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Gary Numan: It’s Easy to be Happy When You’re Financially Secure ::

Reported by Trackitdown TID on May 11, 2005

“Without doubt, there are unexpected pressures that come with success, that I would be surprised if many people are prepared for, or even aware of beforehand, that takes getting used to. But then again, when you’re doing very well, you earn a great deal of money so at least you can sit there worrying in a nice big house, rather than a little house. When I became successful, although there were a lot of things about it that were really, really shit, and really unexpected, generally, yes, I still wouldn’t change it. I would say success does coincide with happiness, yes.”

Ever since his seminal synth-pop classic Are Friends Electric topped charts in 1979 closely followed by his worldwide hit Cars, Gary Numan has occupied an unusual position in the British psyche, loved by his adoring fans though more often than not loathed by the media for his individuality and eccentric sometimes bizarre behavior. Famously taking up flying at the height of his mainstream success, he qualified as an Air Display Flight Evaluator in 1990, though his musical career ebbed and flowed as record label wrangles took their toll. Throughout they, he remained an  unusually public figure, followed by the tabloids as he pursued his own path.

“I went through a long period of being reasonably well known and poor and that’s shit: seriously shit,” he admits.

“Everyone knows who you are and expects you to have money but you haven’t. I went through about ten years of trying to pretend I was really eccentric, and that’s why I had shitty car that broke down all the time, and that’s why I didn’t have any proper furniture. All my furniture was broken because I couldn’t afford any more, but I tried to pretend to people that I really liked it that way. You go through all through this weird stuff because you desperately don’t want people to know that you’ve run out of any money, because it’s like the kiss of death, especially in this business. So you end up just pretending all the time and that was weird.”

26 years after Are Friends Electric changed his life, he’s back on the up, not least with the aid of the Net (‘It’s an absolute lifesaver, I love it’) and the curiously cyclical nature of fashion which has seen the synth pop music and iconography of his early days moving centre stage once again. Extremely down to earth, painfully honest and immediately likeable, however, he’s the first one to stress that his success is relative.

“I’m just cult level,” says Gary, “There’s no point in lying saying I am doing really, really well because I’m not; I’m cult level.”

Click To EnlargeSkrufff (Jonty Skrufff) Starting with your new DVD Hope Bleeds, what stopped you from doing DVDs in the past?

Gary Numan: “I’d really dragged my heels on the DVD thing, though the format has obviously been around for many years now. Hope Bleeds is the first one that I have actually done. There’s lots of reasons for the delay, not least because it was unbelievably expensive to do them when DVDs first came out.I was also just a little bit unsure as to what to do on a DVD so I bought lots and lots of them and tried to find what I thought was good, and what I thought was bad about them. Then some people make such a big thing about 5.1 (surround sound), and stuff like that, and I was struggling to understand what was so good about it, to be honest. I don’t know, I don’t know if I even want to use it, I’m not sure if it really matters having the drums coming out of your arse.

I haven’t done this DVD as an exercise in advancing technology it’s just felt like a really good time to record this particular band, which is a completely different band to the one I had before. For this particular music at this particular stage of my career I’m now able to do slightly better things than I was doing before when the career was in deep trouble. Things have obviously got a bit better now, and I just wanted to get something out. That’s all there is to it, I’ve got no great claims for it beyond – it’s just a really good example of what Gary Numan was doing at the end of 2003.”

Skrufff: Do you feel that public taste is more receptive to you at the moment?

Gary Numan: “It’s difficult to say. I’m just cult level. There’s no point in lying saying I am doing really, really well because I’m not; I’m cult level. If your cult level support is big enough and active enough, and you can galvanize it with the website to be aware when things come out and to buy them at the right moment, then you can sometimes make yourself look as if you’re doing much better than you are. For example, you need to sell so few records to get into the singles chart, that even if you haven’t got that many fans, if you can get them all to buy your single at the same time you can actually rip into the top 20 making people thing ‘oh, he’s doing well’.

You might have sold fuck all in reality, but it looks quite good. It’s difficult to really know whether these things are a sign of genuinely doing better, or people being more receptive, or just our own efforts of trying to galvanize the people that we have.”

Skrufff: What kind of expectations do you have sales wise these days?

