GARY NUMAN INTERVIEW: Synth Pioneer Talks About New LP

Gary Numan’s 18th solo album, Intruder, is dark and sexy, visionary and venomous, a tale told from a different perspective. The album follows 2017’s Savage: Songs from a Broken World, which became his highest charting set in almost 40 years, debuting at #2 on the UK’s Official Album Chart.

Numan got his start in 1979 as the front-man for the synth-alt-pop band Tubeway Army – a genre-defying group that garnered the hit “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” and ignited the imagination of an audience that would swell into a devoted following.

▼ Article continues below ▼

Forty years later and Numan is still creating art that has a way of keeping its grasp on old fans while reeling in droves of new listeners. With seven Top 10 singles, including “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and the debut solo hit “Cars”; seven Top 10 albums, three of which topped the charts; and huge critical acclaim, most notably with the Inspiration Award at the prestigious Ivor Novellos, Numan’s achievements are remarkable for someone who never made any concessions to mainstream success.

Numan’s past five albums have been an evolution of ever-changing themes, but so is a story that spans four decades. Decades full of momentous highs and meagre lows, such as in 2008 when Gary was diagnosed with depression.

“That was difficult” he tells us. “Part of the mechanism of getting through that, and talking about it when it was done, which in my opinion is still part of the recovery, was writing about it on Splinter. It told about the difficulties being under it, the difficulties of trying to get out of it, and the damage it can do to relationships. So, in a sense, Splinter was a very, very personal record.”

Splinter (Songs from A Broken Mind) set Numan’s reemergence ball rolling by peaking at #20 in 2013 with its precise, post-industrial sound that dove into Gary’s experiences with his depression.

In 2017 he started a new deal with BMG and released Savage (Songs from A Broken World), an album which depicted Earth as a barren wasteland in which humanity and culture had been largely crushed by the effects of global warming.

Savage,” he explains, “moved into the climate change thing, but it did it in a kind of science-fiction way. With Savage, the climate apocalypse has already happened, and we’ve now gone a hundred or two hundred years into the future. What would humanity be in that environment? How brutal would it be? How savage would we become? So that record was all about the human condition should the worst happen.”

“Intruder is not that” says Numan as he explains further, “Intruder looks at how the Earth feels about what is going on now, and what it might be doing about it. I’m trying to humanize it, I’m giving it a voice, which it doesn’t have. I’m giving it feelings, which it doesn’t have. But if it did, there would be disappointment, hurt, and betrayal obviously. It would be angry, and the thing is, the real question the album keeps digging into is, will it fight back? Is it already fighting back?”

Numan says his idea for Intruder came from two different things; one being a documentary (pre-Covid) he had watched that floated the suggestion that viruses could be the way the planet fights its battles against global infestations.

“It started to dawn on me that perhaps, the likes of Ebola and many of the other viruses, was the Earth fighting back. If the Earth sees us as an infestation, as an intruder, as an invader, then there must be a mechanism within nature to deal with that.”

His second influence was his daughter.

“My daughter wrote a poem when she was 11 years old called ‘Earth’ and it was just brilliant. It was the Earth speaking to the other planets and explaining to them why it was sad and why it wanted to leave the universe. It was beautiful in a really sad way. So, I stole her idea and made it into an album.” When asked if he gave album credit to his daughter he laughed and said, “When you open the gatefold of the album cover, the first thing you see is her poem. It’s right on the album sleeve. So, she’s getting all the credit.”

The exploration into the idea of the modern world warning and fighting back against humanity’s catastrophic behavior, is especially evident in the song ‘The Gift’, which imagines Covid-19 as the first weapon that the planet deploys in order to eradicate mankind and once again flourish.

When asked if the pandemic influenced this song, Numan says:

“The whole idea about how the Earth will fight back is a common thread throughout the album. But interestingly to me, I was already 3/4 of the way through the album before the whole COVID thing happened so, it was well on its way to being finished before the pandemic. The thing that was a bizarre coincidence is that then COVID happened and now we have a global pandemic, so that was a bit freaky to be honest. To be spending a good part of the year working through the ideas for this record, and then for those ideas to actually happen is such a weird thing.”

