OMD’s Andy McCluskey: An Exclusive Interview With An 80’s Icon

By Susie Bramhall

Photo Credit: OMD / Andy McCluskey

Think back to a special time…sitting on the beach singing your favorite song, the sound of the ocean, the feel of the soft breeze, and the smell of a barbecue down the way. It all seems so familiar, right?

Music can do that.

And if that song is from a favorite band, the memories only intensify.

So when that band continues to create hit after hit, year after year…well, you just know that there is something really special about the music. Especially when the band sticks together like glue and is so poetic in their lyrics.

I had the pleasure of meeting Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys from OMD during an appearance on a national television show. They came across as extremely modest and humble…and nothing has changed years later. And as for their music…it has always been amazing, and it’s just as captivating now. Songs with meaning and melodies with style…it’s the key that has given this band the longevity of success.

So join me to find out a little bit more about OMD. We’ll discuss special moments from the band’s journey, how a popular theme-song became a worldwide hit from of a classic 80’s movie, and take a deep dive into how this dynamic duo got their start into the music industry.

 
Welcome…OMD’s, Andy McCluskey.

LOHC: Let’s start at the beginning…where did you grew up?

McCluskey: I grew up on the Wirral Peninsula just across the river from Liverpool.

LOHC: Did you have another profession prior to music?

McCluskey: I had only one “real” job in my life before music took over. I worked for three months for the Customs Office in Liverpool, processing cargo entries from in-tray to out-tray! 

LOHC: You and Paul met pretty early on, correct? When did you decide to start playing music together?

McCluskey: Paul and I met when we were seven years old, when he came to my school after his family moved from London. At 11 years old, we graduated to different high schools. Friends at Paul’s school started a band but needed a bass player. He had seen me walking around the local park with my bass, so they knocked on my door to ask if I would join them.

LOHC: Is it true that ELECTRICITY was the first song you two wrote together when you were 16? What came next and how was OMD born?

McCluskey: Fairly quickly we realised that Paul and I had more in common musically than we did with the others and began writing our own songs, one of which was indeed ELECTRICITY when we were 16. OMD began in October 1978, as a dare to just do one concert. 

LOHC: Did you tour when you were first starting out and how did that impact your career?

McCluskey: The first year we just played one-off concerts, wherever and whenever they were offered…often driving home overnight to get to work the next day after no sleep. We received a big break when Gary Numan offered us the support slot on his sold out UK tour in 1979.

LOHC: What a wonderful opportunity! What about your first commercial hit…what is your best memory of the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?

McCluskey: Our third single, MESSAGES, was our fist Top 20 hit in Spring 1980. It was an incredible feeling, especially as we had only created the band 18 months earlier for a dare. Being filmed for the iconic Top of the Pops UK TV show was a real buzz, although you quickly realise that TV studios are not as glamorous in real life as the appear through the screen. 

LOHC: Your songs have always been so popular in the States. When did your songs start getting airplay worldwide outside of the UK?

McCluskey: It actually took some time for us to establish a US audience. For the first few years in the 80s, we were having huge hits in Europe, but we had been licensed to a label in America that didn’t put any effort into promoting us on the radio or in the press. We were considered alternative and only received radio exposure through college stations and a few independents. Once we changed to A&M records in 1984, things improved. The big break came when John Hughes asked us to write a song for him.

LOHC: That really was a big break! Tell me a little about IF YOU LEAVE from the movie PRETTY IN PINK. Had you already written the song or did you write it specifically for the movie? What kind of impact did that release have on the band?

McCluskey: John Hughes was an Anglophile in his musical tastes. In hindsight, I believe that his choice of alternative British bands for his soundtracks was a reflection of the personalities and tastes of most of characters in his movies. They were outsiders and non-conformists. 

We wrote a song called GODDESS OF LOVE and came to LA with the multi-track take ready to mix. Only when we arrived, did John tell us that they had rewritten the end of the film and the songs lyrics did not really fit anymore. We had 48 hours before we started a tour with the Thompson Twins. We rushed into a recording studio in LA with rented equipment, as ours was still in transit, and we wrote IF YOU LEAVE off the top of our heads in a couple hours. It’s success transformed our popularity in the US. 

LOHC: It seems as if everyone has a favorite memory from one of your hits in the 80’s. Has anyone shared a good story with you about a specific song that had an impact on them?

McCluskey: Musicians and songwriters seldom change the world or alter people’s lives dramatically, but just occasionally you realise that some small thing you created has lodged indelibly in someone’s life as a treasured memory, And when they take the time to share this with you, then you feel blessed that you do have the capacity to reach into someone’s heart. I have been told that certain songs or albums comforted people through times of depression or distress. Recently, Boy George recorded a cover version of a song, called THE VIEW FROM HERE, that was on our last album and said that he wished that he had written it. 

LOHC: You had such a unique electronic sound back then, and now it has been reintroduced into much of your new material. How do you think the 80’s “sound” has impacted current artists? 

McCluskey: We now live in the cultural post modern era. All art forms from music, through film, art, and fashion are recycling the past. It is hardly surprising that the 80’s gets pillaged for reference, too! I like new artists who create a modern and individual spin on sounds from the past. I would include The Killers, LCD Sound System, and Hot Chip as some of those that do. 

LOHC: How did you go about arranging the music and deciding on the electronic elements for your current music?

McCluskey: The machinery used for songwriting now is way beyond anything that we could have imagined over forty years ago. It is exclusively created on computer. Everything, apart from the vocals, is made, written, and stored in the computer. I have a programming room at home, and my system is compatible with Paul’s, so that we can use each others files. 

