OMD: New-Wavers Look Backward To Go Forward The British duo, whose song "If You Leave" will forever be linked to John Hughes' seminal teen film Pretty In Pink, began making music when the members were teens themselves.
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OMD: New-Wavers Look Backward To Go Forward

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OMD: New-Wavers Look Backward To Go Forward

OMD: New-Wavers Look Backward To Go Forward

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MARTIN: It's the future.


MARTIN: Or at least what the future sounded to Andrew McCluskey and Paul Humphreys back in 1980. That song, "Enola Gay," was a huge hit for the British band. And it helped solidify their reputation as pioneers in the world of electronic music.


OMD: (Singing) These games you play, they're gonna let in all these tears you...

MARTIN: After 30 years, the band is still touring, making new music and pushing their sound into new places. OMD's new album is aptly titled "English Electric."


OMD: (Singing) The future that you anticipated has been cancelled. Please remain seated and wait for further instructions.

MARTIN: Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys recently dropped by our studios. And we talked about how their perceived their own future when they were just starting out.

ANDY MCCLUSKEY: Our whole career in inverted commerce, has actually been a 35-year accident. Paul and I started out as two teenagers in the back room of his mum's house, with no musical training, virtually no equipment and just this mad aspiration to do music that was somehow going to be the future. And we had no desire to be a pop group or that would ever be successful or sell records. It was like our little art project. So, how we ended up selling millions of records and traveling around the world is still a mystery to us. But we're not complaining anymore.


PAUL HUMPHREYS: Yeah, we're not questioning it anymore.

MARTIN: But it is interesting - you know, you listen to your sound. That clip we just heard, several of the tracks off this new album, and it has that same vibe as some of your older stuff - this futuristic, electric kind of sound. And I hope this is not insulting what I'm about to say - but it does have a throwback quality of what we used to think the future was going to sound like.


HUMPHREYS: When we set about working on with "English Electric," we did decide to sort of look backwards to go forwards, if you like. We sort of looked back at our first four albums and went, right, what is it about these albums that we like? Well, we loved the - it was more electronic than we sort of became. The songs were very simplistic in their arrangements, basically because in the early days we didn't have very many instruments. So, we looked at that. And also, we looked at the non-conventionality of our songwriting. We didn't quite know what we were doing; we were making it up as we went along, so we didn't know how to write a conventional song. So, our arrangements were kind of all over the place, but we kind of liked that.


MARTIN: You guys were doing what essentially a lot of people claim to do now with computers, using...

MCCLUSKEY: Yeah, except it was all by hand. There was no computers on that, nothing. You know, I mean, it was - we had the most primitive stuff. I mean, the first synthesizer we ever actually owned, we bought from my mother's mail order catalog for seven-pounds 76 a week for 36 weeks. It's the only way we could have afford it. You know, there was no way we were going to get a big one from anywhere else. So, it was all done by hand but yet we were trying to use as many different things as we could.


OMD: (Singing) (unintelligible) is all you need (unintelligible) all you need...

MARTIN: Your new album is called "English Electric." It's very straightforward.


HUMPHREYS: We are English and we are electric, so there's that aspect to it. But really it was...

MCCLUSKEY: Paul's actually a robot.


HUMPHREYS: Shh. You're not supposed to tell anybody that. No, it was actually a British company in the '50s and '60s, and it basically, the company made things for the future. They made the first supercomputer. They made advanced aircraft for the Royal Air Force, and they made advanced locomotives for the railways. And so they were basically making the future. So, we sort of thought it was a good sort of metaphor for...

MCCLUSKEY: And they went bust. It seemed perfect.


HUMPHREYS: A future that didn't happen.


OMD: (Singing) I want the house, I want the house, and the car, and the car, and the robe on white, and the robe on white. I want two kids, I want two kids, and a yard, and a yard, and the perfect life, and the perfect life.

MARTIN: How old were you when you met?

HUMPHREYS: We've known each other since we were seven. We went to primary school together. But Andy is eight months older than me, which pushed him into an academic year above me. I knew Andy, saw him every day on the playground, but we never really became friends until '74.

MCCLUSKEY: Last week.


HUMPHREYS: Yeah, yeah.

MCCLUSKEY: What time is it now, yeah.

HUMPHREYS: Although, we did share a stage together when...

MCCLUSKEY: I was 11 and he was 10.

MARTIN: And do tell.

MCCLUSKEY: We'd both been naughty and we were made to stand on the stage in the lunch hall whilst everybody else had their lunch and we had to wait till the end.

HUMPHREYS: Yeah, that was our punishment. That was our first stage performance.

MARTIN: It was your first stage performance.

MCCLUSKEY: Not a very auspicious beginning. But Paul had some friends and they had a band and he'd seen me walking around the local park with my new bass guitar that I got with my birthday money while I was...'cause, you know, you walk around the park with your bass on your shoulder.

MARTIN: Of course.

MCCLUSKEY: I've got a guitar. I just got a new bass guitar...

HUMPHREYS: I haven't learned how to play it yet but I've got a bass guitar.

MARTIN: I am awesome.

MCCLUSKEY: So, he came knocking on the door with his mates and I joined their band. But very quickly, we realized we actually had more in common musically than those guys 'cause they were into kind of bad music like Pink Floyd and (unintelligible) and Yes and...

MARTIN: And there was a meeting of the minds.


MARTIN: You didn't become OMD for a few years. Some people might not know this stands for Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. How did that name come to you?

