Andy McCluskey, lead singer and bass guitarist with English electronic band, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, chats with Kevin Cooper about Kraftwerk, cassette tapes, their latest album The Punishment Of Luxury and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Andy McCluskey is the lead singer and bass guitarist with English electronic band, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Formed in 1978, the band was founded by McCluskey and Paul Humphreys and now have long serving additional members Martin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw at the helm

OMD released their influential debut single Electricity in 1979, and they gained popularity throughout Europe with their 1980 anti-war song, Enola Gay. The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album, Architecture & Morality, and its three singles, all of which were international hits.

With the band earning acclaim for their adventurous recordings, which combined their sonic experimentation with digital samplers, they released Dazzle Ships in 1983 and Junk Culture in 1984. A year after the release of The Best of OMD in 1988, creative differences rendered McCluskey the only remaining member of the band as Humphreys formed spin off band, The Listening Pool. OMD returned with a new line up and explored the dance-pop genre. Album Sugar Tax was released in 1991 and its initial singles were sizable hits in Europe.

By the mid 90s however, electronic music had been supplanted by alternative rock and both OMD and The Listening Pool disbanded in 1996. McCluskey went on to write multiple hits for girl group Atomic Kitten, while Humphreys performed as half of the duo Onetwo.

In 2006, the outfit reformed with Humphreys back in the fold and re-established themselves as a chart act in Europe. They went on to release three more albums, the last one this year, The Punishment Of Luxury.

Whilst getting ready to tour the UK, McCluskey took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Andy how are you?

I’m very well thank you Kevin how are you today?

I have to say that all is good thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure and as always you are more than welcome.

I have been looking and it wasn’t that long since we last spoke, in fact it was the 25th May.

I know there is no escape is there (laughter).

Just how is life treating you at this moment in time on this cold, damp winter’s morning?

Well I hate to tell you this but it is quite pleasant up here on Merseyside (laughter). Life at the moment is good; it’s a bit hectic because you forget just how busy you are around the time both leading up to and also shortly after the release of a new album together with the forthcoming tour, but at the moment it is all going in the right direction.

The last time that we spoke you mentioned that you were going to try to get to see Kraftwerk here in the UK. Did you manage to do that?

Yes I did, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to see them but I managed to catch them at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

I know that you are a massive Kraftwerk fan but, being totally honest, what did you think?

Do you know what, I finally miss the humanity on stage. The films are good, the music is good but the mix is bad, and I just felt that you might as well be going to the movies to watch a film. There is absolutely no human contact on the stage. I appreciate that is what Ralf (Hütter) is trying to achieve but for me it is all just missing something slightly. However, I think that the people who have never seen Kraftwerk before were probably blown away by the 3D and the fact that it is all so different to any other gig that you will ever go to. Don’t get me wrong, it is always great to hear some of the tunes that changed my life, but I hate to say it, I was slightly disappointed.

I have to be honest with you and say that the whole experience left me feeling cold. I personally feel that if you take the 3D aspect out of the equation then I would have been bored after twenty minutes.

I totally agree.

Is that me being a little too harsh?

No not at all, I think that they are trying to be something different and they are certainly achieving that but I think that I am now beginning to miss the point. Somebody asked me if I could wish for one band to reform who would it be and I said that it would have to be the four guys in Kraftwerk up there back on stage once again with Ralf, Florian (Schneider), Karl (Bartos) and Wolfgang (Flür).

Well I have to tell you that the whole thing was awful to try and photograph (laughter).

(Laughter) I bet it was (laughter). What was amazing though was that I had everybody and their dog saying to me “oh by the way, can you get me tickets for Kraftwerk” and I was like ‘you are never a Kraftwerk fan’ and they said “no but I feel that I need to see them” (laughter). In that respect Ralf has actually managed to do something right. In the last ten years he has raised the bands profile to the point where people feel that they need to see the gig because it is now some sort of cultural experience.

People ask me what it was like and the best way that I can sum it all up is by saying that it was an event rather than a concert.

Yes it was, but I do have to say that they are still more interesting than most other bands and you cannot take it away from they; they are the most influential band in modern pop music.

I would have to totally agree with you on that. Anyway moving on, we should speak about OMD. You recently played the Flashpoint Festival at Rockingham, but the plug was pulled on the Flashback Festival here in Nottinghamshire. How was Flashpoint?

To be honest with you Flashpoint was a great day together with a great crowd, although I have to say that it was noticeable that it wasn’t massively attended. And then two days after we played Flashpoint we heard that the Flashback Festival had been pulled and it was a real shame because we were very much looking forward to it. Do you have any idea as to why?

The organisers moved location last year and did not allow festival goers to take any food or drink into the site with them. That really did hit ticket sales last year and after they adopted the same approach this year, people simply voted with their feet and didn’t buy tickets.

