Interview

Gary Numan

Gary Numan

Monday, 9th May 2011 10:15AM

Groundbreaking electronic artist Gary Numan is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his seminal album, The Pleasure Principle. As part of this revelry, he is returning to New Zealand for the first time in 31 years and UTR caught up with him to discuss how it feels to revisit an album three decades later, whether he knew the album was going to have the impact it has and what made him write such music in the first place.

Youíre coming to New Zealand this month, are you looking forward to it?

Yes, itís been 31 years since I was there last, so itís very cool. Iím very very pleased to have the opportunity to come and do it again but Iím also very aware that a lot of time has passed and I donít know what to expect really. So Iím very pleased that Iím coming I just not really confident, I have to say, I really donít know how itís going to go.

Is it crazy to think The Pleasure Principle came out over three decades ago?

Itís funny, actually. Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday and sometimes it feels like it was 130 years ago. So much has happened since I wrote that album that I feel like such a different person to what I was when I wrote it. Itís a little bit weird going back to it after such a long time and I have to say that Iím not really a fan of looking back into the past, Iím much more of a fan about what Iím doing tomorrow than yesterday.
When the 30th anniversary came along I didnít want to make a big deal about it but I didnít want to ignore it either, so I thought Iíd just do one show in England and all the hardcore fans can come along to that. Then that sold out really quickly so it became four shows and then at that point the record company got interested and they wanted to do a special anniversary issue of the album with all these extra tracks theyíd found in the archives, and so it turned into a much bigger tour. And then the Americans Ė it was quite a big album over there when we toured it there Ė got interested. So what started as a single gig has grown into this much bigger thing that I never planned.
Iíve enjoyed it more than I thought I would, because Iíve always found anything to do with nostalgia is sort of taking a few steps backwards, and Iím really not that interested in playing old songs so for me to do this is quite a big thing. Having said that itís been really interesting to play the music I wrote when I was a boy.
The Pleasure Principle is what the tour is about, so what weíre doing is playing that album for the first 45 minutes but then weíve got another 45 minutes or more which tends to be new stuff, and quite often weíll do two or four songs that arenít even released yet. For me itís quite interesting to be playing things that are right from the beginning and things that are so new they havenít been heard, all in one show. Itís a nice way of showing people something Iím proud of from when I started but also how itís evolved into what we do now.

How does it feel to have an album that is still musically relevant three decades after it was released?

For a long long time I didnít think much about it at all. Obviously when I made it I was keen to make it sound as good as I could and then out it went. Some people in the press liked it but most people didnít Ė it generally got pretty bad reviews, especially in the UK. The press didnít really go for it here, so it took a long time before people started to view it the way they do now.
A really interesting thing happened a while ago where the NME Magazine did a retrospective review of it and said how important it was and how innovative it was Ė all these really complimentary things Ė but when it came out they absolutely slagged it into the ground, they hated it. Since Iíve gone back and re-visisted it again, I do feel proud of it in a way that I never was before. I think when it first came out it was quite a quirky unusual record for the time and I appreciate it more now than I did then. It just sounded like a record that Iíd made rather than anything that was particularly unusual or different so Iíve grown proud of it and I appreciate it now more that it was quite an unusual record for the time.

The sound that you were creating was ground-breaking. Were you aware it was going to be as influential as it was?

No, not at all really. Youíre in a studio, youíve got a certain amount of time Ė you only had a few days back then Ė and youíre in there and youíre just trying to do the best you can; youíre certainly not thinking about the impact itís going to have. Itís very rare that any kind of album is going to have any kind of long term affect anyway, and I certainly didnít think that any of mine would. You donít have any of those ambitions, so when people start to talk about the album being important or essential, it makes you all the more proud because you had no idea when you made it that people would think this.
You donít expect people to remember an album a year after youíve made it. There are so many people making so many albums you just kind of expect it to get lost in the sheer volume of the things that are released. Over here there are dozens and dozens of bands becoming successful and people who were successful last year fade away. Thatís what you expect to happen, you made an album it does well, if youíre very lucky it does very well, and you know, after that there will be new people taking your place. SO itís weirdly fantastically satisfying to find that people are still enjoying the Pleasure Principle and still thinking about it. If anything it has a better reputation now than it has ever had.

 

What was pushing you to explore these synthesized sounds at the time?

