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Interview with Gary Numan, summer 1997

Conducted by Robby Garner for FringeWare Review issue #13 ("Weird Texas" issue.)

RG: Here in the states, you are probably most famous for your hit single 'Cars', but I also remember your appearance on Saturday Night Live when you performed 'Praying to the Aliens.' Did you enjoy that appearance or were you guys really as pissed off as you looked?

GN: No-one was pissed off but we were told that the audience figures for that show were in excess of 50 million people so we were probably terrified. We played live and it went out live so the embarrassment factor for making a mistake was huge.

RG: 'Praying to the Aliens' always struck me as relevant to UFO's or to whatever are the powers that be. Do you believe in UFO's? What about intelligent life? (here or elsewheres :)

GN: I believe that intelligent life exists in a billion places, at least, other than Earth. I believe absolutely that UFO's exist but it does strike me as strange that we have yet to get one single irrefutable photograph to back up that belief.

RG: Your earlier music involved a lot of science fiction themes. Many of your albums from 'REPLICAS' up through 'TELEKON' (and maybe ' I ASSASSIN') originally appealed to me because of my own tastes in science fiction and I found that aspect very interesting. But your music has always seemed rather introspective and perhaps philosophical about the human experience as well. what kind of themes are you interested in now, and what kind of music are you interested in at the moment?

GN: Musically I like a lot of things but, most of all at the moment, Gravity Kills, Nine Inch Nails, Radio Iodine and stuff in that vein. Musically my own stuff leans a litle towards those bands but only a little. The themes of the forthcoming 'EXile' album look at the idea that God and the Devil are one and the same, that Heaven and hell are the same place. It then goes back and looks at certain accepted understandings of religious teaching or imagery and reinterprets them. For example, in a song called 'Dead Heaven', Mary is raped by the three wise men.

RG: How does your most recent music compare to your albums like 'METAL RHYTHM' and 'BERSERKER'? Or to the earlier albums? (like 'REPLICAS')

GN: Hard to answer really as I'm too close to all of them to be truly obective. I would say that my more recent music is darker than anything I've ever done before, lyrically and musically although it is also the most aggressive, groove orientated and powerful. Dark music does not have to be ponderous or depressing and I've worked hard on trying to create very rhythmic music that will work well in a live situation. It's all geared towards taking it on stage.

RG: I'd love to hear you perform live, your live recordings are excellent. What is the best source for your current releases? I know Frank Zappa preferred being self produced for some time - can we get CD's directly from your company?

GN: Things are changing all the time. Yesterday we were hoping to set up licencing deals around the world and, failing that, the best bet would have been via the website at www.numan.co.uk/ but this morning we had an extremely good record deal offered to me so we now wait to see what happens with that. If the deal comes together I will be back on an international label so it should become a lot easier to get Numan stuff anywhere in the world.

RG: Robert Palmer covered your song "I Dream of Wires" on one of his albums. Did you collaborate with him on this or did he take it all on himself?

GN: He took that song and worked on it mainly without me although I was there for the early sessions. We did work together on two other songs at that time called 'Style Kills' and 'Found You Now'.

RG: The 2 CD compilation "Random" features a myriad of artists covering your songs. How does it feel to be such an influence on other musicians? Are you always flattered when someone wants to cover your songs or do you sometimes find it annoying?

GN: I'm always flattered, yes. As a songwriter to have other artists want to cover your songs is a great honour and is obviously a very satisfying endorsment of my songwriting abilities. It makes me very proud, always.

RG: Bands like Nine Inch Nails use sequencers extensively to make their music, but I've heard they use tape decks when performing live to keep things simple. I'm also aware that Reznor, like myself, is a Gary Numan fan. Do you listen to Nine Inch Nails ? :)

GN: Yes, I'm a big Nine Inch Nails fan. I'm hoping that maybe I can do something with Trent Reznor one day in the future. I know that he produced Marilyn Mansons version of my 'Down In The Park' song a while ago.

RG: Do you use computers in the making of your music now? If so, does that include sequencing? And what are your thoughts about using sequencers during live performances?

GN: I've been using computers and sequencing for years, 14 or 15 years at least. I think the decision to use sequencers live or not is down to how reliable the individual artist believes his system to be. I can't get my computer to sequence properly in the studio for more than 10 minutes at a time so I've never wanted to take a sequencer on the road. If I have songs that require a large number of small parts to be played I put them onto tape and let the machine play them. I leave the main parts for the musicians. If you accept that machines are necessary in a live situation with some modern music, and I do, then the best machines to use to play those parts are those that are the most reliable. I don't have any faith in the reliability of computers, even though I use them for almost everything outside of stage work.

RG: I know you get questions all the time about your extensive use of analog synthesizers. Do the new digital synthesizers and samplers stand up? Are you all digital now or do you still keep some analog synths around?

GN: I actually don't have any allegiance whatsoever to analogue snths. I use whatever I think sounds best. Much of this harping back to analogue is done by people that didn't have to use them when they were all we had. It's almost a fashion statement. I like digital, I think they have helped to create some of the most amazing sounds and textures. Once in a while I wheel out my old Oberheim OBXa though and that still has a lot to offer. I think people should care less about the type of synthesis they use and worry more about the quality of sound they're getting out of whatever equipment they're using.

RG: Do you still play guitar much? What instruments do you use for writing?

GN: I play guitar more now than I have for years. I played nearly all the guitar on my last album 'Sacrifice' and the new 'Exile' album. I use guitar, keybaords, normally on a piano pre-set, and samplers to write with. Quite often I start with drum grooves and then layer melody on top. I'm thinking about writing the next album entirely on guitar to see if I can still do it.

RG: A lot of people listen to music while driving a car. Do you? and if so what do you listen to? Also, as a licensed pilot, do you ever listen to music while flying a plane?

GN: I rarely listen to music at all, even my favourite bands only get a few plays per month. I listen to stuff that I'm working in the car as I find it easier to come up with extra ideas for the songs outside the studio. In the studio I put too much pressure on myself and often come up with very little, I go for a drive and come up with all kinds of things.

RG: Your website at http://www.numan.co.uk/ is a very comprehensive coverage of your activities and recordings. Are you actively involved in the design of that site or the authoring?

GN: I'm the one and only person involved in its design and upkeep. I learnt the html by viewing as source pages that I liked and then slowly put my own site together. I try to completely redesign it once a year. I have a scanner at home and various pieces of design software so the design isn't that hard. Finding the time to keep it regularly updated is becoming increasingly difficult though.

Gary has a new album out called 'EXile' and has signed with an international recording label once again.

While finishing up with EXile, Gary has been working on his biography. Doug Firley from Gravity Kills is working on a special remix of the entire 'Exile' album which should be completed by September. Gary's own extended version is also ready and waiting.