Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark released their first single, Electricity, in 1979. It was a surprising and utterly memorable song that helped make OMD one of the most iconic synth-pop groups in the world. era.
ears later, the track would have a seismic impact on Ian Richard Devaney. His band, the Static Jacks, wasn’t going anywhere fast, and he saw scores of other Brooklyn bands generating acres of hype and drawing legions of fans.
Then he heard Electricity again. It was a song that had been played regularly at home in New Jersey as a child and it opened his ears again. Inspired to change musical direction, he founded a new band, Nation of Language, hired his wife, Aidan Noell, to play the synth – an instrument she had never played before – and convinced one of his former band mates, Michael Sui-Poi, to play bass.
Everything changed. With a degree in history, Noell embarked on studying the keyboard, the trio gelled, and their debut album, of 2020, drew rave reviews. Yes Presentation, Presence excited criticism, its follow-up, A way forward – which came out late last year – made them dizzy.
When Review meets Devaney and Noell on Zoom, just before Christmas, they are in great shape, relaxing at home in their New York apartment after spending several months on the road.
Devaney would like to pay tribute to the journey provided by OMD and leader Andy McCluskey. “It’s funny,” he says, “because when I was younger and exposed to it, I didn’t know which band it was. Then I found out, years later, that at a very young age I had heard OMD, New Order, The Clash, all those cool bands. When I hear Electricity again it immediately brought me back to being a very small child and set off all these alarms in my head in the best way.
“At the time, I mostly made and listened to guitar music and I liked it to be very simple – it was punk rock and bands like Pavement – but there was something about minimalism. of this song that grabbed me. It was “OK, I hear the bass guitar, I hear the organ, I hear the main riff and there are electronic drums that are not played perfectly”. It’s just really attractive, you know? And I thought I would try to put the guitar down and maybe try to write a song with a bass guitar.
The experience quickly gave way to a new way of working. Devaney’s enthusiasm for being able to discern every component of a minimal synth-pop song is reproduced in his own band. But the clean instrumentation would make little sense if the songs weren’t up to par. They are, and then some.
Noell says the lingering thrill of the tour hasn’t subsided. “After going through lockdown and restrictions for so long, it’s great to be able to get back on the road,” she said. “We had only been touring a small amount when our first album came out, and then we had to stop because of the pandemic. But, with this album, we were able to tour well.
Video of the day
While many bands decided to postpone the release of the albums when the pandemic hit, Nation of Language released their debut as planned. It was a wise decision. Thanks to cheap but well-made videos and the enthusiasm of taste makers in New York City, the album began to find an audience. Without any orchestrated effort, it became a sort of word of mouth sensation. So when there was an opportunity to replay live, there was a much larger audience than usual.
“When the ability to tour is taken away from you, it’s really hard,” says Devaney. “For a musician, it’s second nature to want to play your songs live, and it was very special to come back.”
“And for all these people to know the songs,” says Noell, “to be able to sing them back, that’s perfect. I’m so new to it – and it was so exciting for me to experience this.
Watch a number of their performances from late last year on YouTube, and you have to remember that Noell couldn’t play a note on the keyboard just a few years ago.
“Ian convinced me to give it a try,” she laughs. “I’m still so new to this area.” His instrument is fundamental to the sound of Nation of Language, although Devaney’s guitar and Sui-Poi’s bass add texture and complexity.
Devaney is the lead singer and chief songwriter. After leaving Presentation, Presence, he started working on new songs.
While the lockdowns have caused creative cripples for some artists, it was an opportunity that Devaney and Nicoll seized. They readily admit that they wouldn’t have followed their debut album so quickly if they had been touring town to town throughout 2020. “It definitely gave us time to focus, to focus our energies on the news. songs, ”says Devaney.
And what songs they are. A way forward was one of this writer’s top five albums in 2021. Although his sound is rooted in the new-wave synth music that was popular long before Devaney and Noell were born – think New Order, the Human League and, yes , OMD – there’s a new, contemporary chandelier too. The album claims one irresistible song after another.
Devaney jokes that he must have written several bad songs for every correct one and notes, with false indignation, that his wife’s first forays into songwriting were all in order. “Aidan started to write his own music and wrote the first songs and, it’s super unfair, but they were amazingly good! “
His lost classic
“I published them under my own name,” says Noell. “They are available on [the music streaming site] Band camp. But it will never be Nation of Language songs.
One of the highlights of the album and a song that should be on playlists everywhere is On the other side of that thin line. It sounds like a lost classic from the early 1980s. And Devaney’s lyrics are intriguing.
“When I started writing it the first thing I got was this line, ‘I’m watching you cross that thin line’ and I was wondering whether or not I should take it in a dark direction or a more exciting way. – and I ended up taking the second route because the music was so electrified and manic.
“For me,” he adds, “the song is about that moment when there’s that romantic change with someone you’ve been platonically friends with for a long time. That’s when you say to yourself. : “Are we going to kiss?”
He jokes that the song is not inspired by Noell. “There was no extended period when we were just friends; we knew from the start that we were going to have a romantic relationship. He draws more stitches throughout life – that time in your teens, early twenties. “
At the time of the interview, the couple were excited to embark on a European tour in the New Year, one that would bring them to Ireland for the first time and to the Grand Social in Dublin on January 29.
But pandemic restrictions here, which were imposed before Christmas and are expected to last until the end of January, cast doubt on the concert. This week, promoter Singular Artists, said it was likely a new date would be found – assuming, of course, the restrictions were relaxed from next month.
‘A Way Forward’ is now available