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Interview: Gary Numan

Gary Numan – widely  considered a pioneer of electronic music – really needs no introduction. While he is best known in America for his 1979 single “Cars,” his influence in modern pop music still runs deep.

Growing up, Numan tells me he was always encouraged to explore music: “I was always encouraged to get involved in music and I was allowed to listen to anything I wanted, so from that point of view it had a very positive effect,” Numan explains. “In fact, my parents bought me an electric guitar when I was quite young, plus  an amp and various pedals to make noise with. When I was older and playing in my own punk band, Tubeway Army, they bought us a small PA system, a van and even paid for our demo studio session from which we got our first record deal with Beggars Banquet. I was told at the time that Beggars were not in a position, financially, to sign me but having already recorded the tracks and having our own equipment made them go for it as they didn’t need to spend anything on me. So I owe my parents a great deal.”

It was this encouragement that would later help Numan reach a generation of youth looking for something new and fresh. While artists were working on synth music that could appeal to a large audience, Gary Numan seemed to have mastered it. With his icy cold image and drone like appearance, Gary Numan burst on the scene as a solo artist with the hypnotic “Cars,” a song that was inspired by real life events: “It was based on a true experience, yes. I had a run in with two men in London many years ago, who seemed to think I’d done something wrong, cut them up or something like that. They tried to pull me out of my car and beat me up, so I ended up driving along the pavement, scattering pedestrians, to get away. I realised then that the car is like a tank for civilians. It keeps you safe and can get you out of trouble.”

“Cars” would bring Numan international success and recognition. The song, which rose to No.9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, is considered one of the first synth based tracks to break into the mainstream. “It was my second number 1 single in the UK, so I was on something of a roll when it came out in America, plus I was with a very good, strong record company at the time, so I was hopeful it would do something to be proud of,” Gary reveals. “I didn’t quite expect it to do so well though, and I certainly didn’t expect it to last more than 30 years. “Cars” is the most ‘pop’ song I’ve ever written, perhaps the only true ‘pop’ song I’ve ever written actually. I thought of it as very disposable at the time, soon to be lost and forgotten like most ‘pop’ songs are. Its longevity has amazed me. America is a great country to be successful in and I wish I’d handled it better at the time.”

Numan would continue to release groundbreaking material throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s. Now, Gary Numan is back with a brand new studio album titled Dead Son Rising. The album, which was released in the UK on September 15th, came from demos the singer had left from previous projects: “Dead Son Risingwas originally going to be made up of unused songs that had been written for the previous three albums, ‘Exile’, ‘Pure’ and ‘Jagged’. I had about 14 tracks that we felt we could finish off fairly easily and which would make a very good album,” Gary explains. “I have to admit, almost from the beginning it didn’t come together the way I’d hoped. I began to dislike most of the chord structures and melodies that I had written for those songs and the more Ade did, the more I felt that my part of the process was letting the project down. In 2009, I had to admit that I really didn’t like any of it and turned my back on the project entirely.”

After initially giving up on the Dead Son Rising project, Numan says his interest in the album was peaked once again during vacation in America. “Then, after about 18 months of ignoring it, I found myself on holiday in America and I heard my wife Gemma playing some fantastic music from another room. I rushed in to find out what it was only for her to tell me it was the Dead Son Rising tracks that I’d said I hated 18 months earlier. I called Ade and said that I’d changed my mind, yet again, and committed to finish the album as soon as I got home. Luckily, Ade had continued to work on the album during my absence and had improved many of the songs and so, when I did start to contribute again, it was quite different to the earlier version, and much better. I then became obsessed by it and worked flat-out for a while, adding far more lyrics and vocals than we had originally planned. The end result is an album that has almost nothing of those early demo versions that we started with. It’s about 95% brand new material, not a ‘filler’ album at all, and so I’m very proud of it. And very grateful to Ade for sticking with it and for bringing me back in.”

Numan says he is currently working on his long-awaited album Splinter and hopes to release it in August or September of next year: “Splinter is the project I’m working on now. In fact, I’ve come out of the studio for a while to do this interview,” Numan explains. “I want Splinter to be the most powerful, heavy and aggressive album I’ve ever made. A riff fest of anthemic tracks that might well become my defining moment. Or it could be shit, only time will tell. I hope to have the writing done by February, the recording finished by May and the album out sometime in August or September 2012. Then we intend to spend the following eighteen months touring it around the world.”

As for his thoughts on the current state of music, Numan doesn’t see anyone really pushing the boundaries on mainstream radio.  “Quite some time ago, it became obvious to me that radio has effectively become the A and R department of the music business. If the radio won’t play a band’s music, the label will drop them. That sucks, and what you get because of it is a never-ending stream of middle of the road shit that doesn’t push boundaries, doesn’t do much at all, really. It’s very difficult for anyone doing something a little different or edgy to get it heard, which is a great shame because there are people out there trying to do just that.”

After all his career ups and downs, Gary Numan is still grateful to his loyal legion of fans for allowing him the opportunity to do what he loves. “I am truly grateful for their support. My career has been somewhat up down up to say the least and it is due entirely to the loyalty of the fans that I have been able to ride those ups and downs and still be here today. Thank you everyone.”

Dead Son Rising is out now.

About Jared Braden

I'm Jared Braden, the man behind this website. I can usually be found hanging out on Twitter tweeting random thoughts and ideas. If you're on Facebook, you can find me there, too! I love to hear from my readers, so if have any ideas, suggestions, requests or just want to talk music, please feel free to send me an email at jaredbraden(at)outlook.com.
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