While anger and vengeance rage in its opening chapters, Intruder charts a wider spectrum of emotions. “Is This World Not Enough” and “A Black Sun” exude regret and then despair that this fate could’ve been avoided. The finale presents a black-hearted double-bill to bring the curtain down on the tale. First “Now and Forever” offers a hope of eternity in the end days during its theatrical intensity, before the sparse, sorrowful “The End of Dragons” ends on the chilling reminder that what’s broken can’t always be fixed. Collectively the album proves that Numan’s creative spark shows no sign of being extinguished.

Intruder was recorded between sessions at Numan’s home studio in Los Angeles and at producer Ade Fenton’s studio in Bath. This is the fifth studio album they’ve done together, with Fenton’s production taking Numan into a direction that was darker, fiercer, and more inventive than ever.

“While I started down this darker road with Sacrifice in ‘94, his (Fenton’s) contribution to the past five albums, and the sound of them, is enormous. I picked him up when I was about three or four albums into this second half of my career, so I was already pretty well established in that industrial, heavy electronic kind of path. I started working with him on Jagged, which was the fourth album I think of this period, and the albums just got so much better because of his involvement. If I was to play you the demos of these albums, you would really see the difference” he laughs.

Numan and Fenton also worked together on the soundtrack and score for the John Bergin’s award-winning animated feature, From Inside. Soundtracks, however, are something you probably won’t be finding in his portfolio again anytime soon.

“One of the reasons I came over to America was I had this desire to become more involved in film music and scores and so on, and I thought, what better place to be than Los Angeles. And then I sort of went off it, not because I had a bad experience, because I didn’t. I had a really good experience. From Inside was great. Working with Ade was great. I just realized, it takes up a huge amount of time, and I didn’t like the fact that you kind of have to bend to other people’s desires. I’m so used to doing my own thing. You’ll spend a year working on something and think it’s perfect, then somebody will say ‘nah, not really’ and I’m like ‘What?’ I’m just not used to that.”

Touring was also a big factor in that decision.

“It’s worked out great for Trent (Reznor) because he sort of pulled out of touring to devote the time to film scores and he’s very, very successful at it and doing some great stuff. I pulled out of touring briefly and I just missed it. So much. While it’s not the entire point of being in music, it’s a big one. I love the life. I love being out on the road. I like being with the friends in the band. I love the traveling. I love the gigs. I love everything about it. So, I didn’t want to give up a significant amount of that to be stuck in the studio, again, for another year, working on something that somebody else is gonna come in and say ‘No, I don’t like it. I want you to change everything.’ It just didn’t work for me in the same way it did for Trent, so I decided I wasn’t going to get involved in film work after all and just did more touring instead. I think the last album we did 130 shows and I had never done anything like that before.”

Will you be seeing a Gary Numan show anytime soon?

“We actually had a British show scheduled for June, and in fact, we had a tour planned for October of last year, so this is our second tour we’ve had to cancel because of COVID lingering. At the moment, there is a North American tour penciled in for October/November into December. It hasn’t been announced yet as we have to wait and see about COVID but it’s there, the gigs are in place, the band knows all about it. So, I’m very, very hopeful that by the end of October we might be able to do something. But it’s not certain. Although the vaccine program here is going well, there is a long, long way to go still, and there are a significant number of people in the U.S. [who] are opposed to it so that’s gonna delay the herd immunity level we need to reach. So that’s a bit frustrating. But I understand people’s reservations about getting it, but it just drags it out and makes the pain last longer. If the tour does happen, fantastic! If not, it will be pushed off until next year.”

While touring is still up in the air, Numan is currently working on a sequel to Intruder to be released around April of 2022. “It’s like a staggered double album,” he explains. Gary Numan has consistently fought against the grain to stick resolutely to his creative vision, and Intruder is proof that his vision, as well as the fact that he is so uncompromising, is what has kept his fans fascinated. Intruder hits the shelves this May.

Follow on Instagram @garynuman

Photos by Chris Corner

Like this? Share this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.