Listening Pool Interview

Talking With the Listening Pool

This interview was conducted by Phil Marsh for the Telegraph (TM) magazine. It has reproduced here with their permision strictly for the enjoyment of OMD fans around the world.

Many thanks to Phil and the members of the Telegraph staff for their contributions to this web site!

Mark Jenkins'Interview With Paul Humphreys

Firstly Paul, could you tell me why it's taken so long for A Listening Pool album to emerge?

Paul: Firstly, we're slow! (laughs) Well there are a number of reason really. There was over a year and a half of legal hassles after we broke up, but we also spent the best part of the year trying to get OMD to work. We had a burst in the Pink Museum trying to get things to work. Also, I was still under contract of obligation to Virgin.

Martin: All we were doing in the Pink were cop-ups and also, because of Paul's contract, we couldn't really do anything until the release of Andy's album, so all this meant we couldn't go elsewhere, out hands were tied.

Maybe people haven't heard the full story and wondered why it's taken so long to do the album.

Paul: Well, until Andy and I had signed this agreement (releasing Paul from his contract with Virgin and allow Andy to continue using the name OMD) nothing could be done. We signed just before the release of Sugar Tax.

Martin: Andy could get on with his record because Virgin were financing him during that period. We were writing, but we couldn't do anything. Once Andy had released his record we were free of all contracts and things, but we didn't have a label, so we had to look around.

So how did it come about getting signed to Inevitable?

Paul: Well, I came back from LA in March this year to see some labels in London. I then came to Liverpool and went to see the new Amazon studio complex as I'd missed out on the opening party while I was away. Jerry, the boss of Amazon, met me there and showed me around the placeand proceeded to tell me he was going to start Inevitable records and asked me if we'd be interested in coming aboard. We subsequently had another meeting, this time with Mal and Martin and we decided it was the right way to go for us. Having been one of 160 bands on Virgin we also didn't fancy being on a big label. (Since this interview was conducted, Inevitable have folded. The Listening Pool have now formed their own label; Telegraph Records.

You seem to have written a lot of demos for this album. Will all of them be used or will some of them be shelved?

Paul: Well, the very original plan was to do a long play CD, so we were planning to record 15 tracks. We have written more than 15, so some will be shelved. Some have been shelved already because they're unfinished. They're unfinished because wither the ideas were shelved or we didn't have time to complete them. Some tracks may well be used as B-sides or things.

Are there any demos that you have written and literally binned?

Martin: No, but there are some things that are just lying around unfinished. We certainly don't leave them as we have other ideas.

You were also working on outside projects like TV theme tunes. Have all these been put on hold?

Martin: All we want to do is get the album done, but once the album is out of the way we will do some more things.

Paul: At the moment, the album has taken total priority. We have put 2 years of our lives into this album and a hell of a lot of hard work has gone into it.

Can you tell us what the new album is about?

Paul:What's it about Mart? (Laughs) The lads having fun! It's certainly different to OMD as you know, but quite a few people have heard the demos and they say you can still hear the old OMD in there. I suppose why you can hear the old OMD in there is because our personalities always came out in OMD just like they do in the new album, but you can't get away from that.

I think it will be different in a lot of ways because of Mal and Mart's input.

Paul: In the writing in particular.

Your voice has improved a hell of a lot on this album. how did you work on that?

Paul: It's just through singing all the time. I only used to sing that one track on every album that and that was always done really fast, and singing on tour. I never really sang consistently like I have been doing over the last few years. It's like anything-the more you do it the better you get. Also, Mal and Mart have been really pushing me. We went through a period when we thought that we should bring in an outside singer but we said we would cross that bridge when we came to it, so we decided that until then I would do the vocals.

Martin: Paul just sounded good, so we decided that he should do it.

When you used to sing in the early days, why did you sing only one or two songs? Was it a reluctance to sing or were only one or two of your songs picked for the album?

Paul: No, people have this impression that the only songs I wrote were the ones I sang, but it wasn't that way at all. Usually, I sang the song because I'd just written it and Andy wasn't around and I needed to hear a vocal on it, and because Andy wasn't around I would do it myself and it would just have a quality to it that we liked, so I would stick to being the leads vocals on it.

So it wasn't a reluctance to sing then?

Paul: No. With "Forever Live and Die" for example, And had gone away for a few days and I decided to go into the studio and I threw down a track that needed a lead vocal on it, so I did it myself. Had Andy been there, he would have sang the lead on it.

