Gary Numan Interview
By Paul Clark via Email, November 1997
How heavily does science fiction influence the way you see the world?
Science Fiction has no influence on the music, especially lyrically, and especially now. To be honest I only ever wrote a handful of songs that were remotely connected to Science Fiction and they were all nearly 20 years ago. The 'Replicas' album, or bits of it, one or two things on 'The Pleasure Principle' and one or two things on 'Telekon'. I would say about 15 songs, maybe 20, out of a total of well over 300 to date have anything to do with Sci Fi. I think because I became successful with electronic music, a newish thing 20 years ago, and a song called 'Are Friends Electric' (it was that song that launched me in the UK anyway) I was given a Sci Fi label that stuck long after I'd moved on to other things.
I do love technology though. I'm fascinated by all things techy. I do enjoy science fiction movies and TV shows as well but it honestly doesn't cross over into my music or the way I see the world.
The British press had a field day when you took up flying airplanes. Why do you think they saw this as such an unusual pastime for a pop star?
The thing to understand is that the sort of flying that I do is unlike any other. I am an air display pilot. I fly World War 2 combat aeroplanes at exhibitions and air shows all over Europe. As far as I know I am the only musician in the world that does, or has ever done, this kind of flying. I fly ultra low level formation aerobatics in ex military aeroplanes (sorry, 'airplanes' as you put it). We fly about 4 to 6 feet apart, upside down, at high speed, very close to the ground. Not only that but I teach people how to do it and I am an also an examiner (evaluator to give it its proper title) for the British Civil Aviation Authority, which is our governing body for all things to do with aviation. I think that makes it unusual but I don't think that's why the press had a go at me about it.
To do anything outside of what you are pidgeon holed into seems to be almost a crime in England. The press seem to find it all but impossible to accept pop stars doing anything other than going on stage or taking drugs. Display flying is extremely dangerous. I lost 5 friends to horrible accidents in '96 alone. I've now seen well over 30 display pilots known personally to me killed since I started in '83 and many more that I knew of although not personally. It saddens me that the press have often ridiculed something that I am, first of all, rather good at (you don't get to be an examiner unless you are very good at something, especially where aeroplanes are concerned) and secondly, something that is really quite dangerous and that has taken so many of my friends lives away. Display flying is a very exciting past-time and the satisfaction gained from being a display pilot is enormous.
Music Boulevard says you were influenced by David Bowie, among others. Do you think Beggars Banquet saw a little Bowie in you and label mate Peter Murphy?
I doubt that Beggars saw a little bit of Bowie in me. I was a little spotty punk rocker when they signed me. The electronic music and strong image was still to come. Martin Mills (who owns Beggars Banquet) has said that he saw a stage presence in me that was commanding and unique from the very beginning and that was one of the reasons why he signed me. The thing I learned from Bowie was all to do with presentation and that wasn't able to surface until the records began to sell and I got the opportunity to do TV. That was sometime after I was signed up by Beggars so I tend to think that they saw something else in me rather than a little bit of Bowie. To be honest I couldn't care less what it was, I was just glad to be signed by a label.
Andrew Eldritch's Sisters Of Mercy continues to fill surprisingly large venues here in the United States, do you see a partnership with ex-Sister Wayne Hussey attracting similar numbers?
I doubt that Wayne and me would ever tour together to be honest although it would be fun. We talk often about writing stuff together but it's not easy now that he lives in America. I would hope to be able to play to decent size audiences in my own right after a few trips to the States to build things back up again. I've just been signed up by The Agency, a leading touring agency, and they plan as many as three U.S tours for me over the next 18 months each one buillding on the one before. If things go well I should be back in reasonably sized places by tour 3. If not, maybe I'll go out and support the Sisters. Maybe both. I honestly don't mind, I just like playing live, big halls, small clubs, whatever.
I recently mentioned to a promoter here in Seattle that you were looking to tour the USA in 1998. Her reaction was positive to say the least, yet you seem to have reservations about touring here!?
