Having just released the critically acclaimed Dead Son Rising and playing the Southampton Guildhall on December 9th, The Edge talks to 80s synth legend and prominent darkwave artist Gary Numan.
You’re playing the Southampton Guildhall on 9th December. Have you been before?
Yeah, quite a few times, but not for a while. It’s quite a nice venue. Some of these places like the Brighton Centre are a bit soulless, but the Guildhall’s like a proper old venue. I much prefer it to these more modern ones.
Are you pleased with the reactions to your latest album Dead Son Rising?
Yeah, it’s been surprisingly good. The album itself was only meant to be a filler in between the last main studio album and the next one, which I’m just finishing off now. For various reasons we ended up spending much more time on it than we had intended, and it’s ended up being a proper album in its own right. I was pleased with it, but I was still kind of expecting the reaction to it to be quite non-committal, with the fans waiting for the next big one. Some of the shows we’ve done [to support it]have been the most exciting of the last twenty years.
As you’re known as a performer who changes styles quite often, do you feel less pressure to write hits?
I think because it’s been a long time since I’ve had any regular chart success, there’s less expectation for big chart hits. It’s a laugh. Some people’s careers seem to suffer really badly simply because the expectations of them are so unrealistic. Any career that goes on for a long time will have good periods and not-so-good periods. People should be allowed to live through unsuccessful second or third albums, but they’re written off as failures. I’m in a great position now, because I can make the music I want, nobody tells me what to do, I’m not expected to get on the radio because my music’s too heavy – I’m free to do what I want and not worry about my career collapsing, because I’ve been through all that.
It’s pretty healthy for an artist to go through commercial and less-commercial stages…
Yeah, from a creative point-of-view it’s a great position to be in. I don’t have a record company breathing down my neck, I don’t have the media sitting there waiting to write me off, I don’t have A&R people telling me to learn dance steps, or any of that shit that I had many, many years ago, where people try and shape you into something you’re not.
A lot of indie bands from the last decade have been dropped after about two albums because they change styles and aren’t as successful.
Yeah, it’s unrealistic not to expect them to change. I think a lot of record companies sign bands and then try and shape them into something else. These poor bands get signed up thinking the label is behind them, but find them changing the look or even the music – they must think “why did you sign me?” It’s almost as if they see in that band the ingredients but not the finished thing. I went through it in the 80s, and I’m glad that’s all behind me. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for these independent labels like Beggars Banquet.
It almost feels like a good versus evil thing now, doesn’t it?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s kind of a cool way of putting it.
What music are you into right now?
I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan; I know them really well, too. I’ve performed with them. I did a thing with Battles recently, and I really like that band quite a lot. There are a few things around, but it’s difficult to hear something really powerful.
You’re not into chart music then?
Nah, never have been. Even when I was in it I wasn’t keen on the rest of it! It tends to be very middle-of-the road; there’s not anything very challenging. It does happen once in a while, but generally in the top 40, 39 are exactly what you’d expect. It’s pretty simple and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t want to listen it.
Do you still enjoy playing the early hits or does it feel more like something you have to do?
[Long pause and laugh] I feel like I have to, I do have to do it. Sometimes it’s okay, but sometimes you think “I’ve done this a thousand times” and we try and re-work them. I’m very proud of them though, and that they’ve had a longer life than their original release and been covered by various people, but they are very old now. It’s not as exciting for me, but it’s not a major deal. I don’t do a lot of old stuff. You want the focus to be on the new stuff.
Has your appearance on The Mighty Boosh increased the amount of young fans you have?
[Laughs] It actually has! I swear blind that when I speak to people under the age of 25, they only know who I am because of The Boosh. That and the Nine Inch Nails thing, or when the Sugababes covered one of my songs. It makes a difference, because new people who aren’t necessarily into what I do check me out. I have noticed younger crowds, either because of what I’ve been doing, or recommendations. Long may it continue.
There’s definitely a ‘cool’ that comes from being associated with The Mighty Boosh.
That’s true, actually. It was a few years ago now really, but it seems to have stuck with me. I can’t wait for them to kick off again – they’ve been a bit quiet recently. I saw Noel [Fielding] last year at Sonisphere Festival. It’ll be good to see them going again.
Is it true that you once had to emergency land a plane on a Southampton motorway?
Not quite… I was in the plane and it landed in a field because our engine cut out. We hit a telegraph pole and it looked like we landed in the road but we hadn’t. I got the stick for it at the time. A lot of people were kind, though, and said I’d done a good job and narrowly avoided petrol tankers, but the truth was it wasn’t in control. An awful lot of rubbish was written at the time, some of it to try and discredit me.
The truth is less likely to sell papers, though.
[Laughs] Yeah. I became an air display pilot afterwards though, and was for 10-15 years.
You lived every kid’s dream then, being a rockstar that flies planes!
Umm… yeah, I guess. I loved it; the whole flying thing was really exciting. I’d still be doing it now, but most of my friends were killed and my wife decided it was too dangerous. Then we had children and I thought “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing something like that”. It changes your priorities. I loved it, though. You’re flying at ridiculous speeds, so close to the ground you can see individual blades of grass and the only thing that’s keeping you alive is your own talent. Onstage what’s the worst thing that can happen? You fall over and look a bit embarrassed, that’s it! It’s exciting, but nothing compared to flying an aeroplane.
You have a young family – do your kids enjoy your music?
We’re kind of torn at the minute. With their nanny they listen to R&B, but with me and my wife it’s Nine Inch Nails and all that sort of stuff. They might go R&B or they might go industrial. I want them to go my way.
You could end up with a fusion between the two?
[Laughs] Could you imagine? I should have a crack at that, get some mates ’round. I want them to be musicians though, I really do. They’re really into the whole thing, good singers and dancers, and because they’re my kids they’re surrounded by musicians. I think it’d be great for them to get into the music industry. Some of my mates don’t want their kids doing it, but I do – I’ve loved my life and I think they’d love it too.
Thanks, Gary. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you very much.