What's Steve Hague's contribution been on this album?

Paul: Not much really. The problem with Hague is his time because he's always busy, you know, he is always doing something. He wants to make a contribution to this album but he's doing the New Order album which takes him up to the end of June. After that, he is up for doing stuff for our album. So he's really been coming up for long weekends and doing writing/arranging with us. He likes the demos as well.

Martin: He might help us with the album, but it really depends on his time. You see, we want to get this album out quickly, we don't want to wait around for him. Hague has given us more moral support.

Paul: He seems to like the direction we have taken the songs, he doesn't want to take them in any other direction. He's happy with them the way they are.

I thought that's the reason why you pulled him in was because of the good results on Crush?

Paul: That's one of my favorite albums that, but with the Pacific Age, we felt it didn't work and Hague did that too, although that wasn't Hague's fault, it was the surrounding circumstances, the time factor and conflicts that were going on at the time.

Martin: There are so many reasons why the Pacific Age didn't work, but it wasn't Hague.

That's one of my favorite albums, The Pacific Age.

Paul: Really? There were a couple of nice things on it, but to us, overall, it didn't work as an album.

I do like Crush, but I think it lacks depth in some areas. "Bloc, Bloc, Bloc" does nothing for me. It has its strong points like "La Femme Accident", but to me it's not the best OMD album.

Paul: Yeah, "Bloc, Bloc, Bloc" is one of my least favorites on the album. The title track is quite good and particularly "88 Seconds in Greensboro". Crush and Architecture and Morality are my favorite OMD albums.

Is the new album about any bizarre subjects?

Paul: Lyrically there are a couple of specific subjects, but we didn't want to get really too involved with all these narrative story lines. A lot of the lyrics vaguely mean something, but it's kind of left to interpretation as to what the phrases mean and there's something that I like about that.

Martin: The bizarre subjects in the past were really Andy's influence, but he was a word man, but we're not working with him anymore, so obviously our songs are going to be different in the lyric department.

How prolific have you been with this album?

Paul: We've been prolifically worse depending on how pissed off we've been and generally with what the vibes been like.

Martin: We have had some patches like a few months back where we've come up with 5 or 6 tracks and then there have been periods where we've got a bit down about the situation and we've done virtually nothing.

Were there days in the studio when you were really pissed off because things were not going in the speed you wanted them to go?

Martin: Yes there were. I think that's why it's going to be a strong album, because of that. We've had time and we've also had this urge to so it and really prove ourselves.

Paul: And there has been lots of times when we've been angry and that can be a creative thing, anger.

Has any of this surfaced through the songs?

Martin: Well, they're not manic and they’re not heavy metal (laughs) but subtly I think it comes out in a few things.

Andy tried to recapture the essential sounds of OMD on his album. Does your album resemble OMD?

Martin: Well, we haven't consciously tried to sound like OMD. We've done just what comes naturally.

Being realistic, you will always be tagged as OMD. does that piss you off in any way?

Paul: no, we're really proud of the things that we did in OMD and we're not going to say "Oh, OMD, Fuck OMD!"

Martin: We are pleased when people say it sounds like how OMD used to sound, but basically we have just done what we wanted to, or felt like doing on that day. there has been no real plan on how the album should sound. It's how OD used to work, we never used to have a master plan when an album was being written, it was whatever we felt like doing on that day. OMD never used to write a track to say that this should sound like OMD and this is what an OMD song sounds like.

Paul: I mean, there are some ways we do things that will sound like old OMD, you know, just a melody or a keyboard line or something.

Martin: We'll sound as much like old OMD as Andy's new OMD will sound, if not more.

But don't you want people to say, "Oh, that’s the Listening Pool's music" rather than saying "that's old OMD?"

Paul: People will say that though.

Martin: Well it's naturally changed the album. There are elements that sound like old OMD, but we're doing things differently, we are older and wiser. There's a different writing theme now that there are three of us.

How is a typical song written with you guys? Is it spontaneous and does everyone have equal writing?

Martin: Yes, we've all written equally, but this is what we wanted to do with OMD, you know. Lift all the burden of "I've written this hit, I deserve that." There was so much that interfered with the song writing process. with this album, we've said we're all writing, because to be honest it's hard to pinpoint what each persons contributions were, so we've got rid of all that hassle and we all just chip in, you know, one person might have to start or whatever and we take it from there.

