banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

IN CONVERSATION WITH – Gary Numan – May 2014

| 25 May 2014 | Reply

IN CONVERSATION WITH – Gary Numan – May 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Gary Numan 01

Mention Gary Numan to most in their forties and they will remember his ground breaking electronic work of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Singles Cars and Are Friends Electric hit like wrecking balls and still sound stunningly ground breaking today – revolutionary, even.

Still very much musically active, Numan’s music remains relentlessly forward-thinking, more industrial rock nowadays than electropop, and his latest album – his twentieth studio record – Splinter, is hailed as one of his best.

Calling Numan at home in California, he is the antithesis of his image: instead of distant or glacial, as some of his more famous songs may imply, he is talkative, humble and gracious. In fact, he’s a pleasure to talk with.

Sunday, May 25 – Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Wednesday, May 28 – Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
Thursday, May 29 – HQ, Adelaide SA
Friday, May 30 – Hi Fi, Melbourne VIC
Saturday, May 31 – Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW


Shane: Hello is that Gary?

Gary: Yeah, hello mate.

Shane: Hello Gary, It’s Shane Pinnegar from 100% Rock Magazine in Australia. Thanks very much for your time today, it’s much appreciated.

Gary: No trouble, no trouble at all.

Shane: Excellent. So I was trying to work out, when was the last time you toured Australia?

Gary: I think it was 2010 but I spoke to somebody earlier who thought it was 2011, but I thought it was 2010. So, yeah, it’s been a few years.

Shane: It’s great that you’re doing a nice comprehensive tour. Your influence has been felt across – sorry, my dog’s barking her head off in the background there… hopefully she’ll calm down. I’ll close the door, that might help. [Gary laughs]

Gary Numan 02

Your influence has been felt across a complete myriad of genres over a handful of decades, do you feel that it gets the respect and the acknowledgment that it deserves?

Gary: God, I have no complaints whatsoever. To be honest I sometimes think I get far more respect than I deserve. It’s a very cool thing. A lot of people have said some very nice things about my influence, being a pioneer of electronic music and lots of people have covered my songs and done samples of them and said very complimentary things.

So I have absolutely nothing to grumble about whatsoever. In fact, from a credibility point of view, I’ve probably never been in a stronger position than I am at the moment and that is almost entirely down to the kind words that other people have said, which definitely has an impact. It not only introduces you to their fans and encourages their own fans to check out what I’m doing, but I think it creates a level of respectability that is very hard to come by in any other way.

I am very aware of that and I am very grateful for the things that they’ve said, what they’ve done and of the cover versions of songs they have done because it really has had a very positive effect on what I’m doing.

Gary Numan 03

Shane: Absolutely, and it’s interesting, if you look back at the 70’s and early 80’s TV clips from that era, to see how revered in heavy metal circles you are nowadays.

Gary: Yeah, that is a surprise to be! [laughs] A few years back we did a festival in England called Sonisphere, which is essentially a heavy metal rock festival and at one point, half way through my set I started to play Cars. And the crowd was bouncing up and down and everyone was going mad – it was massive.

It was a massive festival and I couldn’t help but smile when it was going on, thinking, a few years ago you couldn’t have imagined a song like Cars ever going down well at a heavy rock festival. I think it just shows you how things have merged and there isn’t that, sort of, clear division anymore between certain kinds of music… it was interesting.

When we play Cars, which is one of the older songs that we play – obviously it’s kind of expected. When I first came along I remember meeting friends of countless bands who were very anti-electronic music, guitar-based bands especially, and very few of them had a good word to say about it. So, for me it’s very gratifying to see the way it has evolved over the years and how now it has a very different kind of vibe to it.

Shane: The 70’s and 80’s were very tribal, musically, weren’t they? If you were a heavy metal fan, you couldn’t like punk, and if you were a punk fan, you couldn’t like electro, and so on and so forth.

Gary: Yeah it was very divided, which is unfortunate because there is no reason for that. There’s no reason that somebody couldn’t like a multitude of styles of music. There is no reason to pick one and just limit yourself to that. Very occasionally I’ll meet a fan who will claim that he only listened to Gary Numan records – as if it’s some kind of a compliment. And I just think that’s a bit weird. I don’t find that a compliment at all!

Shane: I was going to ask: from what I’ve read, some of your fans can be a teensy bit obsessive at times. Does that get a little bit awkward when you are balancing being a recognisable rock star, with taking the wife and kids down to the shops to get the groceries?

Gary: (Laughs) It can be. It’s one of those things – I’ve tried very hard to have as normal a family life as possible. We go out, we do normal things, we go to restaurants, we go to cinemas, we go to the beach, we go to Disneyland – because I live in California now. We really just do everything that a normal family would do, so I try very much to make the children think of this life as being normal.

