Very few artists can lay claim to having a career as diverse and long lasting as Gary Numan. His music has spanned multiple genres, generations and his legacy speaks for itself. One of the most forward thinking and influential artists of all time he has left an indelible and unreplicable fingerprint on modern music and popular culture as a whole. His latest album ‘Savage’ (Songs from a Broken World) is his most successful album in 30 years and kicked off one of the biggest tours of his career.
It seems fitting then that we caught up with him at the tail end of the touring cycle for Savage to talk about the upcoming release of his new e.p ‘The Fallen’, the Savage Live album and DVD that was recorded last year at Brixton Academy ,as well as the very special shows he has coming up where he will be accompanied by the Skaparis Orchestra. Over the course of our conversation we also touched upon his influence and where he finds inspiration, how he goes about writing setlists for his shows, and where he sees his career ending after music.
We’ve caught you at a busy time. You have the release of The Fallen E.P and the Savage (Live at Brixton Academy) Live album this week and then the Orchestra shows start next week. How are you feeling currently?
Gary: Yeah, great. Since the album came out we’ve done more shows for this album than any album I’ve ever done. We’ve done about 110 – 120 for this tour, so although it is busy, I’ve got so into it and so into this being a way of life that it just feels normal. I’m enjoying it actually, it’s been good. This year I think I’ve been home for about 6 weeks in the whole year because we’ve been out on tour and just doing stuff, so it’s been really exciting,with the period we’ve just done. I’ve been back about 3 weeks and you just start to feel lazy because you’re not doing anything (laughs) so it feels good to be going out and getting back on with it again.
You are one of those people who can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes, so when you have downtime I imagine you are climbing up the walls.
Gary: A little bit. It’s nice to see the kids and we do lots of family stuff, but I think when you’ve done a lot of touring and we’ve been through a busy period and your career is doing well and there’s a real momentum, it feels a bit weird to just stop, it feels like you’re being left behind a bit, and you’re worried it’s all going to stop and grind to a halt, because you’re losing that momentum. It feels awkward, it takes a while when a campaign has finished, like next year I start the new record in February, and most of next year I’m going to be at home writing songs and that is going to feel really weird to begin with. It will take a month or two to adapt to that new pace, and for that feeling that you’re just about to fall off a cliff and lose everything because you’re not out there doing it, it will take a while for that to settle down and get used to this new phase of it. You would think after doing it for 40 years that I’d be used to it, and I’m not, I still struggle a little bit, the touring is all done and the touring is so full on, especially with me because I manage myself and I’m a solo artist, so all the promo I’m doing myself, I do the meet & greets myself, then I have the shows, its absolutely full on. If there’s 40 or 50 merch items that have got to be signed for that night, then I’m doing them, I’m not in a band where everyone has a hand in it and you can share that load amongst you, so it’s really really busy and I love it, but it definitely takes time to adapt to that when it’s finished and go into the writing phase when it comes to that, but like I say i should be used to it by now.
With The Fallen E.P coming out, was this something that you always had planned or was it something that came together through a writing period.
Gary: It was always planned. When I did the licensing deal with BMG, the arrangement was for 15 songs. We did the 12 that came out for the record last year, and the plan was always to do 3 more after that, then it was really a case of finding the time to them because the touring was intense, then having done them it was finding the right time to put them out in a way could actually help the record and reinvigorate interest in the album itself. There was some talk of putting them out a few months ago, back in the early part of the summer, but when the Orchestral shows were planned, I thought it would be a much better place to put them with the shows we’re doing now, the interest that the shows are generating will help the e.p and vice versa, and the interest for new music coming out would hopefully have a knock on effect to the shows themselves it just made sense, you’ve got two things out there that need to be promoted and they can both help each other. I thought it was particularly important to put new stuff out rather than a remixed version of the album, you know release the album with some mixes on it and milk it a little bit. I think it’s much better for the fans to have brand new stuff out there that they can listen to and then hopefully that will do what we hope and it will reinvigorate interest again in the record and give it a slightly longer lease of life. We’re pretty much at the end of the campaign now, once this round of shows is done, I’ve got one more little show to do in January and then by that point this record is over. It’s a nice way of wrapping it up, you’ve got these big orchestral shows going on, 3 brand new songs coming out, a live DVD of the biggest show we’ve done so far on this tour coming up, it feels like a really nice way to wind it up, then in February I start the next one and off we go again.
