- Thu, 2002-06-06 13:01
Gary Numan has released his Exposure - The Best of Gary Numan 1977 - 2002 album and released his single, RIP in June 2002. He took time out to chat to I Like Music about his journey from Godfather of Electronica to Influential Industrial Rock Artist, his lovely wife and plans for the future.
“I like music because ... it releases pressure that I have no other way of releasing because, for me, writing music is a need.” Gary Numan
“I like music because ... it allows me to choose the life that I want, rather than accept the life that's given to me.” Numan
Some Gary Numan Factoids
:: In 1979 Are 'Friends' Electric? was the first big hit of UK synth pop
:: Gary took his name from a plumber in the telephone directory
:: He is a fully qualified stunt aerobatics instructor
:: Hole, Marilyn Manson, Beck and the Foo Fighters have all performed his songs
:: He likes making candles in his spare time and is an all round nice bloke!
ILM: It must've felt great to be part of a number 1 single again (Sugababes, Freak Like Me heavily featured Gary's Are Friends Electric as the underpinning instrumental). And your video for RIP went to number one on Kerrang, how has that been for you?
Gary: They were both at number one in the same week, so it was quite a good week actually. The Sugababes thing was great, I really enjoyed that, but the thing that I was most pleased about was the other one, the new song, Rise.
And the last three albums I've done, since 1994, have been more electronic industrial, so it's the Kerrang audience that is my target audience.
When they first put the video on I was blown away, because that was the first time in over ten years that anyone's actually playlisted anything of mine. Then I went on holiday in the second week thinking they might not show it that week and hoping they would, then I got a phone call saying that it was number one. And it was just the best thing in the world. And then the Sugababes went to number one, and it was amazing, so I had a 20 year old song and a brand new song at number one in different charts at the same time, and you can't get much better than that. But the only problem was that I was in Mexico on holiday at the time, and it would've been nice to be at home for a moment like that. So it was all going on but I wasn't here, so it was a bit frustrating.
ILM: You're seen by many as the Godfather of Electronica but have had a major helping hand in Industrial Rock. Are people now starting to realise there's more to you than meets the eye?
Gary: I think what's going on at the moment is like the high point and culmination of what's been building for the past five or six years, and it's been great. Because, there's a lot of people around who may not have even heard of me (the Sugababes hadn't), because my big success was before many of them were even born, and I've got no problem with that - it's part of my job to tell people who I am and what I do. But it's been growing.
One of the problems you have when you've been around for a long time, is getting over the preconceptions that people have of you, and everytime they play Cars on the radio, it doesn't do me much good as I wrote that a very long time ago. So for a long time I've been turning down more things than I've been doing, because they had an 80s theme, like an 80s quiz or singing alongside a Big Breakfast presenter, so I've just had nothing to do with that whole 80s thing and anything nostalgiac. All of those retro tours that have been going on, I've stayed out of all of it, because, to me it's the kiss of death. Once you allow yourself to be cemented into an era, that's you done, apart from doing retro tours.
What I was doing, was trying to do new music and get people to accept that I've moved on, which is more difficult to do when you're known primarily for a very old pop song, so I've had to argue and shout a few times to say, this may be a risky thing to do but if we keep trading on past glories, I know it won't come to anything.
And that's why the RIP song getting to number one on the Kerrang chart was such a brilliant thing for me. We've been trying to get to this position for a long time, and each album we've done has got better reviews. I've been trying to do the right festivals and constantly be seen in contemporary circles rather than nostalgiac circles.
I don't like nostalgia anyway. Looking back to move forward seems a silly way to go about things. So it's vindicating with the new stuff being received so well.
ILM: Exactly. Music is meant to be an expression of self, so as you grow as a person your music grows.
Gary: I don't understand people who do an album, which does really well, so they do an album just like it. And then 20 years later they're still singing songs they wrote way back, they must get bored! When you start making music you're trying to create something new and put your own stamp on things, and you have to do that each year when things have moved on, so you have to reinvent yourself and push forward.
Every time you make an album, especially when you've been making music for as long as I have, you have to move forward. You're looking for new sounds, new ways of putting it together, new things to sing about. And it gets harder. The longer you make music the harder it is not to repeat yourself, and the more aware you become of your own limitations, but that must always been the aim.
