Interview: Gary Numanby James Harle
at University of York 06th November 2012 11:58:58
One of the pioneers of electronic pop, Gary Numan’s career has spanned five decades and still shows no signs of slowing. Known for his extravagant stage shows and his one-time robotic persona- which inspired a generation of ‘Numanoids’- he has had an incalculable effect on the trajectory of modern music, and is cited as an influence by acts as diverse as Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson.
His early hits ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, with his band Tubeway Army and solo single ‘Cars’ both released in 1979 are tightly woven into the fabric of popular music. As it stands in 2012 Numan has made a clean break from his early work, having adopted an darker industrial metal sound.
With this I am eager to find out how work on his next album, 2013’s Splinter, is progressing.
“Well, I’ve pretty much got the bulk of the writing done, and the production on the first seven or eight songs is virtually done - so we’re well into it. But when I moved to America, things kind of stopped… six weeks ago I had to close my studio down, everything went into boxes, and it’s supposed to be arriving today… although I’ve not heard anything yet!”
Numan has caught a lot of flak over leaving the UK, a move, he claims, that was precipitated by the growing hostility of Britain’s streets. As such an iconic British act, a lot of fans have been sorry to see him leave our shores for his new home in sunny LA. I ask the musician how he’s managing without his studio, and where exactly all his equipment is right now.
“Well, with luck, in the next few days my stuff should be arriving here, and then the initial thing will be to set up a temporary studio inside the house - which, really, will just be me with a keyboard and some headphones. The next batch of writing, which will be the final batch for the album, will all be done on this temporary set-up in the house.”
Being an musician rooted in electronic sounds, how is he coping without his musical machines (keyboards, synthesisers).
“It’s not an ideal situation to be honest, but when you’re writing the tunes and the core structure, you don’t need a great big all-singing, all-dancing studio, you can do it with a keyboard and headphones, because you just need to play the tunes.”
Nonetheless, this album has a lot of history and a lot of connections with Numan’s other work. Splinter is a follow-up on the earlier studio album Jagged, and some of the material from Splinter will be played on the Dead Moon Falling tour this December- itself a follow-up on Dead Son Rising. Doesn’t it all get a bit confusing? Numan laughs.
“No - not to me anyway. I think it sounds confusing from the outside, but Jagged was six years ago now, which seems like a lifetime… and Dead Moon Falling is an album of remixes, which is why the title is similar to Dead Son Rising. What’s going to happen is that it’ll be available to download as part of Artrocker magazine’s iPad edition- they’re going to do a Gary Numan special. It’ll come out in hard copy later, with a few more songs. I’ve put some of the material from Splinter into the December tour just so that fans can get a feel for it, so we can see what they think of it. So in my head, it all makes perfect sense!”
He laughs again. With the highs and lows of a long career he knows how to take things in his stride. When I ask him about his Mojo Inspiration Award, won in 2011, he reacts with modesty and good humour. It was never something he expected. Over the years, as he points out, he has met with mixed reactions in the media from adulation to downright aggression; in the final moments of our interview I ask if there is any question he felt he’d never been given the chance to answer. His answer is not only interesting, but more than a little moving too.
“There is one thing. It’s not a question, but somebody once wrote that I was really pretentious- and that truly upset me. Out of all the things that have ever been written about me, that has always been the one that stuck with me, that I wanted to answer back to: I’m really not. More than anyone, I am the first person to stand up and say: ‘I’m not a very good singer. I’m not the best guitarist in the world- obviously. I’m not a very good keyboard player, and my song-writing process is chaotic at best- I stumble from one mistake to another.’ I know I’ve been very lucky- but I am the very opposite of pretentious.”
Gary will play seven UK dates in December as part of the Dead Moon Falling tour, and Splinter will be released in 2013. Artrocker’s Gary Numan special will be available on November 26th.