Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark ( OMD ) , best known from the hit "If You Leave" in the '80s, returns after 14 years with a new album called History of Modern. Windy City Times had the opportunity to interview one member of the band, Paul Humphreys.
Windy City Times: Hello, Paul. Can you explain the history of OMD and where the name came from?
Paul Humphreys: The name doesn't have any specific meaning. OMD was supposed to only be a one-off concert. Andy [ McCluskey ] and I had been experimenting in my mum's back room, sharing our songs and ideas only with friends. In the evenings we were often hanging out in a Liverpool club called Erics where one night we heard Daniel Miller's The Normal song "Warm Leatherette." We soon after learned of the existence of The Human League also, which gave us the idea to play a one-off concert at Eric's club.
We thought, "Wow other people in the UK are listening to the same German imports we are listening to, and if they can get up and play electronic music, then so can we!" So it was a kind of a dare to get up on stage and try out our songs as a one-time experiment but, of course, we needed a name, so we went to Andy's bedroom where he used to write potential song titles on his wall, and there was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, so we thought that it would at least serve the job of indicating to people that they weren't about to see a punk band in Eric's ( which was essentially a punk club ) and would indicate to people that they were about to see something a little bit different!
WCT: Who is on the current lineup? Are any of the members openly gay?
Paul Humphreys: It's the original four-piece line-up, Andy McCluskey ( Lead vocals and Bass ) , Paul Humphreys ( Keyboards and vocals ) , Martin Cooper ( Keyboards and Saxophone ) Malcolm Holmes ( Drums ) and, no, we have no gay members.
WCT: This is for our 25th-anniversary issue. What were you doing 25 years ago?
Paul Humphreys: In summer 1985 we completed and released our 6th album, Crush, which had our first American hit single on it"So in Love," which entered the U.S. top 30, for the first time in OMD's career. That autumn we had been speaking to the director John Hughes about writing a song for his latest movie he had in production called Pretty in Pink. He sent us the script and told us he wanted a song for the climactic end sequence for the film.
After going to the set at Paramount and meeting Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer, Andy and I wrote a song that was lyrically based on the story in the script, and sent it to him. John was happy with the song so we continued to rehearse and make preparations for an imminent U.S. tour. However, a few days before the tour was due to start, we get a fateful call from John Hughes. After several showings to test audiences, he was now convinced that the end of the film wasn't right and decided to completely change it and re-shoot it and told us, "Sorry guys, but your song doesn't work anymore. Can you write a new one?"
Now with the tour about to start, we only had two days to write and record something new before the tour started. So Andy and flew straight to L.A., booked ourselves into a studio and spent most of the first day with me on piano and Andy with his lyric books; by 4 a.m., the following morning we had written and roughly demo'd a brand new composition called "If You Leave." We sent a cassette in a cab over to John Hughes and went to bed! Anyway, we get a call at 9 a.m. saying John loves it, and can we go straight back into the studio and record it properly which, of course, we duly did. John liked the final version so much he wanted to put it out immediately as the single to fly the flag for the film, so our new single "Secret" was pulled from radio and shops and out came "If You Leave," which, much to our joy, ended up a monster hit!!
WCT: The new album has a rocking start! What can you tell fans about the new album History of Modern?
Paul Humphreys: When we decided to make a new album, we first had to ask ourselves the question, "What should OMD sound like in 2010?" The answer ended up quite simple to arrive at: Both Andy and myself believe that our first four albums were really the definitive sound of OMD so we decided to use a sound palette that reflected those records. It was crucial though for us to not sound retro or a pastiche of ourselves, so it was important to make it with modern equipment and production techniques in order to bring it into the now, which we hope we have done.
We are fortunate that Andy and I have very modern studios in Liverpool and London. The songs are mainly new compositions from the last few years, with the exception of two or three. We have always recycled old ideas if we believe they have a good melody as sometimes you cant find the right spark to finish a song so you shelve it until that final idea which completes it appears. "Sister Mary," for instance, was a melody from 1981, a vocal from 1995 and finished in 2010! Green is also a vocal recording of Andy's from mid-'90s, which I took and wrote new music to. The rest though is all brand new material!
WCT: Is it trying to sound classic but also modern at the same time?
Paul Humphreys: The name of the album came out of us asking questions of ourselves about OMD's place in 2010. Are we retro futurists? What do old modernists do in the post modern era? Is this the History of Modern?
WCT: How did you hook up with Aretha Franklin for the song "Save Me," and what was it like working with her?
Paul Humphreys: Andy had a period of experimenting with mash-ups, mashing up OMD songs with other people songs and "Save Me" came out of these experiments. We've never even met Aretha, unfortunately!
WCT: There are two sides to the CD. Is that a throwback to albums in the past or this going to be released on vinyl? I heard there is a box set.
Paul Humphreys: No, it was simply a song-management tool to split it into side one and side two. It was always Andy's job to sequence the albums as he was always best at it, and in putting the album together he decided it was simpler to put songs into two different categories. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to be retro or 'vinyl' about it though, and in hindsight maybe we should have named them part one and part two! There was a box set, unfortunately we only made 1,500 and they are all sold out!
WCT: I watched the video for "If You Want It." There were lots of dancers, including men dancing with men, and you guys got to just sit and watch! You have not made a video since "Dreaming," correct?
Paul Humphreys: "Dreaming" was the last video I made with OMD. However, Andy continued in the '90s and made several more videos after I left. In fact, the video's he made were a damn sight better than most of the video's I made with him! But then again the medium of video making had developed to a new level and standard by the time the '90s came around, the budgets had also reached new heights!
WCT: You are about to start touring in Europe. Are you coming to Chicago?
Paul Humphreys: Yes to both. Our tour begins in UK at the end of October, taking in much of the UK and big cities in Europe. We are planning to tour the US in March and although it isn't confirmed yet, it's looking pretty certain that we'll be coming!
WCT: People can keep up with the latest news at http://www.omd.uk.com?
Paul Humphreys: Yes, the OMD OFFICIAL site is omd.uk.com . It's a brand-new site that's updated on a daily basis.
WCT: There is a feeling with your music that always is uplifting for me. Thanks for the interview from a longtime fan!
Paul Humphreys: Thank you!
OMD's album dropped this week and all merchandise can be picked up at omd.hasawebstore.com .