ILM: I hear your planning some gigs for September and another Numan weekender, playing live must still be a massive buzz - which live acts have you enjoyed most yourself and who would you love to join you on stage the most?
Gary: We toured America a couple of years back, and Marilyn Manson came on stage with us in Los Angeles. So that was good! I guess the artists I like most at the moment are Marilyn Manson, he does fantastic live shows, Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein. I'm going to see them again when they play in London.
When I first started performing I didn't enjoy the live thing. I was very self conscious on stage and just wasn't very comfortable with that whole touring lifestyle, but years go by and you learn more and become more relaxed about what you're doing, and for me now it's the absolute best part of what I do. I love touring. I like being with the band on the bus and sleeping on a bus thundering through the night, waking in a different place each day, and the gigs, it's just brilliant.
ILM: So you've come full circle and are enjoying it all a lot more now then?
Gary: Yeah, and more so as each year goes by. Since my resurgence has been slowly building over the last few years, the tour has become far more enjoyable, and you can see a result from it - you grow, your audience grows and that's a lovely feeling. Wheras before after my previous success, my audiences were getting smaller, so that was demoralising. I started massive and got progressively smaller over the next 17 years, but now it's going the other way again, and it's exciting again.
ILM: Can you give us your own personal description of RIP?
Gary: It's about what I thought would be going through Jesus's mind when he was on the cross. So there you are, you're the son of God, you're on the cross, and you're probably thinking to yourself, this'll be cool, it won't hurt, cause my dad's God. But the nail goes in and it does hurt, and you realise that you've been turned over by God himself, betrayed by your own father, what would you think?
It was meant to be funny although it didn't come out that way. So it's about Jesus becoming very bitter as he's nailed to the cross.
ILM: You've made about 20 albums in your lifetime, which one you've had the most fun making?
Gary: The one I had the most fun making was the second one, Replicas in 1979. Because I wasn't successful I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, it was incredibly exciting and I'd been signed and the whole world was on offer really. Everything about being in a studio was new, I was learning a huge amount every second I was in it. Everything seemed fresh and was the most amazing period to make records in. I had so many ideas my brain was exploding. It was just brilliant.
I think the best album I've ever made was the last one, Pure, and yet that was the most difficult to make. Really challenging. For the first time in a long time people were expecting it and it was due to be reviewed. People had been ignoring my albums for fifteen years, or slating them. But I started to get good reviews and my relationship with the press got better. And the record sales over the past two years had been growing, so there was a lot more expectation for the last one. People were talking about me being influential, and all of a sudden, there was a massive reputation to live up to.
So the pressure was enormous and I was totally unprepared for it, so I knew it had to be a really good album. But in the studio nothing sounded good enough and I wasn't sleeping, and then it was finally done and finished and it ended up getting good reviews, and it sold better than anything else for about 20 odd years, and it was just such a relief. I was really proud of it and all the more so because it was difficult to make.
ILM: You seem very Web savvy, as you update your site, www.numan.co.uk, yourself. What's your view on the Internet in relation to music? Is it good in regards to promoting unsigned acts or bad in regards to piracy?
Gary: I don't worry too much about piracy to be honest. I know it's there and I know it's a problem. I think the thing that maybe some people aren't aware of, is for someone who isn't a massive artist, like myself, when I tour America I rely on the fact that the record company are going to back me and put some money into it, because I couldn't do it otherwise.
But when you're not selling many records piracy can have a big impact on that. And if the record company aren't selling the amount of records they need to, whether it's a big or a small label, they won't put money into the tour. So what piracy means to people aren't massive, there's a risk that you'll download a copy of an album by your favourite band, and in doing so you make sure that that band can't come to your country to play, because the record company don't get the money from the records, so the knock on effect is far bigger than people think. So it is quite a serious problem, but for me it's not a major issue.
The thing is that people think they're hurting big business, when many record labels are actually quite small.
ILM: It'll be your 25th year in music next year, any plans to celebrate your 25th anniversary?
Gary: I am quite proud of it. When I first made an album people said that'd be the only album I'd ever make, and that electronic music would never take off. But then I got to number one, so people said I'd be a one hit wonder, and for the last 15 years people have said it's all over for me. And everytime people have said something I've struggled on and kept going. So I'm fairly proud of that. I'm proud of the fact that I've been around for 25 years. I think longevity is harder to achieve than good music making.
