Interview: Gary Numan - The Godfather Of Electro Pop
13 December 2011
Gary Numan's accidental encounter with a synth in 1978 has had a staggering influence on electronic music. His strong vision contributed to shaping and defining the iconic electric sound of the 80s with tracks like Are Friends' Electric (with former punk band Tubeway Army) and Cars still frequently played in clubs, sampled and used in media campaigns.
By making a conscious effort to reject obvious connections with the 80s tag, retro collaborations, shows and tours, Numan strives forward with his music, each album noticeably progressing. His most recent album Dead Son Rising is a dark brooding masterpiece with 'that' voice seamlessly lingering on top of the haunting and sinister waves of industrial yet ambient sounds. You can stream the album in full below. If you haven't yet heard it, go do yourself a favour!
Currently busy polishing off his next album due for release sometime next year, we caught up with the man to delve a little deeper into his struggle with nostalgia and his plan to hopefully visit India again, yes again!
You've had an epic career which has had a staggering influence in shaping electronic music, yet you stumbled across synthesisers accidentally while making a punk album!?
I think the only thing I can take any credit for is seeing, within seconds of first playing a synth in 1978, the possibility of what electronic music could become. From the moment I first pressed a key on the MiniMoog I stumbled across in a cheap demo studio in 1978, I became convinced that my future was going to be linked to electronic music. I became obsessed by it, I remain obsessed by it. I couldn't believe the power and ability it offered to shape sound, to create sound and to add a new dimension to conventional music that had never been done before. I believe that the electronic music revolution, and that's exactly what it was, remains the most important and influential musical revolution in the history of modern music. It has changed everything. To have played a small part in that is something I am extremely proud of.
You have talked about 'hating nostalgia with a passion' but last year you celebrated 30 years with the Pleasure Principle tour. Has this changed your attitude to your older songs or is there still a compromise between old and new when you play live?
There will always be a compromise I'm afriad. I will always be far more excited about a new song than I will ever be about an older song, no matter how successful that older song might have been. I have however begun to understand in recent years how important those older songs are to some of the fans. Also, importantly for me, I have begun to be proud of my back catalogue of music rather than keep away from it. I still don't want to play much of it when I tour because it feels as though I'm diluting what I'm doing, who I am today.
"I do not want to live on past glories, I want my career to survive, or fail, based on each new album."
I genuinely believe that we are only as good as our next album and that we have to keep pushing forward musically. But, as a gesture to those fans that would like to hear more older songs, I do from time to time go out and tour a specific old album. Usually if it's an anniversary of that album being released or for some other equally relevant reason. It's my way of acknowledging the desires of all fans and putting my own desires to one side, just for a short while. These old album tours will never be top of my list of things I want to do.
Electronic music has had a recent surge of popularity. Why do you think it is slipping back into mainstream music culture?
I don't think it ever went away. It did become absorbed somewhat. Electronic music has been taken on board by pretty much every other kind of band and genre out there and it lost its own identity for a while. Unfortunately, much of the recent interest in it has been in bands who are revisiting the past, reinventing the sounds of the late 70's and early 80's. This is not something I'm cool with at all.
"Electronic music was, at the outset, experimental, it was about creating new sounds, new textures, layering sounds in new ways. It was never about looking backwards."
Perhaps that's an inevitable outcome for any genre of music that has a life span of decades, but it's sad. This desire to look backwards at the past and reshape it as something new for today is horrible and personally speaking, I want no part of it. What's gone is gone. If you want to contribute something to music, look forwards, not backwards. The more people that can look forward, the healthier and more relevant electronic music will be.
How has your latest album Dead Son Rising been received on your most recent tour?
The reaction to it on the tour was amazing. It was the best and most exciting UK tour I've played in many years and the excitement and energy of the crowds, especially to the new songs, was incredible. It was far better than I'd hoped for. The reviews have been very good for both the album and the tour so everything is positive at the moment. Im very happy with the way things are going.
Each album seems to be getting darker and more aggressive...
I just love powerful, dark music and I'm still learning how to do it. Each album since 1994 has been a progression of the one before as I continue along the industrial path. It's very exciting music to write and record, and it's incredibly exciting to play live. It's loud, aggressive and full of dark energy. I love playing this stuff live, absolutely love it. The next album 'Splinter' which is due for release in 2012 will be the heaviest and darkest yet. I want it to be a relentlessly powerful, anthemic and haunting piece of music. I hope it will be good enough to be a defining moment in my career. That's what I'm aiming for.
You have been to India back in 1981 but that was kind of by accident?
I was flying a light aircraft around the world with another pilot when we had some engine problems over the Indian Ocean on our way from India to Thailand. We turned back and made an emergency landing in a place called Visakhapatnam. Soon after we landed we were visited by customs and immigration people and put under house arrest on suspicion of smuggling and spying. It was all quite intimidating and I was very scared. Our passports were taken away and an armed man was put outside our room to make sure we didn't leave. They confiscated all the film we had taken, which was annoying as we were making a documentary about the trip. After about four days we were allowed to leave but by commercial transport as they had impounded my aeroplane. It was not the visit, or the welcome, I had hoped for.
That hasn't put you off coming back?
It did for a while if I'm honest. We eventually made the trip around the world in my small aeroplane and we did pass through India again on the way back, but things went much better that time. That all happened about 30 years ago so the memory that has lingered is not one of difficult officials but of an amazing country and incredibly friendly people. Apart from the officials the people couldn't have been more welcoming.
Can we expect to see you venturing here in the near future?
I very much hope so. 2012 sees the start of a very serious effort to reach out to places I've not been before and India would be high on the list. We are putting together a new network of distribution outlets for my music and for my shows and we hope to visit many places for the first time throughout 2012 and 2013 as part of the 'Splinter' album and tour promotion. I would bend over backwards to make India a part of that. That would be amazing.
THE SAME 3 QUESTIONS:
3 most inspirational artists:
Ultravox (when John Foxx was the singer). They shaped my early ambitions and were the band I measured myself against.
Depeche Mode. In the early 90's my music was not good and my career was in trouble. I listened to the 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' album and it inspired me to think differently, to move into a completely different type of music and to change my attitude and reasons for song writing. It was a pivotal album for me.
Nine Inch Nails. Consistently brilliant. Groundbreaking and revolutionary. Genius.
3 favourite albums of all time:
The same: 'Systems Of Romance' by Ultravox for my early years, 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' by Depeche Mode for my middle years and 'Downward Spiral' by Nine Inch Nails for every other time. In fact I could add 'Pretty Hate Machine' and 'The Fragile' by NIN and just have those three.
Favourite 3 artists of the moment:
Battles, Ade Fenton, Nine Inch Nails.
You can stream Gary Numan's latest LP Dead Son Rising in its entirety courtesy of Consequence of Sound below: