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Interview: Gary Numan

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Gary Numan is a legend, a pioneer of electro-pop and industrial music and a man who is used to adapting to the era is currently in.

Gary Numan

Last time we spoke to the synth-master he was in the process of completing Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) a new album that was set to re-establish his position as a must-hear artist.

A year on, Splinter has done its job receiving rave reviews and introducing a whole new audience to the man who gave us ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends’ Electric?’

We had a catch-up about fatherhood, touring memories and his marriage.

How are you feeling about touring Splinter? What are you most excited for? 

The album has had, by far, the best reaction of any album I’ve ever released so that’s a very reassuring thing to be aware of as a tour looms. It gives you a lot of confidence that you can draw heavily from that album and know that the songs are liked.

I’ve already played a number of shows in the US in support of the album so I know it works well live. I have a lot of confidence in it translating well from CD to stage in the UK. One of the most exciting things about the UK leg of the tour is that it has a brand new, and considerably improved, light show and production compared to other things I’ve done over the last 20 years. It’s a serious step up. That is what I’m most excited about.

Do you have a particular touring memory that you are fond of; and a memory that you’d perhaps rather forget?

I love touring so, for me, it’s all about building good memories. I love to travel, I’m very happy living in a bus, I love the people I work with (my band are amongst my very closest friends) and my wife Gemma always travels with me. It’s always a happy and party-like atmosphere amongst us all when I’m on the road so it really doesn’t have a bad side.

Each day you arrive somewhere new, you explore if possible, play your songs to people that know you and, for the most part, like what you do, people cheer and scream, it’s all very exciting, and then you get back on the bus and have fun through the night until you’re ready to give up on that day and go to sleep. Every tour is an adventure; they all have their moments of stress, and extreme highs. Some are more of a worry than others but touring is the thing that I love about being in a band above everything else.

Have you noticed a change in your audiences over the years? Do you still see the same people coming to gigs who have been fans since the beginning?

It’s definitely changed. Although I still see a lot of the older faces, and I’m very grateful for that, they’re less each time, or it certainly looks that way. But, replaced by a new generation it seems. I have always said that as fans get older it becomes more difficult for them to maintain the same level of interest as they did when they were young.

Kids, mortgages, careers, all these things take their toll on someone’s ability to indulge in music to the same level, and so, you see a gradual ‘falling off’ of numbers of older fans. This is normal and to be expected. What you need for a long career to survive is for those people to be replaced, so to speak, and this is where I’ve been very lucky.

 Over the last few albums I’ve seen a huge surge in interest in what I do, and credibility from what I’ve done before, amongst younger people so I’ve not only been able to maintain numbers of fans but increase them. Having said that it’s still an ongoing challenge to keep things moving upwards and this tour is another part of that particular battle. There are a lot of very good bands all making good music so you have to deliver both on stage and with the albums that you release. Competition never goes away, and it gets harder all the time to stay successful.

Is it ever frustrating that songs like ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’ became so popular? And do you ever feel they steal attention away from your other material?

I’ve learnt to be proud of those two songs. I think most songwriters would dream of writing something that did that well and has lasted that long. ‘Cars’ is arguably one of the most famous songs in the world and I’m very proud of that. But, it’s also true to say that I haven’t always felt that way.

For a long time I almost resented them as they seemed to get in the way of everything else I tried to do. Luckily, things are going much better these days and so I no longer see those two songs as frustrating ties to the past, more a glorious part of it. The new Splinter album has had the best reviews I’ve ever had, after thirty five years in the music business, so I think it’s okay for me to relax a bit with my current position in the industry and enjoy the fact that I wrote ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’

Has being a parent had an effect on how your music is made? Does your family have an influence on the music?

It’s meant that I’ve had to learn how to have both, a busy music career and a busy family life, and work them together. It’s taken me many years unfortunately to find that magical middle ground between career and family, and it remains a big challenge, but I think I’m about there now. I’m a very hands on parent and I love being with the family, but I need to work hard, and constantly, to keep things going financially so it’s not an easy situation, far from it.

Creatively they have no influence on the music as far as opinions and suggestions go, but they feature in it often as subjects and emotional situations to write about. I worry about them obviously, their future, and that pops up a lot in songs. During the making of Splinter I went through several years of depression when I didn’t write a thing, much of that came from my struggles to adapt to being a parent, my marriage became a little shaky, and so all of that is in the new album. So, in many ways, being a parent, having a family, definitely has an effect on the music I make. The thing is though, whatever part of my brain is creative, is only triggered by darker things. So, I’m never going to write a song about what a good day I’ve just had. A good day wouldn’t trigger anything creative in me. But, if I have a bad day, or a sad day, I’m far more likely to find a need to want to write about that. The trick is I guess, writing about it in a way that avoids making music that’s depressing. You still want the music to be powerful and a good listening experience. I think I managed to do that really well with Splinter.

There are many critics commenting on your music’s evolution but, in your opinion, how do you think your music has evolved over the last thirty five years?

I have tried many things musically over the years to try and broaden my skills as a songwriter and as a musician. Not all of those things were successful but they were all important in me finding my way to where I am now.

I have built up a vast library of experiences in song-writing, recording and performing over the years but I have never felt more at home than where I am now, musically speaking. Most people seem to think that Splinter is either the best album I’ve ever made, or certainly one of the best, so I can’t grumble about any mistakes I might have made in the past that littered the road I took to get here.

I have always been interested in creating new sounds, in making each album a step forward from the last (haven’t always succeeded at that but that’s been the ambition). I am totally driven by melody first, everything else next, and that, perhaps, shines through in the song-writing. I have no interest in the past, in nostalgia, and so I’m always looking at tomorrow, at what I can do better.

I do not live on past glories, I have no interest in past glories, my only interest is trying to write something better than I’ve written before, something new, something that no-one has heard before. Most people that have long careers tend to bland out somewhat as they get older. They get safer, more middle of the road. I seem to be going in the opposite direction. My music is now darker, heavier and more aggressive than it’s ever been.

What still excites you about working in the industry?

The same things that excited me when I made my first single back in 1978. There is nothing better than being in a band. This is everything.

Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) is out now. 

 

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