Really, is that the reason? That all begins to make perfect sense now. Being totally honest with you Paul (Humphreys) and myself love playing at these open air festivals but let’s face it, if you go with a couple of friends or a family and you are not allowed to take any food or drink into the site with you, then if you are being forced into buying food and drink all day long from the outlets at the venue then it pretty soon becomes very expensive.

I have to ask you, did you manage to get to see Steve Harley?

(Laughter) no I bloody well didn’t. The reason being having driven down to the site the night before and having had to get up at six thirty in the morning in order to do a sound check before people started coming in to the site, nobody would then come back to the venue with me to see Steve (laughter). I couldn’t persuade the rest of the band to go with me (laughter). All that I will say is that democracy stinks sometimes (laughter).

Now I suppose that we should finally speak about the new album The Punishment Of Luxury shouldn’t we (laughter).

Yes I think we should (laughter).

Well what can I say, I have been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I love it.

Thank you for that; we worked very hard on this album and it has taken us a long time to finally get it out there. We wanted to make sure that it was good from top to bottom.

Sitting here listening to the album at home, it surrounds you, it engulfs you; the production on the album is perfect.

Thank you very much, that is truly great to hear. That is really cool. I suppose that we are old school; we want to take people on a journey with an album that has got a variety of sounds, ideas and feelings so by the time that you get to the end of it you feel like replete and it is not just an album that has got three hit singles and the rest of the songs simply were not good enough to be singles (laughter).

So what is the punishment of luxury?

Surely you have been punished by luxury in the past (laughter). Or are you just denying all knowledge of the video being in existence (laughter).

As a nod of respect to our friends over the pond I exercise my right to stand on the Fifth Amendment (laughter).

Okay, well listen, we have actually appropriated the title from a painting that is in the Walker Art Gallery called The Punishment Of Luxury. It was originally called The Punishment Of Lust but the rather squeamish Victorians thought that was a little too much. However, we are not using the original meaning because actually the painting is ‘bad mothers’ in purgatory for wanting more than just life in the kitchen, nursery or the bedroom. It is a misogynous painting and we are not, so our meaning is that essentially most people in the western world are materially better off than ever before and yet they are unhappy because we have replaced the imagined order of religion and royal decree with the brainwashing of consumerism to the point where we don’t have to spend all day worrying if there is food on the table for the kids, do they have a roof over their heads, will there be war and pestilence tomorrow. We have got time now to sit there and worry about ‘is my TV big enough’ or ‘have I got the latest 4K TV’ or ‘what does my car say about me’ or ‘how many likes do I have on Facebook’ and even to the point of thinking ‘should my wife be slimmer’ (laughter). We simply sit and think about all of this fucking utter nonsense (laughter).

They say that statically crimes involving burglaries are up. I wonder why; well you only have to look on Facebook and see people broadcasting to the masses ‘well that’s my last post for two weeks, we are going to Spain and the house will be unoccupied for the duration. Please do come along and help yourselves to my possessions’ (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) that’s absolutely true, and then they wonder why it has happened to them.

I know the answer from the tone of your voice but I will ask you the question, are you personally happy with the album?

Yes I am and the great thing these days is that we do this by ourselves, for ourselves, we take our time and it is ready when it is ready. There is no management, record company or touring agent saying “hurry up, hurry up”, when it is ready then it is ready. That means that we have the time to edit, to adjust, to delete things that we don’t think are good enough, to rewrite stuff, so yes, we are both very happy with it. And so far your response echoes some of the other feedback that we have been receiving which is that it is a strong album. So yes we are happy with it.

Can you say “that’s it” and walk away from it or are you a meddler and can’t stop fiddling with the album?

That’s interesting because Paul and I are both fiddlers but in different ways. Paul noodles round and round in circles worrying about the tiny details whilst I worry about the big picture. That is the difference between us. I’m called the butcher and he is called surgeon (laughter). I paint the big picture with bold sweeping strokes but the details are a bit rough and ready whereas Paul likes to fine tune the details and stitching it all back together seamlessly. So between the two of us I create the big picture and then Paul tightens everything down to make it sound right, feel right and gets everything tuned so that there are no crackles, pops or bangs in there due to bad editing by me (laughter).

Are you now chomping at the bit to be in a position where you are able to play the new songs to the fans live?

Yes we are, we really can’t wait. Let me just say that the people who have already heard the tracks that we have teased them with I think are going to be in for a very happy journey. The wonderful thing is that I think that the last two albums, History Of Modern which we released in 2010 and English Electric from 2013 people are now saying that they are right up there with the first four albums that we released which was when we were full of ideas, trying to do different things, still being musical and walking that tightrope. Of course the sad thing is that it means that all of the stuff that we have done in the intervening thirty odd years was apparently shit (laughter).

