Gary Numan talks about working on his new album “Intruder”, an upcoming UK tour, playing with different images throughout his career, his recent lifestyle, favorite places to perform and views on modern reality
Gary Numan is a remarkable artist, a true legend that influenced a lot modern music in areas of style, sound and new aesthetics. His long and impressive career is full of breathtaking ups and dramatic downs, starting in the middle of the 70’s in his hometown of London, when he formed his first band Tubeway Army. First singles of Tubeway Army were made in the punk-rock style. But soon, Gary Numan discovered the magical world of synthesisers and moved to a more electronic sound, perfectly reflecting the futuristic vibe and new emerging forms that were in the air at the edge of 70s –beginning of 80s.
His first single in the new electronic direction was “Down in The Park” and was soon followed by “Cars” and “Are Friends Electric” which achieved massive commercial success and took top chart positions worldwide. This mega success was followed by first two solo albums, “The Pleasure Principles” in 1979 and “Telekon” in 1980. At that point Gary Numan became one of the leading new world pop-stars with an incomparable sound and stage image. His approach to sound production which he used in these first albums by giving synthesisers a hard edge sound by playing them through guitar pedals became a big influence for the biggest industrial bands like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy. His stage image of an androgynous android was heavily inspired by science fiction images of future dystopias of the newly emerging cyber-punk genre and was really capturing peoples imagination. Also in the line of dystopian android image and electronic music with an infernal vibe, starting from these first well-acclaimed works, sincere and self-centered lyrics became a serious conceptual part of all Gary Numan’s songs and the trademark of his style of songwriting.
In the 80s, Gary Numan moved a bit from pure electronic sound and like all real forward-thinking artists who are always looking for something new, started to experiment with other musical genres like jazz, funk, soul and disco which was followed by changing his stage image to a less futuristic look with more references to an elegant gentleman’s style with classy suits. This period was marked by such albums that became, with no doubt, cult classics like “Dance”, “Warriors”, “I, Assassin”, “The Fury”.
In the 90s, Gary Numan faced a creative and personality crisis, his albums were far from commercial success and he was even thinking about leaving the music business at one point. The quintessence of this period was when his album “Machine + Soul” was released in 1992 and according to Gary’s words, nothing was right in this work; the music, the clothes, the haircut. But soon, he managed to reinvent his music and look, turning to a new style with a more guitar oriented, heavy industrial sound as well as a kind of gothic post-apocalyptic stage image. This path brought Gary Numan’s career and creativity to a new level, being marked by the album “Sacrifice” in 1994. Since that moment, within his next albums he mostly followed this new sound and style, making a bunch of well acclaimed fan and critic albums throughout the 90’s and into this century.
He recieved big respect from Nine Inch Nails, the band leader Trent Reznor mentioned that Gary Numan was one of his biggest musical influences, covered his song “Metal” and invited him him to join Nine Inch Nails on tour for a number of shows. Other artists that covered and used samples from Gary Numan’s songs includes such a wide range of bands that represents many different styles like Blur, Moloko, Basement Jaxx, Fear Factory, Sugababes and it certainly played a good role for introducing his music to the new generation.
At the moment Garry Numan lives a happy family life in sunny LA with his wife Gemma and three daughters and successfully combines it with an intensive music career, releasing new albums, videos and touring all over the world. We were lucky to talk with Gary just before his big tour in the UK about his new album “Intruder” which is going to be released next year, the evolution of his stage images, his favourite places to perform, and views on modern reality as well as other interesting things.
Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov
Hi Gary! Thank you very much for finding time for us. As I understand you are really busy at the moment with recording a new album… Can you please tell a bit about this work – with whom are you working on it, the name of the album, its general musical direction and vibe and when it will be finally out?
The new album is called ‘Intruder’ and I hope to have it out in September 2020. I’m working on it with Ade Fenton as producer once again, so it will be our 5th album together. Musically, it’s still heavy, epic electronic, with a strong leaning towards a film score vibe, but with vocals, obviously. It looks at the climate change problem from the point of view of the planet itself. It considers Earth a living thing and humans as a virus that need to be destroyed for the earth to survive. Climate change, and the temperature rise, is a planet level version of a fever.
You are using the same model of campaign for promoting the new album as you used for the previous album “Savage” – with giving your fans a possibility to pre-order it and giving them access for viewing the creation process of this work by listening to first studio sketches of songs, seeing how the art-work and lyrics are shaping. Is it a workable model in financial terms and does this interaction with loyal fans bring you artistic satisfaction?
It’s not interactive to be honest. I effectively open a window on the way I work and progress on the album, and let people watch that. I keep them up to date with new music, play things as they are developing, often things that are later deleted ands don’t make the finished album. They see lyrics evolve from early attempts to the finished thing, early artwork ideas, all my worries and struggles, both emotional and technical. I think that for the fan, it shows things that fans very rarely get to see but, it adds an extra level of worry and stress to me, of course, to keep supplying all this insider information.
Financially, it works well enough and is a useful, and in my opinion preferable, option to signing to a label as an artist. I only license my albums to labels on a label services type deal and I can do that because of the pre-order campaigns, and that of course means I keep the ownership of the album rather than give it away to a label.
