When Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark co-founders Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey decided to reunite and record their first new album together in two decades, they had one worry: Did they have anything left to say?
After all, OMD already had an impressive string of new wave classics, from the spare synth-pop of "Enola Gay" and "Electricity" to the lush "So in Love" and the '80s smash "If You Leave." But 2010's "History of Modern" answered that question with a resounding "yes" and their new album, "English Electric" (BMG), finds the British band moving at full speed again.
"'History of Modern' had some good songs on it, but it was sort of a collection of ideas that we had hanging around," Humphreys says, leaning forward in a plush chair in the lobby of his midtown Manhattan hotel. "We had a conceptual idea for 'English Electric.' We knew exactly what we were doing and what we wanted to achieve -- and I think, largely, we did."
Humphreys said they did it by going back to their roots and, along with bassist Martin Cooper and drummer Malcolm Holmes, OMD is out on tour to prove it, stopping at Terminal 5 on Wednesday.
What did you do differently this time?
Neither Andy or I were musically trained at all. When we first started out, we didn't know how to write songs, so we wrote in our very kind of dysfunctional, mad way, just by listening to Kraftwerk, who were really kind of dysfunctional as well. They weren't conventional songs, but there was enough melody to carry the songs through. The more we kind of learned to write songs, the more conventional we became. We wanted to go back to our more dysfunctional arrangements and kind of unlearn everything we've learned in 30 years and go back to our roots to be more simplistic and more electronic.
Like "Our System"?
It shows how OMD have always gone about our songwriting. It started from a mad idea. We were bored. We were on the NASA website and realized that they put a transducer onto the front of Voyager that converts the magnetic fields it goes through into audio. Out of the blue, NASA posted all of these sounds from Voyager -- completely bonkers sounds -- so we spent five hours downloading all these sounds into the computer. I started making a collage out of them and that's how the song started.
Do you have good memories of your early American tours? It must have been weird when you were playing small clubs on Long Island, after playing huge arenas in Europe.
I love America and I've got great memories from those tours. But they were difficult times. I remember once, I think it was Long Island, when we went onstage at 2 in the morning and a guy was so drunk he vomited all over the bottom of my keyboard. I remember thinking, "Well, this is different."
On tour now, how do you balance your older hits and your new material?
We're not one of these bands who are embarrassed by their former glories. We think it's really important to play the songs people expect to hear. ... Songs are like time capsules, aren't they? They capture memories, your own personal histories. If we do them right, you're transported back to those times when you first heard them. And I think as artists, we owe it to people to give them that experience.
WHO Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Wednesday, Terminal 5, 610 W. 56th St., Manhattan
INFO $30; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Lessons in music
One of the standout tracks from OMD's new album is "Our System," which teaches about space exploration in its lyrics and its music. But that's only the latest song from the band that teaches a college-level lesson.
"Enola Gay" (1980): The peppy synth-pop anthem reveals that the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, was named after the pilot's mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. As an anti-war statement, it wonders if she was proud of her son's actions.
"Tesla Girls" (1983): Their ode to inventor Nikola Tesla, whose experiments with electricity led to the alternating current (AC) electrical power system. Tesla also pioneered work that contributed to the remote control and fluorescent lighting.
"88 Seconds in Greensboro" (1985): The song honors the five protesters killed in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979 by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party.