Gary Numan: “I genuinely don’t know how many albums I’m going to sell when the new album comes out, because I honestly don’t know how many fans I’ve actually got at the moment. I’m definitely in an upswing in terms of my career, but where I’m actually at, I honestly don’t know. The DVD has been for sale on the website for six months, and we’ve been very happy with what we’d sold, so when it came out on general release, I thought it would dribble out for the next year or two until it was eventually abandoned. So when it went into the charts, I was genuinely surprised. I don’t know now what we’ve sold, I haven’t had any figures back from the distribution people at all. It has been a surprise and it’s left me wondering if I should be a little bit more optimistic.”

Click To EnlargeSkrufff: Do you feel the net is empowering you more again?

Gary Numan: “Hugely. I think it feeds somebody in my position better than possibly anyone else, in terms of value for money. I’m in a strange position, in that before the internet came along, pretty much every fan that I had worldwide had no idea what was going on, they didn’t know when the albums were coming out, and I had no way of reaching and telling them. If you didn’t have a record company or a PR company that was really out there pushing you then you couldn’t get to them, so everything drifted away. Then the internet comes along, and all of a sudden, you have this central place where anyone, anywhere in the world can type Gary Numan into a search engine and find me and find out what’s going on. The website went from 17000 hits in its first year to over 2 million last year, though that’s probably one person hitting it 2 million times, you never know for sure. As a medium it’s been absolutely perfect for me. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything that was more suitable for somebody in my position, without major deals and without PR and without big finance who had been struggling for such a long time, to suddenly be able to get to people so easily and so immediately. It’s an absolute lifesaver. I love it.”

Skrufff: You’ve always seemed to inspire extreme reactions in people, why do you think this is the case?

Gary Numan: “ It’s a mystery to me. I honestly think of myself as a fairly easygoing, non-confrontational person. I do have friends around me that would argue with that, but I’ve never quite understood what it is. I have a condition called Aspergers Syndrome, which is like a mild form of autism It means I don’t interact properly in certain social situations. I’m alright with this kind of situation; questions and answers, I’m kind of in my element, but if I was to meet you outside, in a bar, you would find me really awkward to talk to. I wouldn’t be able to make conversation, I can’t make eye contact, I’d probably misunderstand what you’ve said, because I can’t relate actual language to body language properly, and I get confused as to what people mean, and I’m highly suspicious. I’m just fucking useless at being out and about. I get really, really paranoid. I don’t know if that comes across when I’m writing either, I honestly don’t know.

To give you an example, I posted something on the website a while ago, saying we’re having a bit of trouble with bootlegging – it’s getting a bit out hand. If anyone sees any can just they let us know; we don’t want to get anyone into trouble, we just want to try and curb it a bit. I really said it almost as if the people doing the bootlegs were were mates. You wouldn’t believe the shit that I got for that, I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know why that happens. I honestly try really hard to talk to people, as though everyone’s the same. No-ones better, no-one’s worse, I don’t think one job is better than another. I really try to look at the world and everyone in it evenly. I seem to be widely misunderstood often.”

Skrufff: Reading a music reference book, it talks of you being an original London punk, were you part of the whole Sex Pistols scene?

Gary Numan: “I wasn’t part of it in the sense that I was their friend and knew them. But I was at the famous Notre Dame gig that the Pistols did, in fact, I got hassled by Billy Idol at the time, I thought he was going to beat me up, actually. None of us were famous then. And I used to go the punk clubs such as a gay club in Poland Street that everyone would go to because it was the only place you could go to looking like that without getting beaten senseless.I was around that whole scene and into the whole thing and part of it, in that sense. In fact, I met Souxsie the other day for the first time ever, and I still found her pretty scary.”

Skrufff: What got you from being a punk in the crowd to becoming an artist yourself?

Gay Numan: “I always wanted to be in a band, in fact, I  was in a band at the same time and I always loved the punk vibe, particularly the Pistols. If you look at the whole punk thing, the Pistols were quite different musically to all of the others, because they were slower for a start. Nothing the Pistols did really went at a thousand miles an hour, the way most other bands did, though I didn’t really get any musical inspiration from it. The reason I started, and got into playing punk as a band was quite mercenary, to be honest. I wanted a record deal and everybody was signing punk bands, so I started doing it. My own weak pop version of it really, we weren’t particulaly good or convincing, but that’s what I did, and it worked and I got a deal. Then I came across electronic synthesizers by accident and went off in that direction. I had no great allegiance to punk or enthusiam for it musically, above and beyond it got me a deal. I liked the Pistols, but further than that I wasn’t that interested in it.”

