Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is getting ready for their new tour. I talked to him about how you can sell millions of records and still owe your record company money, ZZ Top, their hopeless band name and how Kraftwerk helped him start a girl band.
We’ve very often been a bit behind in Norway when it comes to appreciating groups and bands that today are considered iconic. Especially within the synthpop world. Depeche Mode, for example, didn’t start charting in Norway before 1990, when their musically best period was behind them.
Another example is one of the earliest synth pop groups, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They sold millions in their native Britain, as well as in Europe. But success in Scandinavia eluded them. In the mid-80s they even managed a foothold in the US after contributing a song to the hit movie Pretty in Pink.
Starting in Norway
In the past decade, however, more and more people in Norway have discovered the music of this band, that has mostly consisted of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys (apart from a period in the 90s where McCluskey went at it alone), but they have had various line-ups where the band functioned as a quartet, with McCluskey and Humphrey as the main songwriters.
After selling 40 million records, having had 14 top 20 hits in the UK and four Top 40 hits in the US, a generation of younger bands have discovered their music and cite them as influences. I’ve even interviewed several Norwegian artists who say they fell in love with classic tunes like Enola Gay, Joan of Arc, Sailing on the Seven Seas and Forever Live and Die. And today OMD (as they are abbreviated) are also celebrated for their more experimental output as well.
After releasing a strikingly good album in October 2023, they are now ready for a tour, with many dates sold out. The tour starts in my native Norway, at Rockefeller in Oslo, and a few days before, I conduced an interview with Andy McCluskey, using Microsoft Teams. He was in the UK, in front of a mantle piece still decorated for Xmas, nursing a respiratory illness that had made him bed ridden for a few weeks. But he seemed to be in great form during our chat, and he kept on talking, to my great delight.
– It’s great to be able to have this Teams call with you. I I’m sure you get this a lot I’ve been a fan since I was this this high.
– Oh, that’s very kind. Thank you very much.
– Do you hear that a lot?
– Do you know what’s funny when you get to my age? A while ago we started to get people saying, “my mum loves your band”. Now we’re getting, “my granddad loves your band”! But, you know, as long as people love the band then I’m happy. The crazy thing for us is that we were never really particularly big in any of the Scandinavian countries until we had a couple of hits there in the 90s. So, we still struggle to fill large venues there, but we love coming over there to play.
– What’s your relationship with Norway?
– I never got to Norway until, I think 1993, and I remember I was going to fly in to do some promotion for the single Sailing on the Seven Seas which was a hit there. And the first time I came over to Oslo, I specifically said that I’ve never been there, so I wanted to come in a day early and that they had to take me to the Viking Boat Museum and all those places. Because I’m a huge history fan. I’m an art and history fan. That’s my background. Come to think of it, one of our crew members married a Norwegian girl and he lives in Norway. My strongest connection with Norway is probably that in the area where I live, there was a huge Viking settlement. Every town ends with the word “by”: Irby, Pensby, Kirby and so on. They are all Viking names. So, we have a Norwegian heritage that is 1000 years old, but that’s it.
– Monday, you’re starting your new tour, and the very first concert of the tour is here in Norway. Are you guys ready?
– You’re never as ready as you want to be, but I think we’ll be OK. We’ve been rehearsing, but the thing is that we’ve got a hat full of hits that we can play in our sleep. We’ve played them thousands of times. However, this time we are playing five songs on from the new album. For the first time in six years, we’ve had to learn new songs! And it takes a while to get to manipulate them into sounding exactly how you want them to sound because you can do anything you want in the studio. And then we have to kind of scratch our heads and go: “OK, now there’s four of us. How are we going to play all of this?” So it’s a lot of logistics, but we’re sounding good. We are very excited to be coming over and its great place to start the tour on Monday.
– Will we be seeing your famous dance moves?
– You will. You will. I might actually be a little slower because I’m a few years older and like I said before the start of the interview, I was sick for most of the last three weeks. So instead of going to the gym, I’ve been in bed. So, I haven’t quite got all the moves ready yet. But you’ll see them. They might just not be quite as full on as normal. Which might make me look like I have a bit more dignity befitting a man of my age perhaps. We’ll see.
– I read something recently that said that ZZ Top were inspired by your moves. Is this true?
