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OMD on art, their storied past, & dark themes


With their 3rd release since reforming in 2006, and 13th overall, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark are still finding new sounds and new ways to write. The Punishment of Luxury draws from inspired art pieces reflecting the news surrounding us, with a sound that at once nods to their storied past while creating something entirely new. Paul Humphreys grabbed some phone time with Kyle Meredith to shed some light on the LP's songs and how they approach their most famous cuts.

Listen to the interview above (or read below) and then check out the title track!

Kyle Meredith: I read in the press release of you all talking about that there's new territory this time around, and I feel like that's probably a good starting question here, is what exactly were you stepping out into that you hadn't done before with this album?

Paul Humphreys: It's very hard to kind of, particularly a band who've been going for, it's going to be 40 years next year, that the band’s been going for. It's very hard to keep going forward and finding new areas that we haven't covered, but it's the kind of OMD remit to try to never repeat ourselves, in some ways. There will always be the natural signature that Andy and I have for our songs. You can't divorce the way I write keyboard melodies and the way Andy sings. The package in which you put those songs, sonically, we tried to vary throughout all our records. Particularly with The Punishment of Luxury, our new album. We're tried to marry new sounds, modern sounds, modern recording techniques, modern ways to do things, with our natural OMD way of doing things. We've also ... Last year we did a show playing the whole of Dazzle Ships and the whole of Architecture and Morality at the Royal Albert Hall in London. There were some songs for Dazzle Ships that we hadn't ever played before, so I had to find all the sounds and deconstruct them and rebuild them. In doing that, I realized how simple some of those early songs were. Some of those songs, there's only five instruments in the whole song. It struck me that we should try to go back to a more simplistic way of doing things, so I tried to put that into the new OMD album, as well.

Kyle Meredith: It's very easy to start overthinking things.

Paul Humphreys: Exactly. Particularly with the modern technology now. We call it the tyranny of choice, because you've got so many different synthesizers with so many different sounds they can make. Whatever you can imagine, you've got a machine that can make that sound. You've got all of these choices in front of you. You can just end up getting lost in your choices. That was another thing for this album, it's like in the same way a painter chooses a pallet of colors before he starts. We did that with this to remove the masses of endless choices that's in front of you, so that you can still concentrate on writing the song rather than getting completely immersed and lost in all the potential choices that you can have in front of you. You lose sight of what you're trying to do.

Kyle Meredith: You're talking about that balancing act. That’s got to be a little bit rough. The balancing act of acknowledging your past while still playing for the present. Still going somewhere new. Did you find any moments on this record where you're like, "You know what? No. That's a little bit too much nostalgia for that moment. Let's brush that aside."

Paul Humphreys: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Because, you can slip into old ways of doing things and comfortable ways of doing things. But, we've always wanted to step out of our comfort zone, in terms of our songwriting, and try to go places that scare us a little bit, or where we're not comfortable. There's a song called As We Open, So We Close on the album. It's a really important track for the album, I think, because, as we did in the '70s, we've been listening to modern German music, and there's an artist called Atom TM. He did an album two years ago. He's, basically, there's a new movement of electronic music called Glitch. It's, basically, you make music out of the things you would normally discard, like clicks, and pops, and bleeps and stuff. All of those things you try to make music out of. It's very, very hard. So many bands can't do it. There's so much rubbish of Glitch out there, because you go, "Okay, it's a great idea, but do I want to listen to it again? Probably no." Whereas, Atom TM found a way to marry that with good tunes. We thought, "Right, maybe we can do that." So, As We Open, So We Close, we used all these crazy sounds that you would throw away, but made a really beautiful song out of it.

Kyle Meredith: 40 years into it and you guys are finding new ways to do that. That's the reason why we've been fans through the whole time. Obviously, got big hits that we love hearing in the concerts, but as a fan...

Paul Humphreys: We're not one of these bands that are embarrassed by our former hits and our former glories, if you like. We embrace our back catalog. We're very proud of our back catalog. We don't shy away from playing it. We also play with other retro festivals in Europe where we just play our old hits. Just because it's fun and we love these songs. These songs have served us very well. These songs, they're like time capsules. They're like hooks to hang memories on of your past, you know? When I go and see Kraftwerk recently, and some of those songs they play, I close my eyes, and I'm back in my mom's back room in 1974, you know? That's an important thing. We like to provide that for our audiences, as well, so we don't mind playing the back catalog. It's also important for us to keep feeling like we're moving forwards.

Kyle Meredith: I honestly do mean this, if I didn't know your history and I had just heard these songs before, I would be completely interested in what you're doing. That's the most important thing to me. These songs, they are immediate. I don't want to use the word relevant, because it sounds so business and corporate-like, but ...

Paul Humphreys: Thank you. I do appreciate the sentiment.

