Gary Numan

Our Friend’s Metallic

Way back in the 1970’s, Gary Numan was the toast of the nation, topping the charts with his Tubeway Army single “Are’ Friends Electric” and his solo release, the mighty “Cars”. After a clutch of top ten singles, he was then unceremoniously ridiculed in certain quarters of the music press for both his recorded output and questionable flying skills (although if you read our previous interview with Gary, you’d know he only crashed once and, in fact, it WASN’T a crash at all!). Anyway, fast forward a couple of decades and the man is now, quite rightly, labelled a pioneer, a genius and one of the most influential artists of our generation. Numan’s new album is a moody, brooding fiend that perhaps paints a picture of someone not too happy with his lot. As I discovered, nothing could be further from the truth:

AD: Your albums seem to be getting darker and darker. I thought this one might be a little lighter after you became a dad again not so long ago. Are you feeling ok?!

GN: I'm feeling great. Will I soften up after becoming a father seems to be a question being asked by many of the fans as well. The only way I can describe the way it works for me is that as I open the door to the studio and walk in, it's as though a door in my brain opens and all that dark stuff is just sitting there, waiting. I leave the studio in the evening, having written the kind of stuff that Jagged is full of, close the door, both doors effectively, and go back to being happy dad. It's not something I could have done when I was younger. In those days I had to be feeling it to write it. These days I've felt it so many times all I have to do now is remember.

AD: Killing Joke's new single is called "Hosannas from the Basement of Hell". I can't help feeling that this description perfectly fits the tracks on "Jagged" - full of glorious uplift yet somehow angry and devilishly eerie. Would you agree with that description?

GN: I would definitely agree with that description. I've heard it called morose once or twice but I think that description completely misses what the album has to offer. For me it is an anthemic ride around the edge of menace. A claustrophobic sense of unease consistently lifted, throughout the album, by huge, epic choruses. It is dark though, I can't deny that.

AD: I was delighted to see in this month's "Uncut" magazine that you listed motorists who drive with their fog lights on when it isn't foggy as your pet hate. That's mine too! I also hate it when, in slow moving traffic queues, some people leave an ENORMOUS space between them and the car in front so you can't put your foot on the accelerator properly if you’re stuck behind them. Any other petty irritations?

GN: When two lanes merge into one I always seem to meet the woman who places both hands on the wheel, looks ahead as though her life depended on it and absolutely refuses to let anyone in. And it is always women that do it. Also, automated phone help lines that are never able to help. And why do they give you an option, eventually, to talk to a human being and then cut you off just as they answer? The Congestion Charge in London. Why can't they send me a bill rather than a fine? I'm willing to pay the charge but it's so easy to forget during a hectic day. They must make a fortune out of people simply forgetting to pay and then fining them. That's probably why they still refuse to send us a simple reminder. I could go on all day.

AD: What, or who, would you say shaped the making of "Jagged" the most?

GN: It can only be me or Ade Fenton. Our desire to push forward and to try and constantly come up with new and interesting sounds and grooves was the main driving force. Ade was a fantastic contributor to be honest and it was a pleasure working on the album with him throughout the entire project. He's a very talented man.

AD: What's the most glaringly incorrect thing you've ever read or heard about yourself?

GN: I read that I'd died. That came as a surprise. I've lost count of how many love children I've supposedly fathered around the globe and it seems I have something in the region of 20 or so brothers, although I only know of the one. I've been married at least five times apparently but I only remember getting married the once. I did read that I'd lost a limb in a plane crash a few years ago.

AD: There used to be a bit of a stigma attached to being a Gary Numan fan. I know this because I remember the slaughtering I got from other schoolkids when I bought "Change Your Mind". Somewhere along the line though, you suddenly became "cool" again. At what point do you think this happened?