– This is absolutely true. I can’t believe it. We did a TV show back in the early 1980s called The Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC. And they always had two studio bands. We had our first album out, so we were in the studio and the other live band was ZZ Top. Now, we were all a bunch of very pretentious 20-year-old electro pop players and we just thought they were a bunch of beardy old has beens. I don’t think we were very sociable or nice to them. But we had attitude in those days. Years later, somebody says to me: “I was reading a book about ZZ Top. You’re in it.” And I’m like: “Oh, really?” And he said: “Yeah, yeah, they said that they met you in 1980 at a TV show and they credited you with two things. One, that you are the reason why they went electronic on their Eliminator album. And two, that the way they swung their guitars in in the videos on the Eliminator album was stolen from the way you move with your bass guitar.” I’m like: Fuck, really?!?” And then a few years later, I just happened to be in a hotel in Paris. I was doing a TV show, got in the elevator, and there was Billy Gibbons. So, I just said: “Billy. Andy McCluskey from the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. You probably don’t remember…” He went: “Oh my God. Yeah, the guy who did the move!” So, he said we had to go and see Dusty and he dragged me along. “Dusty! This is the guy who gave us the move!” So out of their own mouths they said that we had influenced them. You would never have imagined it, would you? Nobody on the planet could have imagined that we influenced ZZ Top!
– That’s great. You mentioned you were playing songs from the new album, The Bauhaus Staircase, which I’m thrilled about because I love that album. The reception after its release in October has been great, hasn’t it?
– I think it’s been great. I’m delighted, because when you make something, you’re so close to it, you can’t see it anymore. By the time you’ve finished it, you have a feeling that it’s good because you liked it all the way. But the final version, all the mixing and everything else just gets on top of you. So now, a few months later, I can listen to it now without going: “I want to remix it. I want to change this or that!” Now I can listen to it and be very proud of it. I think it’s a very, very strong collection of pieces of music. It got very good reviews. And it sold amazingly. I mean, we got to the highest place in the UK chart that we’ve ever been with our studio albums. And if it wasn’t for bloody Taylor Swift, we would have been number 1. But nobody beats Taylor Swift.
– What kind of tools do you use today when you make music? Back in the old days when we see pictures of you, you have all these synthesisers with wires and plugs. Do you only use a laptop these days?
– I use a big old Mac G5 tower. It’s old but it’s stable and it still works. In fact, I use two of them because I’ve upgraded my system and I had to have two because the graphics cards and everything are different and I have to switch between the screens when I need to go back to old pieces of music and dig them out. But yeah, everything is now in the box. The only the only thing that gets plugged in is either my bass guitar that just goes through an interface, an Avalon interface, or all my microphones. All of the synthesisers are virtual, which I love. I mean, the purists go: “You’re not using all the real stuff that you had? Why?!?!”, Because there’s too much of it! It’s bloody heavy, it goes out of tune because you get all this MIDI delay when you wire it all up and so on. Then you must make notes on what the settings were and everything. When it’s in the computer, you just go: “Save version 3.7”, and you can come back to it in an hour or in 10 years and it’s all there, just how you left it. You don’t need any notes. So, I much prefer working in the box. It also means Paul and I have basically identical Pro Tools systems so that I can send him the whole thing and he just puts it in. Up it comes, with all the instruments, all the plugins and all the effects. It’s instant and makes life a lot easier because Paul now lives 1000 miles away from me, so we can’t get together as often as we would like.
– Do you still have your old equipment, or have you gotten rid of it?
– I still have my original bass guitar and I still have still have the original Korg Micro Preset. It was our first synthesiser that we bought from my mother’s mail order catalogue, and we paid £7.76 a week for 36 weeks. It’s absolutely shit. It’s got all these presets and you got just string one, string two, brass one, brass two, voice and so on. It doesn’t matter what button you press when you play, it just goes off with a different sound and it’s just horrible sounding. It was the only one we could afford when we were kids. I know some people love the old gear. And listen: I wish I still had it because do you know how much bloody Jupiters and such things are going for on eBay now if you’re going to sell them? But I much prefer the ease and simplicity of virtual synths. And you know what? You can’t tell the difference!
– When you write music today, do you still think the album format, or do you think songs?