I love the title track and personally feel that it draws you into the rest of the album. It takes you on a journey of discovery where you are constantly thinking ‘what’s next’.

Thank you, I am so pleased to hear that you think that. The sequencing of the tracks is always very important to get right and I think that Punishment Of Luxury starts quite aggressively but then the melody comes in and you automatically think ‘ah it’s OMD everything is okay’.

On the subject of melody, when you are writing is it lyrics or melody first?

For me it is music first, it is usually the backing track first as it usually comes from a rather strange idea that I have had (laughter). For me to get interested and inspired I have to come up with an interesting idea; ‘what happens if we sound like this’ or ‘what happens if we use this sound’ or ‘what if we use this sample’. At the same time I collect a book of ideas of things that I would like to write about and then at some point you hope that you have got a piece of music that you think ‘I wonder if I could sing about this on here’ and so you try it out. And let me tell you that if it works that really is a eureka moment.

So for me it is always music first, sort of backing track first, then melody and lyrics on the top which of course is funny because the things that most people remember is the lyrics and the melody but they are the last things which go on.

Do you personally have a favourite track on the album?

(Laughter) actually no because each track is so different and each one I think is pretty much perfectly formed in the way that it was supposed to be. Therefore I cannot pick a favourite track as I feel that they are all really strong in their own right.

You released the Kraftwerkian Isotype from the album and the fans went wild about it. Were you happy with their reaction?

Yes I was, I was very happy with the response. Again it resonated with people who like what we do because it had gorgeous melodies; it had an interesting lyrical idea and it had a good lyrical tune as well. That is what happens when we get the balance right. We manage to be interesting not only on an intellectual level together but also on a musical level too. I have to tell you that Isotype was an interesting journey. It was originally intended by me to be one of the short, two minute esoteric songs which just had weird noise and spoken text but then Paul heard it and said “oh my god, this is great, can I write a melody on it” and I said “yes sure”. Paul then wrote a melody on it and I thought ‘oh bugger that melody is so good, I am now going to have to turn that into a full-blown song. What the hell I am going to sing about, Isotype’ (laughter). So that then became a challenge. So it went from two minutes long to six minutes and ten seconds.

The last time that we spoke you told me that with every album you try to challenge yourselves. Was that true with The Punishment Of Luxury?

Yes it was and yes it is; we are always trying to challenge ourselves. We like to try, if we can, not to repeat ourselves. That is why the album is full of songs again that are about things that perhaps most other bands wouldn’t write about. When they are things that are universal human experiences like love, which is the most powerful feeling in the world, we try not to write in a way that is clichéd or you have heard a million times before.

You have released The Punishment Of Luxury on cassette so I will now ask you a one word question, why? (laughter).

(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean but I have to say in our defence, there is demand would you believe (laughter). To be honest I think that the demand has come from the elitist collectors who want the ‘black vinyl, red vinyl, yellow vinyl, the extended CD, the box set, and just what else can you give me’ how about a cassette ‘yes sure’ (laughter).

I am amazed at just how many bands are releasing their material on cassette because I honestly didn’t realise just how many people still had a cassette player at home.

As you know vinyl has been growing which has been commented on over the last few years but being totally honest the increase in demand for cassettes really did take me by surprise I have to say.

You will be once again playing here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on Monday 6th November, are you looking forward to that?

We are really excited about getting back out on tour and in particular playing down there in Nottingham again. We really do love playing at the Royal Concert Hall and I love the city. I think that it is a great place to spend some time. So we are really looking forward to it. The good thing is that the gig has already sold two thirds of the tickets and that is despite us not really having advertised it that much, so that really is a good feeling. That is two thirds sold at this moment in simply time through social media so the ticket sales are currently looking pretty good.

And just how many of the new songs will make it onto the set list for the tour?

I’m not quite sure as yet just how many but a few will because we believe that they are strong enough and good enough to include. At this moment in time there will probably be five. The dilemma is always picking the ones that you play. There will be a few hard-core fans saying to us “we want to hear the whole new album, why do we have to listen to Enola Gay and Tesla Girls again” (laughter). What I say to them is that “it is because other ninety percent of the audience want to hear those” (laughter). You have seen us and you know that we will always try to strike a balance. The reassuring thing is that the last time that we played we played a third new material and two thirds old stuff and when we played the new stuff people just didn’t all just go to the bar or the loo. So we are obviously doing something right it would appear.

Before I sign off if I may I will ask you one last question and it is on the cassette theme. I have to ask you, will they come with a free pencil.

(Hysterical laughter) yes and if you are lucky it might just be a Crackerjack Punishment Of Luxury pencil (laughter).

Andy on that note thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure and I will see you here in Nottingham. Bye for now.

Brilliant, it’s been nice to speak to you again Kevin. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham.