A name synonymous with synthesizer music for forty years now, Gary Numan is an artist of unparalleled comparison. His influence on modern electronic music is unquestionable. Two months ago, Numan released Savage, his 21st studio album (I believe). Savage was a few years in gestation and was a project he opened up to his fans by way of PledgeMusic, offering a rare portal into his creative process that was unlike anything any other artist has done using that service. There were early versions of song stems shared with pledgers. Heartfelt video updates on studio days that bore more problems than music - updates that many musicians wouldn’t want their fans seeing. Numan’s mom passed away during the Savage writing process, and over 5,000 of his pledgers grieved right along with him as he came to terms with her loss.
Towards the end of the campaign, as the finished music started to appear on the PledgeMusic portal, it was apparent right away that Savage was going to rank amongst some of Numan’s very best albums. A demo of "Bed of Thorns" was posted to the campaign in September of 2016. The song was tight. Then an October demo of “I Heard a Voice”. A November audio clip of “Mercy”. Then Gary started sharing clips of some of his songs as producer Ade Fenton was sending him back some versions, Numan always taking care to share the album's progress with his pledgers. There were some early album artwork concepts. Early news of his daughter singing on the album. Numan managed to post a total of 58 updates to his Pledge campaign. REAL updates I might add, nothing disposable. It was never someone from his team sharing a napkin sketch or a polaroid of something or other. Numan kept his Pledge audience really close as Savage took form - his updates always hitting his Pledge page before they would go out to the rest of the world via his website, social feeds and BMG’s marketing portals.
Savage saw release on September 15th. The album debuted at number two on the UK charts and stayed on the charts in the weeks after it’s release. Fans and critics hailed the album as a return to form. On December 1st, Numan will bring his Savage tour to Toronto for a single sold-out evening at Opera House in Toronto. Gary spent 15 minutes talking with PureGrainAudio about Savage on Friday, November 10th. This interview is presented here, along with the SoundCloud audio file for anyone who’d like to hear Gary’s answers like a podcast.
Congratulations on a wonderful album. Gary Numan: Oh thank you. Thank you very much.
After being a part of your Pledge campaign, I feel like you have negated the eternal “What goes into making an album” question that you must get asked all of the time. Numan: (laughs) The Pledge thing, I guess I wanted people to understand what it takes to make them (albums). I’ve had a feeling for years that people kind of assume that you just sit down with a guitar or a piano for a couple of days and churn out some tunes, and that is pretty much it. And I had a feeling that if fans could be more aware - if they could see the emotional kind of a rollercoaster that you can sometimes go through, all of the doubts and the worries and the changes that you can make. How a song can evolve one way and you know that it’s not the right direction and you bring it back. The whole sort of rigamarole, if you like, of what it goes through. For everything. For the music, the lyrics, the performances to the (album) sleeve obviously, which is another big part of it. And even down to a little bit more of the business side of it. You are trying to get the right record deal for the record, even when it is still being made. I thought, if fans could see that, or be a witness to segments of that at least, then maybe when they had the finished album and they listened to it, they would just feel that much more connected to it. It would be a much better experience because they were more aware of what it took to get done, the decisions that went into making it and the thinking behind it. And I think for most people, it actually worked really, really well.
I think it’s hands down the best Pledge Music experience that the site will ever see. It’s certainly the best that I’ve ever experienced. So thank you for that. Numan: Thank you. Very much. I appreciate that.
It was obvious that you struggled at the beginning of the process writing, so I’m curious because things seemed to really start rolling at a certain point during your Pledge. I’m wondering if that is how it usually goes? Does it happen really quickly like that, where you just get on a roll and songs start coming organically? Numan: It does, actually. I wouldn't say it’s like that every time. But that’s pretty typical. Certainly, the one we did before it, Splinter, was very similar, actually. Very slow to get going. Not slow in terms of writing music. I think with Savage for example, within the first few months I had about 22 or 23 different bits of music. Songs on their way or ideas of songs. But it takes a while for an identity to kind of show itself. For its own direction to become clearer. And I think with Savage, the first year was… um... There were lots of other things going on of course. I took over my own management. I started to self-manage, and that was a huge problem there for a while. It’s a massive amount of work and commitment and worries, actually. To take that on. That definitely hindered the progress of the record. I also did quite a bit of touring on some old albums. I went out and toured those. Again, that took up a lot of time. And it takes your focus away from what you are doing. So there were issues in that first year.