For the future though, I’m also trying another option, which I’m launching soon and I suspect might be better, for the fans and for me, so we’ll have to see how it all works out over the next year or so.
Besides working on a new album, you are planning to have a big tour in UK that will start at the end of September. Are you planning to perform on this tour some of the songs from the album that you are working on now?
That tour is called the (R)evolution Tour and it’s intended to celebrate the fact that I’ve been touring for 40 years in September. That means, as I’m not promoting a new album this year, that I’ll be playing more songs from across those 40 years and not concentrating on new stuff, which I usually do. But, I will play at least one brand new song from ‘Intruder’, possibly two.
I’ll be playing more songs from across those 40 years
You are known for taking interesting and different opening acts on your tours. Is there going to be some opening act on this tour or just only your show?
We have a brilliant female act playing with us on the entire tour called Kanga. She is based here in Los Angeles and I believe she is one of the best new artists out there. As much as possible, I try to support acts that are female or, at the very least, have a female as a lead performer. I’m very aware of how hard it can be for female artists to fight their way through, especially in heavy electronic music, so I think it’s important to support them if you can. I’ve supported acts who don’t have female members of course, but it’s quite rare. Kanga is amazing and I’m sure the fans are going to love what she does.
We have a brilliant female act playing with us on entire tour called Kanga
During your musical career you traveled through different musical styles and were rapidly changing your artistic image – starting from futuristic, cold android look, to classy and fancy outfits and a gothic post-apocalyptic kind of style. Is the goal of these different images to keep the attention of the audience, or do they just reflect the things that are happening in your inner world now, or it is a combination of this factors?
If done properly, the images should be the visual embodiment of what the music is trying to say, so they serve the music. I haven’t always got it right, especially in the middle section of my career, but it’s working properly again now.
Do you think that your early futuristic android image in some ways anticipated and made a strong influence on the cyber-punk aesthetic that was being shaped at that time and that was followed by William Gibson novels and of course Blade Runner in cinema?
I honestly don’t know. It would be flattering if that was true but I just don’t know. I do know that in my own way I was influenced by many things along the way, so perhaps the people that appeared to be influenced by me were actually just influenced by the same things I was. As long as people are creating good and worthwhile things, in whatever areas they work in, then that’s okay. When I saw Blade Runner for the first time I wasn’t looking to see if I’d had any influence on it, I was just loving the film.
When I saw Blade Runner for the first time I wasn’t looking to see if I’d had any influence on it
Besides your sound that was always one step ahead of the time, serious and important parts of your songs are really deep and talented lyrics. What poets inspire and have had an influence on you?
None. I can’t think of one poet that I’ve ever read on a consistent basis. My lyrics come from personal experiences and fears. They are all deeply personal to me, they have no style as such that I’m aware of, but it’s the part of songwriting that I get the most satisfaction from doing well.
During your career you did many collaborations with different great artists, of which are the most memorable ones and maybe you can tell some interesting stories about them?
The most embarrassing collaboration was when I worked in a song with the band Battles. I made a mistake when I downloaded their music file (my task was to write the lyric and vocal melody, and then sing it of course) and I downloaded it at half speed. I had no idea it was wrong as I hadn’t heard the song before. I just thought it was this huge, powerful, slow, brooding piece of music, and I loved it. I then wrote the lyric, sang the vocal and sent it off to them, and it was then that I found out my mistake. Major shame on my part. But, I then did it properly, it was an entirely different lyric and vocal of course. I kept the original version and used it on one of my own songs later.
The most embarrassing collaboration was when I worked in a song with the band Battles
You have performed in many cities and countries during your career. Do you have some favorite places where you like to perform best?
I always liked playing in Los Angeles, it was one of the reasons I moved here eventually. It seemed so glamorous, it was always sunny and warm, every street was famous and I knew them from watching TV shows all my life, it just seemed so exciting. It still does actually. London is also a favorite because I was born there for one thing and the crowds there are so responsive and enthusiastic. They often seem to do everything other crowds do, but then add another level of noise and support.
You live in LA now? It will be interesting to know about the lifestyle that you have now, how do you usually spend your days when you are free from recording and touring?
I have three children, so my non work days are devoted to time with them. I miss them terribly when I’m touring so I make the most of every minute when we’re all together. At home we have a swimming pool so we make good use of that and Los Angeles has so much to offer that you can be doing different things every day if you wanted to. We eat out, go to the cinema, shows, the mountains, boat trips, the islands, whale watching, the beach, and more. Life here is fantastic.
Long ago you were known as a supporter of Margaret Thatcher and conservative values. In this connection, it will be interesting to know what your views are about a dramatic modern reality with Tump’s presidency in USA where you live now and Brexit in your home country?
I voted for Thatcher just once, the same year she won a landslide victory so I was just one of many millions that thought she was the best of a bad bunch. I think Brexit is a terrible mistake and I think that Trump is an awful human being. But, the most disappointing aspect about both things is the way people have become so hostile to each other, depending on what side of those issues you stand on.
Have you ever been to Andorra or do you have some knowledge about the country and will it be interesting for you to perform in Andorra if there will be such kind of possibility?
It would be fantastic to be able to play in Andorra. It’s one of those places that you read about, and wonder about, and yet never seem to visit. I would find it a fascinating experience I’m sure to go there, with or without a show to play.