It’s a nice little bookend to the whole Savage era.
Gary: It feels like that. Triumphant is a slightly pompous way of looking at it, but it’s a nice way to end it, Royal Albert Hall, the new stuff, it just feels like a nice combined package of things coming out to bookmark the end of it and say that was really good, the stuff went down really well, we had the good chart position, the tours have been great, that is the most successful touring that I’ve done since I started, and we’re ending on a big one with the Orchestral shows and the Albert Hall. It’s got a lovely nice big bow at end of that and we can say that’s done and it’s been great, then you start again and you try to find new ideas, new songs, new sounds, new images and new everything and just see where that takes you.
With the Savage live DVD, which you recorded at Brixton Academy last year, what was it about that particular show that made you want to record it, and did you pick a specific setlist for the release or was it the live set that was from throughout the tour.
Gary: The setlist was pretty much what we were doing. I wanted to capture that tour at some point because I was really happy with the new record. It’s the most image conscious live show that we have done in a while, with everyone dressed in a certain way rather than going out in black which is what I’d done for a while, the image side of it was a bit more thought out and it all relates to the record, the projections that we were showing on the video wall were all extensions of the record with the desert and the devastation, so it was very much thought out. The thing about Brixton though was that it was the biggest show of that tour and because it was bigger we were bringing in lots of extra lights to fill in the extra space compared to some of the other places we had played so I knew it was going to look pretty awesome, and I wanted my daughter Persia on it and she could only do certain shows because she’s at school. I wanted to make sure one of the one’s we filmed she could be a part of it, because as a dad that’s a big thing for me personally to have her on it, so there were a number of reasons really, mostly because it was the biggest show of the tour and I thought it was the one that would look the best and I’m from London, so it’s always nice to film a show that’s a home show effectively.
I saw you on the Savage tour earlier this year in Portsmouth this year, and having watched the footage from Brixton I have to say you captured the essence and experience of seeing you on that tour perfectly.
Gary: Oh really? Good. Thank you.
When it comes to touring and writing the setlist for each new tour does it become harder as it goes on? Because you have to play the material that everyone expects from you, you need to promote the newest record and then that leaves with you a little area to maybe put in songs you haven’t played in a while or your own personal favourites, so how do you go about it.
Gary; It is difficult and when you do a new album you’ll probably do 5-6 songs from it in a set, and that’s a third of your set gone there in the new ones you’ve added to it, so maybe you’ve got a dozen songs left to play in the time that you’ve got and I’ve got 21 albums of songs to choose from, so it gets pretty hard, and you’ve got to do Down in the Park and Are Friends Electric? and some of those old favourites from the old days… well that’s a lie, I don’t have to, I suppose I could not, but you wonder how that would be seen, so you’re trying to find that very fluid compromise between older fans that want to hear certain things, newer fans that don’t care about the old stuff, but really like the new record or the last few, then me and what I want to do (laughs) which is an important part of me enjoying the shows. I’ve got to be playing songs that I enjoy, I’ve got a real thing about nostalgia, I absolutely hate nostalgia so I will limit the amount of older songs I do quite severely because I don’t want it to be a legacy set for the most part, certainly if you’re promoting a new album, next year is a bit different because it’s the 40th anniversary of when I made it in 1979, so we will tour the end of next year and that will be more of a career retrospective set, but that’s more of an unusual thing, normally when I go out and promote a new album which is most of what I do I restrict very much the amount of older songs that we do, so it is awkward. Luckily for me in a way, there’s a period from the early 80’s up to the early 90’s where I don’t like much of it so I don’t do anything, and that knocks 8 or 9 albums out of the equation which makes it a little bit easier. You still get people saying that you should have done a song from this or that, but I really don’t want to. It is a problem because you don’t want a set that’s predictable where you do the same old ones all the time and yet in the same breath there are certain old ones that you are expected to do all the time, so it’s a very difficult to get right, and promote the new material and not seem nostalgic, yet still give people of different era’s what they want, but yeah I do struggle with it every time we go out.
With that in mind how did you about creating the set for the upcoming shows with the Skaparis Orchestra. You are still promoting Savage so did you have the songs in mind you wanted to already or did you really have to think about which ones would work with and benefit from the use of the Orchestra the most.