It was a very happy accident. I was in a band called Tubeway Army and we were a three-piece punk band. We went into a studio to make a record and we had three days to go and make it, which was the punk songs we were playing live. I went to the studio, never having seen a synthesizer before, and round the corner was a thing called a Minimoog which was quite a famous synthesizer. It was supposed to be collected by a hire company because somebody had rented it the day before and theyíd forgotten about it. They never turned up so I started using it all day for this first day and I just loved it; I didnít know much about them but I was having fun working it out and thought these amazing noises were coming out of this thing. I just thought it was the best thing I had ever heard.
I went to the record company and told them Iíd found this synthesizer thing which was amazing and this was what I wanted to use for the future and so all those punk songs are going to be electronic punk songs, and I donít want to be in a band anymore, I want to be a solo artist. I thought I had found something really special! The record company were really unhappy to be honest, they didnít get it at all, they wanted a punk band and thatís it. Luckily for me they didnít have any money so they couldnít afford to send me back into the studio because Iíd blown the budget. So they released it and it did a lot better than they expected, so they let me go back into the studio and make another album. So I went back into the studio and made another album. And then we had a single from this album that went to number one, so I went from having never seen a synthesizer before to becoming the Ďnumber one expert on synthesizersí in the UK. I had a number one electronic album and people were talking about me being an electronic expert and all that, and Iíd only spent about eight hours with a synthesizer because I couldnít afford to buy one. I had the one that was left behind in the studio that first day, and we could only afford to rent one again for one more day when I made the second album, so I didnít know much about it at all. In those early days people would ask me questions about synthesizers and programming and I didnít know what they were talking about, and yet I was supposed to be a champion of this sound.

 

You said you came from a punk background originally. Were you socially or politically motivated?

No, it was much more selfish than that. I never thought I should push my opinions onto anyone else so my song writing has always been very selfish. Much of what I write, especially when I was younger was as much to do with analysis and sorting out of my own problems. Iím not good at talking to people about my problems, so I write everything down, and eventually I became a songwriter so I would write songs about this and it was a way of sorting myself out and dealing with whatever problems I had at the time. Itís not quite like that anymore but itís still similar and itís still along those kind of lines.
Iíd like to say I had all these political opinions but I canít honestly say that it was just me, analysing things. Iíve got a form of Aspergers Syndrome so Iím not good at communicating with people and Iím not particularly good at interacting at all, Iíve got all kind of problems. Aspergers is a form of autism, and I was much worse when I was younger Ė I had real problems with it Ė so all of my song writing revolved around my difficulty and how I saw the world and how I related to people around me. That was the driving force behind everything when I was young.

How do you think youíve changed as a musician, and how has your approach to writing music changed in the intervening years?

To be honest it hasnít changed a great deal. Obviously Iíve been doing it for a long time, and itís easy to become comfortable and to fall into a routine; to go about life the same way. Thatís something that Iím aware of but itís a difficult thing to be aware of and break out of. I recently went into the studio to write an I came out of it and talked to my wife about it and I said ďItís just shit!Ē I was really down on myself, because Iím writing exactly the same way as I did before and I need to find a different way to write.
Itís that thing, youíve got your equipment, youíve got your studio and you sit down and itís almost impossible to break out of the routine; the way you turn the equipment on, the sound you go to first. You write in certain ways because they lend themselves to a certain style of playing, and youíve got to recognize youíre doing that and break out of it and force yourself to approach it from a different angle. You have to do that constantly. Youíre constantly having to re-learn the process that you have when writing songs, and thatís the only way you can achieve exciting results.

Youíve been in the industry for a long time, and witnessed the way in which the music industry has changed? How do you feel about it? How do you feel about the new media platform?

I love it. I think itís all going in the direction I wish it had gone in thirty years before. The way the business is set up is youíve got your major record labels working hand in hand with the major retail chains and itís very very difficult for anybody to become part of that as an independent artist. So it was really hard for anybody to have any outlet Ė it was just impossible to compete. The retail stores would insist theyíd buy two albums but youíd give them five and you just couldnít compete with this.
Then the internet comes along and people can get their work out there. I find, at the moment Ė itís not perfect by any means Ė itís very exciting that power is being taken away from the great big companies. There are all kind of interesting ways of releasing albums and interesting structures people are coming up with and I donít know, to me I love it, itís very very exciting and Iím right in the middle of it. Iím a big fan of cottage industry and people doing it themselves and as technology evolves itís giving us tools to let us do it ourselves rather than relying on big companies with a bunch of people sitting around a table somewhere making decisions for you, which are in their interests rather than yours most of the time. Iíve been right through the major labels and through independents, Iíve had my own labels and Iíve seen it from all sides and I think now is undoubtedly the most exciting time to be in the music industry.

- Courtney Sanders

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Last time Gaz was here he was heckled hard by a bunch of bogan rednecks...no wonder he doesn't exactly sound keen to come back. I wish interviewers would ask him more about his upcoming albums...the web is already loaded with responses to questions about his late 70s period and they are invariably the same. Nothing new to be read about here. Any journo who even bothered to research as far as wikipedia would have read he is bored of talking about his old tunes.
Posted by GayBlacknMarried - anonymous 3 years ago



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