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. One year ago, Numan released Savage, his 21st studio album. 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. 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.
Savage saw release on September 15th, 2017. The album debuted at number two on the UK charts and stayed on the charts in the weeks after its release. Fans and critics have hailed Savage as a return to form for Numan. On September 17th, 2018, Numan will bring his Savage tour back to Toronto for a single evening at Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto. There are still a limited few tickets left for this show. Get them HERE if you still need them. Gary took fifteen minutes to recently speak with us. This interview is presented here, along with the SoundCloud audio file for anyone who’d like to hear Gary’s answers as audio.
This is your second round of North American dates touring Savage, Gary. Have you altered the set list or modified any of the songs in any way for this second round?
Gary Numan: The songs we do from Savage are pretty much the same way we did them before. We’ve changed the set list a bit. I’ve pulled out slightly on some of the songs on Savage. I think we were doing seven or eight when we went out before. I’ve brought that back a little bit. I’ve brought one or two of the older things on the previous album into it – just trying to change it around a little bit, but we were essentially trying to promote the same record, so it’s along the same lines as before with a slight shift in the earlier songs. I did very very few of the older songs on the previous tours, so I’ve just added in one or two of those. I’ve brought in a couple of things that we didn’t do on the last tour. But yeah, it’s pretty much in the same ballpark, you know, but just a bit different.
“My Name Is Ruin” was the first song and video to be released from Savage.
Savage is such a great album that I’d be quite happy if you played the whole album from soup to nuts.
Numan: (laughs) Well thanks. Yeah, I was tempted. But I didn’t have the courage to commit to it that deeply I’m afraid.
Do you think you’ll get the opportunity to ever do that? It would be a great album to document in a live fashion.
Numan: It’s hard to know really. It means some of the very early albums I did. I’ve gone out and done those again where I’ve just done the album in its entirety. You know, with all the b-sides and extra tracks around the time. It’s good fun doing that actually. Sometimes just going back to just revisit an album and just do that one record. Whether I live long enough to be able to do that with Savage alone, I’m not sure. But I think you could do it. I think the album would stand up to it. There are quite a lot of slower songs on the album when you go right through it and look at the whole thing. But not at the moment. I’m still trying to sort of please everybody at the moment.
I hear you. I’ve been buying your music for decades now, and while I like the majority of your musical output, I feel like your last two albums you’ve hit out of the park. Splinter and Savage are both very good, and they’re both very well received commercially. What would you attribute this upswing to?
Numan: I’m really not sure. But I would love to be able to identify what it is. It could easily be as simple as I’ve just hit a bit of a sweet spot as far as writing is concerned. I think the songs are as good as anything I’ve ever written for the most part. Working with Ade Fenton. I think my relationship with Ade Fenton, who produces it, has become more and more in tune as he works on my records and I think that’s really making a difference. When we first started working together, he was really really good, but we argued a lot. He would want to take a song in one direction, and I would be kicking the screaming against that. So, we wasted an awful lot time by just arguing really.
We now understand each other better, and we trust each other more. So, I think when Ade takes a song that I saw going in one direction and then he’d take in another, rather than we’d argue about that. Now we live with that a bit. “Okay let’s see where that goes then. It’s not what I thought, but I see where it goes.” So, I’m more tolerant, I guess, of departures from what originally intended. And equally, if we do go down that path a little bit and I still don’t think it’s working we’ll bring it back, and he doesn’t give me a hard time because he thinks it should have gone there, you know?
We understand each other better, and I think that’s not only made the albums more fun to make and us having less friction between us at times, but it’s also made them faster. Savage was actually pretty quick once we got sucked into it. It just took me a while to get stuck into it. That was the problem with that one. So, it could be that. It could be a mix of the way that me and Ade are working together better. That my songwriting, perhaps, has hit this sweet spot over the last few years. I don’t actually know. I just hope of course that I can keep it going for a few more.
The album Savage was released last year via BMG.
Forty years in music is a lot run. Most people can’t keep a job or a relationship together for more than a decade. Do you still love music as much now as you did when you were in your 20s?
Numan: Yeah I think so. Well, I like my part of it as much as I did back then. Arguably more so, actually, because I’m more at ease with myself now than I was when I first started. I was all about “you trying to prove yourself and trying to be different.” You know, it was all, not calculated, but anxious. I’m not massively different when I think about it really. Still, each new record that comes along I am really anxious about it. Maybe I’ve not changed that much? I feel more settled in myself as a human being than I was back then. So maybe it’s that – what I’m thinking of.
But as far as the music business itself is concerned or the music scene in general, I’m less involved than I used to be. When I was younger, I knew everything about everybody. I knew exactly what’s going on in the charts, and outside of it. I knew all about who was in what band. Yeah, it was just an absolute everything to me. I mean I just it’s all I did and all I read about and all I was interested in. I would just go see bands every week. Every day if I could. And it was a big big deal, THAT side of it I’ve definitely backed off hugely. I very rarely listen to music now but I do go out and see bands still. I still really enjoy that side of it.
I couldn’t tell you who was in the charts. I couldn’t tell you the names of more than a half a dozen bands that are currently around at the moment. My own children are listening to Ariana Grande and Katy Perry, so it’s not alternative as such. So I’m very much out of touch as far as what’s going on is concerned. And I find I don’t really care about that. I used to. I really don’t care now. I go into the studio, and I do my own thing blissfully unaware of what’s around and what’s on what’s going on in the mainstream, you know?
