The British New Wave quartet popularized the synthesizer, with a trail of hits, including “So in Love,” “Dreaming” and “Electricity.” On Thursday, Paul Humphreys (vocals, keyboards), spoke with me about the band’s latest album, History of Modern, and the origins of its comeback tour. Humphreys discussed Hughes, the track “Secret” and OMD’s San Diego connection.
Gwendolyn Jackson: Your latest album, History of Modern: Were you trying to emulate OMD’s '80s sound?
Paul Humphreys: We chose a kind of sound palette for it from our first four albums, with the thought that was a quintessential element. We also used a lot of modern techniques to make it sound like a modern record now, so it was a combination of both, really. From the fans and the reviewers, we seem to have got that right, so we’re very happy. It still sounds commercial but sounds like OMD really, but a modern OMD.
GJ: When you began touring, were there concerns regarding fans reception of OMD?
PH: We were a bit kind of worried about doing it again. It was just the original lineup, and we started rehearsing together. We were just surprised that we still got this sort of chemistry of playing together. We’re kind of old school; pretty much everything we play live: drums, bass and keyboards. We thought, 'Well, we couldn’t go out after all these years and sound rubbish,' so we rehearsed for, like, four months, just to become a really tight band again. We became a tight and good live band, and we enjoyed it in the '80s. It’s really paid off as we’re a better band now because in the '80s we were never great musicians, to be absolutely honest. None of us are classically trained, but after 33 years of doing it, we’ve all actually found out how to play.
GJ: What brought the original OMD lineup back together and what do you think about the resurgence of '80s bands that have been touring these past few years?
PH: San Diego has always been a great supporter of the '80s bands since the '80s. Radio-wise, it’s been fantastic. Andy [McCluskey] spends a lot of time in San Diego because his wife is from San Diego. He’s been telling me how San Diego has been such a great supporter of OMD as well as the radio stations. We stopped in the '90s because electronic music had gone out of fashion, and OMD didn’t fit into the '90s music. In 2000, Andy and I met up, and we talked about doing it again, but Andy was doing his own project, and I was doing mine. So in 2005, we met up again and discussed that if we don’t get this together now, we’re never going to do it, because we’re going to be too old. So we dropped everything we were doing and started up again, and we sort of tipped our toes in the water just to see what would happen, and five years later, we’re still doing it. We’re building and building again, and we’re back. We were sort of thinking it was going to be a part-time thing, but it’s now full-blown.
GJ: How was OMD chosen to write a soundtrack for the movie Pretty In Pink?
PH: John Hughes was always an OMD fan, and, in fact, he put a song called “Tesla Girls” that we did from our fifth album, he put it in the movie Weird Science. He phoned us and said he wanted us to write the song for the main end scene of the film. Andy and I wrote the song, and we flew out to Los Angeles. We only had two days off before we started our big American tour. We had our movie track tape and were going to mix it, and we sat there, and we had a meeting scheduled with John Hughes. He told us, “Listen, guys, I’m really sorry, but I’ve changed the whole end of the film and that song you’ve written, although I really like it, it doesn’t work for the film. Can you write me another one?” Andy and I stayed up for 24 hours to come up with “If You Leave.” It was like 9 in the morning. We sent over the track, we went to our hotel and slept for two hours, and we got a call from John two hours later saying he loves the track and for us to get back in the studio and record it now -- you’ve only got a day. So within two days, we’ve written and recorded “If You Leave,” and it has served us really well.
GJ: What is the background on the track “Secret?”
PH: “Secret” was a song I wrote for my wife at the time, actually. The thing is that with “Secret” was that we released the song, and it was flying high on the radio and shooting up the charts. We get a call from Paramount Pictures saying, “Listen, guys, we know you have a song out there, but we’re going to release 'If You Leave' in three weeks time, and you’ve got to kill 'Secret' because we need the pathway to get 'If You Leave' to be a big hit to promote our film.” I was thinking, “What do you mean I’ve got to kill 'Secret'? It’s out there and doing really well?” So we had to pull it out of stock to allow “If You Leave” to go in there, so it was very frustrating, but it was still a big radio hit. In March, when we came out, we couldn’t play “Secret,” I think, because we ran out of time. We thought, "Who’s going to notice?" And I tell you what: We were getting hate mail with people asking, “Why are you not playing 'Secret'?” And people were holding up signs and yelling, "Play 'Secret' ” at shows. So we said when we come back, we knew we were going to have to play “Secret.”
One goal of Humphreys is to find out if he's related to the owner(s) of Humphreys Concerts By the Bay during this stop in San Diego. Stay tuned for his discovery and a review of the show. OMD will play at Humphreys, 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9. Tickets start at $40 and still available.