– When we write, we’re just writing and are just trying out ideas and seeing where each piece goes. Every song has its own individual identity. Once we’ve got a collection that we think will make an album, then we start thinking about things like the running order. The latter is really important, and I’ll be honest with you: We still think A side and B side, like it’s an LP. We also work hard on the running order. On the previous album, The Punishment of Luxury, trying to get that running order took us forever. We cut up a lot of pieces of paper with the titles and were just moving them around, just trying it out. On the new the album, it went much easier. Maybe because we had a really tight schedule to deliver it, I just sat in Paul’s studio, and I thought I would try a running order that looked ok. And we played it, and we went holy shit, that’s what we want. After moving around only two songs, we got the running order right the first time. But yeah, we still think A side and B side, but the songs are all individually created. I was concerned that maybe we didn’t have enough variety on this album. But it it’s nice, it’s balanced.
– I read in an interview you did last year that this album really came out of boredom. Is it true?
– Yeah, I imagine COVID was the same in Norway. Because to begin with, you weren’t allowed to go out. You could only go out if you had a medical emergency or to go to the shops. So literally, I was sat in my house. I felt like I was a teenager again, like when I was at home in the in the 70s. We had one television, showing three channels. And if my mother was watching something I didn’t like, I just had to go to my bedroom and write a song or paint a picture, because there was fuck all else to do. That was what it felt like. I just I went to my programming room and went: Right, OK, there is nothing to do. I’m bored of sitting in the house. I’m bored of going walking around the garden. I’ve got a computer here that’s full of ideas and half-finished songs. So, I’ve now got no excuse to be lazy. I’m going to sit down and see what I can make out of these songs. And it was fortunate that I had them there, because Paul moved house so many times during COVID. And he became a father again at the age of 61. Bless him.
I look on McCluskey with disbelief in my eyes.
– Yeah, I know! Rather him than me. But there you go. He’s got a beautiful little girl called Lily. So, all through COVID Paul only gave me two new pieces of music. It was either what I already had in my computer that he’d given me years ago, or things that I’d made myself because we couldn’t get together. We prefer to be in the same room together because we always feel that the energy is great. But this album seems to have been so successful, maybe we shouldn’t be in the same room anymore [Laughs]. Another problem with Paul is that he has a studio in his house, but he’s got a real acoustically designed studio. That’s why we mix at his place. But whenever he moved, it took him months to rebuild his studio. But this album is absolutely a COVID baby.
– There have been comments that this album is very political. Do you agree with that?
– The song Kleptocracy is obviously political. I mean, we are believers in democracy. It might not be perfect, but it’s the best opportunity we have of trying to all come to an agreement. Except these days, nobody seems to agree. Politics seems to have got so polarised by people only listening to their existing point of view, and that’s reinforced by social media. Listen, politicians have always been dodgy. But there have been a series of global politicians recently who are just flagrant narcissists who will tell you any fucking lie to get elected. And they’re dangerous Now. I don’t even have to name them. You know who I’m talking about, and you know from what I say in the song who I’m talking about.
The only person who’s named in the song is somebody McCluskey is not angry with.
– It’s Jamal Khashoggi who went into an embassy and came out a few days later in different bags. And I’m pretty upset about that. But I’m even more upset that in the six months after it happened, everybody went “whoa, shocking, terrible”. Then suddenly it all went away. And then we instead started saying: “Can we have some of your oil? And how many aeroplanes would you like to buy from us? And while you’re at it, would you like to buy up every major international sport from us?” So, I was angry, and it comes out in the song, even if the song is a really catchy happy little song. And when you’re writing an album during a global pandemic, you get songs like Anthropocene and Evolution of Species that seem to have an increased poignancy to them. So those three songs in particular were very strong and very relevant. But you know, we have been political before. A song like Enola Gay and the whole of the Dazzle Ships album was written about the Cold War. But maybe this is the first album in a long time where it’s been this obvious.
Stupid band name
– Let’s talk a little bit about the beginning. It was back in 1978, I believe. From what I’ve read, you were supposed only to do one concert. And that was it. True?
– That is correct, sir. Why do you think we have such a bloody stupid name for the band [Laughs]. Basically. Paul and I had been writing songs together in his mother’s backroom on Saturday afternoons when she was at work. We were influenced by German music and people like Brian Eno, David Bowie, Roxy Music and the Velvet Underground. All this kind of alternative music. We had no money, so we had to kind of make do with whatever we had. I had my upside-down bass guitar, which I got with the money for my 16th birthday. I’m right-handed, but the only one I could afford in the second-hand shop, the cheapest one, was a left-handed bass. So, I learned to play it upside down and I still play with my strings upside down. It’s great fun when I give my bass to a bass player, they’re like: “Wat’s going on here?1?” And Paul just made things because Paul studied electronics and he made these weird noise machines. We were very, very weird and ambient and abstract to begin with. And then we finally got a little cheesy organ and an electric piano after a few months. When we were 16, we wrote Electricity with the bass, the organ and the piano. But even our best friends thought the music was shit. We didn’t really think that seriously about going out and playing it. So, we modified the songs within a kind of art school prog band that we were in.
