In conversation with Gary Numan…
Ahead of the 15th September release of Gary Numan’s 22nd full album ‘Savage: Songs From A Broken World’ we chatted to Gary Numan about the album, the writing process, and his move to the USA.
LTW: Thank you for taking the time to chat to us, clearly its pretty busy for you right now; so, your new album ‘Savage: Songs From A Broken World’ is due out in mid September; you have already released the ‘My Name Is Ruin’ lead single; how are you feeling, excited, apprehensive, nervous about the reaction?
Gary Numan: All of the above!! It’s always exciting to have a new album coming out.
It takes a long time to make them, and it’s quite an emotional journey of fear, hope and expectation as you try your best to create the best work you’ve ever done. When it’s finished you are so close to it it’s impossible to be objective so you drift into a kind of uncertain, nervous no mans land…Once the early tracks start to drift out and early reviews start to come in you get a much better idea of how it’s going and that can either lift you up, or drag you down.
With ‘Savage’ I played a short series of shows in late July, about 7 weeks before it was due to be released, and they were very helpful in giving me a clear idea of how it felt compared to other recent songs, and my legacy stuff, and to gauge how the crowd reacted of course. It was all very encouraging.
LTW: Yeah, I was at the first date, the show at the Liverpool Exhibition Centre; a great gig (LTW Review), despite the difficulties of the venue, you made your feelings clear on the night, and since on Facebook etc, any thoughts a few weeks on? – knowing how much the presentation means to you, is venue location something you are able to give much consideration to?
GN: It is usually but the Liverpool venue was not somewhere I’d been to before so I didn’t know until I got there what they had planned. It was so poorly thought out, and nobody on the venue side seemed to care that large numbers of people couldn’t see shit!
We spent all day trying to get them to rearrange the seating and they just wouldn’t entertain the idea at all – I’ll know better for next time of course but people were justifiably upset. I did what I could from the stage to make things better but as you move one group so you annoy another.
LTW: Following on from that, I saw your date at The Live Rooms, Chester back in 2014 when you specifically toured small 500 capacity UK venues; that was intense, the heat, the noise the proximity to the crowd – would that be something you would consider repeating or has the (deserved) success of your previous album ‘Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind’ made those sorts of dates impossible?
GN: Not impossible, but they do come with problems. I like those smaller venue tours. They can be a bit rustic but are often great fun, and that 2014 tour was particularly good actually. The problem is it costs me a huge amount of money each day to play live. The crew, band, bus, all of those costs stay the same regardless of venue size. When you play a small venue you can only bring in a small amount of money, sometimes far less than it cost to get there and play the gig, and you obviously can’t do that very often. This is how I earn my living and I am not in a position where money is no object – far from it!
LTW: Focussing on ‘Savage’ – where did the overall album theme stem from? I followed the Pledge campaign and you mentioned a science fantasy novel that you hope to write.
GN: I’ve been working on the novel for quite a few years now. So long in fact it’s becoming slightly embarrassing to still be talking about it, especially as it’s still more a collection of notes than a genuine story. However, having reworked many of the book ideas into songs I’ve found that has really helped shape the entire project. Creating songs has helped focus those ideas and the flow has now started to move back from the album into the book. For the first time since I started working on it the book now feels as though it might actually be finished before I die.
I have a big love of Epic Fantasy which are essentially stories without technology and often have swords, magic and dragons amongst other things. My book will be an offshoot of that style, based more on how the Earth may have developed many generations after a post global warming apocalypse.
I usually use the latest personal crisis as the source for each new album (I seem to have a regular supply of personal crisis) but when I started Savage life was pretty good so I turned to the book and started to lift ideas from that. The album was originally going to be a musical adaptation of the ideas I’d been working on for the book, but then Trump happened. With Trump you have someone that, through staggering ignorance and stupidity, could do real damage and undermine the efforts of the rest of the world to reduce global warming, or at least the first steps of a solution. With Trump the ideas for the album moved from being a fantasy to something with a very now, real world relevance. It added a great deal of focus to the project and it started to feel as though it had something a little more important to say than the fantasy it had been before. I’m not saying that Savage is a likely result of Tump, but it’s definitely one or two very large steps closer to being possible than it was before him.
LTW: I mention ‘Ruin’ as your daughter Persia provides some of the vocals, and features in the accompanying video; how did it come about to include her within the song – who’s aim and decision was it?
GN: I’d been working on an Arabian style vocal section during the day but it didn’t seem to be working too well with my voice, and the chorus needed a high octave vocal track that I was having trouble reaching. Persia came home from school and popped in to the studio to say hello and it occurred to me that she could be the answer – she’s only 11 but she’s a great singer with a ridiculous level of control of her voice but she had never sung in a studio before so it was all a bit new and daunting for her. She nailed it though! She has ADD so after about 30 minutes her mind has wandered and I could see she just wanted out, but by then she had tracked the Arabian section four times perfectly, a pre chorus instrumental section and multi tracked both chorus’s so it was all done.