Skrufff: Yet you were motivated enough to dress up and risk being attacked…

Gary Numan: “I liked all the image side of it, the whole fact that you were free to dress the way you wanted. Sure it became commercialized to the extent that you could could go into a high street shop and buy an ordinary T shirt for £10 and the same T shirt ripped with pins in it for £15 but there was always that freedom. You could have your hair coloured any way you wanted, or if you wanted to wear dresses you could. My mate used to go out to nightclubs dressed in pyjamas and green spikey hair and he’d be fine at the punk clubs. But if he’d gone to his local pub like that he would have got the shit kicked out of him. I loved all that. I loved the fact that you could go to these places and feel completely at ease with the way you looked clothes wise, although it looked quite ferocious at times. I’d been a Bowie fan before punk and used to get no end of trouble. I was always getting knocked about and having to run up the street, getting chased by people. It was horrible.”

Click To EnlargeSkrufff: When did the synthesizers come in?

Gary Numan: “What happened was, I went to record what should have been my first punk album for Beggars Banquet and when I got to the studio, I saw that a mini Moog had been left behind by the band that had been in there before. I’d never been a fan of them because I’d only been aware of people like Rick Wakeman and prog rock so my vision of synthesizers was that, arty nonsense with lots and lots of keyboard solos. I wasn’t a big fan, or really squigly horrible electronic noises. I just wasn’t really into it.

Anyway, I asked the man who ran the studio if I could have a go of this Moog, and he said ‘sure, till the hire company come and collect it, fiddle around with it, if you wish’. I didn’t know how to set it up but I pressed the key down and it was like a thousand guitars, a huge wall of noise, it was so massive and powerful and deep and the whole room shook. Luckily, whoever left it had put that sound into it and it was still on the machine. If that had gone ‘dooooooh’. I’d have thought; fucking useless, I knew synthesizers were shit’ and would never have thought about using it again probably, but instead the sound was amazing and it absolutely changed everything. They never did come to collect it, so I was able to use it all that day and all these guitar songs that I had that were going chucka chucka chug, suddenly went eh, eh, eh, eh with the synth. I just played the same E chug on an E note. I didn’t play piano chords and things like that, I just figured it out from the way it sounded. Are Friend Electric came much later, about a year later, but it was still taken that same sound. That was the classic Moog bass sound that everyone used. I used it on Cars and everything. That was my bass sound. And it all came from that first moment of stumbling across it.”

Skrufff: How much has luck played a role in your career and life?

Gary Numan: “Massive. Absolutely massive, not least starting with Are Friends Electric. That’s the first song I had that was number 1 and that’s the song that made me famous. It came about because originally it was actually two songs and I didn’t know how to finish either of them. One of them was the first part in Are Friends Electric and the other one was this talky bit in the middle. I just stuck them together, so you end up with this song which is over five minutes long-way  too long for a single really. You couldn’t dance to it and it didn’t have a singing chorus, instead it had a spoken part, like two different middle eights really. Everything about it was wrong in terms of having a hit single, yet it did what it did. Really, if you think about it, the song came about through my lack of songwriting prowess, because I couldn’t finish either of those two songs so stuck them together and created the song. I can’t step away from that and say what a great songwriter I am because it’s quite the opposite. Someone with a better songwritng ability than me would have made two songs instead of one.

I was also lucky with the playing, one day a hit a wrong note, which was slightly flatter and it suddenly made the track grate a little bit and I thought: I prefer that actually.So Are Friends Electric is a mixture of a lack of songwriting ability and poor playing – and you end up with a no 1 single for a month. That’s got to be lucky, hasn’t it? Absolute luck. Then the record company also released it as a picture disc at a time when virtually nobody was doing picture discs. I don’t know who in the record company decided to do that, , but I’m in unknown band that has sold no records to speak of whatsoever, doing a bizarre kind of quirky music that nobody really thought had any future, yet somebody at WEA decided to put the budget up for a picture disc They made 20000 copies. I’d only sold 3000 singles in total I think before that. So that’s lucky. Then because of that, the song got it into the lower reaches of the chart, and at the time Top Of The Pops were doing a Bubbling Under section where they would take a record that was well outside the charts, and play it anyway. It was between me and Simple Minds and they thought my band  - Tubeway Army, had a more interesting name than Simple Minds, so they chose me. I don’t know who that person was. So – God, you couldn’t be luckier than I was for all those things to happen to end up now with a 25 year long career.”