Gary: I worked it out quite late, I only sent them the final list of songs not that long ago, they were pulling their hair out, I just didn’t know, I’d make a decision, then I’d change mind, I was a bloody nightmare and I think I made it really hard for them to get it ready in time because I just couldn’t make up my mind about the songs. I’d send them a final set and say ‘This is it, this is definitely it’ then the next day I’d say ‘No, no I can’t be doing that one and I’ve changed my mind’ right up until the end. In fact they stopped me because I tried to change it a couple of weeks ago again and they said ‘You can’t, we’re done, whatever we’ve got we have no time to do any extra orchestrations, we have no time to change anything, because now it all has to be scored out’ and they have their own processes which they have to go through which I was unfamiliar with. So there’s been a bit of a steep learning curve from my point of view about how orchestras operate, it’s surprisingly different actually to the way we do it as a band, and I’ve had to learn that and initially I was getting quite grumpy, I couldn’t understand how they went about things and it seemed quite alien to me, but it is what it is and I’ve adapted to that. The focus is still very much on Savage so there are lots and lots of Savage songs in the set which have orchestrated themselves relatively easily because it’s orchestral anyway on the record, some from the previous album Splinter, again that album is very cinematic so it’s translated quite well. Where it got more difficult was with some of the older song which are much more electronic, and it’s how you’re going to orchestrate them in a way that sounds appropriate but doesn’t lose the element of what the song as to begin with so they were more of a challenge. I think pretty much 90% of the problems we had were do with the older songs and making them feel like they belonged there. I’m not doing ‘Cars’ I thought about that, but it just felt like doing ‘Cars’ was taking away from another song that deserved to be there more really, and I think the audience is just so sick of me doing ‘Cars’, I was thinking about not doing ‘Are Friends Electric?’ but I did a little questionnaire on Twitter and that didn’t go down too well, people did’t seem to care too much about me not doing ‘Cars’ but they were really upset about me not doing ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with the Orchestra so that will be in it. It would be easy to play it safe and just churn out all those old hits, but I didn’t want to do that, I still want it to be forward looking, rather than a walk down memory lane, it felt like it would be a wasted opportunity. The songs I’m really excited about hearing with the Orchestra are the new ones, because they are the ones I’m into at the moment and I’m excited about, they were designed with an orchestral feel in mind, even though we didn’t use an orchestra on the record it’s all strings and samples and so on, we tried to make it as cinematic as possible and I think it’s really going to open them up live so I’m really looking forward to that, but beyond that because these shows are bigger I’ve pretty much blown the entire budget on production. We have got the most monstrous production going in, it’s really Spinal Tap (Laughs) big lasers and fuck knows what…(Laughs) it’s going to be brilliant, really epic old school stuff kicking off all over the place, I’ve done that for a while so it’ll be really good to get back into that. The video wall we’ve got for this show is 2 or 3 times higher than the one we would have had in Portsmouth for example, it’s just ridiculous so I’m really looking forward to seeing that light up, it’s been a while since I’ve stood in front of a really big production like that, that was mine anyway, I’ve done festivals and other things, but it’s going to be great, it’s gong to be cool, I’m a little it nervous because you never know quite how it’s going to work out doing something different like that.
Please tell me there is going to be a live DVD.
Gary: Yeah we’re going to film the one in Manchester on this occasion, so that will be cool, I’ve been speaking to people about that, I’m not sure when it’s going to come out yet, some time in the spring next year I’d imagine.
As you look back over the last year since the release of Savage and all the album has accomplished, a UK number 2 record and as you said the most successful world tour of your career, which has lead to these orchestral shows. Were they always something you had planned or was it an opportunity that arose due to the success of the album.
Gary: I did an interview last year before the album came out, I started the pre-release promotion around June or July I think and I did an interview then where I mentioned that I had always wanted to work with an orchestra and I had done for several years and had never got it together, and the man that runs Skaparis sent a message to the pr company who sent it to me and that is how it came about. It was basically ‘I hear you want to work with an orchestra, I’ve got one’ (Laughs) that kind of thing and it sort of went from there. He orchestrated one of the songs off the new album to give me a taste of how he would do it and how his interpretations of the songs would go and it was just stunning, I loved it and some of them have been really great and they really enhance the songs and take it in a new direction and do things with them that send shivers up your spine. Some of the others not so much, some songs transfer really well, but some songs are a bit more of a challenge, but that first one blew me away so I went for it on the strength of that one demo effectively, and we’ve been on this now for well over a year or a year and a half now since we first we started talking about it. So it’s been a big thing with a lot of work involved, and a lot of work still to do actually, we start rehearsing on Wednesday with the band, then we finally all meet up together on Saturday so that’s going to be scary.
