Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Tell Us ‘The Punishment of Luxury’ and Talk North American Tour
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are an English band partly responsible for two things: The first was scoring that epic final scene of “Pretty in Pink” where Molly Ringwald chases Blane out to his car during prom. Secondly, and most important, OMD were part of the defining musical resonance of the 1980’s. During an era where electronic music was first coming into the mainstream, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys decided to take an avant-garde approach to making synth-focused music with songs like “Electricity” and “Enola Gay” along with numerous singles from their 1981 hit album “Architecture & Morality.” After great success in Europe and the UK, “If You Leave,” the aforementioned smash hit form “Pretty in Pink,” brought OMD to American audiences. With “The Punishment of Luxury” — the band’s newest album all about our relationships with love, greed and technology — OMD have set yet another bar for themselves musically.
Along with the new album, the band have a big North American tour which will kick off March 7. In anticipation, Andy McClusky sat down to chat with Entertainment Voice regarding OMD’s latest album, breaking through to American audiences and what he sees as the true punishment of luxury.
“The Punishment of Luxury,” as with all your albums, is endlessly contemplative. What sorts of things did you draw from lyrically during this writing process?
A lot of different things. If you want to make an album, you should have taken the time to create sufficient thought and prepared yourself to have proper conversations with yourself to make music. Essentially, songs are really writer’s personal conversations with themselves that you draw out in musical form. Your thoughts and feelings about things that are moving you, touching you, making you think of the human condition. There’s bits of geo-political stuff in there, there’s the most important and powerful theme of music which is love. But that’s okay as long as you don’t do it in a cliché way. There are things about how times have changed in terms of the internet and with humans and machines, which has always been fascinating to me. Also, the fact that everybody in the material world seems to be better off in terms of what they own, but they don’t seem to be any happier than they used to be.
Concerning the title track, will you breakdown what you see as the punishment of luxury in today’s society?
I think we’re all aware that, (or at least) we should be aware, that so much of what we encounter in the world now, is appetizing. Some of the stuff in our heads has been placed there by marketing men and advertising men. In pervious generations, human beings were so busy staying alive, finding food, creating shelter… it was a full time job just to be alive. But now that we don’t have to do that, we have time to think and our brains can be quite fearful places. It’s very simple, everybody knows it, but we’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that we must have the newer car, the bigger television, or our children won’t love us if we don’t buy them the new Xbox. It’s quite simple, but that’s the punishment of luxury
As one of the pioneers of electronic music in the UK, how do you see the tide of electronic music changing worldwide?
Oh that’s a big question. I think that the first thing to say is that electronic music has now, whether people are aware of it or not, permeated its way into every type of popular music imaginable. All the things that would normally be called electronic, but also all of the hip-hop and R&B is completely electronic. Most of the stuff that would still be considered rock, with traditional rock instruments, is all recorded digitally, edited digitally, timed and stretched and tuned digitally and then put back together again and pretended like it’s never been near an auto-tune or a Pro Tools. Most rock bands don’t want people to know about it (laughs). It’s everywhere. Electronic music is everywhere, whether people know it, or like it, or not.
In terms of styles, it’s been through so many mutations since what we were doing back forty years ago. There’s still a few interesting areas. I’m particularly interested in glitch music. It’s people pushing the envelope as far as you can go really. When you’ve used up all of the sounds that sound like traditional instruments that are electronically produced, and when you’ve used up all of the synthesizer sounds on your palate, you’re then down to things that would normally be rejected: the crackles, the distortions, the pops and the bangs and the bleeps. People are now making music out of that. And that is on the final frontier at the moment, because the reality is, when you’re that far out, most people do not think it sounds like music. It’s just not ticking any kind of traditional boxes for them. Some of the stuff is quite fascinating. I’m a big fan of… Atom TM. I think he actually does have a musicality to the glitch sounds. But that to me, is the most fascinating, furthest reaching electronic music at the moment.
What aspects of modern day electronic music has OMD picked from for your latest record?
Well, some of the glitch sounds actually. We have incorporated some sounds into some of the tracks on the album that are specifically from a glitch palate. They’re distortions, they’re crackles. We’ve always used found-sounds in music, so it’s a logical extension for us. Although, it’s been quite hard to weld them into something that we consider a type of musicality. We’ve used a lot less drums that sound like a drum kit. We’ve used a lot more, sort of, processed kick drums and snare drums and different types of hats as well. We’ve moved away from sounding like a traditional drum kit process, as well.
You said in a Rolling Stone interview that you spent a lot of time throughout your career trying to break into the American mainstream. It wasn’t until the success of 1986’s “If You Leave” that that finally happened. That said, how do you view your relationship with American audiences nowadays?
We certainly have a different relationship with audiences in America than we do in other countries. But to be honest, every country is different because it’s often informed by what the people know. It depends on what was a hit on the radio, whether your record company was behind you at the time or not, will influence how many people know a certain song. The classic example, yes, “If You Leave,” the biggest hit we had in America, we sometimes don’t even play when we’re in Europe. Because, for example, it didn’t make the top fifty in the UK. We love coming to America. There are sufficient people because of the success of the band in the mid and late-80’s. We did have a gold album with the “The Best Of OMD” (1988) in the States. So a lot of people know our hits, not from them originally being hits in America because they weren’t, but they know them from the “Best Of” album that came towards the end of the 80’s.
Did you find that your 2013 performance at Coachella, which surely put you in front of thousands of young music lovers that may have only known you from the “Pretty in Pink” breakout, introduced OMD to a new sect of fans?
We actually have a broader age demographic in the US than we have, probably in any other country. I think in a sort of post-modern era where people have heard “If You Leave” or if they got other bands like The Killers, or LCD Soundsystem or The XX, people that may have mentioned us as influencing them along the way. Now, you don’t have to go to the store and buy it. You just go, ‘Oh, James Murphy mentioned OMD. Oh shit, I’ve discovered them now. That’s interesting. Maybe I’ll go see them, they’re in my town.’ It goes right down to younger people. (At) Coachella, our stage area was full and it certainly wasn’t all fifty-year-olds that were in front of us (laughs).
Since your hiatus in the early 90s, OMD has released three studio albums including two live albums. This is a good amount of music for a band who thought they were hanging up their synthesizers long ago. Where do you see the future of OMD going?
We’re in a nice and interesting place at the moment. Because a lot of our back catalogue is considered credible and still worthy of being heard, we can go back and celebrate the past. We played at the Royal Albert Hall last year and played two really old albums in their entirety. And yet this year, we’re releasing a brand new album that’s just, as I speak to you now, is number four on the UK album charts. We have a current audience for (our) new material, which is great because we didn’t really want to just be a tribute band to ourselves. I have no problem with bands only playing their back catalogue. A lot of times that’s all the fans want to hear anyway, so I understand that. We’re in a great position. We like making new music. We still rise to the challenge. That’s our ethos. The band only existed because we wanted to do something that was more interesting than the stuff that was around us at the time. I think we still cling to that. It’s quite funny because OMD were a part of defining the sound of the 80’s, so whenever people hear our songs, even on the new album, they go ‘Oh, well it kind of sounds 80’s.’ Well, no it just sounds like us. We were a part of the defining sound of the 80’s. Structurally, in terms of writing and the sounds, we’ve moved quite a long way down the road. But as soon as I start singing or Paul writes a melody, it sounds like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Nothing you can do about that (laughs), and we’re quite happy about it. So we’re in a great place! We’re going forward and backward and everyone seems to accept that we’re allowed to do what the hell we feel like doing!