Then finally in 1978 when everybody else went to university, Paul and McCluskey stayed around and just went: “Right. Why don’t we at least just once do our songs our way. There’s no band. We’re just going to take recorder to do everything else and it won’t complain, and we’ll just go and do it once. Say that we can say we’ve done it.”
– So, we knocked on the door at Eric’s club. The band only exists because Eric’s club in Liverpool had this fabulous policy. On Thursday night it was local band night, and anybody could get up and do anything they wanted. And we knocked on the office door and asked. We were regulars at the club, we went there at least once a week, if not three times, because it was always great stuff going on there. And they just said: “Yeah, sure, we’ll put you on next Thursday. What are you called?” And we were like: “Oh, we thought you’d tell us to get lost. We haven’t got a name. We’ll come back to you.” So, we just looked at the weirdest name we could because it was two guys with a tape recorder playing songs our friends didn’t like. We thought it didn’t matter because it was just for one gig. And here we are, 45 years later, with the same bloody name!
15 minutes ahead of its time
– The story goes that you had you had success with the third album, Architecture and Morality, and then you did Dazzle Ships, which people say was a flop. But id did go gold in England. What is your take on that?
– We had made three albums completely on our own terms. Each one sounded different from its predecessor because our kind of mission was to always do something different, always keep trying different things. And we never thought we’d get a record contract in the first place. We built our own studio with the advance for the first record, because we absolutely assumed what we would make one album, nobody would buy it, and we’d be dropped. Then at least we’d have a studio, you know? So, we built our own studio and amazingly, the first album went gold in the UK. We had one hit off it, but then of course, the second album had Enola Gay on it, and the third album sold like over 4 million copies. It had three top five singles on in England and it was amazing.
Then it came time for the follow-up.
– We wanted to change the sound again And I’ll tell you what happened. We moved record companies because we were on a subsidiary of Virgin. We were on a little label called Dindisc. When they folded, we ended up going to the major label. And we didn’t have a relationship with them. They didn’t know anything. They just said: “How does this work?” And we said: “Right, we go to our studio, we write the songs. When we’re finished, we say to you that we want to go to this studio with that producer. You give us the money and we go away to make an album.” Since that formula had made us sell millions they went: “Yeah, OK, that sounds good to us.” So off we went. We made the record, and nobody ever came to hear the songs and nobody came to the studio. We delivered Dazzle Ships and Virgin must have gone: “What the hell is this? But ok, let’s trust them. The last album sold millions. They have hits. They know what they’re doing.”
Alas, it seems the album was just a bit too radical.
– It was just a bit too weird. I also think that because we had three hit singles on Architecture and Morality, and the last one was the biggest, they also released three singles from this one. And they thought the last one would be the biggest. So, we started with Genetic Engineering and that was the wrong choice. Then we released Telegraph and we’d already lost the momentum. And then we never even got to release the third single. I think we lost 90% of our audience. In England people did buy the album because we’ve sold hundreds of thousands. Virgin Records had a joke that said it shipped gold and it returned platinum. It was very cruel, but it was a commercial disaster. It also got a lot of bad reviews at the time because people didn’t get it. They didn’t understand why we had made this Musiqure Concrete. You see, we grew up with Kraftwerk and their album Radioactivity and that album was a mixture of songs, concrete music, sampled sounds and radio snippets. And to us it was just like, this is what we do. We experiment. We’re going to do a bit of this, a bit of that and there’ll be a couple of hit singles and everybody will be happy. Paul likes to say that we didn’t sprinkle enough sugar on it with melodies and things.
These days the album has been re-evaluated.
– Now, of course, everybody says it’s our masterpiece, don’t they? And if you listen to it now, it’s not that weird. It’s just that in 1983 it was just a bit more than 15 minutes ahead of its time. As Andy Warhol said: “Never be more than 15 minutes ahead of the fashion.” So, we were more than 15 minutes ahead.
– We turned into something we never wanted to be
– After that album, some feel your music became very mainstream. Was that a direction Virgin pressured you into going?