GN: It seemed to start around 1994. I had a fairly massive change of direction musically and that coincided with people starting to talk about me as being influential. A lot of cover versions started coming out, a tribute album, several actually, and then samples of my music started getting used a lot in various hit songs and the whole vibe around me started changing into something very positive. I remain extremely grateful to everyone who has a kind word to say about me or who uses or covers my music. The fact that it's still going on is something that I'm genuinely amazed by. It's an honour, it really is, to have other musicians cover your songs. The fact that so many cool people have done it, from such a broad scope of musical styles, is all the more flattering.

AD: So, it's nearly 30 odd years since you started in the music business. What has kept you so driven and focused for such a long time?

GN: I have an obsessive nature. I feel driven by a constant need to prove myself, and at times to prove others wrong. Above all that of course is the fact that I genuinely love being in the music business. I love writing songs, making albums, touring, all of it. I don't want to do anything else, not for a living anyway. Every morning I wake up, look outside and I'm instantly aware that life is good and that I'm very lucky. I'm still living the dream that most young men, and women probably, long for. Being in a band, touring the world, all the excitement that comes with it. Who would want to stop doing that?

AD: I'm sure this'll be a tough one to answer, but if you could single out just ONE moment from your entire career that you regard as the absolute pinnacle, what would it be and why?

GN: The simple answer would be the first number one single and the moment I heard it had gone to number one. Every larger than life dream I'd ever had became a reality in that moment. A greater sense of accomplishment would be hard to imagine, for me anyway. The not so simple answer is dragging myself back from the career and financial oblivion I was facing in the early 90's. How we managed to turn such a desperate state of affairs around I will never really know.
I'm actually a lot more proud of that than I am the number ones but it's a lot more difficult to explain the details of why it was such a huge mountain to climb without writing a short book about it.

AD: My favourite part of the whole album is on "Melt", when you go into that "I know that Heaven is a burnt out shell" bit. A lot of your songs seem to be very anti-religion or atheistic (if I'm interpreting the lyrics correctly!) - What happened that made you feel this way?

GN: It's been with me my whole life. When I was at grammar school I was excused religious instruction on the grounds that I didn't believe and lessons were, therefore, pointless for me.
The bible is a terrifying read in my opinion. If I'm wrong, and there is a God, I can't imagine a more horrific and nightmarish scenario. The history of the world is a tale of unimaginable cruelty. So well done Him then for creating us. Good idea. Well thought out. Nothing wrong with that bit of creation. And thanks so much for intervening and smoothing out our rough edges over the millennia and helping us to make a better world. Thanks very much for that. Oh sorry, did the noise of that aeroplane crashing into a tall building make my prayers difficult to hear? Did that car bomb going off spoil the beauty of my heart felt Amen? Nothing really happened to make me feel the way I do, I just looked out of the window.

AD: What’s the ultimate message you try to put across in your music?

GN: Strangely enough I don't write songs because I feel I have anything to say. No words of wisdom to share with the world. I write songs because it is a need. A release perhaps would be a better way of putting it. It's done for very selfish reasons, like a diary that enables me to voice concerns and worries that would otherwise, if kept bottled up, become self destructive. I have so many hang ups I'm still trying to work out.

AD: How would you like to be remembered, above all else?

GN: I'm a totally devoted husband and I'm trying very hard to be the best dad I can be. Everything else is just window dressing. I don't really want to be remembered at all if I'm completely honest.
What's the point? I'm dead, I don't care what people say but Gemma and the children might and, if it isn't positive, it might upset them. So it's better not to be remembered at all. As long as they remember me fondly, and come and visit my resting place once in a while, I will haunt them with a happy heart.

Who said that?

Sorry, excuse my pitiful attempt at humour there, but I think you should forgive it because I think Gary has given us – or me at least – the best set of interview answers I’ve seen in the 6 year history of atomicduster. If anything, I think this interview alone should send you hurtling in pursuit of the nearest record shop, eager and ready to purchase the best thing Numan’s put out in years.

Interview: Tone E

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