It’s been a few interesting months since I last posted here, to say the least. I’m choosing to focus on the positives. I can’t remember who it was who first said to me, “God only gives us what we can handle.” That’s the explanation some people give on why some of us have been “blessed” with infirmities, illnesses, and other trials in our lives, while other people appear to have gotten away scot-free, unfettered by the things that have brought the rest of us afflicted so many tears. At the time I was given this religious chestnut, I was a convinced atheist.
Even if you’re not religious, I think you can still apply this as true somewhere in your own life. Be honest. There must be at least a few things that have happened to you over the years that seem…a bit too weird and too odd to simply be coincidental. Within 4 days in September, I saw two artists from Merseyside, both who use capital letters in their names: OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and BANNERS. That, in itself, isn’t so strange for me, since I like a whole lot of English and Northern bands. Then things took an interesting turn…
I’d been working on something for a few weeks through normal press channels. That is, normal for someone who had run an internationally-read music Web site for nearly a decade. Things had stalled, and it looks like I was going nowhere fast. I wracked my brain about how else I could take the bull by the horns and do something that might change the situation for the better. I took a chance, not at the high school dance, but at the merch desk of the OMD show. I left the venue and tried to put it out of my head. I’d exhausted all the ideas I had. If nothing came of it, that was okay. The important thing was that I tried.
A common question that people have asked me over the years is, “How did you land that interview with Artist X?” This is how it happens most of the time. As the writer or editor, you put in a request, and then you wait, sometimes for a long time. It is a combination of behind the scenes machinations and sheer luck as to whether your request is granted. Annoyingly, sometimes you think you’ve bagged a fantastic interview and you spend an inordinate time preparing for it, only to be cancelled on because of the dreaded unforeseen circumstances. Neil Hannon and Tim Rice-Oxley, I’m still waiting…
Last month, I was given the wonderful opportunity to interview OMD cofounder Andy McCluskey. To call the band electronic and synth pioneers of the late ’70s and ’80s is describing their influence mildly. In the way that acknowledging pop in 2019 would have been very different if the Beatles had never existed, the electronic artists hotting up the charts these days owe OMD and the acts who followed them a great debt. I’m a fan of electronic music running the gamut from the experimental to the overtly, commercially poppy, so this was a Big Thing Indeed.
OMD is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, so the focus of my interview with Andy was the special anniversary box set the band released last month. When a band of their kind of stature reaches a major milestone like this, there is an incredible amount of history, experiences, and music that can be revisited. Having been given most of the box set’s contents ahead time so that I could do the appropriate research for my interview, I was impressed by what Andy and Paul Humphreys decided to include. Instead of taking the far easier route to produce something quickly to sell their fans, they chose to curate and offer up a lot of cool stuff in a massive, beautiful package. By doing this, it shows how much OMD respect the nerdy electronic music fans who make up their core fan base. “Nerdy” is not derogatory. When music is important to you, you pay attention to detail.
Needless to say, Andy has done a lot of interviews over the years, even surprising me in 2013 in answering the TGTF Quickfire Questions. So you can imagine it was quite daunting to put together a list of questions that would let him shine and in a different way. One of the greatest compliments I got years ago following an interview in Denmark was “that was great, it was like talking to a therapist.” While Andy didn’t phrase it quite in that manner (ha!), he did appreciate the preparation I did, and I think you can read in the extended feature I developed that he felt comfortable in being candid with me about their career. Mission accomplished.
Part 1: I get Andy’s overview of the box set, a studio story about baking, and his thoughts on the immensely interesting unreleased tracks disc. I also got an unexpected singing lesson!
Part 2: Andy considers the two full audio recordings (1983 vs. 2011) included in the box set, how special live performances are to him, and their crazy first appearance on Top of the Pops. He also lets me in on the early lives of “Pandora’s Box” and “Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc).”
Part 3: Andy talks about how the band gained maturity in their live performances in the ’80s and the singles collection and the genesis of 40th single “Don’t Go.” He also considers what the 20-year old version of Andy McCluskey might be thinking about of all of this. Which is more funny now, as his son dressed up as him at 19-20 for Halloween.