Paul: But also I think in OMD we became very restricted. It was like "well, that's the bit that Paul wrote" or "that's the bit that Andy wrote in the song, he'll get really pissed off if we get rid of it, even though it's not contributing very well to the song." Whoever did it but because every little piece in the song can get personalized "that's my bit, don't touch it" you know (laughs), it doesn't necessarily mean it's right for the song, whereas this way we don't give a fuck who does what.

Martin: By the time we've finished a track you can't tell who's done what because we're changing things all the time. If someone doesn't like it, it's instantly thrown away.

Paul: If one of us thinks there's a problem with something, then we say "OK, there's got to be a problem if one of us hates it" and we try something else until the 3 of us agree. It slows down the whole process, but ultimately it works.

Is everything written here, or do Mal and Mart do some things at their houses?

Paul: Well everything is written at my house really

Martin: Obviously when we go home we'll play around on the piano or whatever and that's where ideas are made, and then it's all put down on tapes here because this is where the studio is, at Paul's.

Paul: There have been some exceptions, there have been a couple of tracks that Mal and Mart have done without me. Stuff they've worked on earlier, tossing around with ideas and they've brought them in and we've worked them out together. there is a track that I did out in the States, various chords and vocals, and then I'll bring them here and everybody just takes them apart and makes something else out of them. I think that's a good starting point.

Martin:It's difficult to get a starting point when you've got three people sitting around saying "what are we gonna do?" I mean. obviously an idea has to come from somewhere, someone.

When you write a song, do you start off with a bass or something and operate around it?

Paul: Quite often it will be a chord sequence or something, or a little tune that’s been sampled. It does vary depending on the start, groove or idea, it's hard to say really.

Can you shed some light on who exactly came up with the band's name?

Martin: Well it's hard to say exactly who thought of it. We were in LA and had been kicking about names for ages. We had this piece of paper with all sorts of words written on it and the name just came about. It may have been me who put the two names together.

Paul: We had sheets and sheets of words and we just put some together. Do you think the name is all right Phil?

I think it's quite catchy. It seems to work well. Was there any other possible names from fans who had sent some in from the info service or Telegraph?

Paul: We did get a few sheets from fans on occasions (laughs). Some were absolutely awful.

Martin: It was quite a weight off our minds when we decided on it

Paul:We wanted a name quickly because unless we made a point, Virgin, in particular, would play down the fact that we had left OMD and let people think that everything was still normal before the OMD album came out. So we though we had better come up with a name.

There were so many nasty stories floating around in the press about the split. The press gunned you for making you out as the baddies. It was quite offending when you read it

Paul: Yeah, that was the Star who did that.

Martin: We didn't get any favor from the press really. Andy came out stronger.

Do you think the reason why they did that was purely just to do with the fact that Andy was the lead singer and they were just siding with him because of that?

Paul: For whatever reason, the press decided to take it that way. It was nothing to do with what we said or what Andy said. The press needed a powerful stroy, you know what the papers are like, they'll print anything with a bit of meat to it, to make it real worthy.

So how do you feel about Andy’s' success? Are you happy for him?

Paul: Oh yeah! I'm pleased for his success. I'm also pleased about the OMD name still existing. I'm pleased that the name just didn't die completely, because we worked damn hard for 12 years to make OMD a household name, which obviously has made it a lot easier for Andy to have major success.

Being totally honest, what do you think of Sugar Tax?

Paul:Oh, this is going to be in the magazine isn't it (laughs)

You have to give the honest truth

Paul: We have to give the honest truth, oh God! No really, there are a couple of tracks that I like on that album. "Walking on Air" I thought was real nice and "Then you Turn Away." I like the slow tracks.

Martin: I like those songs as well, I particularly like "Then You Turn Away."

Do you feel that Andy has kept that old OMD sound? How does that compare to the old OMD?

Paul: I think in terms of actual sounds, yes. What I think he's done...he's looked at "Almost" to see how it works for instance and he's gone "right, well I'll do that sound and this is the way it works so I'll do the songs that way."

And does it work?

Paul: Some times it does and some times it doesn't. I think he's taken the sound thinking that the sounds make the atmosphere, but it's not. Looking back through old OMD, it wasn't really the sounds that just made the atmosphere, it was the parts that they were playing that made the atmosphere, and I think maybe he's forgotten that.

martin: The fact that he's brought in other songwriters as well as used different players makes it sound different to old OMD.

Andy said once that he wasn't ruling out the possibility of writing with you again. Can you picture that happening one day?

