Two of the group write, the rest play, and they end up with "The Pacific Age" LP.
OMD are a band: Andy and Paul write, the others play. Tony Bacon learned who does what (above) and asked everyone about making the new "Pacific Age" LP (a bit further over). Graham "Tucker manoeuvred the light.
Graham Weir (trombone, guitar, keyboards) bought a Japanese Fender Telecaster the day of OMD's Edinburgh gig in February. Panic had occurred when his own Ibanez Roadstar guitar suddenly produced a loud and unrepairable earth buzz. It was the end of the tour, so he bought a new one. "I fancied another cleaner sounding guitar," he says. "I love the shape and the sound of the Tele, it's good for all ranges of stuff. So I got one, and played it that night — it caught the spotlights very well in my home town."
Malcolm Holmes (drums and general hitting-things) recently bought a rather large Sonor kit. Yes, he got a deal from them. "I thought well, the band's got far too much money, might as well spend a bit of it," he explains. Sonor kits are great for live work, this endorsee finds, praising their big, deep, powerful qualities in this respect. Drum companies seem keener than most on doing deals, don't they? Mal agrees, mentioning the Japanese makers as especially eager and pointing out that their government finances such activities. Sonor, a Germany company, dont't give kits away, however, so he settled for trade price, less a bit. "And a T-shirt," he adds. "I met this drummer who'd been down to the trade fair and he'd got a deal with Tama. They'd given him this huge 45-million-drum pink kit. That's what he came away with from the trade fair. I got a Sonor hat and a Sabian T-shirt." Ahhh.
Neil Weir (trumpet, bass) is the semi-proud owner of Jack Bruce's old Aria bass. Or one of them, anyway. A friend of Neil's in Edinburgh happens to be Mr Bruce's nephew, and he had a pair of his Arias and... "he needed to pay his rent one week," Neil laughs. "So I bought one of his Pro II basses off him." Could this be the way endorser's instruments end up? "But I think I'm going to get another, I'm not too happy using it live, it doesn't have the bite I want. I'd never played bass before, I just fancied learning to play. Now we're doing these numbers on stage I've got to learn quickly. Me and Graham came in as horn players, that's what we work as."
Martin Cooper (keyboards, sax) had so many irritating problems with his aged Roland JP8 that he's moved on to a Super Jupiter module. He'd used the 8 mainly for live bass sounds, and had the embarrassing experience of having programs cut out mid-song — a synthesiser freeze-out situation. Not good. But his Super Jupiter has not been without problems — not in itself, but in linking it to a control keyboard.
Martin first tried it with an Oberheim keyboard he happened to have, but the MIDIs didn't agree — most annoyingly on pitchbend information, which the Oberheim would mess up and which was a necessity for expressive bass lines. "So I've got the Roland MIDI keyboard," Martin says with some relief, "which I haven't yet tried but in theory it should work fine. The Super Jupiter does sound different to the JP8, a lot harder in the low end. The JP8 had the typical Roland fat bass. I tried to recreate a lot of sounds I had in the JP8 and I had some difficulty. But I do like it, it's a bit more modern sounding somehow."
Paul Humphreys (keyboards, singing, writing) counts the Emulator II and the Fairlight IIX as the expensive tools he cannot do without. The Fairlight is a writing tool via its versatile composition/sequencing section, Page R (so-called because of its positioning on the computer menu). The X suffix indicates the MIDI update, which came as something of a blessing to OMD in that they weren't too happy with the Fairlight's sampling facilities. Now they can link it to their Emu II.
"And," says Paul, "the MIDI in the Fairlight is really fast — we've had no flamming problems (split second delays) like we've had before when we've had long MIDI chains. It's most noticeable on bass things, I think — when we were in LA last October we hired in some gear to record 'If You Leave', our gear hadn't arrived from England. I was playing keyboard bass on that, a JP8, DX7 and an Emulator II, and I had real problems with flamming of the separate bass sounds that I'd MIDI'd up on each of the three keyboards, very percussive bass sounds, very sharp attack, so it was very noticeable. We had to do a lot of adjustments to get that right."
Andy McCluskey (voice, bass, keyboards, writing) has seen his beloved jazz Basses get more and more knackered as his five years' touring have made their noticeable mark on the instruments. "I'm not the gentlest of players, I play them like percussion instruments, and sweat all over them," Andy tells us. So he's just got an Aria RSB Deluxe bass which he reckons sounds brighter than the Jazzes and is an ideal weight for him — not so light that it bounces around on stage, but not so heavy that his shoulders give out mid-set.
And he's back to his favoured Rotosound strings — on the Jazzes he'd used Dean Markleys because they (along with Picatos) were the only ones with an E-string that would reach Andy's G machine head in his left-handed upside-down mode. "I'm not a bass player's bass player," insists Lefty. "I don't sit around talking about pickup changes and junk like that. I've been playing bass in a successful band for ten years and I only own four basses, so I thought I'd get a bass that sounded nice and was the right colour — black. The best bass I have is one I'd never take out on the road, a '53 Precision, serial number 101, worth a few bob that. And with roundwound strings on it, it's brighter than some actives I've heard. But I wouldn't dare take it on stage."
OMD's new LP, "The Pacific Age", was recorded in Paris at Studio de la Grande Armee, produced by Stephen Hague (who did their last album, "Crush", and has since done the Pet Shop Boys) and engineered by the remarkably named American, Tom Lord Alge (who co-produced OMD's 'If You Leave' 45 and has since worked on Steve Winwood's new LP).
