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 youre 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 wouldnt 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 thats shit: seriously shit, he admits.
Everyone knows who you are and expects you to have money but you havent. I went through about ten years of trying to pretend I was really eccentric, and thats why I had shitty car that broke down all the time, and thats why I didnt have any proper furniture. All my furniture was broken because I couldnt 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 dont want people to know that youve run out of any money, because its 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, hes back on the up, not least with the aid of the Net (Its 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, hes the first one to stress that his success is relative.
Im just cult level, says
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) Starting with your new DVD Hope Bleeds, what stopped you from doing DVDs in the past?
Gary Numan: Id 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. Theres 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 dont know, I dont know if I even want to use it, Im not sure if it really matters having the drums coming out of your arse.
I havent done this DVD as an exercise in advancing technology its 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 Im 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. Thats all there is to it, Ive got no great claims for it beyond its 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: Its difficult to say. Im just cult level. Theres no point in lying saying I am doing really, really well because Im not; Im 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 youre 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 havent 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, hes doing well.
You might have sold fuck all in reality, but it looks quite good. Its 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 dont know how many albums Im going to sell when the new album comes out, because I honestly dont know how many fans Ive actually got at the moment. Im definitely in an upswing in terms of my career, but where Im actually at, I honestly dont know. The DVD has been for sale on the website for six months, and weve been very happy with what wed 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 dont know now what weve sold, I havent had any figures back from the distribution people at all. It has been a surprise and its left me wondering if I should be a little bit more optimistic.
Skrufff: 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. Im 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 didnt know when the albums were coming out, and I had no way of reaching and telling them. If you didnt have a record company or a PR company that was really out there pushing you then you couldnt 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 whats going on. The website went from 17000 hits in its first year to over 2 million last year, though thats probably one person hitting it 2 million times, you never know for sure. As a medium its been absolutely perfect for me. I couldnt 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. Its an absolute lifesaver. I love it.
Skrufff: Youve always seemed to inspire extreme reactions in people, why do you think this is the case?
Gary Numan: Its 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 Ive never quite understood what it is. I have a condition called Aspergers Syndrome, which is like a mild form of autism It means I dont interact properly in certain social situations. Im alright with this kind of situation; questions and answers, Im 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 wouldnt be able to make conversation, I cant make eye contact, Id probably misunderstand what youve said, because I cant relate actual language to body language properly, and I get confused as to what people mean, and Im highly suspicious. Im just fucking useless at being out and about. I get really, really paranoid. I dont know if that comes across when Im writing either, I honestly dont know.
To give you an example, I posted something on the website a while ago, saying were having a bit of trouble with bootlegging its getting a bit out hand. If anyone sees any can just they let us know; we dont 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 wouldnt believe the shit that I got for that, I couldnt believe it. I dont know why that happens. I honestly try really hard to talk to people, as though everyones the same. No-ones better, no-ones worse, I dont 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
Gary Numan: I wasnt 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 didnt 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 werent particulaly good or convincing, but thats 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 wasnt 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 hed be fine at the punk clubs. But if hed 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. Id been a
Skrufff: 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. Id never been a fan of them because Id 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 wasnt a big fan, or really squigly horrible electronic noises. I just wasnt 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 didnt 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. Id 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 didnt 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. Thats the first song I had that was number 1 and thats the song that made me famous. It came about because originally it was actually two songs and I didnt 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 couldnt dance to it and it didnt 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 couldnt finish either of those two songs so stuck them together and created the song. I cant step away from that and say what a great songwriter I am because its 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. Thats got to be lucky, hasnt 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 dont know who in the record company decided to do that, , but Im 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. Id only sold 3000 singles in total I think before that. So thats 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 dont know who that person was. So God, you couldnt 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. Im 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 Ive written over the last three albums have been about it. I had a friend who commited suicide with heroin. Weve lost three babies in the course of trying to build the family that Ive got now. A number of things that are horrible enough to make you doubt religion, since I have been an adult, and I wasnt into it even before I was an adult. I didnt see the sense, couldnt 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 dont. I dont 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 dont. I think that when we are dead, we are worm food, I dont believe there is a greater place. I dont 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 Im getting, the more I am aware of death and the inevitability of it, and it frightens me now, in a way that it didnt when I was younger. Hopefully Im a long way from being dead, but nonetheless. Im 47, so it gets closer, and my parents are now getting close to their 70s 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 Ive got a little baby, you think about things differently. Its almost morbid, actually.
Skrufff: What do you make of the fame culture of today such as reality TV stars?
Gary Numan: Its 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; Im deserving and theyre not. Im not, really. What have I done? Ive 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 shouldnt 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 Im really not the person that should say thats wrong. However, it doesnt work for me.
I have nothing against these people at all but I have no interest in them either. I dont 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 havent, and I find that struggle with demons fascinating, I love all that stuff. I dont often see that in these reality TV people. Its a strange way of becoming famous, and its 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, Ill be doing as much touring as I can do, although its been way too long making this record so that wont happen again. Ive got a new baby on the way so thats going to another spanner in the works. Thats brilliant because apparently we werent supposed to be able to have them naturally and this ones come along naturally. So the family side of things has gone from being absolutely depressing never going to happen to now Ive got a proper family, which is really quite cool. That is having an effect on my work, no doubt, because I didnt really see my dad until I was about four, I didnt really get to know him at all then and I know he really regrets that. I dont want that, so my work ethic, suddenly since my son was born has just gone out the window. I dont want to miss any of it, so the amount of time I spend in the studio working is reduced dramatically, but I actually dont care. If it takes me five years to make an album, then providing I can survive financially for those five years, then fuck it. Id much rather go out with my baby and do that.
Gary Numans new DVD Hope Bleeds is out now on Dash Productions.
http://users.wpi.edu/~trek/aspergers.html (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. . .)