Interview OMD: ‘Let’s Hope It’s Not A Sad Middle-Aged Man Delusion’

Andy tells us about the state of the music industry, and the world of media.

We have a chat with Andy of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark about the state of the music industry, and the world of media.

You have been making music since 1978, that’s an incredible amount of time to be part of the industry. What kind of changes have you seen over the last 33 years?
Oh boy, that’s a very broad question. The music industry has completely changed. I mean quite frankly it seems to be in its last death throes. It has really shrivelled and contracted and I think if I was a 19 year old now I would not be trying to make a living out of doing music. My generation and many generations before us, and a couple after us, all utilised music as a way of describing and discovering our own identities in a way. It was very very important.
These days most young people have many more tools to do that with. We live in a much broader multi-media society. I don’t think that music on its own is nearly as singularly important as it used to be, I think that is a huge change. And I think obviously that the whole finances of the music industry have changed as well. The technology is totally different. I haven’t been into a record store and bought a CD in years. I get my stuff from the internet; I’m an iTunes person. It’s a very different beast in so many ways. The one good thing is I guess is that touring has remained the same; people still like to go and see bands. But yeah, without going into further detail, they are two of the biggest difference.
Stylistically things change of course, every generation rejects its immediate predecessors. We tried to reject what we saw as the rock’n’roll clichés of the 70’s. In the 90’s with grunge and Britpop it seemed everyone rediscovered their guitars, rejecting their immediate predecessors - us with our synthesisers. Now we seem to have another generation who have rejected the rock’n’roll monster once again and have sort of tried to re-establish a vision of the future that seems to be based upon what we were doing 30 years ago.

Do you think the multi-media society makes music somehow less important?
I think it’s just become a weapon in their arsenal. My generation, when we were trying to create our own identity, our own vision of ourselves as teenagers it was really simple. It was music: what music did you listen to, I’m part of this tribe and not that tribe, I cut my hair this way, not that way, and I wear these clothes. Now in many ways it’s not just the change in media and music, in so many ways we live in a completely postmodern society.
No one style of music is completely adhered to by everybody. You don’t get this tribal thing. I look at what my kids have got on their iPods and it is everything from Nirvana to Depeche Mode to The Beatles to Kanye West and it all makes sense to them. They don’t say ‘I listen to this but not that’. It’s the same in fashion, it’s the same in art, it’s the same in architecture. You know so many of the cultural expressions are now historical. Music is just a part of that but also it’s not even as specifically tribal as it used to be. I use my son as a classic example, my son is 15. He likes music, he listens to music but he sees music as one part of a much broader picture that I couldn’t have contemplated 30 odd years ago. He sees his life, and he describes himself through Facebook, YouTube, music, filmmaking. He gets together with his friends and they say ‘Hey, have you checked out this on YouTube and I’ll send you this link on that and talk to you on Facebook and see you on call of duty x-box live’. It’s not that it’s not important, it’s just that there is so much else as well. He expresses himself through film, he has his own YouTube account and he makes his own films.

So what are you listening to these days?
In terms of new music, I’m certainly excited that people have started to use a palate that I feel comfortable with, electro music is very in fashion again. Just like the old days, there were followers and there were leaders; there are a lot of people who sound like they have been raiding their parents record collection and are just pastiching things that have been done before. Everyone has an influence; we had influences, but it’s taking those influences and making something new that is your own that’s important. I’m a huge fan of people like Hot Chip; they have their own sound. I love The XX, they have their own sound, in terms of pure electro-pop music. Probably my favourite artist at the moment is Robyn because she writes Scandinavian R&B pop but with really simple, quite brutal slabs of pure electronic music. It’s in a style that’s all her own. It’s wonderful. So there are still things that excite me.

You spoke of living in a post-modern society, is that thought process part of what went into calling your new record ‘History Of Modern’?
We think long and hard about our album titles and it was clearly the appropriate title. When we conjured the conceit to dare to make a new record, which quite frankly at our age is usually a dangerous and bloody stupid thing to do, first of all we to be absolutely sure that we actually had something worth saying. There was no point in being cool again and having young bands nodding to us as influential and iconic and blah blah blah if we were going to make a shit album and undo all the good vibes we’re getting, you know? So it was important we had something to say, and we started writing songs and we felt we did.
We had to analyse our own history and our own place in history, because the big question for us was, going back to this whole post-modern thing, what the hell do old Modernists do in the post-modern era for crying out loud? That’s a serious weight on your shoulders. It’s not just ‘Hey, let’s reform and make a good album that you know sounds like our style’. Our style was the future, what the hell are we doing trying to do it again when our future has been and gone. What’s the future now? I don’t know. So all these questions were in our heads and we were very scared initially, because we have friends, we have contemporaries who still tour, and everyone loves to hear the old hits, but they shouldn’t go into the studio. They think they need to make a new album, but they’ve got nothing left to say, they shouldn’t do it, it’s bad. So we really felt we had to make a strong album, we wanted to go back to using the voice that we created for ourselves, because interestingly enough this post-modern era that we were part of inventing was suddenly very current again, so that was reassuring.

Do you think you were successful?
Yeah, I think we had some good ideas concerning lyrics and tunes and we ended up making something current. Don’t get me wrong, Paul and I are taking a dangerous step, seeing if we can make the future again. Let’s just hope it’s not a sad middle aged man delusion.

What was your favourite experience recording a record?
Probably the first four albums we made. I was 16 and Paul was 17 when we made ‘The Electricity’. We were playing around with this, not thinking of it as a career. All our friends thought we were making shit, but we got some gigs and to our surprise people wanted to hear our stuff. We went into the studio and wrote whatever the hell we wanted and ended up selling millions of copies. It was a dream come true, but it was a dream we never even dared to dream up.

Are you excited about touring again? What do you think the main difference between playing in the US versus Europe?
Well we had fifteen hit singles in Europe before we even came to the US, we were never in the top of the charts, more like an underground band over there and didn’t end up selling a whole lot of records. So the shows tended to be hardcore fans. It was really fun though. Our ‘Best Of’ has sold quite a bit, so we end up playing songs in the US that we don’t in Europe, like ‘If You Leave’ or ‘Dreaming’.
I think it’s going to be interesting and that we have an obligation to people that we haven’t played in front of for 20 years, so we are going to play some really fucking weird things for the hardcore fans.

OMD’s new album, ‘History Of Modern’, is out now.

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