– Kinda. They were like: “Oh, you know the goose that lays the golden egg has just laid a bloody brick here. We need to get this band back to making hits again!” But by this stage we were now old men of 24 and 25 years old and this was our job. We all had houses, and this was how we made our money. Paul was married and frankly, we shit ourselves. We went: “Right! We better get back to having some hits.” So consciously and unconsciously we kind of dialled the experimental music down and just tried to write songs and hope we had some hits. And of course, the next album that came out was Junk Culture and it had three hit singles on it. So, everything was good again.
But he admits that the band got onto a bit of a treadmill.
– If I’m honest now and look back I think we kind of turned into the type of band that we never wanted to be where we were chasing hits and chasing a breakthrough in America again and again. Paul always says, we tried to break America, but America broke us. We lost so much money touring round and round and round, that by the time we actually were successful over there, we were just tired and fed up. We got to the end of a big tour with Depeche Mode in 1988. They had made enough money to retire. When we got home, our manager said that we owed our record company a million pounds. And we were like: ”But we’ve sold millions of records!” He replied: “One, you signed a shitty deal when you were 19. Two, you’ve been spending more money trying to break America than you’ve been earning. So, if you don’t release a Best of-album now, you’re bankrupt.”
The Best of OMD was therefore released the same year.
– And that, sold millions and paid off the debt. But yeah, the royalties were terrible. We had an absolutely, nearly criminal record contract that we signed when we were 19. So never let people tell you that Richard Branson is a nice, generous guy. He’s a ruthless entrepreneurial fucker. After this, the band split up because we had no money and we were fed up and sick of it all.
– It’s funny you should say that about Richard Branson, because a couple of years ago I interviewed Mike Oldfield, and he said a lot about Virgin’s business practise.
– Listen, Virgin Records was built on Mike Oldfield. Without him there would be no Virgin Records. And it’s just sad that when you’re a kid and somebody says, “We’re going to give you a record contract”, you just go: “Yeah, where do I sign?” And our lawyer was terrible since he let us sign it. He apologised to me later and said: “Can I have that in writing?” And he said: “No, sorry, you’ll sue me. And we would have. I’ll give you an example: Enola Gay sold 5 million copies Let’s say it cost a pound to buy. We were on 6% royalty, so we were getting 6 pennies. Except we didn’t get 6 pennies because most of the sales were outside of the UK. We were on a 2/3 royalty because they claimed it cost them money to collect the royalties from abroad. So, we were on 4 pence. The producer had negotiated a 3% deal, so he got 3 pence, and we got 1 penny out of which we had to pay back all the recording costs, all of the advances, any tour support, any equipment we bought and the cost of the video. So, you can see why we didn’t have very much.
An orchestra alone
– After breaking up in 89, you suddenly you returned alone as OMD in 1991 by releasing the album Sugar Tax. What made you decide to do that and go at it alone?
– A bit of a long story, but I thought the band was over. And then Paul and the two other members, Malcolm and Martin, came to me and said there was still value in the name and that they wanted to carry on as OMD. I went to Virgin and asked if they could do this. And, Virgin said: “We still have the contractual right to release songs by the band, but you’re the lead singer. We would prefer if you took on the name.” I hadn’t thought about that. Virgin asked me to go and write some songs and come back to them. So, three months later I went back with some songs, and they said: “Listen, we prefer your songs, why don’t you carry on?” Then I had to negotiate with Paul to buy the name, which was a very strange thing.
And hen the lawyers got involved.
– Once lawyers get involved, it becomes a little bit more toxic. So, there was a period where it was a bit difficult between us. But I decided to carry on OMD on my own. To begin with I was just hiding behind the corporate identity. If you look at the Sugar Tax album, I don’t think my name is mentioned anywhere on it.
– After two albums you decided to pack it in by 1996. Why?
– I’d lost my direction again. It was quite difficult at the height of Britpop and grunge to be considered as being past your sell by date. This was before we recognised, we were in the postmodern era… By the way, how old are you?
– I’m 51.
– OK, you’re a baby, but you’re still old enough to remember when we went: “This is new, and this is old. And we only like what’s new.” Now nothing is new, therefore nothing is old. All popular culture is eating its own history. So now in the postmodern era, you can be considered iconic within your genre. And bless people, that’s what they say about us. Thank you! We’re still allowed to do it. People want to hear your classics and people want to, if you can still write songs, hear your new stuff. Often, they go: “It’s new OMD, but it has all the classic elements!” So now we’re in a great place, we’re allowed to do it. But back in the mid-90s I was shocked because electronic and experimental music that had once thought of as the future, was now passé. Suddenly, in the mid-90s, the future sounded like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Cream. I didn’t realise we were in the postmodern era, and it was going round in a big circle.