When it came time to shoot the video way out in the desert she was happy to come along and be a part of it. Again, she did a great job doing something she’d never done before. The biggest test of all for her though was singing live during the July shows. She was incredibly nervous beforehand but got herself together, sung perfectly and the crowds loved her. I would love it if all three of my children went for a career in the music business. They all show a variety of talents musically so I’m sure they could do it if they want to.
LTW: Was the subsequent press exposure something you were concerned about, or are you able to keep Persia and your other children protected from that side of things?
GN: The press exposure was easily managed luckily…it was all very positive and kind so I didn’t have to shield her from any negative feedback. The entire experience was extremely positive in fact. We are very careful with the children’s online exposure, we don’t let than have unrestricted time online and we don’t allow them to roan around the internet freely, so it wasn’t a problem. In the future, should they follow a musical path, they will eventually have to deal with all the hostility and weirdness that’s out there, you can’t escape it, but I will be right there to help minimise it and guide them through as best I can.
LTW: Aside from ‘Ruin’ has Persia sang previously, I ask because she has a really strong delivery – her contribution really adds a mystical/Eastern feel to the overall song which clearly fits with the entire theme of the album; would be incredibly impressive if this was her first performance.
GN: She sings at school but that’s it. She has a feel for music which is remarkable for her years. having said that though, Raven, my eldest, is also an amazing singer, although with a different style to Persia. Raven is also a really good song writer and writes the catchiest pop tunes. My hope is that song writing will be her future. Echo, my youngest, is the best musician of the three and already, at just ten years old, can play the piano better than me, by quite a margin in fact.
LTW: Clearly the post-apocalyptic theme is reflected in the artwork, I’m aware, and frankly incredulous that you received some negative remarks in respect of the desert artwork and even the typeface – there were ridiculous comments suggesting you were demeaning Middle Eastern culture – what was your take on the comments?
GN: I ignored them all. We now seem to live in a world were simply getting out of bed in the morning will upset somebody, somewhere, somehow. I’m all for being careful and sensitive about the way different people may see things but sometimes it just gets ridiculous.
In the context of the fictional book, and now the fictional album, the idea is that Eastern and Western cultures have merged because simply surviving is difficult enough, the technology is long gone, what remains of civilisation has reverted to mostly tribal communities and most of the world now struggles to exist in a largely desert environment. It’s an incredibly hot, harsh, dusty, windy and unforgiving world. The title Savage refers to the environment, not the people, although it applies equally to them if truth be told. The type face on the album sleeve has the look of Arabic but is actually English, this again was to illustrate the idea of the merged cultures, as is the many Middle Eastern musical flavourings that are sprinkled throughout the album.
LTW: The album was put together under the Pledge banner; I joined from the first day – it’s not my first Pledge purchase; however it is possibly the one were the artist has been so heavily involved; was that something you were particularly keen to ensure happened?
GN: The idea for running a Pledge Campaign was to try to find yet more ways of allowing the fans to be a part of something that historically was kept very secret. It had nothing to do with funding strangely enough. I have my own studio so, for me, making albums is not the big expense that it is for some other people. I have regular Meet and Greets at my shows, I allow people into rehearsals to watch and be a part of that experience as well. I’m always looking for ways to make fans involved and to try to give them experiences they would be interested in beyond just buying an album or coming to see a show.
With the making of an album I feel that if a fan can witness the process from start to finish, how a simple piano tune evolves into a huge monster riff of a track, why a lyric may be undone and reworked, why a title may change, why the production of a song may go in the wrong direction and need to be stepped back and then taken in a completely different direction, where the sleeve idea starts, how it evolves, all of it, the entire creative process, I feel that for many fans that would make the final experience of listening to the album a better one. They would know why it ended up the way it did. They would hopefully feel a stronger and closer connection to the music and the lyrics if they’d seen what I went through to put those songs together. Not only that, they may have a better understanding of how hard making an album can be. They might actually appreciate me as an artist a little more. I think it’s been a great success overall.
LTW: So, how much of the feedback received during the campaign affected the creation of the finished work?
GN: None of it to be honest. I don’t really look at feedback. I’m happy to let people see what I’m doing, to look through an open window so to speak, but it’s not meant to be an interactive experience. I don’t need advice or guidance, I know exactly what I’m doing, what I’m trying to achieve. That sounds slightly arrogant perhaps but I’m not some uncertain, meek little figure looking for praise at every turn. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I don’t need to be uplifted along the way. I do have serious confidence issues unfortunately, but they are personal battles that I overcome in my own way, not by looking for people to pat me on the back and say how clever I am. The album would have been exactly the same without the Pledge Campaign.
