Gary Numan: Interview
In a career spanning over forty years, Gary Numan has become a seminal figure in contemporary British culture and is widely considered to be a pioneer of electronic pop music.
With hits such as Are ‘Friends’ Electric and Cars, Numan has always enjoyed a cult status amongst his loyal followers and his desire for experimentation and artistic integrity means that Numan is still producing work that is both vital and exciting in equal measure.
Numan has recently released the critically acclaimed new album, Savage - a concept album based around the idea of environmental disaster. Numan has taken on an idea relevant to all of our lives and uses it to explore the frailty of human survival.
Now in the vintage years of his music career, Gary Numan is no mood to pull any punches. We caught up with him to talk about his new album, his feelings on receiving the Ivor Novello Inspiration award and his contempt for Donald Trump.
Q. Hello, Gary, paint us a picture – what have you been up to today?
Well, it’s 10am over here in LA and I only got up about ten minutes ago. I’d say it was a slow day but here I am doing an interview straight out of the gate. For the rest of the day I’m writing out lyric sheets – hand written lyric sheets for the Pledge Music campaign. Then tonight, I’m off to see Wicked with the children. I hate musicals so that should be an interesting experience.
Q. You’ve been working with Pledge Music for your latest album – it’s a platform which is becoming increasing popular amongst musicians and fans. What attracted you to this model?
Some friends of mine had worked with Pledge and had raved about how useful it was. The days of seeing it as a crowdfunding thing have gone. With more and more names using the platform it has mutated into something much more rounded. Because it is chart eligible, the sales through Pledge count towards chart positions – particularly important in the first week. It’s like a glorious, extended pre-sale.
Way beyond that, I was looking for ways in which to involve my fans more in what I do and how I produce my work. When people generally get an album, they’re not really encouraged to think about what goes into making a record. I had an inkling that if fans were encouraged to see the process and the production then they would get so much more pleasure when listening to the music – connecting them to the origins of the process was something that really excited me.
So, I made a thing of exposing the whole process – from creating the first notes of a song and then showing how these notes developed and changed as the song came together. I extended this to both the lyrics and the album sleeve. Making the fans a part of that journey means that they would have a much more rounded experience of the music. The whole Pledge thing is about breaking down those barriers between artists and fans and that’s something that really appeals to me.
Q. Your new record Savage is a concept album with post-apocalyptic themes and imagery. Tell us a bit about the album and where the idea came from.
The idea is taken from a book I’ve been trying to write for a number of years now. It’s a concept tied to a post-global warming/post-apocalyptic world where everything has gone wrong – a place where resources are so scarce that even necessities such as water become currency. It’s essentially about what people do to survive. The title ‘Savage’ doesn’t refer to people but the environment in which they are living in.
When I was writing the book, it started out as a sci-fi fantasy project. However, with Trump and his recent withdrawal from the Paris Accord the concept became a grim possibility – a very real danger concerning every single living thing in the world. The book and the album overlap and try to imagine the consequences of the decisions we make in the present.
Q. As a Brit living in the United States, what’s your take on the Trump phenomenon?
I think he is an awful human being. I think there are two very particular reasons why he coveted the position he is in 1. Ego and 2. To further his business interests. It’s shocking to me that his supporters don’t seem able to see that. Although his general support is waning it seems his hard-core support is becoming more and more entrenched and are blind to his lies and his deception.
The man can barely speak English and is not a man you can trust to run a country – never mind the most powerful country in human history. It’s truly frightening. For example, his Twitter page is abject lesson to us all of what world we are currently living in. His childish rants and offensive statements highlight the absurdity of the whole situation
Q. In terms of issues such as Trump and the Brexit debate here in the UK, what do you consider to be the role of the artist in such tumultuous times?
Until recently, I considered myself and other musicians and artists as entertainment – a diversion to what’s going on in the world. The reason for that was because I didn’t see myself as qualified or educated enough on the subject of politics to discuss or express opinions with any authority. Because you may be in a position in which thousands of people are listening to you doesn’t necessarily mean that you have anything intelligent or interesting to say about certain matters. So, for me, I always avoided expressing political opinions in public – regardless of my personal thoughts.
