Our Friend Electric – Gary Numan Interviewed

Posted October 23, 2009 in Music Features

BIMM may-june 22 – Desktop

From those stark old videos of his Kraftwerk-styled robotic performances to the synth blizzards that made his name, I’m obviously chattering at the prospect of talking to Gary Numan, even via the proxy of a phoneline. He’s going to be a prick, right? I make a resolution not to mention the Mighty Boosh, the Sugababes, or any other British pop culture institutions to recently reference the synthpop-turned-industrial-rock legend, down a jittery black coffee, and dial the Numan Hotline.

Good morning Gary!


I was recently told that a friend of mine dressed up as you for an 80s Halloween party last year. Do you think you make a good Halloween costume?

Haha. I like it. I’ve been out for the last few days trying to buy my children’s Halloween costumes. Someone bought me a Captain America costume, but I don’t have the muscle to justify wearing it. I’ll probably end up going as a skeleton instead.

So I know you’ve been pretty adamant about pushing forward musically throughout your career – but this tour is for the re-release of the Pleasure Principle. Is it alien returning to something you made 30 years ago that musically you’re not very close to anymore?

It’s a bit odd to be honest. I’ve said before that I’m really not a fan of nostalgia, so it’s a little bit awkward. It’s a compromise. A lot of acts will do Here & Now or Greatest Hits tours, and that’s all they do, which is something I don’t want to get involved in. My problem is that we don’t get to do a whole lot of old songs – we’d only play 4 or 5 old songs, so fans don’t get to hear what they necessarily want to. The compromise I’ve come to, and this tour will probably be an end to it, is that if there’s a significant anniversary like when I turned 50 last year, or as in the Pleasure Principle’s 30 years since going to number 1, then I’ll play old songs for fans, without compromising on my main touring. I’m grateful people want to hear the stuff, and that the stuff is sampled and so on still, but from a songwriting point of view you’re immersed in what you’re doing now and what you’re doing next. I don’t really appreciate my history, I’d rather just move on. The good thing about this tour is that even with B-Sides, the Pleasure Principle is only 50 minutes long, so I get another 50 minutes to play newer material. There’ll be two Gary Numans on stage, really.

Even though you may not be proud of you history, when released The Pleasure Priniciple was pretty jarring as an album – it was a departure from both synth and rock before it. Do you think albums that out-there and trendsetting are still being made?

By other people? Not really. I think when the whole electronic thing crossed over in the late 70s was the last big revolution in music. Everything else since than has been an evolution or an offshoot. I’m not trying to take any great credit for that, because there were lots of people involved in that movement. I do think there’s good stuff around at the minute, but nothing massively innovative. With the exception of Nine Inch Nails.


I think they did something really special.

Were you disappointed with the break-up?

Very much. I was part of it, in a way. I was guest on all four nights of their last shows, it was tinged with a lot of sadness. To be part of those last shows was an honour.

In regards to the prospect of two Gary Numans, do you think the process of being a musician today is a whole lot easier than it was back then – from actually making the music (I know you’re an Ableton fan), to maintaining a fanbase?

I think technology has made it much easier to create a variety of music. But still, a great chunk of modern music is nothing more than a strummed guitar or a twinkled piano, in that respect it’s almost the same. If you want to make electronic music today that standard is so much higher – if you were to release the Pleasure Principle today I’m not entirely sure it would even stand up. The stumbling block for so many people is that you still have to be able to write songs, and mistake technology for a way of doing that.

This decade’s coming to a close – how has it been to you?

It’s been a good buzz. It’s all building, slowly but sure. I’ve found it quite exciting, at the end of the decade my reputation’s in better shape, the gigging is going well, the album sales are… well, dreadful. That aspect is a bit scary.

Thanks Gary. That wasn’t scary at all.

The two Gary Numans play Tripod on the 24th November 2009. Tickets are €22.50.




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