LOHC: Can you tell me about your new songs? I love PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY…that wonderful 80’s electronic sound here in the current day! What inspired you to write it?

McCluskey: PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY takes its title from a painting that I have always admired in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool…though I reinterpreted its frankly misogynist theme into dealing with the issue of commercial brainwashing. The world has manufacturing overcapacity, so advertising has to encourage people to see consumables as “essential” markers of the sense of self and success. We have all succumbed to this way of thinking. We frequently buy things that we don’t require. 

LOHC: How about new projects you are currently working on?

McCluskey: Covid lockdowns have reacquainted me with the creative power of boredom..haha! There will be a new OMD album. We still love touring and have many concerts planned for after the pandemic.

LOHC: Where do you see OMD in 10 years?

McCluskey: I will be 71 years old in 10 years time. It is possible that we will still be onstage, and that would be a remarkable achievement for a band created to only play one concert when I was 19 years old. 

LOHC: With all of your success, Andy, tell me in one word…what is the most positive impact OMD has had on your personal life.

McCluskey:

Self-confidence.

So…now on to some holiday questions …

LOHC: How did you and your family celebrate the holidays when you were growing up? What was your favorite present you received as a kid?

McCluskey: We always had a real tree and I love the smell of pine in the house. That smell alone is Christmas for me. The morning on Christmas day was a round of visits to family and friends. The sloppy kisses from aunties, and the bad socks as presents, were compensated by being handed illicit glasses of sherry by certain cheeky older ladies when my parents were not watching. Always aunts, never uncles..haha!

The main meal was always at 2pm, then we collapsed in an overstuffed heap in front of the fire to watch festive TV. I always fell asleep watching a family film…I doubt that I have ever seen MARY POPPINS or CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG all the way the through! 

As a child, I invariably seemed to awake just a few hours after Santa had been (there)… small presents in a pillowcase at the end of the bed, and any larger ones under the tree. My poor parents must have dreaded the joyful bounce on their bed of three small children at 3am, displaying all the new toys that had arrived! My favourite present was probably my first big bike…though I could barely climb on, as it was obviously designed to last several years of me growing taller. 

LOHC: What fantastic memories! What are some of your favorite holiday traditions now?

McCluskey: It seems that my now non-nuclear family has sadly lost many traditions, as children carefully divide time between divorced parents; however, I now seem to be the designated Christmas host in my family. Sisters, nieces, and nephews come to me for Christmas, so I am cooking for between 10 to 14 people, dependent upon how many of my own children are in the house. I am now up at 7am, classic FM Christmas carols on the radio, turkey in the oven, and open the sherry by 7:30am…then on to the veggies. 

After dinner is now always a fabulously drunken Christmas song Karaoke session of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews, dressed in outrageous fancy dress costumes, competing to be the worst singer…or least capable of reading or keeping up with the words. Great fun!

LOHC: It sounds as if your family has quite the celebration! Do you have a special recipe that you make each Christmas?

McCluskey: I still have the handwritten recipe for bread stuffing that was given to me by my American mother-in-law, before she sadly passed away twenty years ago. We keep her memory alive by making her recipe every year. It requires using the turkey giblets, celery, toasted bread, onions, and plenty of seasoning. English people tend to buy packets of ready-made sage and onion stuffing, so taking time to create this homemade dish is a lovely moment. And my kids always assist me in the celebration of their grandma. 

LOHC: What is your favorite Christmas song?

McCluskey: My favourite Christmas song is I WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY by Roy Wood. He is English and I have no idea if Americans will know this song. I also make a point of going to the Christmas carol service at my local church, even though I am not religious. 

LOHC: How about your favorite Christmas movie?

McCluskey: I have a tradition of watching the movie CHRISTMAS CAROL with the UK actor, Alastair Simm, playing Scrooge. It’s not Christmas unless I watch that specific movie. 

LOHC: And finally, what is it about Christmas that inspires you?

McCluskey: Christmas is a wonderful combination of treasured memories recalled, and making time for family and friends when you always find reasons never to meet at other times of the year. I find that I have to always remember to invest time in Christmas, as it rewards you. The more you put in, the more you get out. It is too easy to treat the season as a busy inconvenience, rather than a moment to pause and enjoy. 

 

Every wonder what was the inspiration behind your favorite OMD songs? Check out what Andy has to say about these FIVE FANTASTIC HITS!

ELECTRICITY

This is the first song that Paul and I wrote when we were 16 years old. Inspired by our German musical heroes Kraftwerk, it is a song calling for cleaner fuel production and renewable energy.

LOCOMOTION

This was originally intended to be about the difficulties if being disabled, but as I wrote the lyrics, it slowly mutated into a song generally about travel and transport…though there are some lines that I even I fail to know what they are about these days. 

SECRET

This song was written by Paul. The lady singing “secret” was his wife Maureen. When he wrote lyrics, it was usually a song of love to his wife. 

DREAMING

The lyrics are an imagined collection of frustrations about being in love with someone who is not reciprocating the feeling. The video was filmed in Almeria in Spain, using images from the Mexican Day of the Dead festival that I was fascinated about. 

TALKING LOUD AND CLEAR

An imagined beautiful day, shared together away from the noise of the world. Lying in the grass, not even requiring words to express the connection of love. This is the first track that we wrote when learning how to use the Fairlight music computer in Air Studios Montserrat in the Caribbean.