Paul: I wouldn't rule it out, but then again, I wouldn't hold your breath either!(laughs)

Martin: Had there not been an OMD anymore, then there would be a possibility of us getting back together again and writing again in that situation. I don't know with the way it's gone now though, we've gone different ways.

Paul: Yeah, the idea of writing for OMD seems a bit strange. It would feel strange writing for somebody else. Who knows? Feelings and things change, who knows? Maybe.

What did you think of Andy's comments in his interview in issue 3?

Martin: Basically that was his side of the story and it certainly wasn't the way we saw it, but we don't want to continue talking about the split forever more.

Paul: One thing I would like to say is that I think that the irony is that originally we just wanted to make an album outside of OMD which would have taken the best part of a year. We wanted to do that and then come back to OMD and see hoe well it worked after that period of time, but Andy wouldn't do that. The irony of it is that we now, looking back, could have done it anyway.

It seemed simple enough, you could have done that and save all the legal wrangles and then after you got together you could have carried on or gone separate ways.

Paul: But you could have evaluated that down the line. I think it had to happen because we were really pissed off and we though OMD was going stale. Andy wasn't doing anything anyway at the time.

You say that the band was going stale. I can't see how you can say that because Andy played your track called "Everyday" which he told me was the last song OMD ever wrote together and it's got to be probably one of the best tracks I've ever heard

Paul: Yeah, that was probably one good track out of a years writing.

Martin: That was written just before we did the last tour. It was after the last tour that we started to get pissed off with this whole business.

Paul: One of the reasons why it came to a head was that Mal, Mart and I felt particularly that we were just not developing as songwriters. We were just given a couple of weeks to write an album, go in and record it, then bang, we were off on tour again. We thought that was now way to develop a band. I felt in particular that I needed to work away from Andy a bit and really develop and get some new ideas. I had a brief snip with Martin and Malcolm, you know, sitting down and actually writing properly for a period of time, which we never really had time to do. I realized that you can do different things. I started to enjoy music which I hadn't been doing for a long while.

Do you think that all these pissed off feelings were more to do with the album/tour routine rather than the musical differences?

Martin: Maybe, you know the ablum/tour routine really used to so your head in. It was so time consuming and so tiring.

Are you and Andy sworn enemies?

Martin: Obviously, the fact that it's been a few years since things have happened, we have all mellowed out a bit about the things we were feeling. But no, we're not enemies, in fact Andy came around here last week.

Paul: I don't despise him or anything, but there have been things under the bridge that have gone through that really pissed me off and I won't forget them for quite some time now.

Do any of the new songs reflect this?

Paul: Subtly, I think they do.

Like you can tell me what "Was it Something I Said" was about?

Martin: Yeah, that is quite a strong track that, but our songs are not that obvious really. They are also not really about Andy, but they are more about the way Paul, Mal and I were feeling through the last couple of years and that's what this whole album is about.

Paul: These pissed off feelings will be noticeable in the songs I suppose because were writing at a time when we were all pretty pissed off.

With the OMD album that was due out after the release of the "Best Of," how far did it get? Were there any racks written?

Paul: That was a ridiculous idea you know. Andy do half, and us do half. I don't know who even suggested it, but it would never have worked. Also, with regards to how far it got, it really didn't pass first base. We also wrote some tracks, but we just carried on writing for us. Another problem with that idea is that album would have sounded really weird, it would have sounded like two different albums. It would have been one album by two different artists.

But the thing is, as even quoted by Andy himself, is that OMD came under all different banners. Whether it was about "Joan of Arc" or the reggae sound of "White Trash" or even about an oil refinery, so surely it wouldn't have mattered?

Paul: OMD did, but it's amalgamated into the songs rather than anything specific.

But this is nonsense. Surely the song "Apollo XI" could have come under the banner of OMD just as "Promise the World" could. So why would have there been a problem with that album?

Martin: An OMD album was written and recorded at the same time with the same sounds, but if it was done the split way, it would sound totally different because, for example, it would have totally different producers and it probably wouldn't have worked.

Paul: The reason why it worked in OMD doing all sorts of ideas and things was because we all used to play the song, even if it was only one person's idea, the fact that we were all playing it, our identities all came into it. That's the reason why it worked in OMD.