– I see what you mean. My son is 23 and I see it with him and his friends. They are not bound by any genres, and it doesn’t matter which decade it was made in. They just like or they don’t like.
– Yeah. There aren’t musical tribes where you stick to just one genre. You can appreciate everything. When I was young, music was one of the ways you defined who you were. You know like: “I have this haircut; I wear these clothes and I listen to this music. You have that haircut; you wear those clothes, and you listen to that music. I’m cool. You’re not.” You know, it was tribal. It’s not anymore, really.
Kraftwerk created a girl band
– A friend of mine, who is a songwriter, went to Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, and I mentioned OMD to him once, and he said: “I think that guy came and gave a lecture to us about song writing once”.
– I did! I used to give master classes there. But I think I pissed them off, because I remember one guy saying to me: “I’ve been playing guitar since I was six years old. I practise for six hours a day. How good do I have to be to get a record contract?” And I said: “You’re probably too good to get a record contract.” He didn’t understand, so I said: “Nobody cares about virtuoso musicians outside of classical music or jazz music. Nobody cares how fast you are, how many notes you can do. Nobody gives a shit What people want is a melody played with one finger. [Sings]: ‘Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away’. That’s what people want. So, stop practising and just write a really simple tune that your granny can sing in the bath.” And I don’t think they wanted to hear that because all these kids were great musicians, and they were like: “This is not what I thought I was going to get here at LIPA.”
– You also started being a behind the scenes man for a while with the band Atomic Kitten. How did that come about?
– In hindsight, it was shit, because I would have preferred to be my own band. I just thought that: “I’m in my mid-30s and that’s it. I’ve got to retire now. It’s over and done! It’s just that I was conceited enough to think I could still write songs. It was the vehicle for the songs that was considered out of date. And when I tell people the following story, they never believe me, but it’s absolutely true. Kraftwerk invented Atomic Kitten. I shall explain if you haven’t heard the story: I became friends in the 90s with Karl Bartos from Kraftwerk and I was talking to him after OMD finished. I had co-written some tracks with him on the Universal album. That was the last album we made in the 90s. And I said: “Listen, I still think I can write good songs. I just want to change the vehicle.”
Bartos then had the following advice:
– He said: “Whatever you do, don’t just give them to your publisher, because you’ll just be a song writing whore, and when somebody comes and want one of your songs, they will want to change it. Or they will ask you to change the key, the words, or the speed and so on.”
He then suggested that McCluskey create his own band.
– And I asked him what sort of band and then he asked me what the best manufactured pop groups are. And I immediately thought of girl bands. Three-piece girl bands, to be exact. From The Supremes to the Shangri Las, right up to Bananarama. I said girls because girls must have good songs. Boy bands get away with murder because their girl fans have the posters on the bedroom wall, and they’ll listen to absolutely tuneless shit. It’s true, because love is not only blind, but love is also deaf. I wanted a girl band and so Karl Bartos said.: “Then create a three-piece girl band.” Kraftwerk therefore invented Atomic Kitten.
– And that was a big success, wasn’t it?
– Not at first. It started out with difficulty. We got them signed and the first few singles were not the big success that we’d anticipated, and they got dropped. The boss of the record company said to the label manager: “Listen, we’ve spent like 2 million on this. The album charted at #37. You’re not spending any more money on it. Drop it.” And they got dropped. Then we accidentally bluffed them into keeping the band going, because we went in there and said: “OK, you still owe us 50 000 pounds, because you haven’t given us the second half of the advance for delivering the album. Why don’t you keep the 50,000 and we will take back the catalogue. Because we’re going to release the song Whole Again as a single ourselves. The record label guy then went to the boss of Virgin and said: “I can’t believe this; they don’t want the money we owe them. They’re going to try and release it on their own. They’ve must have another label and another deal. Please don’t let them go because we’ve spent all this money and somebody else could have a hit. Please, please, please let me just release one more single. Let me release Whole Again.”
The boss agreed but didn’t give them a budget.