For example, the Brexit thing in the UK – the whole debate was so ill-informed and confused that it rendered any commentary utterly futile. However, with Trump he is clearly a shit of a man and it doesn’t take too much insight or education to be convinced of that.
In terms of the Savage album I don’t consider the concepts involved – climate change, survival etc. – as political debating issues. The whole world bar the US and a couple of others are opposing climate change policy. This is a universal and global phenomenon that is beyond debate and expressing it in those terms – be it through art, music, literature or politics is something I find very important.
Q. You were presented with the Ivor Novello Inspiration award this year. Can you tell us what that meant to you and who were your inspirations growing up?
The Ivor award was the best thing that’s ever happened to me on a professional level. It’s such an honour – to get any Ivor is such a cool thing and it’s so highly respected because it’s chosen by your peers. It’s great because it’s nothing to do with popularity or who is flavour of the month it’s simply down to other songwriters looking at the quality of your music and giving you an award for it. On top of that, to be given one for inspiration is just mind-blowing. I mean my inspirations growing up meant so much to me and inspired me to become the musician I am. The first band I really loved were The Monkeys and the first band that really turned me on to wanting to be a pop star was T-Rex and Marc Bolan. So, to be considered an inspiration for others is very humbling.
To be at the awards and to meet the other people that have been given those awards and to feel that I was now part of that illustrious company was very satisfying. I was proud as punch and I got quite embarrassing because I couldn’t stop talking about it – I was show-horning it into every conversation! It’s funny when I look back to where it all started and it’s crazy to think about how far this journey has taken me.
Q. When you look back at your career now, do you think about your younger self and attempt to chart where your own creative talents started to emerge?
Increasingly so. I started to play the guitar when I was very little – about four or five years old and I was making up my own tunes almost straight away. I remember that my nan used to grumble at me that I never played anything that she recognised!
In fact, I remember a very specific conversation I had with my nan where I said that I didn’t want to play other people’s songs but that I just wanted to make up my own. The urge to make music and create stuff was always a part of me. So, it started way back then and then developed from there.
Funnily enough, my dad is moving house at the moment – from a house he’s lived in for forty-odd years – and he asked me to move out some of my old stuff so I went down and found all of my old school books. Within all of them, you can see me writing bits of poetry in the back cover or hidden within my work. It was so lovely to see myself back when I was young and to realise that the instinct to create was ever present.
Q. You're currently working on your first novel. Have you always had literary ambitions?
I’ve always written stories – even at school when we were given homework to write a story or an essay I would be the only one who would love it and look forward to more. The second album I ever made, Replicas came from a series of short stories I’d written so it’s a thing I’ve always done. However, as I get older I start to imagine a life after my music career stops and I’ve always been attracted to literature and the idea of writing stories.
For me, writing is a frightening and terrifying ambition and it’s something I’d really like to do but I’m scared that I’m not going to be any good at it! I think that’s part of the reason why this first book is such a problem for me as I have been trying to do it for a number of years now. I have a feeling that I’m scared to finish it because it’s possible I might find out that I’m shit and that would be a major ambition thwarted.
Q. You'll soon be touring the album, Savage. As a veteran of the road, is it still exciting for you?
Absolutely. I’ve been touring for about forty years now and to me, it’s as natural to me as having my dinner. I actually really love touring – I always have my wife with me, sometimes my kids and I love the band that I work with and we’ve been playing together for about twenty-five years now. I don’t see the downside to touring. You are going all over the world with your best friends, playing your songs to people who come to hear them – what’s not to like. I’m in a privileged position and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
Full tour dates:
Sat 30 Sep 2017 Cardiff Tramshed
Mon 02 Oct 2017 Bournemouth O2 Academy
Tue 03 Oct 2017 Leeds O2 Academy
Thu 05 Oct 2017 Bristol Colston Hall
Fri 06 Oct 2017 Oxford O2 Academy
Sat 07 Oct 2017 Nottingham Rock City
Mon 09 Oct 2017 Newcastle O2 Academy
Tue 10 Oct 2017 Glasgow O2 ABC
Wed 11 Oct 2017 Birmingham O2 Institute
Fri 13 Oct 2017 Manchester Academy
Sat 14 Oct 2017 London O2 Brixton Academy