Graham found the French studio all rather worryingly high-tech on first glance. "Yes, all that outboard gear like the Publison Infernal Machine as it's called — a computer. Seeing just what it could do was a worry — it could almost sing the vocals for you if you wanted. It ended up doing, you know, 'a few things'. It does time code, sampling, pitching, harmonising — it can fix things like timing and pitch which is really the only problem we ever have in the studio. It can't write good songs, unfortunately. But the pressure was there to get it right, otherwise the technology would take over."
Mal remembers the group's arrival at the new Parisian studio: to discover it hadn't been finished. They had to be put up elsewhere for a week while the speakers were put in and the desk wired up — a bit like the Spanish hotel syndrome, really. "But we got a good deal out of them," says Mal. "We had the Mitsubishi digital machine for free for the whole two and a half months instead of £200 a day or whatever it was.
"It's caution to the wind when you're writing, but a sense of finality comes upon you when you come to do the album itself. I'm worried all the way through the recording process. Having said that, it was a very relaxed album to do..."
"I had a bit of a worry when the Emulator SP12 drum machine arrived. Knocks spots off the old Linndrum — the fact that you can sample sounds on it for a start, its bandwidth, and its quantising which means you can put a much better feel into the rhythms. The Linndrum was always just a drum machine. I was well threatened. But I gave it a quick half a lager and it didn't seem to handle it too badly."
For Paul, the first few days in the studio always mean... nerves. "It's caution to the wind when you're writing," he says, "but a sense of finality comes upon you when you come to do the album itself. I'm worried all the way through the recording process. Having said that it was a very relaxed album to do, because the songs were very concisely written and so there wasn't a great deal of room for things to go wrong."
So are recording nerves different to stage nerves? "On stage I'm usually more worried about whether my gear's gonna work than about audiences," he laughs. "When I get on stage and everything's working I'm all right, normally when it works from the start it continues to work through the set. But it's different to studio nerves. If you feel everything's going right in the studio, get a few tracks down that you're happy with, then your confidence builds."
Mal's favourite example of his own work on "The Pacific Age" is the single, 'Live & Die' — if anything, he explains, for the fact that an OMD record finally exists with a groove to it. "It's a shuffle time," he says, "which I generally find a hard time signature to play. Think of the Grace Jones track 'Slave To The Rhythm' and you'll know the rhythm I'm talking about. I'm not usually pleased with my recorded end-results, because you've often got half an hour in the studio and if you can't cut it then it's 'get the Linndrum in'. This one just happened."
Graham's favourite own track, "sort of 70%" his, is 'Shame', principally for the beautiful strings-with-a-grand-piano-on-the-front Emulator sample. The chord sequence he describes as "a very smooth, soulful orchestra sound", and reckons he wet himself when he played it. Icky-cack! "The sample fits the chord sequence perfectly, lush thick strings," enthuses the dry-trousered Graham. "It's a straight blues sequence, D to an E7 to G7, then to C9, a nice soulful twist there. The original idea was to get a Detroit soul feel over a church choir sound; it does have the gospel feel, though it's further away from the Detroit end now."
Martin finds that keyboard parts can be recorded, and then produced accurately on stage and... so what? "But when I'm playing saxophone parts it's always a bit more personal — the nature of the instrument I suppose. There's a track called 'Watch Us Fall' that I'm particularly pleased with my soprano playing on, I haven't used that sax for a few years."
When we asked Andy for his favourite example of his own work as a musician on the LP, he laughed. "There are no examples as a musician, Paul and I didn't play anything. We wrote it and we let other people record it. But 'Dead Girls' is a favourite because we wanted to try something five years on with new technology and all the things we've learnt and all the ways we've changed, but akin to the "Architecture & Morality" stuff: military drums, the choirs and so on. And I was very pleased with the way that turned out."
"My other favourite was 'Southern'. We loved the music for that which we'd had for some time, and then there was this silly notion to try Martin Luther King on it — having tried it, the man was so good we built the whole thing around what he was saying. We worked in reverse to the way a lot of people use sampled voices as effects; we used his voice as the main instrument and built our song around what he said, following the dynamics of the various quotes. We felt we might fall into a very nasty hole if we weren't careful on all sorts of grounds, musical, ethical. But we think it worked well."
Andy's worries about the album came towards the end, and he identifies three main problems. There was the Virgin cassette-copy of the finished album, for starters. He played the cassette. "And I thought what the hell was I on when I made this album? Why is it all fast? Then I realised the cassette was totally screwed and it wowed and fluttered, and runs fast on whatever system I've tried it on."
Then he heard the test pressing. The pops and crackles were almost expected, and easily put right. But there was something else.
"Some genius had managed to cut the album with the fade-out of the first side cut onto the second side, before the first song of that side starts! I have the evidence at home."
What else could possibly go wrong? Well, we leave the album and shift to the extended word of 12-inch remix. "The John Potoker remix of the 12in stank to high heaven," suggests Andy.
"How can you try and do a dance 12in and make the thing go to sleep is beyond me. So we dumped that and did and overnight crazy 12in remix, which turned out a damn sight better than that one." Other than that, it all went quite smoothly.
Interview by Tony Bacon
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