I’m obviously aware of certain things because they are unavoidable. But I don’t listen to music in the car. I don’t live with music in a house. I don’t listen to music on my phone. I’ve just got to be my own thing and the bits of music I do hear are really things that my wife describes to me. She often discovers really cool stuff actually. So most of the really interesting things I get to hear about are through her rather than doing any searching of my own. But that’s pretty much it, I’m afraid. I sort of backed out of it quite a bit I think over the years.
Photos of Gary Numan @ 02 Academy (Liverpool, UK) on March 24, 2018.
While you don’t officially have “a band,” can you talk a bit about Richard, Steve, Tim, and Dave and what they bring to delivering your material live?
Numan: Yeah yeah. I was thinking about this very thing actually this morning. You know, you talk to some fans, and they think of the first band that I had as being the real one. You know, the proper ones. They were only with me for a few years, three or four years at the most. These people have been with me 20 to 25 years, I think. You know, Richard has been. So this is “the band,” the one I’ve got now, by far, the most long-lasting one that I’ve had.
And they bring a huge amount to it. In our live situation, it’s just grown and grown and grown and grown over the years as confidence has built. I think this understanding of the music has built and the dynamics of it on stage now is an absolute joy to be a part of. The three of us to the front just constantly moving and interacting and it’s really, really enjoyable. I love touring more now than I have ever enjoyed it before. And I’ve loved it for a long time but I mean it’s really exciting now. Really good fun.
On the record? They’re not actually that involved on the record actually. Steve plays guitar on the record and does some really really cool stuff. Brilliant, actually, on the record. Most of the record is just me and Ade coming up with everything. It’s live where it really starts to show, the band’s relationship and how so connected we are. You know, we don’t argue. There is no friction whatsoever. It really is a bunch of really good friends roaming around the world just having fun. If this wasn’t enjoyable, then it’s a very hard and grueling thing to do.
You’ve got to be able to get on with the people that you’re with. Not just get on with them, but you’ve got to be really close and really familiar and really good friends. Or else touring can become a bit of a nightmare. I couldn’t do it any other way. And they are brilliant. They bring a huge amount to the performances. They bring a huge, huge amount to me on a personal level as well. I really could not do it, and I wouldn’t want to do it without them. I really wouldn’t.
We’ve nearly come to “The End of Things”, so have a gander at this other video.
Now, while you’re on that topic. Can you tell me how you first met Dave Dupuis? You’ve got his band Nightmare Air opening for you as well on this tour.
Numan: Yeah, I was back at Nick Cave’s after show party and someone that was managing me at the time was there, and Dave is his good friend. And I thought when I was chatting to him, I thought he was about 18 or 19. He looks like a baby (chuckles). And we’re chatting away, and it turned out that he was in a band many years ago that used to be on Beggars Banquet. So, we had that connection, this old record company connection. And we just became friends and then not that long after that the tour manager that I had before dropped out at short notice. And Mark said, “Well, you know why don’t you bring Dave Dupuis in?” And I said, “Yeah, but he’s a kid. What does he know about tour managing?”
Mark: “Did you not know that he was 41 or something?”
Gary: “You’re kidding?” (laughs)
And so we met up and had a much bigger chat, and he’s just such a cool man. He’s so good at what he does, really. On one level you’ve got the tour managing side of it, even outside the band, he’s really really good at what he does. He’s extremely well organized. He’s just permanently happy and friendly. He’s able to just get the best out people. He is fantastic. And then Jimmy who does drum tech, he’s the drummer in Nightmare Air. So there’s two-thirds of the band who were there all the time, and it just became sensible, I guess, that Nightmare Air was going to start doing supports because most of them are already there with us. The crowds love him. When we do the meet and greets every day, Dave does those with me. The fans have really gotten to know Dave really well. It just makes so much sense. Again, it’s just been a really enjoyable part of these last few tours that he’s been doing it with us.
“Ghost Nation” is more brilliance off of Savage.
Can you talk a little bit about these orchestrated shows you’re going to do in the UK towards the end of the year. Have you rehearsed those at all yet?
Numan: Yeah we do those shows in November. We’re doing the Royal Albert Hall in London. And we do another one in London actually. One at Royal Albert Hall and one somewhere else. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When I look around, I think we are one of the last people that have actually done it. Everyone seems to have done it, gone out with an orchestra. It always seemed to me to be a slightly pretentious thing, the people that do my sort of music to then want to work with an orchestra as if it somehow sort of validated your music.
So I’ve always wanted to do it, but I’ve always been slightly sort of self-conscious about it at the same time. And then when the Savage project started and I started to do promo for that. I mentioned the fact that I’d always wanted to do an orchestral thing at some point. In fact, a year or so ago somebody did approach me about it, and I did start to make moves at that point but it kind of just faded away. Anyway, I started to do promo for Savage, and I did mention this in an interview. And this man read it, and he runs an orchestra called The Skaparis Orchestra, and he got in touch and said “If you ever want to actually go ahead with it then I’ve got an orchestra that you could use.”
We’ve done that sort of thing before, and that’s how it grew. And we’re still in that at the moment – we’re still doing the orchestrations. We’re going backwards and forwards about how we’re going to connect the two elements; the band element and the orchestral element. How the lighting is going to work, and the spacing is going to work. We’re just working our way through the various problems that are starting to come along to do with it. I’m really really excited about that. I think that’s going to be a fantastic way to wind up the bulk of this Savage project as it were.
Will you film them so that people who can’t get over to see them will be able to take a look at them?
Numan: Yes. Yeah. What I really wanted was to film the London show because that hall is such an iconic venue, but they just want a ridiculous amount of money to do it. So we’re going to film it in Manchester at a place called The Bridgewater Hall. We’ll film and record that one obviously, and there’ll be a DVD out of that at some point early in the new year hopefully.