Skrufff: Did you ever go down the route of religion? Or explore it when things went bad?

Gary Numan: “No. I’m fiercely anti-religion. When I was at school I was excused religious instruction on the grounds I thought it was all arse. I never got involved in it. Though having said that a huge amount of the songs I’ve written over the last three albums have been about it. I had a friend who commited suicide with heroin. We’ve lost three babies in the course of trying to build the family that I’ve got now. A number of things that are horrible enough to make you doubt religion, since I have been an adult, and I wasn’t into it even before I was an adult. I didn’t see the sense, couldn’t believe in any of it for my entire life. Religion has been something that I have avoided like the plague.”

Skrufff: Do you feel any sense of there being a greater design, or destiny?

Gary Numan: “No, I don’t. I don’t have any of that sense at all. If I thought that any of this was pre ordained, then it takes away any kind of incentive to struggle, or to put up with things, to reach for those impossible dreams, all those dramatic things. No, I really honestly don’t. I  think that when we are dead, we are worm food, I don’t believe there is a greater place. I don’t believe there is a greater purpose or a greater being. I have none of that. I wish I did to some degree, because the older I’m getting, the more I am aware of death and the inevitability of it, and it frightens me now, in a way that it didn’t when I was younger. Hopefully I’m a long way from being dead, but nonetheless. I’m 47, so it gets closer, and my parents are now getting close to their ‘70’s and you start to think about death more often. Maybe something will come on the television, a sad moment or whatever, and suddenly you are there again, you are thinking about it, how you are going to cope with that when it happens, and things like that. Now that I’ve got a little baby, you think about things differently. It’s almost morbid, actually.”

Skrufff: What do you make of the fame culture of today such as reality TV stars?

Gary Numan: “It’s bizarre, to be honest, but I struggle to find anything wrong with it. As soon as you find something wrong with it, you begin to sound like you are high and mighty; I’m deserving and they’re not. I’m not, really. What have I done? I’ve been really, really lucky, played some bad notes on a song that I stuck together and ended up making a lot of money, becoming famous. Who the fuck am I to say that somebody on reality TV shouldn’t be famous? If people are so interested, if the public themselves are so interested in these people that it makes them famous and gives them the career, simply out of being famous, then I’m really not the person that should say that’s wrong. However, it doesn’t work for me.

I have nothing against these people at all but I have no interest in them either. I don’t feel they have given me anything, in terms of talent or product, or whatever it might be, that makes me interested in the way they think or the way they see the world, or any other things that I might be interested in from somebody who has offered something. I love lyrics by bands that have struggled, and they have gone through experiences, be it drugs, sex, whatever it might be, but have gone through experiences that I perhaps haven’t, and I find that struggle with demons fascinating, I love all that stuff. I don’t often see that in these reality TV people. It’s a strange way of becoming famous, and it’s a strange kind of fame that they enjoy. Most of the time it seems to be quite brief under those circumstances.”

Skrufff: Future plans; how close are you to finishing your new record?

Gary Numan: “My new album is supposed to be finished in July, it should be out September, October time, I’ll be doing as much touring as I can do, although it’s been way too long making this record so that won’t happen again. I’ve got a new baby on the way so that’s going to another spanner in the works. That’s brilliant because apparently we weren’t supposed to be able to have them naturally and this one’s come along naturally. So the family side of things has gone from being absolutely depressing – never going to  happen – to now I’ve got a proper family, which is really quite cool. That is having an effect on my work, no doubt, because I didn’t really see my dad until I was about four, I didn’t really get to know him at all then and I know he really regrets that. I don’t want that, so my work ethic, suddenly since my son was born has just gone out the window. I don’t want to miss any of it, so the amount of time I spend in the studio working is reduced dramatically, but I actually don’t care. If it takes me five years to make an album, then providing I can survive financially for those five years, then fuck it. I’d much rather go out with my baby and do that.”

Gary Numan’s new DVD Hope Bleeds is out now on Dash Productions. (‘What is Asperger's Syndrome? ‘Asperger's Syndrome, also known as Asperger's Disorder or Autistic Psychopathy, is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) characterized by severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, development of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. These characteristics result in clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. AS cannot be completely cured. . .’)