As an artist with a 40 year career a lot of bands and other artists have come out and spoken about the influence you had on them, some of which you are now peers and friends with. How does it feel being in the position and have you yourself found that you have taken inspiration from them.
Gary: I think any person that is created by nature has a tendency to be sponge like in a way, in that you are soaking up everything around you all the time, I think you can’t help it, it’s part of your make up to do that, you are constantly taking things in and you’re reshaping them and adding ideas of your own and they are coming out again the other side and that’s really what I think inspiration is, you are constantly open to things. There is a mistaken assumption I think that musicians get their inspiration from listening to other music, but my experience isn’t that, my experience is that inspiration comes from anything but music, it might be a film, it might be a book, a picture or a conversation, some music obviously, but in my experience, listening to other music which I do very rarely plays a very small part in the ideas and the songs that I come up with. Most of it will come from other places completely, you just have to be very open and observant in all senses to what’s going on around you and things that are happening, people you meet, experiences you go through, these are all things that shape what you write, not just listening to somebody else’s tunes and borrowing it, that’s not inspiration. I am good friends with lots of people that I’ve inspired over the years and got to know over the years, but I’m not really one for spending too much time sitting down and listening to music at all really, it’s not that I don’t, I just don’t do it very often really much to to the annoyance of my wife Gemma and the kids, I don’t like it on in the car, I don’t like it on in the house, I don’t walk around with my iPhone in with headphones in listening to music, I don’t think I’ve ever done that, but I get it from other places, but yes I am definitely inspired by other things all of the time and some of it is music. It’s such a funny thing, it really like a bit of tissue paper and as you’re going around you’re getting little blobs on it, it’s happening so constantly you aren’t even aware of it often unless something significant comes to mind, but you’re just picking up on things all the time and then at some point you start writing songs and it’s all there and it all starts coming out, but it’s reshaped and it’s reworked and combined with an idea of your own and hopefully what comes out the other end is something that is mine that sounds like me and feels like me, but i would never say that everything I come up with comes from my own head. I would say that 90% of what I come up with has gone in there and mixed with what I come up with in my own head and come out the other end and I think that is just the way we are. Every single person I have inspired, I have failed to recognise my influence on what they do, Nine Inch Nails would be a really good example of that, they are probably the most successful of the people that would talk about me as an inspiration, and I know Trent (Reznor) really well and I love what he does and I listen to it and I can’t really spot my influence in it, yet to talk to Trent it’s enormous and it shaped the early version of what Nine Inch Nails was and was going to be but I can’t hear it and that’s because he is a very clever man and he thinks much the same way that I do. Inspiration is a spark, an idea that you hear or a film that you see, and you get something from, they are sparks and they go into your own brain and they ignite the ideas that are in your own head, so the ideas that come out have that connection but they are by and large your ideas, but without that spark in the first they possibly wouldn’t have happened, possibly there wouldn’t be the inspiration for that idea to explode and flourish. So I think there are people that will go out and listen to a song and do their version of the song and they would try to hide it as much as possible but they have effectively stolen someone’s idea and someone else’s song and I think that is a very bad use of inspiration, but there are other people that will hear that same song and it will ignite something in their own brain and it cause them to do something completely different but it will still come from the same place, yet it wasn’t stolen it was used as an igniter for their own idea and I think that is a good use of inspiration, but we all do it, not just music, even with writing, everything can be sparked by something else that impresses you one way or another.
Talking of inspiration, you have mentioned in the past that you wanted to work on scoring films, as well as working on a novel which provided the jumping off point for what would become Savage. Are these things you are still interested in doing or has your focus shifted to other pursuits.