The only reservations I had were to do with having a record company that would support a tour and having records out that made the tour worthwhile. It's only in the last few weeks that such a situation has been in place, the first time for years. In '88 to '91 I was with Miles Copeland IRS label and I begged him to let me tour America but he wouldn't support it. I have always been eager to tour the States, ALWAYS. With the new record deal, and The Agency organising things, the first U.S tour is now being planned as I'm writing this. The U.S label for my stuff is Cleopatra Records by the way.
Which countries do you look forward to visiting?
I look forward to returning to all the countries that I played before I went quiet and the career began to struggle because I'm much better now than I was then. I have 20 years experience behind me now whereas I only had about 20 minutes experience in those days. I also look forward to visiting places that I've never been to before as that has a different kind of excitement. As I've said, I just like playing live. I have to say though that the States was always a favourite and I expect that to be the same this time round.
When it comes to writing do you drag out the old four track or power up a Mac (or PC)?
I have a 24 track studio actually, soon to be upgraded to 32 track. I use a 2 inch tape format (Otari MX-80) recorder, a 72 channel console and a hard disc mastering system which is Macintosh based. I also have a CD Writer which was very handy recently when I was looking for a new record deal and sending out demo CDs. I'm thinking of converting my studio over to the Otari Radar system next year. At the moment I'm using Logic as the sequencer, on the Mac.
What equipment are you currently taking out on tour with you?
Two 40 foot trucks full of stuff for the UK although most of that is lights. Not much in the way of keyboards. An Alesis Quadrasynth, a Roland D-50, a Korg M1, a Roland DX800 I think, (that's Ade Oranges not mine), a rack mount D-550 or two, a Korg M1R. That's about it. I use an AMS DDL and Reverb for the out-front sound. I am not a fan of old analogue synths, far from it.
Most every live show I've attended recently on the electronic music circuit invariably has a DAT machine purring away somewhere on stage. Do you see the use of pre-recorded backing tracks as a neccessary part of putting on a show these days or should bands with more than two members try to get a little more done live.
When you consider that most albums recorded today have at least 24, often 32 and sometimes 48 or more tracks of recorded material per song it becomes unrealistic to expect the band to play all that live. You would need a band so large it wouldn't fit on the stage. I think that it is quite reasonable to put the simple parts on to tape, sequencer or whatever, so that the quality of the recorded versions can be recreated live. I use a real drummer, a real guitasr player and two keyboard players, all of whom can sing backing vocals if need be. I also play guitar on many songs as well as sing. Having said all that, I still have a number of parts on many of the songs put onto DAT. Parts that weren't played in the first place, things like drum loops, sample noises and effects. I consider that to be an acceptable compromise.
When you tour the United States and eventually get to Seattle (?!) would you be interested in taking a rented light aircraft up for a couple of hours and seeing the incredible scenery up here?
When I flew round the world in '81 we stopped off at Seattle so I got to see plenty of the scenery. It was incredible. I also lived in Vancouver for a while, which isn't too far away, and did a fair bit of flying up there. The truth is when I'm touring every second of every day is accounted for and I don't get to see anything other than hotels, venues and the scenery in-between those two. I've been to Toronto several times for example but I've never been to the falls. I've been all round the world two or three times but, apart from the special 'round the world flight in my own little aeroplane, I've seen virtually nothing of any of it. It would be nice to have some spare time to look around more and get to meet people but it never seems to work out that way.
I noticed you have quite an extensive website packed with information! Don't you just love being able to bypass Britain's "National Radio One" when it comes to getting word of your new album out to the world?
If only. Only a hard core Gary Numan fan would have the patience to sit and wait for my low quality sound bites to come crawling through via the internet. I love the web though and I work on my NuWorld site alone. This sometimes means that it isn't updated as often as I would like because I just don't have the time to get to it. I think it adds a certain cottage industry charm though for people that visit the site knowing that every word, picture, logo, button et all has been created and coded by me.
As for bypassing Radio One, I think the internet has a long way to go before it can begin to challenge that particular institution. What the internet has done for me is put fans from around the world in touch. I think for many years some Gary Numan fans felt like a lost and lonely voice in the wilderness. The internet has begun to pull all those voices together and helped introduce some new ones along the way. My NuWorld hit count has gone from around 30 a day in late '95 up to some 400 a day this month.
That's an amazing increase in two years, only some of which can be put down to the general growth of the internet itself.