Where that is slightly awkward is when you do occasionally… quite often, when people do come up to you when you’re outside it’s actually very friendly and it’s very calm and people are not strange. They just come up and say hello and my children will nearly always ask, ‘do they know who you are because you are a singer, or have you met them before?’ They are sort of, quite interested in why strangers come up and talk to me.

It’s not often that weird an experience, but every once in a while you’ll get someone that’s covered in Gary Numan tattoos – or a girl might come up and start crying, that sort of thing. And that sort of freaks them out a little bit but that’s very unusual. It doesn’t happen very often. I’m proud to say that the kids are almost entirely unfazed by what I do for a living.

Shane: Wow, that’s good! You’ve been at the pointy end of technology since you started out basically – are you still that way, or have you switched back to using old school equipment for the sound quality, like a lot of artists have?

Gary: No, I’ve no interest in going backwards with technology at all. I think of synthesizer technology pretty much as a screwdriver or a hammer. It’s a tool that you use to get what you want and I don’t really have a lot of emotional connection with them. I think strangely enough the only musical instrument that I do feel very connected to is my guitar that I’ve had since I was a young teenager. That’s been on every album that I’ve ever made, been on every tour that I’ve ever done, and I really do love it. I would never dream of selling it. But synthesizers and general kind of music technology – it can come and go.

The reason I move something on and get rid of it after a while, is because I feel that I’ve got all the sounds out of it that I can get really… that I’ve kind of got the best from it. So I don’t really see the point in going back to it again, because I don’t want to revisit any of the sounds that I’ve used before. To me an album should be full of new things – sounds that you’ve not used before, digital effects or whatever it may be.

It’s all about creating something new with every album. So going back to the past from a technology point of view, holds no interest and actually going back to the past for almost any reason, holds no interest. I really do find what I might do tomorrow to be the exciting thing to be thinking about. What’s coming? What might be going to happen? I find that a 1000 times more interesting than thinking about what I did yesterday, or possibly 35 years ago.

Shane: It sounds like you’re always searching for a brand new, unique sound. Does that become stressful or frustrating, at least, to always be constantly searching?

Gary: Yeah it can be, but equally it’s an exciting challenge. It’s something that I think we should be doing. I think if you have any kind of success with music, it’s an absolute crime to the just sit back for the rest of your career just living on those successful moments. I think you’re obliged to keep trying to do something new. You have to earn your place and you have to then earn … You have to renew it or re-earn it year after year or album after album and I think that’s the way it should be. I don’t have a great deal of admiration for people that have a few hits and then spend the rest of their career just playing those hits and being very retro and nostalgic about everything.

I got into electronic music because it was very forward looking. It was all about trying to do something new and interesting and I stayed interested in it because it’s the only genre that can really help you to do that. The very nature of it means that it is technology driven and therefore there are new technologies coming along all the time which do new things. You have to learn how they work, adapt them, adapt to them and just keep on moving forward. So it’s a very exciting thing to be involved in but nonetheless having to come up with a brand new vocabulary of sound with every album you make is a challenge and it can be a little bit daunting at times.

Gary Numan 04

Shane: Yeah, absolutely, I have no doubt whatsoever. So is music fun for you – is that process enjoyable?

Gary: Yeah, largely. Obviously you have moments in the studio when you get a bit… you have a day when it doesn’t go well or you don’t come up with the sounds that you’re looking for or you can’t find a way to integrate them into a song or whatever the problems are. Or most likely you’re bloody computer fucking doesn’t work, that’s a common moan. That can be seriously frustrating so you do have bad days and you do worry. I worry a great deal about whether I’m going to be able to do it at the time.

Every time you walk into a studio there is an element of doubt and worry and some pressure that you’ve got to come up with these things again and again and again. But that’s what it’s supposed to do, that’s what making a new album should mean. It should be an album of new things. It shouldn’t be new versions of what you’ve done before. I mean, something different, something new – I don’t mean radically like huge experimental departures but it should be a constantly forward moving evolution. That’s what we’re here for.

Shane: So your not about to join Ringo Starr’s All Starr band and bash out some classic rock covers for fun then?

Gary: It’s unlikely. [laughs]

Shane: It sounds it! Look, getting back to what you said about the stress and the emotional side of things. You’ve said in interviews that your latest album, Splinter, is about dealing not only with a diagnosed depression but also about the cure for that depression. By that did you mean medication?

Gary: Yeah, the medication for depression is very effective in getting rid of depression – but it does it by replacing it with something else. It replaces it with an, ‘I couldn’t give a shit,’ kind of attitude. And although it’s helpful to begin with and though it’s a lovely alternative to the way you feel before, it has its own problems.

