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Gary Numan Part Two: Musicman. Dangerman. Familyman.


If you missed part one of our Numan feature you can peep it here.

Join us now, friends, as Gary Numan and a representative from Magnetic Magazine hold court at the Venice California branch of Whole Foods.

Trent Reznor? Genius. The most important and gifted musician and song writer I have ever known or heard of. Hugely important to me, and to music in general. Not much to discuss about that. Its a fact.

Markus von Pfeiffer: Tubeway Army’s “Are Friends Electric” hit number one in the UK on June 30th with your solo piece “Cars” ringing that same bell on the 22nd of September. A good year for Numan Corp. Popular media was not suffering from, or enjoying the same type of synchronicity that it does nowadays, and t’wasn’t till 1980 that “Cars” peaked at number nine in America. However, as An unimpeachable achievement, as the throne on this side of the Atlantic was populated by a fumbling lot comprised of cocaine-sponsored pretenders and burnt-out supernovae-turned-black holes including: Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Paul McCartney, Captain & Tienele, Barbara Streisand John Lennon and Rupert Holmes with his amply questionable single “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Grim days. Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Blondie’s “Call Me” and Lipps Inc’s slapstick “Funkytown” offered up a spear of hope, but indeed it was one of those years in musicdom’s ubiquitous cycle wherein the old guard has ignored their respective death knells, fouling the party for everyone. Change, under the flag of the synthesizer was inevitable, New Wave was poised and Gary Numan was to be its righteous and heralding angel in the vanguard. How did it come to you, the song? Scribed by the hand of some long-forgotten god on a relic of epic-poetry worthy origin? Hush whispered from the mouth of a dying saint? Beamed into your mind in a rare vision?

Gary Numan: No. The lyrics came from an incident in London when two men leapt out of the car in front, tried to pull me out of my car and beat me up. I gather I'd cut them up or something like that. I drove along the pavement, scattering pedestrians, and got away. The music came from my first attempt to learn to play a bass guitar. I'd been to London, bought a bass called a Shergold Modulator, came home and opened the case and the very first thing I played, the very first, was the main bassline to "Cars." The next thing I played was the chorus line. A few minutes later I'd put those parts into the arrangement that people know today. The entire process took less than ten minutes and within the hour I had the lyrics done. The high string line idea came later in the studio. "Cars" is one of only two songs I've ever written on bass guitar, and the quickest song I've ever written by far.

And that, for those who are keeping track, was 33 years ago—in The Pleasure Principle-era:an LP where you used absolutely no guitars, choosing to ape them via synths. You must have shocked a bit. I can picture a typical larger lad dropping his beans and toast when you lurched onto the stage for Top of the Pops: inch-deep white pancake make-up and mascara. Robotic movements. Dead, staring eyes. Now you’re accepted, still coloring a bit outside the lines but collaborating with the cool kids and playing big-top venues. Which, in particular, make your day special?

So far, Shepherds Bush Empire in London. I don't think I've ever had a bad gig there and I've done it more times than I can remember. Big enough to feel worthwhile, small enough to get a good feel for the people watching. Always an amazing atmosphere and you are able to reach out into the crowd and feel a part of them. You don't feel separate like you do in some venues. Great old world decor, classic old British theatre style venue, clean dressing rooms and not far from home—so the kids came come.

You’ve cavorted with, been sampled from and covered by many, from the world of electronic, electric and the in-between. Afrika Bambaataa and Smashing Pumpkins are proper bookends; but I’m talking about Armand van Helden, Flood, Foo Fighters, Alan Moulder, Curve and Basement Jaxx and ole’ liver lips himself, Marilyn Manson—just about as variegated group as you could come up with. Something’s right in your world. And you haven’t stayed stylistically static like many of your still-standing peers—read Echo and the Bunnymen, Morrissey a la the Smiths or New Order. Through a pattern of experimentation which never became truly alienating, you’ve migrated to a heavier sound, a electro-glam-industrial weave-up of Xymox vs. NIN. So. Yes. To work that brutal summation into a question, obviously you’ve caused a lot of heads to bob over the years, but who makes your day special?

I've just done a single called “My Machines” with Battles who I am very impressed by, plus a band called Health that Trent Reznor introduced me to a while back.

Adolfo is a big fan of this next one, Gary, what I’m about to ask you and here it is: Give me one word to describe Trent. Just one, I know it’s tough, but like I said Adolfo just loves that question*

*Adolfo nodded a slight assent.

Trent Reznor? Genius. The most important and gifted musician and song writer I have ever known or heard of. Hugely important to me, and to music in general. Not much to discuss about that. It's a fact.

