Interview: Gary Numan [2017]

By November 18, 2017 December 29th, 2021 Features, Interviews, Listen

Pioneer of multiple genres, with a career spanning over several decades, new-wave giant Gary Numan returns to the charts this year with dynamic industrial-rock record, Savage. We talked to him about the conception of the fictional world within the album and how it feels to be rivalling artists like Justin Beiber in 2017.


S] How are you feeling about your Tech Award from T3? How does it feel to have an influence in music as well as the tech world?

G] Thank you! They usually give it to a machine so I’m quite chuffed [laugh] it was a weird but wonderful experience being up against machines! With my music, technology is always involved, and I’ve written about that in the past and come back to it with Savage.

S] It’s fantastic to have that support from your loyal fans and from new listeners at this pint in your career, when you’ve achieved so much already!

G] Contending with all of these current, new artists who regularly grace the charts is very exciting! When we first put this album out we thought that it wouldn’t do as well as the last one; I’m trying to maintain momentum. But honestly, I couldn’t have seen this coming in my wildest dreams, so thank you to everyone who bought the record and to everyone who continues to support it.

S] Savage could almost be a soundtrack to a sci-fi film, along with the apocalyptic imagery. Could you tell me about how you crafted the themes and visuals for the album?

G] It was actually a long and gradual process; I got a lot of inspiration from films but most of the ideas were from a book that I’ve been writing. I have characters that developed; how they dressed, what they looked like, what languages they spoke etc.

I’ve been working on this book for years now! I’ve put an awful lot of work into it. My thought process was methodical and I’ve done a lot of research; the visuals for the album are based on what I think people many many years from now would into probably wear living in those kind of conditions, in a harsh desert like wasteland. When I knew what kind of world they lived in, it helped to drive the look and sound of the album. It was about people who had to be aggressive in order to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

It was crazy going into an actual desert to film the video for ‘My Name is Ruin’ and do promotional shoots for the album, it was like everything that had been swilling about for all those years in my head was spilling out into reality.

S] So many bands have been inspired by you and your impact on their sound, the industrial rock sound. How do you feel when you hear about how much you have influenced other musicians?

G] It’s incredible to heard people say that I have influenced them, it gives me so much credibility but also pressure! It would be ok if I was retired or dead, I wouldn’t have to live up to anything, but because I’m still active there is still that pressure to be pioneering and influential. I still have to prove myself, but I think if you have a long career you have to earn that respect, you have to work hard for it; you’re only as good as your next album. It means so much to keep producing material that people still enjoy and look up to. But for all of the covers and samples etc that have used my materials, I still don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘I’m a fucking legend’, you know? I just think about what I’ve got to do next and I’m always worried that my material isn’t going to be good enough, I don’t want to let people down. You’re so close to your own songs, in a way it’s hard to know if what you’re asking is good enough, it’s hard to be objective. All this talk about being legendary and influential means nothing to me when I’m in the studio shitting myself because I’m worried that I’m not making good enough songs [laughs]. You might think it would be easy for me but it’s not; every album, every song is a huge mountain to climb, every album is more difficult that the one before. I just want to tell all these bands that it doesn’t matter how big you are, this fear and this drive will always stay with you.

S] You wrote ‘Bed of Thorns’ about the pressure you felt with writing this record; how do you feel about your fame and your place in the music industry?

G] The being famous bit I’m used to; I’ve been reasonably well known in this country for 40 plus years, you get used to the fact people will recognise you in the street. The credibility that’s raised in recent years, that is an amazing change. When I first started I have a lot of success but zero credibility in the industry! That was a song I wrote for the fans, there are a lot of references to my other materials, I just wanted to stress how frightened I was and that I would gladly swap my place with any one of them. I wanted to show them the emotion and strain that goes into making an album; that my livelihood depends on this.

It is hard trying to improve yourself as an artist, not just better than my last material but trying to compete with current artists. That is the stressful part, the fame is irrelevant, it’s trying to stay musically relevant.

S] How do you tap into your emotion to show it through your vocals?

G] It’s not confidence, it’s something raw and expressive. I have to lose myself in the moment in order to show that feeling. I’m having to do a lot of technical stuff while I record, so there’s a part of me that’s being very technical, and another part of me that’s trying to be performative, and it’s difficult sometimes. But I use trial and error, I don’t labour over something too long, if it feels contrived and artificial I didn’t it and move on to something else. To sound good, it’s got to be a genuine performance. And it takes a few times, but when I get the perfect take I feel elation. It’s trying to reach that elation that brings the emotion out.

I’ve never been a fan on my own voice, it’s just something I put up with, I’d love it to be stronger, but it works well with the kind of music I make and I guess it is distinctive.

S] When I was younger, my Dad said he did want me to be a part of his business. Your daughter Persia has an amazing singing voice, do you want her to carry on young legacy? Would you support her if she wanted to carry on in the music industry?

G] I would definitely support them. She’s only eleven and she has control over her voice that I have never Had. My eldest, Raven, is also an incredible singer. She’s also a great song writer, she has a real gift for melody, structure and lyrics. She writes some amazing pop, and she even helps me sometimes! Echo is only ten but she is incredible at instruments, piano, cello, more. If they do want to do that way, I would support them, but I would never push them. I just want them to do what makes them happy. Overall the music business isn’t a bad place to be; some things will test your mental and physical strength, but it can be the most rewarding place to be when you overcome that. You have to be prepared for setback and negativity, but if you’re strong you can overcome that. I have Asperger’s syndrome which has actually helped me in this respect, I have a very heavy shield against things that might bring other people do. I just keep going. I would always be there for my kids to help them.

S] I just wanted to end with talking about your book, could you tell us more about it?

G] All of the things that the album hints at, the ruin characters the ghost nation etc all of this was taken from the book. This post-apocalyptic world that has turned into a desert, water is so scarce it becomes currency. Society has become tribal, and technology has disappeared. It’s all about surviving from one day to the next. Society has been broken into these small tribes. The Righteous are a group of religious zealots who find a scrap of the Bible and start to live by it. The kidnap Ruin’s child and murder his wife. Hence the cross on Persia’s face in the ‘My Name is Ruin’ video, she portrayed the child captured by The Righteous. He sets off trying to find his daughter, and on the way h becomes ever more ruthless because of the trials he faces and earns the name ‘Ruin’. He sews devastation wherever he goes, and when he finally finds her he realises the monster he has become.

I hope when the tour is finished, I can get the book finished and get it published by 2019, so that it can tie in with the book and all be part of the same mammoth project.

Interview by Dom Smith, words by Alex Inkley