What did evolve because of Pledge is what has come afterwards, my BMG deal in particular, and that I didn’t expect. Although Pledge wasn’t about funding, the fact that the campaign did so well has enabled me to enter into a deal with BMG that allows them to devote the entire budget into Promotion and Marketing rather than limiting that so that I also have enough money to live on. Pledge has given me that financial buffer, and that means that the album has a much stronger chance of doing better because of the increased Marketing spend. I absolutely didn’t see that coming when I started the campaign, but it’s a fantastic opportunity, one that the fans support has made possible. Without their faith in the album, shown long before I’d even written the first song, my BMG deal would not have been possible. In a very real sense the incredible support of the fans throughout the campaign has given me the best chance of moving the career up a level or two that I’ve had in decades.
LTW: ‘Savage’ was written by you, but then worked upon by producer Ade Fenton – how did this process work in practical terms, I wonder, particularly with you now living in the USA; is it literally files being bounced back and forth with accompanying notes?
GN: Pretty much. We exchange files and then chat on FaceTime to sort out any issues and keep everything moving forward. WE worked in much the same way when I lived in the UK actually. I was based in East Sussex, Ade was in Nottingham. so we still exchanged files and Face Timed. We’ve only rarely been in the same studio at the same time, usually for mixing.
LTW: So how is life in America? Certainly watching ‘Android In La La Land’ it was clear that it was a difficult decision but was made by you and Gemma with the best interests of the family; to date is it working out?
GN: It is..life in California is very outdoors and you feel that you are getting a lot out of each day. The climate is amazing, there is so much to see and do, the music scene is vibrant and exciting and we are all happy to be here. The children love their school, we have a cool house, a swimming pool, endless sunshine and friendly people everywhere. It was a difficult decision to leave Britain, not something done lightly at all. But, I’m getting older and I want every day left to me to be as fully enjoyed as possible. It’s hard to do that when you spend so much time trapped indoors looking out at the rain. Also, I wanted to get into film music and Los Angeles has to be the best place for that, my wife Gemma has wanted to live in LA for her entire life so that was a gentle but insistent pressure as well. Finally, having three girls, I wanted what was best for their future. Although things are far from perfect in the US re equality I genuinely feel that they will have less obstacles put before them in California than they would have had in the UK, whatever they decide to do.
LTW: Is Android likely to be released on DVD?
GN: I believe it already is. Although it’s about me it’s not my film so I’m not completely up to speed with what’s happening with it.
LTW: Your right, it is out – I really should of checked!!
Anyway, since you moved to the US, Mr Donald Trump has become US President, I know this partially influenced the lyrical themes of ‘Savage’ – is living under Trump noticeable, particularly for a non-US citizen?
GN: It’s a constant source of shock and outrage. I genuinely understand why large parts of America were prepared to take a gamble on Tump in the hope that he would shake things up and make their lives better. They gambled on his lack of decency, his vile nature, in the hope that it was partly for show to get elected, to appeal to those disenfranchised areas, that he would be the one that finally spoke for them and did what he promised. They were horribly mistaken obviously. He will hang on to his hard core base no doubt, but America in general is turning against him in ever increasing numbers so my faith in the decency of the vast majority of American people is fully intact. Living in California also gives an extra layer of security between us and Trump.
LTW: Since I drafted out these questions, Mr Trump has ramped up the tensions with that other badly coiffured lunatic from Nth Korea; are we getting closer to a time when the world portrayed within Savage is real?
GN: Well, the world in Savage is post global warming, not post nuclear war, but it’s quite possible that Trump help cause one or the other. It really is an extraordinary time to be alive. I genuinely believe that history will look back at this period as one of the most dangerous in human history. I only hope that we can muddle through without it becoming the most devastating in human history.
LTW: If I can take you back to the fantasy novel, I’m guessing its unlikely to ever be written; however I did read a while back you were actively writing your biography; if so, how is it progressing – when are we likely to see it published?
GN: I do think the novel will be written now. Working on ‘Savage’ has given solid form to many of the ideas that were pretty aimless before. When this current album/touring cycle is finished I’m going to take some time away from music and really push to get the book written.
The auto-biography is something that first came out many years ago, but it’s about 20 years out of date now and so much good stuff has happened since it was first published it definitely needs a meaningful update, a volume two perhaps. Not sure when that can happen but again, I’d like that to be out before I make another album.
LTW: Finally, and linked into the return to the UK to tour ‘Savage’ – Would you consider a return to the UK, or do the advantages of the USA outweigh the UK?
GN: At the moment the USA is a far better place for my family to be, but nothing has to be forever.
LTW: Cheers Gary, good luck with ‘Savage’ and the world tour.
Gary Numan ‘Savage’ is released on 15th September 2017 via Pledge Music and BMG Music
Gary Numan is on tour (UK dates):