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Gary Numan

Gary Numan

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Monday 19th May, 2014 1:37PM

Since we last spoke to Gary Numan ahead of his New Zealand show in 2011, the industrial musician has had a pretty busy time. After a drawn-out bureaucratic process the British native successfully immigrated to balmy Los Angeles with his wife and three children, and last year he released an album which has been lauded by critics as his best work yet. And, as Numan suggests, that’s a pretty impressive compliment considering Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) is his 20th album and follows a career that began way back in 1977. The album’s release has seen the 56-year-old back on tour, taking his powerfully broody sound around most of the globe, an activity he says is one of his favourite things to do, ever. Luckily for us, his next stops include a one-off show in Auckland this Friday. We had a chat with Gary Numan ahead of his visit about all manner of music-related things, including how a man with such a seemingly sunny disposition can make such dark music…

Hi Gary! How are you doing? Are you at home in California at the moment?

I’m very well, thank you. Yep, I’m at my house in Los Angeles and luckily my children are out of the house at the moment so it’s quiet, so it’s a good time to talk.

Last time we spoke was just before you came to NZ in 2011 for the Pleasure Principle tour, how’s life been treating you since then?

It’s been very good actually. I immigrated from Britain to America and that’s been a very happy move. I’ve made the new album, that was a long time coming, but it’s gone very well and I’ve been touring that recently. And I’ve got American management now, so from a career point of view things have gone very well, and from a personal point of view, with the immigrating, amazing. I’m really glad I did it and I’m glad with the way the album is going. So at the moment least, things are fantastic.

I’m happy to hear that. So, Splinter has been out about six months now, what are your thoughts on how it has been received?

It’s been fantastic as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen reviews that have talked about it being the best album I’ve ever made, and when you consider how many I’ve made and how long I’ve been going, but also that Splinter is a very heavy, dark record, it’s quite amazing actually. In Britain it’s been my first top 20 album for about 30 years, it couldn’t have gone better… well, it could have gone better, it could have been top 10, but it’s done better than I expected. And the touring for it, is without a doubt the most exciting touring I’ve ever done, in terms of crowd reaction and so on. So, I’m really really happy with it, but the only problem that comes with something like this, is that you worry about what you are going to do next.

How fantastic to be at this point of your career and still be putting out such solid work. And it’s your 20th album, where do you think it sits with your past work sonically?

I think its a continuation, I started to get more heavy, electronic and industrial in my 1994 album Sacrifice, and I’ve kind of been continuing in that kind of vein for awhile. Each one has been a kind of step up from the one before and I think that Splinter is a continuation of the direction I’ve been going in for the last 20 years or so, it’s heavy and it’s dark and vaguely aggressive, I’m just think doing it better now.

Talking to you, you don’t seem like a particularly “dark” person, where do those broody sounds come from?

Well, I guess in anything, you can see things in different ways. For the last album, for example I looked back at all the strange and bizarre people I have met and the bizarre things I was kind of led into, and I made an album out of that because some pretty weird shit has happened over the last 30-odd years, and I thought it would be cool to write about that. So I honestly don’t know.

I think that the creative part of me is just triggered by certain things. If I go outside and it’s a lovely day and nothing bad happens, I’m probably going to come home and not want to write about it. I’m probably just going to watch television. But if I have an argument with somebody, or if someone pisses me off, or if I read something horrible in the news, that makes a mark on me and I want to write it down. It just seems to be the things that get me going. So, although I’m a reasonably happy person, and I’ve got nothing to be miserable about because it’s pretty cool being me, that doesn’t make for very good songwriting. I don’t think I could write a happy song if I tried.

Splinter has been out for a few months now and you have toured it all over the world, have any favourite songs emerged?

There’s a couple of the bigger songs, ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ and ‘We're the Unforgiven’ that are really good fun to do live, they are massively powerful. There is another song called ‘Lost’ which is really gentle and quiet an emotional song because of what it’s about, I quite enjoy doing that one as well. And there is another one called ‘Splinter’, the title track from the album, it’s great fun to do live, I love that one it’s got a cool vibe to it.

But I’m so happy with the album and I’m so comfortable with it, it’s just working really well live, and I’ve found the right amount of older songs that I can add in to the set - the older songs that are capable of being made much bigger. All the old stuff that we play, we have reworked to give heavier versions of the songs to people, the are bigger and more powerful versions somehow. So the whole set is a powerful and relentless kind of thing. It’s full on and hard work to be doing that every night, but very exciting.

So you’ve got the set perfected by now?

Yeah I think so, If we haven't then we probably shouldn’t be doing this for a living.

Do you have a pre-show routine?

Hahahha… what you mean like hugging and saying a prayer or something like that? Hahah no. What we do is we get dressed, get up on stage, do it and come off. All the other stuff is such bollocks, isn’t it? I’d be so embarrassed if I even saw people doing that.

So what’s your post-show routine?

We come off stage and everyone parties like a nutter. We go in the bus and party for three, four, five hours until everyone passes out and then that’s it. We usually have a sleeper bus on tour, we don’t have one for Australia and New Zealand, but usually we do, and you go to sleep and wake up and you are somewhere else and you just do it all over again.

The lifestyle is just brilliant, it’s so childish and silly. You know, you get up and you do your shows and it’s like a schoolboy’s day out, but for grown-ups, it’s just brilliant. I love it. I love all the travelling and meeting the fans, and you might get a little bit drunk from time-to-time and you are with your mates and travelling through the night and shouting and partying and having fun in the back of the bus, and it’s just brilliant. You hear bands talking about the pressures of being on the road and how it can split up the band, and I just think “really?”. I just love it, I love being on tour, I can’t think of anything better to do, ever.

That’s cool that you still enjoying touring so much, and do your family come with you?

My wife always comes with me, but not the children because it’s too disruptive. They all go to school and we are sometimes away for several weeks. It is a problem, I must say, if there is one downside to touring it’s missing the children. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for my wife. I also think it’s not very good for the children, I don’t think they like the fact that we are away as much as we are sometimes, and I know because we speak to the teachers and they are definitely different while we are away.

It definitely bothers them, and it upsets me actually, but there isn’t much I can do about it. This is my work, this is what I do for a living. And these days because album sales are pretty much non-existent, the live income is a very important part of the income that we make, so I need to do it more now than ever. My hope is that when they are older we can structure it a bit differently and they can come with us if they want to. Two of the three are fantastic little singers, and I have a secret ambition that I’d like them to join the band when they are older. I think it would make things a bit better.

One last question, following on from what you said about album sales, and having to tour more to make money, is that something that bothers you… you said you love touring, but do you wish it was less financially forced?

No, not really. It’s good for me, because the thing we need to do more than ever, is the thing I enjoy more than ever, so it’s not burden. The funny thing now is you make an album to justify touring, whereas you used to tour to promote an album. It’s not like that anymore. The reason you put out an album is so you have new songs to play live when you go out. But the other side of it is, which is becoming a much bigger thing, is the synchronisation, you know getting music used in adverts and trailers, that becoming very important now. So as one thing disappears another thing comes up, and what you’ve got to do as an artist is just keep adapting and keep with it. You can’t stand still, everything around you is changing all the time and you’ve got to change with it.

Gary Numan is performing on 23rd May at The Studio in Auckland. Click here for more information.

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