Also, the fact that my 25th year in music is about to come in a time that's a career high, is a lovely position to be in. And the other thing I'm particularly proud of is that, many others who've been in the business as long as I have, have pretty much got to that 'milking it' part of their career, where they've written their best songs and their new material isn't as good. Whereas in my case, the last album has done better than anything in a long time, and I'm getting the best reviews I've ever had. And to be at number one on Kerrang with new material is great for me. So it's like I'm peaking after 25 years rather than fading away, so I'm really proud of that. So yeah I'm going to celebrate it pretty thoroughly.
ILM: What's been the highlight of your career and of your life so far?
Gary: They're kind of intertwined. But the career highlight I suppose was getting to number one. That's the thing that you aim for, so becoming to number one for the first time was a high. But the last few weeks for me have actually been more rewarding and exciting for me. Being number one in two charts, with an old song and new song has been just fantastic, after having such a difficult 15 years. So to live through that and come through the other end as an influential and credible artist is a massive achievement for me.
Ten years ago I was considered by the media as a laughing stock. People were like, 'Gary Numan, Wanker' but I was aware of that, and it was pretty demoralising to be thought of in that way when you've had a lot of success and so on. But I don't have bitterness about it, it's just the way the world turns. You just have to keep trying your hardest, and hopefully luck will come your way.
On the 'life' side, the highlight for me was getting married to Gemma was absolutely the one. She's lovely to look at, but she doesn't like the way she looks. She is the biggest ball of fun personality you'd ever meet. She's absolutely loveable from top to bottom, and everyone that meets her becomes an immediate good friend. She's just fantastic. She has more people skills in her little finger than I'll have in my entire life. She's brilliant with people, naturally friendly and likeable.
I think we compliment each other really well. The things I bring to the relationship are organisation and focus and ambition. She brings kindness and thoughtfulness. She stays in touch with friends, I'm moody, but she's made me a much nicer person, but I'm still nothing compared to her.
She's the person who everyone waits to see at a party, and I just follow behind her. And she thinks it's just for me because I'm famous, but it's not, it's her, but she has no idea. Nothing starts until she's turned up. When you're like me and very quiet and shy and self concious, and not particularly confident, to be with someone with that is really lovely. Because I can be difficult at time, she's the only person I've ever been with who knows how to deal with that - and make me realise I'm being a prat without offending me. There's a delicate way to deal with people who are a bit odd, like me, and she's got it down.
We've been together for 10 years and married for five in August.
ILM: Do you think you'll get back into flying again?
Gary: I still do it to keep my hand in, but I don't do airshows anymore. Because I can't fly enough to stay that competent. The problem with airshow flying is that it's all done very close to the ground and you're upside down just 60ft above the ground, and it's dangerous and a lot of people die. Most of the people I've flown with over the years are dead. My own team mate is dead, and another team I was in, out of six of us only two of us are still alive. And so, if you're going to do that kind of flying you have to be absolutely on top of your game. My wife doesn't want me to fly at all, and I think you need that support at home. But I do miss it, because it's really exciting.
(Bez suggests that Gary doesn't do airshows anymore, because we're a bit worried. He laughs.)
ILM: What's in your CD player right now?
Gary: The Rammstein album.
ILM: What does the future hold for Gary Numan?
Gary: We filmed the last few shows that we did in April, so I've got a DVD to put together. And I'm doing all the editing at home and mixing it here in the studio, so that's a fairly big project. Plus there's the new album to promote and I'm off to Amsterdam at the weekend to do a Junkie XL track for them, so a little bit of collaboration. Plus we've got three large shows in September.
ILM: What computer hardware or software could you absolutely not do without?
Gary: There's a lot of it I couldn't do without. The studio is a mass of computers. Computer based sequencing, recording machines. All of it is vital and I do all of my own artwork, from t-shirts and record sleeves to backstage passes, I do all of that, and the website, myself.
I've got a new G4 and a PC to check the website on, the video editing PC is vital, plus the laptop is crucial and the only way I could update the site when I was on holiday.
As far as software is concerned, I use Logic and Reason on the laptop so have a little mobile studio when I'm away. For mastering I use Sound Designer and Master List Pro for burning CDs and so on.