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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark came to the attention of a wide audience through early singles like "Enola Gay" and an appearance in the 1981 documentary Urgh! A Music War. For American audiences, OMD's breakthrough came with the song "If You Leave," made famous by the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink. What is often lost in the story of the band's becoming pop stars is that OMD made some of the most innovative music of its era by combining organic and purely electronic instrumentation for offbeat sound ideas that few other artists attempted at the time.
The group's 1981 album, Architecture & Morality, was a huge commercial success, selling over three million units of a record that contained hit singles but also ambient sound experiments and elements of religious music. Dazzle Ships, from 1983, proved too weird for critics and most fans at the time, but is now enjoying something of a renaissance as a classic in the realm of adventurous electronic pop music. OMD's latest album, History of Modern, is a return to form and the group's best recording in decades. We had the chance to speak with OMD bassist and singer Andy McClusky about the sound collages heard on the recently reissued Dazzle Ships.
Westword: There are a lot of odd and interesting noises on Dazzle Ships. Were those the only ones available in the studio during the recording process, or did you manage to pull all of that stuff off live as well?
Andy McClusky: Well, we put them on tape. We were never frightened to use tapes. We started with a tape recorder. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark wouldn't have existed if we didn't have a friend who had a four-track tape recorder and a studio in his garage. Basically, Paul and I, we'd been making all these weird songs in his mother's back room for three years. We never dared to go play them live because even our best friends thought it was shit.
We met this guy and we said, "Can we borrow your tape recorder?" Then we put stuff on to the tape recorder and we played live in this new-wave club called Eric's in Liverpool. We just did all of this for a one-off gig. It's why we had such a preposterous name as well. We never envisaged it becoming a career, for Christ's sake. It was just a mad idea! When it came to playing live, it was just, "Hey, can you play that, can you play that? No, we can't. Stick it on the tape."
We make no bones about it that we love making songs out of things that you're not supposed to make songs out of. It's really nice to find some interesting building blocks that aren't just conventional bass drum or snare drum. Obviously, it automatically takes you down a totally different musical pathway and creates a completely exciting, evocative musical environment which you then get inspired to sing or create on top of.