Just so. And all joking aside, I know the admiration is mutual with Reznor—you’ve played together and very probably you’ve laughed together. With the longevity of his career, I’m sure he deals with many of the keeping-it-fresh issues that you do. Just last week, over tequila shooters at Senior Frogs in Puerto Vallarta, he was talking about integrity—about his recent soundtrack work for which he’s earned a Golden Globe, and Oscar… and some grumbling from long-time fans. He said working on such things is the most anti-establishment thing he’s done. It took a moment to click, but given that he’s not changed his sound or method it makes sense. The apparatus has changed in order to accommodate him, not contrarywise. If there was a war he was fighting there, he’s won—not sold out. You’ve done a bit of soundtrack work in Unborn, but never really explored that world. Are there any such decisions which stick in your attic? Which you mightrevisit if given the time machine?

If I was starting out now I would think a lot more before making decisions. In my early days I thought I had a natural instinct for making the right decisions, but I was hopelessly wrong on many occasions and I have shot my career in the foot so many times it's truly embarrassing. That I'm still hanging around is a miracle.

For me, album art carries a lot of weight. A musician who can’t choose one good image with which to represent their work, well, it’s like a woman who doesn’t have one cool pair of shoes in her closet. Be suspicious. You’re probably not dealing with a real artist or woman. You have very atmospheric artwork on Dead Son Rising. One gets the feeling that it has something to do with the LP title. The title itself, why and how?

Dead Son Rising was originally intended to be a 'filler' album. Something that we thought would be reasonably quick to make and would fill in the gap between the previous studio album Jagged and the intended follow up to that—an album called Splinter. I expected Splinter to take about two to three years to make and so putting something out during that gap would help to keep fans involved. This plan did not work out at all. Dead Son Rising was originally going to be made up of unused songs that had been written for the previous three albums: Exile, Pure and Jagged. I had about 14 tracks that my co-producer Ade Fenton and I felt we could finish off fairly easily—and which would make a very good album. I have to admit though, almost from the beginning, it didn't come together the way I'd hoped. In 2009 I had to admit that I really didn't like any of it, and turned my back on the project entirely.

Then, after about 18 months of ignoring it, I found myself on holiday in America and I heard my wife Gemma playing some fantastic music from another room. I rushed in to find out what it was only for her to tell me it was the Dead Son Rising tracks that I'd said I hated 18 months earlier. I then became obsessed by it and worked flat-out, adding far more lyrics and vocals than we had originally planned. The end result is an album that has almost nothing of those early demo versions that we started with. It's about 95% brand new material, not a 'filler' album at all, and so I'm very proud of it. And very grateful to Ade for sticking with it and for bringing me back in.*

*Throughout this part of the conversation I am checking boxes, always checking boxes, nodding at appropriate points.

Originally the working title for the album was Resurrection, but my management thought I'd written enough about God and my atheist feelings and so they wanted me to remove any religious, or anti-religious, connections from the cover art. I actually went for the Resurrection title because initially we were going to use old, dead songs and bring them back to life. I didn't intend a religious meaning at all. When they asked me to change the title I decided to call the album Dead Son Rising simply to be awkward as it means exactly the same thing as Resurrection from a certain standpoint. I still kept the title Resurrection but applied it to one of the instrumentals on the album instead. The sleeve definitely suits and complements the music on the album.

Would you say there is a narrative? The rebirth edge certainly lends itself to your gear change from electronic pop to the moribund, industrial edge which engages you of late.

A narrative would be stretching it a bit. The album actually meanders from songs about relationships to a few breakdowns from a science fantasy novel that I dabble at from time to time. Mostly the ideas I come up with for that find their way into songs at some point.

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This LP is rumored to have rare “Super Deluxe” version. What does that entail and where can folks get their hands on it?

The Super Deluxe version was delayed a little but it's available now, from our online store. It includes a vinyl copy of the album and another vinyl 12" of extra mixes, a DVD with extensive features, a large coffee-top book with a huge amount of photos and a signed poster. It's a really cool package and something we put a lot of thought and money into. Such things are always a bit of a gamble.*

*Box check.

Risks, eh? They are something, I think, that you gain a bit of life from. You have gained a bit of notoriety as an amateur pilot, I am the only non-pilot in my family. So we don’t have that in common. What have you flown? Have a favorite? Been in any sticky situations? Too many questions?

I've flown quite a few, mostly World War Two-era piston engine types. Most of my time was in a Harvard, more commonly called a T6 in the States I believe. Also, Stearman, Beech 18, DC3, Yak 11, Tiger`Moth, Cub and others I can't remember. The usual assortment of current light airplanes of course, Piper's, Cessna's et cetera. I flew a Navajo around the world in '81 with a friend of mine, that was quite an epic trip. Did my helicopter licence that same year I think. I was an air display pilot for about 12 years, mainly formation and solo aerobatics. I became an air display pilot evaluator for the UK Civil Aviation Authority for a while. Evaluators are people asked to check out and train pilots that wanted to become air display pilots. I taught formation flying briefly at a special school in England, the only one of its type in Europe at the time… or so I was told. Didn't do that for long, too bloody dangerous. Too many egos trying to impress and kill you all at the same time.