Jan has got a demo tape of your songs, and she said that one of her sons had made a tape up of songs from Sugar Tax and songs from your demo tape and he said it sounded a lot better with both of your stuff mixed together

Paul: Well, he never told me that. Who was it, Peter? (laughs)

Martin: Oh I'm sure all the songs would have worked together, but we'd booked into the studios ourselves and Andy had gone off somewhere at the time. If we'd all pulled together and worked on all the tracks together on his and ours, it would have worked.

How do you react to the fans dedication to you after all this time and not hearing anything for a couple of years?

Paul: Oh I think it's treat that they have stuck by us all this time. I'm quite flattered really.

Martin: It's really great to hear all these things, it's fantastic.

Paul: We hope that we won't let them down (laughs). I hope that we give them a good record. Some people may be let down because it is different to OMD in lots of ways and I just wonder if they are expecting something else. But with what they're going to get we hope that they think it is worth the wait.

When you tour will you sign autographs? The reason I ask this, Mart, is because in your interview in issue 2 of Telegraph you were sick of signing autographs.

Martin: Of course we'll sign autographs when we're on tour. Whether we'll do 3 hour stints, we doubt it. Particularly when you've just finished a long tour of the States or something, you're totally knackered and then after each gig you have to stay behind and do 3 hours of autographs, which is no exaggeration. In OMD, that's how long it used to end up being. It just really gets to you and in the end you feel you just can't carry on with it. It's nice from the fan's point of view, but not from ours. If you're not careful, doing too much of that can affect how you play on stage.

I don't think fans realized you did 3 hour stints

Paul: Well sometimes, and at certain venues we wouldn’t' let them in and do those autographs sessions, and sometimes it was a hundred or more people and we just had to say enough is enough.

When this album of yours is out, it's going to have a totally different style. What sort of sounds are you listening to now and how do they influence you?

Paul: They don't influence me consciously. there's nothing really decent around at the moment in the charts that's really worth listening to. There's just so much crap around it's unbelievable, but basically we're listening to a whole lot of stuff such as Daniel Lanois, Prince, Eno, Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel and loads of other different things from Madonna to Aretha Franklin. Martin: Do you think it sounds totally different from what you've heard?

I don't think you can compare it to Sugar Tax because you've gone in a totally different direction to Andy. I do think that it contains "ghostly" hints of old OMD though. I think the fans will enjoy the new album too. The tracks that I thought were a bit weak were "Rise Up" and "Breathless", but I put it down to the fact that they were just demos and once you get in the studio, they'll get "beefed up."

Paul: We though the same thing about those two as well, so we re-wrote them. You won’t recognize them when you hear them.

Paul, now that you're a "daddy", how will that affect your work?

Paul: Oh I don't think it will be a problem because Maureen and the baby are coming over as soon as we can get a passport arranged so they'll be here right the way through the summer. I don't think it will affect my work in any way. I will have to sell a lot of albums to keep it though (laughs) because we have a house in the States as well. We have to buy her two of everything like cots and things. One for over there and one for over here. I think it will affect my work in some ways thinking about it because I won't have as much sleep as I usually used to get before Maddie wasn't around.

Is there a possibility that you might move to the States now? Because Maureen doesn’t like it here much anyway?

Paul: No, not as long as I can afford this place. I think it doesn't matter where you live anyway as far as writing music is concerned. I mean, where a band works and lives doesn't really make any difference anyway, but no, this is home.

Forgetting the album for a minutes, what are your interests at the moment?

Paul: Well, I'm still fascinated by astronomy. It's quite a pain really because my telescope is in my house in the States and I was going to bring it back here, but it was so huge, I was going to have to ship it over. Well, I decided to bring the mirror over with me because it's highly polished and quite fragile, and I haven't gotten around to having my telescope shipped over yet. So I have this huge telescope over there with no mirror, and here I have a mirror and no telescope (laughs)

Finally, what are your plans for touring?

Paul: We will tour, but we want to do promotion and things first. We don't really have to dive straight into touring because it will take up too much critical time when the album comes out. Also, when we do tour, we ant to make it really special. all the songs will be played totally live so it will be quite hard to organize because we want to get in another drummer and players. We may try and get the Weir brothers in again. There will also be a couple of backing singers, so as you can see it will take quite awhile to arrange. When we do hit the road, it will be good.

I still think Paul should stick on his flares and put on his blonde wig and do his impression of Rick Wakeman.

Paul: Who knows!!!

Many thanks to Phil Marsh at Telegraph for conducting this interview and to Chris Hammond who contributed it for posting on this web site!