Q&A: OMD's Paul Humphreys Talks Reformation, The Return of Intelligent Music and Being in Hitler's Underpants
Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys formed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in 1978. Within a couple of years, the duo had grown into a quartet and released "Messages," the first of several hit singles that brought the band fame and critical kudos. Yet, after seven successful albums, Humphreys left the band in 1988. McCluskey kept the OMD name going until the mid '90s, but found limited success.
A decade later, though, both men deemed the musical climate right to make a comeback. And, surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception, Humphreys and McCluskey decided to write some new original compositions that resulted in the recently issued History of Modern.
Seen by many as a glorious return to synth-pop form, the new album resulted in a tour that brings OMD to the States for the first time in almost two decades. Speaking from a tour stop in Washington, D.C., Humphreys was nice enough to speak with us in preview of the band's Sunday night performance at the Granada Theater, discussing both OMD's history and possible future.
Catch our complete Q&A with him after the jump.
You departed OMD in 1989. What made you decide to reform the band in 2006?
Well, we kind of thought about it for a while, really. Contrary to anything reported in the press, Andy [McCluskey] and I never really fell out. We just decided to stop the band. We had been going for 12 years full on since 1978, and we kind of woke up and knew that we had to have lives. I wanted to have kids. Andy carried on with OMD for a bit, but by the '90s, our kind of music was out of fashion. All of a sudden, what we saw as the future was now the past. But by 2006, the kind of music we played seemed to be making a comeback. It seemed to make sense.
Were you surprised by the positive response the band received at those first reunion shows?
We realized that there had been a resurgence in electronic music since 2000. People became more interested in our style, especially younger fans. People who wanted to slay the dinosaur and listen to music that was a little more intelligent. The climate had prepared itself for us to come back. We didn't come back for the money. We just wanted to do it.
You could have just kept touring and playing your back catalog. Why did you want to make a new album?
We wanted to keep the band going, and a good way to do that is write new songs. We didn't want to be seen as the retro band trading on its former glory. We still had plenty to say. Andy and I never stopped making music. We both continued songwriting, so we didn't have to exactly start anew. We just hadn't written together. But, once on the road, we had lots of new ideas. We kind of kept it under the hat that we had enough material for an album.
The reviews for the new album have been uniformly positive. Is that important to you?
I don't care if the critics like us. But the OMD hardcore fans -- that's who we wanted to speak to. We had been writing for the right reasons as well. In the '80s, I think we had lost our way and were writing for the wrong reasons. The first four albums contained music that was exactly what I wanted to say. Then we had so much pressure from the record company, and we had mortgages that needed to be paid. There were so many people employed by us that had to keep their jobs. We would be on the road for nine months, and then we were given three months to write the next album. The quality control started to escape from us. Things started to degenerate very quickly. But for this new album, we had plenty of time to do it. We had experienced so many new things to write about.
Dazzle Ships was OMD's fourth album and it was not a commercial success, yet many fans list it as their favorite. Why do you think that is?
It's one of my favorites as well. I think it was just too radical after our last record. People who had heard Architecture & Morality were saying, "What the hell is this?" It was a very original record. Technology had allowed us to do this stripped-down, almost industrial-sounding record. I think we pissed off a lot of people, but I really love that album.
"If You Leave" from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack became OMD's biggest single. Do you get sick of hearing that song?
No. That was an amazing time. We were big in Europe, playing these huge arenas and we'd come to America and have to play in these tiny clubs at two o'clock in the morning with people vomiting on your shirt. After that song came out, it was as if we had finally broken through in the States. It was an amazing turn of events. We had written the song for the movie and we were getting ready for another tour, and they called us out of the blue and told us that they had changed the end of the movie and that they wanted a different song. We had two days before the tour started, so we got our asses to Los Angeles and tried to come up with something new. After 18 hours of just sitting in the studio, we came up with "If You Leave." We were amazed when it became a hit.
How important was Gary Numan to the early success of OMD?
His music was never really an influence. What was important about Gary was that he gave us our first big break. He saw us opening for Joy Division and he asked us to go on tour with him. We did a huge tour with Gary in 1979. All of a sudden, we went from the small clubs to playing huge arenas. Gary was very good to us.
Were you once really in a band called Hitlerz Underpantz?
Yes, I was. Can you believe it? It was years before OMD. It was definitely the worst band name ever. But at least I can say that I was in Hitlerz Underpantz. Not many people can say that.
You and Eva Braun.
We were young and it wasn't even our band. We didn't name it. It was just this local band that kept asking us to join. We just got up onstage and starting jamming on some songs. I think we made up most of it on stage.