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Gary Numan: Music for the End of the World

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Interviewing Gary Numan was always going to be an anxiety-inducing venture, as the Numanoid has a reputation in electronic music that is almost unparalleled, virtually up there alongside Kraftwerk. To existing fans, he is a god with a synthesiser. To the legion of new fans, he is a master of dark electronics. Since breaking through with Tubeway Army in 1979 with a dystopian smash-and-grab at the top of the charts, he has never stood still as an artist.

For our interview, I was prepped and all set to make my way back from the coast to chat with Gary in the comfort of my own home. Sadly that was not to be, as a traffic accident left me looking for a quiet spot at the M1 Woodall Services, just outside Sheffield. With my wife's phone (my battery had run out) and her notebook in hand, I found a spot outside a cafe with rumbling lorries and, quite aptly, many cars passing by. We started our conversation by discussing the new album, Savage: Songs From A Broken World, and the first single from it, 'My Name is Ruin'.

You've got a new album out in September, Savage. The imagery from it is very post-apocalyptic. What inspired the album?

Savage started out as a fantasy album about what the world might become like if global warming happened and became accelerated. What would life be like for people and how would they cope? What evils would grow? As I was getting into the lyrical stage of the album, Trump comes along and starts talking about the Paris Agreement and how climate change is a hoax. It started to feel less like a fantasy project and more like an actual, real world influence. Of course, we haven't seen the full extent of climate change yet and I was always very pro-environmentalism, but Trump's comments gave Savage a relevance. They made it much easier to write the album and gave me a stronger purpose for writing the album. As for Trump's credit on this inspiration, he gets credit for nothing.

Making Savage, which is quite a dark album, was quite an enjoyable experience. When I started it I had about 25 unfinished tracks, but then left them for about a year until October and picked them up again. We pretty much finished the album in March this year, so the process was quite quick in the end.

You've had much more media attention in the last decade compared to the previous two decades. How does that feel?

I've been playlisted by Radio 6 and it is the first time the BBC have put me on a playlist since 1983. Things have been going really well and I'm very pleased with how people have received the last album and the new stuff now. There have been so many little steps forward and it feels like I'm moving in the right direction.

This is your 22nd studio album. Has the recording process changed much for you over the course of those albums?

The majority of my songs start with a piano or synth. I have a piano in the house. By playing that I work out the melodies and the chord structure. I've been doing that since 1979 with the second album and it hasn't changed since then. That is day one, whilst on day two everything is done on the computer and I love that part of the process. The piano is the backbone of the track and when you get to that final album it really does feel worthwhile. If it goes on to get any success then that is the cherry on the top.

As for trump's credit on this inspiration, he gets credit for nothing

How does Savage differ from your last album, Splinter, which felt like a much more personal album?

The album was about what I was going through with my diagnosis of depression and it was just as useful for me as going to a therapist to talk it through. It was a massively therapeutic thing to do and it allowed me to come from the other side better than I was.

You've got a very close connection with [composer and producer] Ade Fenton and praise him on your website. How important is Ade to your output?

Ade is massively important. He makes a huge contribution to the process and he just gets better and better. What I noticed with this latest album is that we didn't argue, but with Splinter we argued all the time, the one before that was just painful. I think I've grown confident when Ade goes off-track with a demo I send him. Sometimes he will take the track way off and in the past we would argue, whereas now I'm more able to relax with what he's doing. Sometimes I'll leave it for a week or so, and if it's still not right I'll rewind the track back to where it was. We both understand each other and have a great relationship and are able to work quite fast now. It makes the creative process flow more easily.

How have you been preparing for the upcoming world tour?

I've just completed a mini tour and played at a festival. It was a fact-finding mission as to what songs to include on the full tour. Standon Calling was the first live performance, where my daughter Persia came out to perform the new single with me. It was a lovely thing for me to see her come out on stage. From the crowd's point of view the performance really took off from there.

What do your daughters think of their dad?

I think it is beginning to dawn on them what I do for a living and the reputation that I have now is not like thousands of other bands. They are starting to realise that I've been around for quite a while and that I've been quite influential. They still moan about me and for my oldest child I'm a disappointment because I don't play in massive arenas. To be honest she's right. For someone with my career I should be playing in arenas, but I'm still making strides forward.

You have lived in Los Angeles for almost five years now. What is it like coming back to the UK?

Coming back to the UK is wet, usually. I was born and bred here and have had 54 years of living here, so when I land at Heathrow it is like putting on an old pair of socks. I left the UK for a reason and that reason is still intact. You can get things done over there and are not thwarted by the weather like you are here.

Also, it has to do with age. I reached 50 and realised I was into the second part of my life and that every day was important. I got frustrated by staying indoors and not being able to do things. I could see the quality of life in LA and thought of my daughters and looked at the opportunities for the girls to take as they grew up.

I'm still quite childishly optimistic about the future despite my age and what time I may have left. Those targets, the things I want to happen, are the things that still make it exciting.

Andrew Tattersall

Savage: Songs From A Broken World is released on 15 September. Numan's World Tour starts with a sold-out date in Cardiff on 30 September.


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