– All the videos cost like £250,000. He said: “You’ve got 25,000 for this. No posters. because we’re not paying for anything. Just take it to radio and see what happens. Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks and when it doesn’t, drop them. So Whole Again came out with a really cheap video and there were no posters, no publicity, no adverts. It was played on the radio and went straight to #1 the first week. All of a sudden, they said they were going to repackage the album. And of course, Kerry [Katona] had left the band at that stage as well. So, we had to get another girl in called Jenny and we had to rerecord all of Kerry’s vocals with her.
Atomic Kitten became massive. When work started on the next album, problems appeared.
– I went in there with new songs for the next album and the record company guy didn’t like them. Remember, I created the band. It was my vision. I had written Whole Again and he just went: “We have a formula”. I went: “A formula?” And he replied: “We have a formula. I want you to just write me Whole Again, Whole Again, and more fucking Whole Again”.
– I went: “But we need to evolve and grow with the audience.” He continued demanding another Whole Again and made it clear that if I didn’t give that to him, he would get somebody else who would. And that’s what happened. We got our contract torn up and everything they released after I left was either a cover version or sounded like Wole Again. And unsurprisingly, their third album was a disaster. And they got dropped. The record company walked them down to the end. The record companies had no idea. Every record had to be taken to a focus group to hear what they had to say about it. But we were just doing what we wanted to do. Whole Again was a crazy idea for a song. But suddenly it becomes number one and then everything has to sound like that. So, I got my contract torn up and I couldn’t talk to the girls for four years. It was ugly and fucking horrible. I hated it.
By now we were in the mid-00s, and people started to say they would like to see OMD live again.
– It got us thinking that we could sell tickets again, so finally by 2006, we got back together again, and it’s been great ever since. And you know what’s been amazing? It was fun to play live again, but quite quickly Paul and I went: “This is fun, but are we now just a tribute band to ourselves?” We just played our old hits over and over. So, we dared to do the stupid thing which was to release new music. And the one thing we said was that we would never release new music unless we truly believed it was great. And if you give yourself enough time and you are ruthless and honest with yourself, you can be quite good at editing your own music and go: “Yeah, this is good but that doesn’t work” or “I thought that this sounded great last week, but it doesn’t work now. Let’s not do that one or change it.” It might sound big headed, but I’m very, very happy with what we’ve done since we got back together. I think we’ve released some incredible music. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, and it doesn’t get released until it’s ready. People go: “Why did it take six years for Bauhaus Staricase?” And the answer is: Because it took six years!” Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been as good as it is. Paul likes to say we don’t release an album because we want a new logo on the tour. T-shirt [Laughs].
– The last time I saw you in Oslo was about five years ago, I think. And then it was just you and Paul on stage.
– You see, because we hadn’t really been that big in Scandinavia, promoters weren’t offering us any money. They go: “I’m not going to offer them more than €10,000.” You can’t tour with a full band on a truck and a bus and all the crew on €10,000 a day. You know, you can’t do it. So, Paul and I decided to kind of cut down to a two piece and go in with a small production and a kind of a small crew and just see what we could do. And so that kind of reopened the door for us there. My manager and my agent still don’t understand why we keep going to Scandinavia. We are losing money on the gigs we’re playing to start the tour. But I said: “We went in there to try and get back into the market. Let’s not stop now. Otherwise, the effort was wasted. We’re going back!” And it should be good fun.
He says this time it’s the full band that’s coming.
– And if Rockefeller had more space, you’d see the whole production with all the other LED screens. I think we can only hang one because there’s not enough weight on the trusses in the venue. But it’s still going to be our production, it’s the full band and we have a great support band as well. So, get there early!
– You’ve mentioned Kraftwerk several times today. And there’s one question I just must ask you. Is it true that Electricity is just a speeded-up version of their song Radioactivity?
– When I got to know Karl Bartos, I went to, Düsseldorf and I was writing with him in his studio. We were invited to Wolfgang Flür’s apartment, and I met Emil Schultz who used to write some of their lyrics and do their artwork. So, I was there with the three of them and Wolfgang had a gold record of the song Radioactivity, because that had been a massive hit in France. They were in the kitchen and I was in the hallway and I was just looking. I went: “Ooohhh, Radioactivity. Man, we love that song. You know, Electricity is basically just an English speeded-up punk version of Radioactivity. And they all went: ‘We know!’” I hadn’t realised it was that obvious. But you know, nobody works in a vacuum. We all stand on the shoulders of giants!