If you’ve been a very moody person such as I have my whole life and then you go through several years of being diagnosed depressed with severe depression and then all of a sudden… well, over a few months you suddenly find that you don’t really care much at all, at the minute. Everything is jut dandy and you’re drift just drifting along in this happy little bubble, well that’s very seductive. You don’t particularly want to go back to the real world, because this one, now, is actually quite cool.

I’ve never been consistently not-bothered, ever, in my life until I went on those pills and you find yourself not caring about anything. The way it worked for me was, I hadn’t written songs for quite some time because of the depression and then it just carried on and people were saying to me, ‘your career is fading away, you’re going out to these gigs but you’re playing the same songs that you’ve been playing for years and people are losing interest’. And because I was on the pills I was happily going along with my, ‘couldn’t give a shit,’ kind of attitude. I just didn’t care. Not in an arrogant, ‘I don’t care what people think kind of way,’ but just in a ‘everything’s alright, I’m just happy and I don’t care really,’ – that kind of way.

I became a completely different person. Not a horrible person at all, but just a very different person: I had no ambition, no drive, no get-up-and-go whatsoever. I was just drifting. My wife hated it. She completely went off me as the person she’d married and so you have to come back. You almost have to cure yourself from the cure of what they give you for depression and it’s not an easy thing to do.

So yeah, it looks at kind of all aspects of it really. Not just the depression itself but the problems that it causes. I had marriage problems, I had all kinds of things that were going on and it’s difficult – it was a very difficult period.

Gary Numan 05

Shane: Well, I’ve seen it happen in a couple of friends over the years actually, and it’s exactly as you just described it: It seems like a juggling act, balancing the darkness within with those soul-destroying meds?

Gary: It is. Yeah it really is. I think the medicine that they give you is a very important part of the getting through the depression. I’m not against the medicine that they give you. In Britain at least, they give it to you very easily and they don’t particularly monitor your progress and how long you’re on it for. If you’re happy to stay on it, they just keep letting you stay on it and I think that’s the danger of it. At some point you’re going to need to come back to reality – unless your personality is forever changed, and not necessarily in a good way. I think there needs to be more monitoring of how long you’re on these things for and the effect that it’s having on you. And in some respects it’s the people around you that are better qualified to talk to the doctor about that than the person themselves.

Shane: So, Splinter is your twentieth studio album. How do you feel it stacks up against your past work?

Gary: I think it stacks up very well, actually. It’s far enough away now from when I finished it that I can actually be more objective about it. When you first make something you’re so close to it, it’s impossible to be objective about it. In a way you’re almost glad to see the back of it because you’ve been on it for so long and listening to those songs for so long. But there has been some time now, I think it’s been 6 or 7 months since it came out. I can honestly say I’m very proud of it. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m particularly proud of it, in that I’ve done it this late.

I think that people who have had careers as long as mine – I wouldn’t say it happens to everybody – but it’s fairly common for people to kind of bland out a little bit in the later years – to become more safe and middle of the road and I’ve kind of done the opposite to that. My music has got heavier and heavier and darker and more aggressive as I’ve got older and I’m actually kind of proud of that in a way, in that I’m not going the nostalgia route, I’m not trying to appeal to the retro crowd by looking back to yesterday. I’m not trying to go the commercial route and just be soft and write ballads and pop songs and that kind of thing.

I’m making the heaviest, darkest music that I’ve ever made and it’s doing alright for me. Splinter is actually doing very well for me so I’m kind of pretty happy with the way I am, I’m really happy with the album. No complaints whatsoever at the moment.

Shane: Excellent. I had a quick listen to it yesterday and it sounds amazing. I’m looking forward to listening to it again today to get into it a little bit more.

Gary: Thankyou.

Shane: Just to finish up, you had a bit of a burst in popularity a few years ago amongst ‘the kids’ (so to speak), when The Mighty Boosh featured you quite heavily for a while there. That must have been a bit of a trip; Gary Numan or jazz funk?

Gary: [Laughs] Yeah, the funny thing about The Boosh is, there was a period when I could almost guarantee that if anyone that I spoke to under 25 knew who I was, it would be because of the Mighty Boosh. I think it did more for my… I’m not sure if ‘popularity’ is the right word, but more people knew about me because of The Boosh than any of the records I’d made and anything else that was going on! It was a kind of humbling experience and I’m very grateful to them. I was a big fan anyway so to find something like that that you really love and then you see it rewards you in that way was fantastic.

Shane: That’s it, if we had more time I’d go into a bit of a discussion about the power of pop culture with you, but I think I’m out of time so. Thankyou for your time today, it’s much appreciated.

Gary: My pleasure.


Sunday, May 25 – Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Wednesday, May 28 – Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
Thursday, May 29 – HQ, Adelaide SA
Friday, May 30 – Hi Fi, Melbourne VIC
Saturday, May 31 – Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad