Gary Numan


Written by Yusuf Laher
21 Monday 21st March 2011

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, on the phone, Gary Numan's chatty and funny - he even goes to the beach. When he talks about his 2006 album Jagged, his latest release, he goes, "Fuck me... 2006? That's a long time ago..." And stares off into the distance - or so I imagine. These days, the Dark One's holed up at camp Numan with the wife and kids - or as he calls it, "The Tribe". He's on a tight deadline, trying to get new album Splinter out by the end of the year. 

As a rule, Gary Numan hates retro. But he also realises the importance of acknowledging his history - and keeping the hardcore fans happy. So this May, he's heading down under to perform his 1979 debut solo album The Pleasure Principle in its entirety. Before that, on April 1 and 2, in Manchester and London respectively, Numan's playing two Back to the Phuture shows, with an all-star lineup that includes John Foxx (ex-Ultravox) and Alan Wilder (ex-Depeche Mode). I spoke to him about the shows, his career, new music, his distaste for nostalgia and, of course, The Mighty Boosh...    

So... what’s a regular day in the life of Gary Numan?

It depends what I’m doing. On a normal day I get up at six. I’ve got kiddies, so I have about an hour and a half of getting them off to school – about as far away from rock ‘n roll as you can get. But after that it’s the studio. I love touring, being on a bus and all that. Working from home is a great idea if you haven’t got children. I’m thinking about getting a building somewhere, there’s too many distractions. Good distractions.  

© Ed Fielding

Is this your first batch of press for a while?

No, I do it pretty much all the time. There’s always something going on. It was a bit quiet over Christmas, then we started talking about these shows we’re doing. Most mornings I’m talking to people from Australia and New Zealand. Yesterday I spent the whole day in London doing bits and pieces.

What’s the one question that always comes up?

Fuck me… There’s about 50 standard questions. Depends what you’re doing. Take Australia, where I’m playing all the songs from the old album. So everyone wants to know “Why?”, “Why that album?”, “What was it like when I first started?”, "What made you write ‘Cars’"?

And the one you’re surprised no one asks?

I can’t think of one. I’ve been asked pretty much everything you can ever think of. Fucking ‘ell… From really private stuff to the most bland stuff you can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to know. The most difficult questions I get are from Italians. I spend half the time trying to work out what they’re asking.  

© Ed Fielding

Are you looking forward to the Back to the Phuture shows?

Yeah, I am. It’s actually quite an honour. The band I listened to the most getting into electronic music, my guiding light, was Ultravox - which had John Foxx in at the time. So that’s very cool. There isn’t a minute in the schedule when music isn’t being hammered into people, so it’s very full on. There’s Daniel Miller, Mark Jones… And Alan Wilder (Recoil) from Depeche Mode. They’ve been massively important to me – Alan especially. So to be on the same stage is quite an honour.

You’re also off to Australia and New Zealand, when was the last time you went Down Under?

I’ve not been to New Zealand since 1980. I went there once, did a tour – didn’t have the best time to be perfectly honest – and just never went back. I wanted to. It’s a beautiful place. I just never did. I’ve been surprised by how much New Zealand press I’ve done, and it’s all been really positive. It’s encouraging to encounter people that are still interested in me and what I’m doing.  

Are you flying yourself?

No, ha ha... I used to specialise in formation flying, which isn’t particularly useful for taking people to New Zealand and back. My interest with flying has never been getting from A to B, it’s always been aerobatics and that sort of thing.

© Ed Fielding

Like you say, you’re playing The Pleasure Principle in May. What’s it like revisiting the past 30 years later?

As a genuine rule, I hate nostalgia with a passion. I’m much more interested in what I’m doing tomorrow than what I did yesterday. But when you ignore it absolutely, you basically offend a lot of your own fans. You have to find some kind of balance between recognising your history and what you’re doing next. So every once in a while, I play a batch of shows where I play songs off the old albums. Then when I do my conventional touring, if you like, I’m free to do other stuff. I’m proud of the album (The Pleasure Principle), but once we finish in New Zealand, that’s the end of retro for a while.
So there's new material on the way?

There’s a mini album out in June called Dead Sun Rising. Then there’s a brand new album called Splinter, out either at the end of the year or early next year. I’ve got a deadline coming up and it’s getting pretty tough. It’s probably going to be February or March next year. But I’d like to get it out this year.

And do you try to keep up with modern electronic music innovations and technologies or do you stick to what you know?

No, I’m constantly getting new stuff in. That’s what makes electronic music interesting; it’s such a constantly changing thing. You’re constantly being fed new software. It’s brilliant. I haven’t got a single bit of equipment from five years ago let alone 30 years, fuck me… The only instrument I’ve had throughout my career is my guitar, which I do have a soft spot for. Otherwise, I get ‘em in and get ‘em out. So there’s a lot to learn. It’s like being in school all the time. I sit in my bed with piles of manuals. It’s fun. It’s exciting.

© Ed Fielding

What kind of guitar is it?

It’s a Gibson Les Paul, sunburst. It’s quite battered. It’s been totally trashed a few times and rebuilt and rebuilt. It’s got loads of battle scars.

What’s your favourite Gary Numan album?

Probably Pure and Jagged, I find it difficult to choose between the two.   

I read a recent interview where you talked about your career starting off well and getting “really shit for a while”, what’s it like these days?

It did start really well, in 1979. Then it all went slowly down hill ‘til about ’92, ’93.  It’s demoralising. It’s rubbish. But from about ‘94 onwards, each years’ been a bit better than the one before. It’s pretty good now actually. It was rubbish in the middle. A lot of that was my fault though. I don’t want to imply I was unlucky.

When things were rubbish, did you realise it at the time?

I was very aware. I’m brutally honest with myself. I don’t accept any silly bullshit. If something’s going badly, you need to know the truth. If you’re surrounded by people telling you you’re God’s gift to music, you’re an absolute idiot. But I was always one step behind how bad it was. I would make changes, but I was always a little bit slower than the actual decline. I knew it was bad and I knew it was getting worse… 

What’s your favourite cover version or sample used over the years?

Nine Inch Nails did a cover of 'Metal', that’s my favourite.

Were you a fan of The Mighty Boosh before they asked you to appear on the show?

Yeah, I even saw Noel doing standup. I was watching it anyway, so when my name came up I thought, “Oh no!” I was worried it was going to be a nasty piss-taking thing. But it obviously wasn’t like that. Getting to know them has been really cool. They’re lovely people. Genuinely, ridiculously funny. So it’s great to be part of the whole Boosh phenomenon.  

Any Numanoids still kicking about, hijacking DJs?

Ha ha… No, I think they’ve all calmed down a bit. There’s still plenty of people from the early days. But as grateful as I am, you can’t continue with remnants of the past. You need new blood. That’s why people talking about me as being influential and massively important is great. Boosh as well. It introduces me to new people. Younger people. It’s a very cool way to keep the audience going, building it year by year.

What car do you drive these days?

I‘ve got a kiddie mobile. I used to have a TVR, which was like a rocket ship on wheels. I loved it. Now I’ve got a Jeep Commando that I can put the tribe in and take them to the beach.  

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  • Guest: darkangel01603
    Wed 30 - Mar - 2011, 20:09
    Calm down people. Agreeing with Paula504, this is not dismissive of old fans. What Gary is saying is true. You can't continue with remnants of the past, Gary's music has evolved over the years. I have been a fan for 30 years & don't want to hear the same old stuff over & over, if he was playing the same old stuff, I would walk. I don't see anyone else walking but if you don't appreciate his work then feel free. Can't wait for the new stuff. If there were no more new fans his career would die a death, & that would be a tragedy. But the day I calm down will be the day they put me in my box & I'll still be wearing my Numan shirt.
  • Guest: imanagent
    Thu 24 - Mar - 2011, 21:23
    I have been a Numan fan since 1979 and to have Gary refer to me and other older fans as "But as grateful as I am, you can’t continue with remnants of the past. You need new blood." is out of order. He does the older stuff, as he knows it gets the punters into the shows and their cash in, lets be honest about it. Why else would he do it? I’m not a big fan of the newer whispered stuff, bring back electro Numan with some new electro stuff and really see the older fans enjoy themselves!
  • Guest: michelleroche_81
    Wed 23 - Mar - 2011, 22:41
    I have been a Numan fan since 1979 when I first saw GN singing Are Friends Electric and I was then given the PP for my 11th birthday. Yes the late 80s and early to mid 90s were not a good period for Mr Numan and my enthusiasm had dwindled until 2000 when I heard Pure. I think I can speak for many loyal Numan fans when I say that this album definately put Gary Numan very much on track although Jagged surpassed Pure for me personally. I am very much looking forward to seeing the BTTP in April and the release of DSR and Splinter.
  • Guest: tbell2009
    Wed 23 - Mar - 2011, 13:24
    allcomments above need to be ignored. Ive been a fan for 30 years since i was 13 and every show gary does is an "EVENT".there is nothing out there that even touches garys material and live shows are immense and powerfull .he does keep older fans happy like myself playing older stuff but we love the new stuff too . British artists must be encouraged to keep going like Gary Numan cos theres naff all out there worth listeneing too.
  • Guest: ian.butterfield
    Tue 22 - Mar - 2011, 21:26
    "I'm sure as an artist he'd rather do something relevant and play to a small crowd rather than rehash the same thing over and over to a large crowd"..... Like perform A Prayer for the unborn at every gig since it's release. A great track now dried up because of the over play! Numan has such a fantastic back catalogue but refuses to play them. He doesn't like nostalgia yet his latest album (Jagged) is over 5 year sold. What does he class as nostalgia?
  • Guest: paula504
    Tue 22 - Mar - 2011, 21:17
    Sheesh, Deadson, having a Grumpy Old Numanoid day? I don't hear any dismissal in the article. I'm an old fan who loves the new stuff, and I'm pleased to see younger people at the gigs these days too. What's wrong with moving forward? Staying a fan isn't compulsory, so feel free to go and entertain yourself some other way, if you have any strength left in your wrist. Gary, I'm very glad you've not stagnated into trotting out the same kind of music for decades on end. I appreciate it. Numan! Numan!
  • Guest: malashaan
    Tue 22 - Mar - 2011, 21:11
    "Way to go Gary! you've just dismissed a whole section of your loyal fan base. Ever stopped to wonder why the fans are walking away? I wish you all the best with the new blood that apparently exists within your fanbase but evidence at gigs I attended last year tell a very different story. Keep those demos on the shelf matey, nobody is interested!" In what way? He doesn't like doing old material because he looks forward, but he still makes the effort to do it once in a while to keep those fans stuck in the past happy. One of the great things about Numan shows is that I've seen people from 12 to 60 (and older) at them. regardless of that, I'm sure as an artist he'd rather do something relevant and play to a small crowd rather than rehash the same thing over and over to a large crowd.
  • Guest: deadsonrising
    Tue 22 - Mar - 2011, 18:42
    Way to go Gary! you've just dismissed a whole section of your loyal fan base. Ever stopped to wonder why the fans are walking away? I wish you all the best with the new blood that apparently exists within your fanbase but evidence at gigs I attended last year tell a very different story. Keep those demos on the shelf matey, nobody is interested!