Gary Numan will soon be beating a path to the warmer climes of LA, but in the meantime he’s got a UK tour and a DVD of TV appearances from around the globe to talk about. Jeff Hemmings spoke with the head Numanoid
Gary Numan enjoyed huge success at the tail end of the ’70s and early ’80s with three consecutive number one albums – Replicas, The Pleasure Principle, and Telekon, as well as the enduring number one hit ‘Cars’, which propelled this son of a British Airways bus driver to international stardom. Although the hits have largely dried up and the albums barely make the top 100, he’s still a huge draw, involving a particularly rabid fanbase known as the ‘Numanoids’. But he’s had enough of England it seems. Following the harassment of his wife while his family were walking near their home and the 2011 riots Numan filed papers to emigrate to the United States, with a plan to move to California. Numan has said: “Every village and town in England has a bunch of thugs running around in it. The riots were the nail in the coffin.
“For us as a family, Los Angeles is a better place to be – you know, the kids come home from school and it’s raining – the weather really ****** up a lot of things you want to do with your life. Over there that doesn’t apply, it’s always lovely weather, you can plan ahead. Where we are going to live two hours away you could be skiing in the mountains, or surfing on a silver sandy beach with no one on it. It sounds like a trivial reason, but from a work point of view, the opportunities are phenomenal.
If it doesn’t work out I can always come back. There are a massive amount of things I am going to miss. I am English from head to toe, so I’m not sure if it will work out.”
“I’m actually ageing pretty well – I’m pretty much as fit as I was when I was 21”
Numan, as I had been forewarned, is a very talkative person and I rarely needed to say anything: “I don’t know if you have noticed but the springs have been really beautiful and the summers have been dog ****. It’s been lulling you into a false sense of security – ‘it’s not so bad here, maybe I’ll give it another year’, and then June/July it starts ******* down until October, and it’s, ‘**** me, I’ve only got a few summers left! I’m 54, and don’t want to be wasting them’.
“I talk about it as if I’m a doddering old man but I’m actually ageing pretty well – I’m pretty much as fit as I was when I was 21 and I still look alright, but I’m looking ahead, and trying to be honest with myself. There aren’t that many in their 60s doing this. I have three little kids and don’t want to find myself ******. And bearing in mind the music industry has crumbled, it’s the live scene where you can make the money, and not through the albums. If for some reason that stops I need to have something else I can switch to.”
Numan is particularly looking forward to stepping into the world of film and TV soundtracks in America. “I don’t want to change what I do – the whole album/touring cycle – it’s the favourite thing that I do, but realistically there is a time when it will stop or fade away, and I’ve got to think about what I’m going to do then, and one of things I think will be exciting and challenging is film scores. I think quite a lot of my music is filmic. I’ve always been visually orientated, the look of it has always been as important as the sound of it.”
Meanwhile, Numan remains relatively active in the studio, releasing his 16th studio album last year, Dead Son Rising. “I’ve got a studio at home, all very computer driven. It’s a relatively modest set up in a shed, but it works well. Now, you can have phenomenal capabilities in a very small box.”
Numan’s roots go back to punk, and with his band Tubeway Army, he released two archetypal punk/new wave singles in 1978, neither of which charted. “I was in a punk band originally – a three piece. I was on guitar and vocals, my uncle was on drums. I got into synthesisers by accident. I went into the studio to record my debut album which should have been a punk album, and there was a mini-moog in there. I had never seen a real one before, and the man there let me have a go at it and I just fell in love with it. I had never heard anything like it. I remembered the first note that I played, the whole room shook. I had never heard power like it, and so I very hastily converted all my punk songs into pseudo-electro punks songs. I went to the record company with that and initially there were very unhappy, but they did put it out to their credit, and it did better than they thought. Then the next album [Replicas] after that went to number one. It all happened quickly.
“For the first year or two I was totally blagging it – there were interviews with keyboard magazines, and electronic magazines. The total amount of time I had with a synthesiser after making two albums was about four days. I didn’t own one, the record company used to rent them. We were only allowed to have them for a couple of days at a time. So, I had to do all my learning and recording at the same time. I would have say, 20 minutes of fiddling around with these things before recording the next track, trying to get a sound I liked and not having any clue what those dials and switches did. It was a case of, ‘that will do… quick, let’s record that… twiddle, twiddle, twiddle… that’s a good sound, let’s record that’. We made it up as we went along, really, really basic.
“As time goes by you learn what everything does and when pre-sets came along it made it different. Then when computers came along it changed it again. But I still feel as if I’m only scratching the surface of what knowledge there is to be had.”
Numan’s honesty is disarming, but it has got him into trouble in the past, especially when he declared his support for Margart Thatcher and the Conservative Party back in the ‘80s, something which he later regretted saying. But he’s good with his fans (he even married one), and like many working musicians he is upping his game to take into account the internet/social networking era – fans and filmmakers can participate in the current tour by making visuals to be projected during a selection of tracks on the rest of the tour.
“I noticed that there were bands out there doing things like putting the stems out there for people to remix to make the fans more involved. Perhaps it’s a function of the crumbling music industry – your fans are becoming even more precious than ever, and you want to look after them, and make them feel involved and a part of what you are doing. There will be people out there with iMovie and Final Cut, and if nothing else, there is the pride of having something seen in front of a lot of people. The fans seem to be warming to it.”
Gary Numan, Brighton Dome, Sun 3 June. Machine Music: The Best Of Gary Numan DVD, out 11 June