Kyle Meredith: The paintings that go along with the song titles, do the paintings influence the actual songs, or do you work it in reverse?

Paul Humphreys: Yeah, we reverse engineer it, really. Basically, we got the title of the album, The Punishment of Luxury, from a painting that's been in the Walker Art Gallery, which Andy's been a fan of. I didn't see until a few years ago. Andy kept seeing this painting in the Walker Art Gallery, because he loves to go into the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. I don't live in Liverpool anymore. He's kept seeing it, and it's called The Punishment of Luxury, the painting. It was originally called The Punishment of Lust. We've just appropriated the title, not the painting's meaning, really. Because, it's women floating in purgatory. It's a really misogynist painting, really. It's women floating in purgatory because they don't just want to be in the kitchen or make babies. The song is definitely not about that. We just took the title, The Punishment of Luxury, because we thought it's a kind of a modern ... If you just look at those words, it's kind of a modern topic, you know? We're in these times where corporations and marketing people are just feeding us and feeding in this frenzy of advertising of things that we actually don't need, but they make us think that we need them. It's like you're not happy unless you have the latest Nikes or a 3D TV isn't good enough now. You need 4K, and you won't be happy until you get one, you know? These are all the punishments of luxury, kind of like first world problems, if you like.

Kyle Meredith: I was thinking about that word luxury, and the era that it invokes beyond the present. There's something about that word that's associated with the Decadent '80s." Which I found it interesting, because there's your beginnings in the '80s, and here we are again and it all makes sense, unfortunately, again. Here we are in that same spot for a different reason.

Paul Humphreys: Yes, exactly. You can tie it back to the '80s excesses to now, really. I think people in the Western world are actually much, much better off than ... They're, obviously, the exceptions, but generally we're better off in the Western world than we were 50 years ago. But, we seem to be nowhere near as happy, because we keep ... We're in this cycle of needing more and more and more, when actually, we lose sight of the things that... We don't need all of that stuff to make us happy.

Kyle Meredith: I gotta tell you, that first single, and I won't try to screw up the French pronunciation of-

Paul Humphreys: La Mitrailleuse.

Kyle Meredith: Machine gun is what it means, right?

Paul Humphreys: Yes, exactly. That was another painting. It was a painting of the First World War that we saw in a gallery. We've been working with this animator called Henning Lederer. He did a couple of videos on the last album, the English Electric album, as well. He's basically an animator. We told him about the painting, and we said, "Look, we'd love to animate this and do it to a soundtrack to the painting." Because basically, the First World War was the first proper mechanized war ever, where machines were a big part of the killing of people. We just wanted to write a song about it, really, because the painting was so powerful.

Kyle Meredith: Having that gunfire right off the bat, that's the first thing we hear from this record. That's a hell of an album announcement.

Paul Humphreys: Yeah. It wasn't the single. It was just a teaser, just to confuse people, as well, really. We like to do something different, you know?

Kyle Meredith: That's definitely an attention getter. It's not hard to figure out the relation to what's going on out there, but it's a bold move. I played it on the air anyway. It was fun to do.

Paul Humphreys: Did you? You played it on the air?

Kyle Meredith: Oh, of course I did.

Paul Humphreys: You're brave. You are very brave. Thank you for doing that.

Kyle Meredith: All the way until the very last gunfire at the very end.

Paul Humphreys: Really?

Kyle Meredith: That's the thing, though. It's so cool what you guys did with that, because it's a scary song. It's a scary song because of what it's reflecting. The compliment on all of this is to say that turning that into such a rhythmic track almost takes the fear away, you know?

Paul Humphreys: There is a juxtaposition between this, there's all this choral beauty behind, and then all of these scary guns and cannons, you know? There's this angelic vocal behind to try to keep you calm amongst all that frightening gunfire.

Kyle Meredith: It's almost ends up like a drum line.

Paul Humphreys: Well, we did it in a very rhythmic way to make it feel like it's a rhythm, but still keep the feeling that you're actually in a battle. It took us ages. It took absolutely ages to do. But also, it's another example of how, wherever we are, we're switched on to things in art galleries or watching documentaries or YouTube or whatever. We're just always switched on and tried to bring things that we are interested in into the band and into our songwriting. You know how on the side of a painting, there'll be a little description of the painting? It did say, "Soldiers bending their bodies to the will of the machine." We went, "Ah, we'll have that," because that's the lyric, basically.

Kyle Meredith: I love it. I love these tracks. I cannot wait to hear the rest it. I'm so happy that you guys are doing what you're doing.

Paul Humphreys: The thing is, we don't have to be doing OMD anymore. It's not like we have to do it for the money. We do it because we love being in OMD. We feel that we've still got something left to say, so we feel like, as long as we continue to still have things to say, the band will continue.

Kyle is the WFPK Music Director. Email Kyle at kmeredith@lpm.org

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