Gary: Writing a novel is still a big deal, I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it, because it seemed to drag on forever but I’d still like to do that, I’d like to write several actually, that is the way I’d like to end my life as it were, just sitting somewhere looking out at the sunset somewhere writing books, that would be cool, without all the hectic hurly burly that is what I’m doing now. With the film score thing, I’m doing one next year actually, but I’ve gone off that, It’s not my thing. The idea of writing music to film and to picture is great and I do really enjoy it, but there’s so much politics and bullshit that comes with it and obviously you are writing for somebody else so they can come in and demand that you change everything that you’ve done and I don’t take to that too well, but I’m really happy doing my records and doing my tours, the book would be a nice variation of that, but I think I’ve realised now with all the different things that I’ve tried this is what I enjoy the most, making records, getting out and touring that sort of life is the one that I prefer.
In another instance of trying something different, you have just announced two speaking shows for the beginning of next year. Why did you decide now was the time to do these shows.
Gary: I’ve got Asperger’s so talking in public is a very very different thing to singing in public, strangely enough I’ve always been incredibly uncomfortable and shy talking in public so it’s never something I’ve ever wanted to do, although I’ve always been envious of the people that can, who can stand up there for an hour and entertain you with interesting anecdotes was a really cool thing to do, but I’ve never thought I could do it. Over the last few years I’ve done quite a few guest q & a’s where you sit on a stage like an interview with an audience and it dawned on me after a while that I have got an awful lot of anecdotes, I’ve been around an awful long time, be it with music or flying or whatever it may be I’ve had a very full life and I sit up there for an hour or an hour and a half and I barely stop talking, the questions are nothing more than a trigger, someone asks me a question then I just fucking waffle on for 10-15 minutes and I actually found it very easy in that environment. So it just dawned me that I am already doing these things, that’s all a q&a is, someone asks you a question and you talk, so you can either do it that way where you sit on a stage and somebody will ask you some questions and you talk for an hour and a half then the audience asks some questions at the end, which is what I’ll be doing to begin with and that’s how I’ll be doing it in January. Then at some point all I need is a dozen prompts and I can ask myself my own questions and voyage away and do it on my own, I’ve got used to it and I think I’ll be alright at it. It’s only when you talk about your life and you find that you talk for hours and you’ve only scratched the surface of it that you begin to realise that you have had a very very full life and that dawned on me, until a few years ago I didn’t think I had anything to say then you realise actually I do, and there’s a load of shit that happened from plane crashes to whatever (Laughs) there is a lot of stuff that has gone on that can fill up the time, so we’ll see, I’ll do those one in January and if I’m right it should be OK and if I’m wrong I’ll be embarrassed for a couple of hours and I’ll never do it again and that will be the end of that.
In closing, what would you consider to be the biggest lesson you have learnt in your career.
Gary: Biggest lesson?…that is a tricky one actually. I can tell you the mistake, and that was supposedly retiring in 1981. Doing it was a good idea, but saying I was going to do it was a big mistake, I think I shot myself from a career point of view in both feet when I did that and I spent the next nearly 40 years trying to recover from it, so that was a huge mistake, so I learnt that I shouldn’t have done that. (Laughs) beyond that I can’t think of any significant lessons that I’ve learnt. Not listening to advice is a good one I think, people often ask what advice I’d give to new bands and it sounds glib like I’m being stupid, but not listening to advice is the best bit of advice you can give, do you own thing, go your own way, don’t be swayed by these so called experts that have never done it themselves, have confidence in what you’re doing, stick with what you’re doing and enjoy it. So many bands split up because of the pressures of being on the road for example and you feel like saying ‘grow up man, you are living a life most other people would die for’ I love my life and I love doing what I’m doing but you do have to learn how to avoid to parts of it that are not so enjoyable and maximise the bits that are enjoyable, but that just comes with experience. You learn how to navigate it and control it better once you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s just experience and with that comes the knowledge that you need rather than a specific moment or lesson that you would learn. I was once told that I should learn how to lie, right at the beginning when I started doing interviews, and I am brutally honest, I can’t remember what magazine it was but I remember a journalist saying to me that I needed to learn how to lie and I thought that was the weirdest thing to say at the time, but I understood what he meant because I would leave myself open for all sorts of abuse, but I was never really any good at it, and I’ve not done anything that I’m ashamed of and I have no opinions that I’m ashamed of, so I see no reason to lie, If people don’t like my opinions or the things I say then that’s fair enough, but I think that honesty is the way we should conduct ourselves.