But none the less, I was still churning out some stuff. But it really kicked into gear around about October I think in 2016 when I got involved with Ade Fenton again. Ade is brilliant. I mean this is the fourth album I’ve done with Ade. Not only is he very good at what he does, in fact, he just gets better and better in my opinion, but he knows how to push me. He becomes a driving force behind me to keep me moving along. As soon as he is involved and pushing, I find that it really does drive me along. And I think that part of that is because you’ll send him something and then a week or two later you’ll start getting this amazing stuff coming back and so it starts to feel really exciting. It really starts to feel as if you’ve gotten the throttle and you are beginning to move forward in a really productive way. It just makes it exciting and vibey. And that makes you want to get out there and it makes you want to do more and more things. And so that momentum suddenly accelerates. As I said, it’s happened before and it certainly happened with Savage.
Can you tell me how you met Chris Corner, and what prompted you to bring him on for the first music video for “My Name is Ruin”? Numan: Well, I’ve known Chris for years, actually. I was a fan of Sneaker Pimps before, and then when Chris went off and did IAMX, I was a massive IAMX fan. And Chris supported me in a London show years and years and years ago. It was around when IAMX started. So we’ve kind of known each other for a long time. And over the years, we’ve become really good friends. He moved to Los Angeles not long after we did. And for a while, he lived with us. I mean he lived in our house for two or three months, when he was getting himself sorted out, him and Janine (Gezang). So we are incredibly close. We’re really, really good friends, and we see each other a lot.
And I think he’s brilliant. Not only musically, and as a singer, he’s an incredible singer, but I’ve looked at the videos that he has made for his own projects over the years and he just has such an incredible eye for visuals. Amazing, actually. He did a video for me on the last album called “I Am Dust” and it was by far the best video that I’ve ever had done. And so when it came time to do a video for this song, he was an obvious choice to go to. First of all, beyond that, the whole album visually looks like a whole desert island future world. Well, Chris lives out in the desert. He’s got a cabin out in the desert. He lives out near Twentynine Palms (California), so he had all of the locations. He lives in the middle of the very environment I was trying to sing about. It was easy. I mean he is so good to work with. It was just a really really good experience.
Do you ever think about your legacy, Gary? Your footprint on the musical world and how it will live on after you are gone from the planet? Numan: I don’t think much about it for after I’m gone. (laughs) I think about it a little bit from time to time. Because it’s something that is talked about a lot. Whenever I’m out talking to people and promoting the tours or promoting the albums, it will come up. A lot of people talk about me as being influential. And that’s very, very cool. Um, it’s a nice position to be in. I think it’s given me a level of credibility which is something that I’m really really proud of. But beyond that, it hasn't really done that much in terms of confidence. I can honestly say that every album that I make, I find it a little bit harder than the one before. I struggle with confidence quite a bit. I certainly did with Savage. There is a song on Savage called “Bed Of Thorns” which is the very first song I wrote actually before the global warming idea kicked in. And that song is simply about how under pressure I felt trying to make another album that I hoped was going to be as good as if not better than the one before. And that constant need to just keep proving yourself year after year after year. And I think we should, you know? I think that’s the way it should be. Anyone that does this for a living, that makes music for a living, should have to keep proving themselves. You know, I think it’s unforgivable that there are people who live on past glories. And I try very, very hard to not do that. To not live on the history of “Cars” or my legacy, but to keep on making new music that keeps on trying to move forward, and earning that longevity, you know?
Peep Gary Numan's music video for the song "My Name Is Ruin".
Have you firmed up any plans for your 60th birthday? And will it be possibly something like a performance event that fans can be involved with? Numan: Um, for a long time I was trying to ignore that it was even happening. I wasn’t that involved really. My wife has been talking about “what do you want to do for your birthday?” I think something is going to happen. It’s looking very likely that I’ll actually be on the road in March again touring. So quite how the 60th birthday celebration is going to shape up, I’m not quite sure. It would be really cool, actually, if it was on stage. I think I had my 50th on stage in Manchester in England, if I remember rightly. It would be great actually, that would be really cool. I’ve got a few anniversaries this year; February is the fourtieth anniversary of me signing my first record deal with Beggars Banquet. That’s quite a big one and I’d like to celebrate that one. Then a few weeks after that, it’s my 60th birthday. My wife is 50 in January. So we’ve got a number of sort of big things happening in the early part of next year. We may just have one big massive celebration for all of them.
Would you ever consider working with an orchestra and doing a project or a tour where your songs are done as orchestrations? Numan: Yeah, we are doing exactly that, strangely enough. We’ve booked the Royal Albert Hall in November 2018 in London, and the idea is to do a show there, and possibly three others before it in suitable venues in Britain as a finale of our Savage campaign, and to do those shows with an orchestra. Now, if we can get that together, and it’s very much at the top of the list of things we can, we’re trying to find the right arranger at the moment that will work with me in converting those songs to an orchestral format. But if we can do that, and I am very confident that we can, then that is something that we will definitely be doing in November 2018.