HUMPHREYS: Well, we were just going to do this one-off show. We thought we had this opportunity. It was like a punk club, but on the Thursday night, it was like an open mic night and you can just come and play to whoever's there. And the guy from the venue said, well, we're going to make up some posters. What are you going to be called? How do we advertise? And we said I don't know actually what we're going to call ourselves...

MARTIN: You really haven't thought of that before.

HUMPHREYS: Well, we hadn't thought...

MCCLUSKEY: Well, it was just going to be this one-off gig. And so we went to consult my wall in my bedroom, because I used to use my wall as my notebook. My mother wasn't happy. Just used to write on there song titles, poetry, you know, and anything. And we had this idea for a song that was going to use recorded war noises and broken radios 'cause that's basically all we had access to to make music when we were kids.

And we just saw this Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, and we went, well, that's preposterous. People are going to know we're not punk or disco or reggae, like two guys and a tape recorder. We'll call ourselves that, 'cause it's a crazy name. And it didn't matter. It was just going to be one gig, you see.

HUMPHREYS: We weren't planning for the future there at all.

MCCLUSKEY: I call this constant accident. It just keeps rolling over. So, we did this gig. And amazingly, the guys at the club - well, actually, they liked is more than the audience did.

MARTIN: I have to ask you about the song "If You Leave." This is a song from the John Hughes's film "Pretty in Pink," 1986. How did it happen? How did that collaboration come about?

HUMPHREYS: Well, John Hughes, he was a fan of British bands in the '80s. And he was a big fan of OMD. And he just approached us, really, and asked us to write the song.

MCCLUSKEY: He said want the big song ended the prom scene, big ending. And we went right, we went back to England and we wrote the song.

HUMPHREYS: Yeah, we...

MCCLUSKEY: Except, except we flew to America with our multi-track, the song already recorded ready to just do the final mix in L.A. two days before our big North American tour started. And we get a call when we landed, John really wanted to see us. And he sort of broke the news to us that he'd actually changed the entire ending of the film that we've written the song for and now our song didn't work, and could we quickly write a new one.



MARTIN: Oh, no way.

HUMPHREYS: Yeah. So, we went into a studio and we wrote "If You Leave" today. Yeah, off the top of our head.


OMD: (Singing) If you leave, don't leave now, please don't take my heart away...

HUMPHREYS: We played Coachella a few months ago.

MARTIN: Big music festival.

HUMPHREYS: Yeah. And when we played "If You Leave," the whole place erupted. And it was like, well, hold on. These just kids, how do they know this song? But it really has transcended in generations, that film and the song.


OMD: (Singing) Touch you once, touch you twice, I won't let go at any price. I need you now like I needed you then, you always said we'd you still be friends...

MARTIN: What next? I mean, this has been a happy accident for this many years.

HUMPHREYS: The good things is, is that we restarted OMD not for the money or anything other than the fun of it and the enjoyment of it. And it's like when we started. It's like going all the way back to the beginning. We got into the music industry by accident. We were just doing it for the fun of it and the love of it and sort of art of it. And so as long as we'll still having fun, we'll continue OMD. And if it starts feeling like a job or we're especially pressured by it...

MCCLUSKEY: Or we run out of ideas.

HUMPHREYS: ...or run out of ideas (unintelligible)...

MCCLUSKEY: You know, it was one thing to start playing live again. That was great and everybody wanted to hear the old songs. We enjoyed that. But then we quickly thought, oh, is this it? We're just a tribute band to ourselves. But it's a dangerous thing when you're our age to write a new record, 'cause lots of people - you know, they're in complete denial. They still think they've got good ideas and they can write good songs, and they really shouldn't be allowed to make records.

MARTIN: So, who checks you on that?

MCCLUSKEY: We have to trust ourselves.

HUMPHREYS: We have to trust ourselves, and some of our audience are quite brutal.

MCCLUSKEY: That's true, yeah.

HUMPHREYS: They expect high quality, pseudo-intellectual nonsense from us. And we deliver...


MCCLUSKEY: But, no, it is important. As Paul said, you know, we've already sat down and said what are we going to do next? I don't know. Have we got any ideas? We haven't thought about it yet. But one interesting thing is we've noticed, we just started a North American tour, and even more so than two years ago when we played for the first time in 20 years, there's an amazing broad demographic of age groups in the U.S. We joked about "If You Leave," but what's interesting is we had so many hits in Europe that we're perceived as a pop group in Europe. In America, I think because we didn't have that many hits, several generations have picked up on us as just being this is really cool intellectual electronic music. And there's all these kids in college age and 20s and teenagers as well as the 30s, 40s and 50s - broad demographic - who don't think of us a pop group who've come because they just think we're cool and interesting. And as long as we stay cool and interesting, we'll keep doing it.


HUMPHREYS: I agree with him.


MARTIN: Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys are Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. They joined us here in our Washington studios. OMD's new album is called "English Electric." Andy and Paul, thank you so much for coming in.

MCCLUSKEY: Thank you.

HUMPHREYS: Our pleasure.


OMD: (Singing) (unintelligible) the night cap (unintelligible), caught between our very bad day...

MARTIN: A news note for OMD fans, we learned this morning that the group has had to cancel the rest of their tour. A statement on the band's website says the drummer, Malcolm Holmes, has fallen ill and he's being treated for heat exhaustion. We wish him a speedy recovery. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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