Sticky situations? Too many to mention; but include in-flight fires, undercarriages collapsing, bits falling off, engines breaking up, double-engine failure over the Pacific, things like that. All good character-building stuff but scary at the time.

You must love action films. Or, no, you must scoff at action films as few truly know the real and underwear-shattering buckshot of adrenaline one gets from an aviation “incident.” However, if you could choose any movie to re-score what would it be? Would it be an action film? Probably it would not be an action film. Action film?*

*Adolfo, I knew from our pre-game discussion, was voting Action Film.

That's a big question. I'd choose Bladerunner to re-score. It might be heresy to attempt it, or even to suggest it come to that. I think the original was great but I also hear something very different, more aggressive, working just as well.

I knew it. Action film, in fact the action film. A lot of rabid, plaster-eating devotees to pinion and please there. I’ve got to admire your balls. The nation-wide riot that went down in England a while back took prying eyes off the US for a bit, and let us straighten our corset. Can you educate us a bit as to what happened, what caused it and what changes—if any—will result? Does the amount of cameras in London create an atmosphere? England is home to dystopian overlords Orwell and Huxley and London is, if I’ve got my facts straight, the most “observed” city in the world. A great stage for industrial music, and your more recent stuff definitely has an industrial vibe. Is there a scene? If so can you drop us a few names?

As for the UK riots I have no idea why it, or they rather, happened. The rioters blamed the police for shooting someone but that seemed to have very little to do with what followed, other than giving certain people a tragedy to pin it all on to. Shitty violent people being shitty and violent to each other, and to anybody else that happened to get in the way. Hurting and destroying for the pleasure of doing it. Mob mentality mixed with cowardice, a pathetic example of what the so called 'ordinary man in the street' is capable of. Pathetic, mindless little wankers who blame everyone else for their problems when all they need to do is look in the mirror. I was disgusted and ashamed by that, as were the vast majority of English people.

London has no industrial scene… that I'm aware of. Which is a shame because it's a city that would be the perfect home for such a thing.

Your voice is very distinctive. Some people have rituals, some are superstitious, some are devil-may-care. Do you do anything to insure it stays in proper form? Is it insured?

No, I do nothing at all. I've never been that keen on my voice actually so I don't see it as much of an asset. I've got used to it over the years and some people seem to like it, which is cool, but I really don't do anything to look after it. In fact, I abuse it quite badly when I'm touring.

Like a supermodel who eats pizza and drinks tequila, only. Favor me with what percentage of your skills you fancy you were you born with. How did you go about acquiring additional skills? Skillz?

Musically I've done absolutely nothing to acquire new skills or perfect those I was born with. I've never had a lesson in playing guitar or keyboards, which is why I'm so average no doubt, and I've never had a vocal lesson. I'm able to do something naturally, and I'm not saying that I'm great or good or anything like that, but I make a living from music so something is working well enough. I have always been scared to mess with that in any way in case I lose the 'thing' I have by trying to improve it. I play keyboards the only way I know how and it works for me, same for guitar, same for singing. If I learn to do it better, would that natural style that I was born with become something else that fans would no longer like? I don't want to risk that, plus I'm lazy and can't be arsed to practice or learn anything anyway.

Tell us about what happened in the most interesting of the last seven days. What is the most THRILLING thing you’ve done in the last two months?

In the last seven days things have been pretty quiet actually, as we've just got back off tour and the kids have gone back to school. That means early starts, early to bed and the most interesting thing to happen was buying three new sheep. That's how rock ’n roll I am. Sadly. In the last two months I was out touring the Dead Son Rising album in the UK and played some of the best shows we've ever done. The crowds were amazing, so that was quite thrilling.

What is the most colorful or memorable incident you have involving a fan or fan relations?

I married one, Gemma, fourteen years ago, the mother of my three children. We will have been together twenty years next July. Doesn't get more memorable than that.

Choose your own ending:

A) Life is beautiful:

B) At this point we’ve made our way through the cruel temptations of the salad bar, have bought a bottle of the finest organic skin cream for Adolfo’s crow’s feet—from which at age 113 the lucky, lucky midget is only beginning to suffer, have chosen a nice Merlot and are sitting on Whole Food’s well-shaded patio. Not on purpose, of course, but it occurs to me that despite all of the eyeballing from the tight-panted security lads, we’d gotten through without paying. Forgotten, of course. But I urge you to do the same, give it a try and report to a manager your findings. It’s for their own good. Because, as we in this great country know, Security means confidence, confidence breeds happiness… and happiness is exciting.

C) And so on.

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