched on something important to me.
When the band reformed eight years ago we started playing and making new music we were reticent to become involved in so called ‘heritage’ festivals. We wanted to establish ourselves as a standalone credible touring act. However, having done that, we are now entirely comfortable with basically playing what is essentially a big party.
But also, it’s not just the 80s that are having a revival. I think now it in this sort of postmodern era, there's a feeling that the old idea of a fashion timeline has been decimated. There is nothing new anymore. Popular culture, whether its music or films, fashions or architecture, are eating their own history.
So if you've got a catalogue that is deemed credible and you can still perform it, then there's opportunity to go and enjoy it. At Rewind we are going to go out and have a great time. We are not going to do the self-indulgent thing and say ‘hey, here are a load of tracks from our new album’ and then everybody goes to the bar! It’s all about cramming as many hit singles in as we can!
When you are actually playing at a festival (and you are doing a few this year) does it feel a bit like being on tour?
Festivals are a very different vibe. On tour you get into a daily routine of travel, hotel, sound check, concert, travel, hotel, sound check, concert...etc.
Whereas festivals are little islands. You have the whole week off and then you go off to the festival. You don't do a sound check and you usually arrive just a few hours before you are on stage. At festivals this is completely different.
Also you have to bear in mind that when you do your own tour, everybody who comes has bought a ticket because they want to see you. At a festival, there’s no guarantee that people who are going to watch us haven't really come to see ABC or somebody else you know so again, all the more reason why you take the path of least resistance and hit them between the eyes with your best shot.
So getting away from festivals, what is your take on the massive revival in vinyl? There is a new vinyl chart now so do you think OMD are going to appear in that chart?
I think it’s been very interesting that something that was consigned to history is actually a very important part of the sales plan of any release these days.
Vinyl sells for anything between £13 and £30, considerably more than downloads or a CD. This is possibly because there are people who enjoy the record as an artefact in itself. You get the artwork and the record itself, which is completely different to just having a file on your computer or on your phone. It serves a very different purpose and I think people respond to it differently. I would certainly hope that next year when we release the new album that a substantial proportion of sales will be vinyl and that certainly in the week of release, it would be nice if it was in the vinyl chart.
Electronic music has come a long way since OMD’s pioneering days. Are there any artists that are emerging that really catch your eye…or your ear, more accurately?
There are a few. If I name names then by omission I'll be undermining other artists, but yes. There are always people trying to do something that is individual and then there are other people who are sort of copying or following.
I tend to have a preference, understandably, for people who are trying to do something which is individual and there are wonderful artists out there.
Obviously it appeals to me because I think that most people who have done electronic music have made a conscious decision to go down that route because they wanted to do something other than just be a pop star or be in the charts.
They have made a decision to try to do something which usually is more intellectual, challenging and experimental. There is a tendency I think for that music to be the most interesting and that’s why I chose that course and that's why people still choose that course too. I think that's why generally there’s a much higher percentage of music I find to be interesting in that genre.
Do you ever listen to a track and hear a little reference to OMD? How does that make you feel?
I do certainly and it is sometimes in the places where I don't go looking for it! Fortunately we are very honoured to be name checked by many bands, and even some of the recent ones, and that is wonderful. I mean, it is much nicer to be told that you're iconic and inspirational rather than past your sell by date!
And also the fans of these bands tend to find us for themselves because we have been name checked by an artist that they like, so it broadens our audience, which is great.
You mentioned a new album coming out next year, how long will it take to complete it?
It's a long process. It’s important when you want to create something that you are throwing your bucket into a well that is full of ideas.
In the mid to late 80s we had unconsciously found ourselves on the conveyer belt of the music business and success had its own dilemma because you end up touring the world for eight months and then the record company say ‘can we have the next album?’. Then we have six weeks to write an album. Basically the first ten things you write, good, bad or ugly, tend to be the album. It's not good, so these days we don't have anybody telling us what to do. It’s a bit like we are masters of our own destiny.
We have to hope that doesn't lead us towards some sort of self-centred decadent misbelief that we are still doing something relevant when we are not. I'll be honest with you; there are people who still make records who frankly are going to an empty well and they just feel the need to make a record because they need a title for their next tour or something. They don't have anything left to say. So we are taking our time over this as we did on the last two. It will be ready when it is ready, but we are hoping it will be out by the end of next year.
So this is a question that has probably been asked of you a million times, but the name OMD, is it true that the name came from lyrics written on your bedroom wall?
Well you know coming from the ‘Grim North’, we didn't have money for paper so we used to have to write things on my bedroom wall!
No, I’m kidding, but I did actually use my bedroom wall as my sort of creative blotter. Paul and I have been writing music together since we were sixteen and we made music that even our best friends didn't like very much. So we never dared to play it live until 1978 when we thought right, we are going to do one gig just to say that we have done one. As it was a mad idea, the two of us playing music not even our friends liked, we thought that we need a name that sets us aside.
We are not punk, we are not rock, we are not pop – this is different. So we chose the most preposterous name precisely because no band should have a name like that! Little did we know we would still be stuck with it 37 years later.
What does it actually mean?
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark? It means nothing. People have tried to read metaphors into it, but it literally is just the most ridiculous thing we could think of. All I can say is that it could have been worse because right underneath it, I had written ‘Margret Thatcher's afterbirth’. Things could have been very different!
To find out more about the line-up at the Rewind Festival and to snap up what few tickets remain, go to rewindfestival.com
Top Image - Left to right; Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey
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