Do you think if you can put that together that you might try doing the entire album in full? Numan: You know, it could be that? But I think quite a lot of the early songs would lend themselves to that as well. My idea would be to try and mix the two. I wouldn’t necessarily just want to do all of Savage, and that to be the thing. I would like to do a big part of Savage. Six, seven or eight songs, and then maybe another half a dozen or so of earlier songs. I’ve got some things… There is a song called "Down In the Park" which I did in ’79, I think that would be particularly suitable to have an orchestra behind it. And I would love to hear that. But there are a few of the early things that I would like to put in there as well.
Did you have any reservations about bringing Persia into your musical world? And do you think you will include her again on anything down the road? Numan: I would love to, yeah. I had no reservations about it whatsoever. Her contributions to the record were genuine. It wasn't done because she was my daughter and I thought it would be cool to have her on the record. I had actually been working on the song that she sings on, I’d been working on that song all day. And I could not get it to sound right with my voice doing certain parts. It just didn’t have the right energy that it needed. She came home from school and simply popped her head into the studio and said hello, and I grabbed her while she was there and said if you don't mind, would you just try a couple of vocal things for me? I already knew she could sing. She’s been singing around the house for years. She’s a phenomenal little singer. I mean she has a control over her voice that I have never come close to. She’s very very impressive as a singer already.
She came into the studio and she did the three completely separate parts that I needed her to do. Two of them were really quite difficult to sing and she just nailed it. It was amazing, actually. I knew she could sing, but to be able to just harness it like that, in an environment that she was unfamiliar with, was amazing. And it really made a difference, it was actually what the track needed. When it came time to shoot the video for that song, obviously I wanted her to be in it. And again, she was amazing. She just understands the way the camera works and how she needs to move around it and the expressions on her face and how to do that. Incredibly together, she’s a really together little kid.
She’s really smart. She’s been on stage now maybe a dozen times. Maybe more. Small places right up to great big places. Brixton Academy was like 5000 people. She’s done a festival. The Soundedit Festival, twenty or thirty thousand people or whatever it was. And she just does it. She’s able to overcome the nervousness and just get out there and do it. It’s really impressive. She’s only just turned twelve about a week or two ago. I just think it’s brilliant what she’s done. If she wants a career in music, I don’t think she would have any trouble at all. It’s just that she’s interested in so many things. She does acting classes. She does Aerial. you know, where you do the aerobatics with the ribbons that hang down and you wrap yourself in? She does all that. She’s a cool little kid.
With Savage now being on BMG, and congratulations on that label deal, what comes with that for you? Is there any extra pressure? Are there higher expectations? Can you talk a bit about that? Numan: I did feel a pressure actually. You’ve got a fairly big organization, very professional larger scale organization who signed me early on - no music heard at all. It was absolutely on faith and on history. So I was very nervous when I started to send the music over to them. I was very, very nervous that it would not be what they wanted. And that went well. They were very enthusiastic about the album. And then when I started to send the artwork ideas over they were very enthusiastic about that. Over all of these different stages I was unsure that it would be what they were after. I’m not commercially driven. I don't have a good feeling for what would be commercially acceptable or not. I just kind of do what I want. And I hope that other people like it. So I was quite anxious about that.
And then when it comes out, and you’ve got this very cool organization around you working for you - if it hadn’t have done much, if it hadn't really achieved anything, I would have felt embarrassed by that. I’d have felt like I let them down. But that didn't happen. You know, we got a number 2 chart position in Britain for the album. Which is the best I’ve had for 35 years or more. So it’s been really good. It’s been a fantastic experience actually. I really love the people there. I’ve an incredibly good relationship there. I speak to them every day. Different people in different departments. I meet up with them whenever I’m in Britain. We sort of see each other at gigs. It’s really lovely.
It very much reminds me of when I very first started, when I signed to the Beggars Banquet label in ’78, it was a fairly small thing then. It hadn’t had any success, actually. it had a very “family” feel to it. You knew everybody and everyone was kind of looking out for each other. And it had a lovely feeling. And BMG, although it’s a much bigger label, and there’s more people there, it has that same kind of feeling to it. You feel liked. You feel wanted. Almost as if you were among friends. I’ve not really had that. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve not really had that since that very beginning with Beggars Banquet. And that’s been lovely. It really does make you feel as if you are with a group of people that really do want the best for you. It’s not just about business and money. It’s lovely. It’s really cool. It’s really made a difference.
If imitation really is the highest form of flattery, do you feel flattered when you hear music that is totally derived from your sound? Numan: I do, yeah. I do find it flattering. People do a cover version or sample me, I find it all very very flattering. When you hear something that has obviously been inspired by what you’ve done, yeah, I think that’s a cool thing. I have no problem with it.