Interview & Show Preview: Gary Numan @ Neumos, Sun. 10/31

Seattle has lucked out by being chosen as one of the cities British artist Gary Numan will play on his North American The Pleasure Principle Tour. He’ll be here for Halloween, Sunday October 31st at Neumos for his show, which will feature his album The Pleasure Principle (featuring “M.E.,” “Cars,” “Films”) in its entirety, plus selections from his other works. It will be beautiful. Including his albums with Tubeway Army he’s released nineteen albums and Numan, with his wicked vocals, has remained a brilliant, influential and original musician since the late 1970s. You can argue his newer material is even better than his early work; it’s all consistently effective and moving. Perhaps it’s just different, a bit harder. He’s working on two new albums, and he’s only improving. Plus, the man who became the first real synth pop star looks better than ever. I am in awe, and really happy I got to ask him a few questions:

In an interview with Graham Norton you mentioned your mother helped design an outfit – is your family creative? Are they still working with you in the music business?

That was about 30 years ago. It was to do with interlocking straps for an outfit for an album called Telekon that came out in 1980. They are not generally creative people and they have been retired now for some time. It’s no longer a family enterprise.

Do you feel different emotions playing guitar versus synthesizer? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each in songs?

The guitar is far more physical, you are able to move with it in a far more expressive way than a synth. The guitar is the ultimate for rock star posing, but in the studio especially, the synth beats it hands down for noise generation and flexibility.

GARY NUMAN_Ed Fielding (1)
Gary Numan – photo by Ed Fielding

How difficult was it to cope with success at such a young age?

Very. It wasn’t just being young, although that was a big part of the problem. It was the speed at which it happened. It was almost overnight. Your entire life changes virtually beyond recognition in the blink of an eye. I was a solo act effectively and so you have no one to share the work load that comes with it. Plus, I was not only young anyway, but naive and immature for the age I was. And, to add another twist to the problem, I also have Asperger’s Syndrome, so for me it was quite a difficult thing to adapt to.

What is your favorite book and why?

Lord Of The Rings was always a favorite, although that dominance is now challenged by the Malazan stories of Steven Erikson. Both authors are able to create epic worlds of fantastic creations and yet somehow make it all seem like history rather than fantasy. Strangely enough, considering my music is so technology-driven, I like to read stories where there is no technology to speak of.

What memories are attached to Top of the Pops appearances, especially “Berserker” & “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”?

I have no memory at all of doing “Berserker” on Top Of The Pops I’m afraid. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” I remember as being a dream come true. It was the biggest music program on AtV in the U.K. at that time and the biggest opportunity a band could have. So there was a lot of pressure to get it right and do it well. I got the lighting people to give us only white light, no color at all, plus to have much of it coming from the floor upwards. I wanted to do what I could to make sure we stood out. I didn’t smile, didn’t stare into the camera much. Make up, image, I used everything I could think of to make sure we were noticed.

You’ve mentioned it as pressure that people mention you as an influence. In what ways?

It’s a good pressure to have, so I’m definitely not complaining, but when you have a reputation for being influential and innovative, people rightly have very high expectations for every album you put out. I’m proud of it though. It’s a rotation that most song writers would welcome I would imagine, pressure or not.

Do you think your style of singing has changed? Or the way you produce it?

The voice has got better as I’ve got older, but I will never be considered a great singer. I have a quirky voice, mostly I sing the right notes, but not always. I still sing much as I always did I think and I’m not aware of doing anything different with it in the studio. It is what it is and I’m kind of stuck with it.

You’re a fan of Ultravox. What are your two favorite songs of theirs and why?

I’m a fan of the early Ultravox when John Foxx was the singer. My two favorite Ultravox songs are “Slow Motion” and “My Sex.”

What do you think it is about the song “Asylum” that inspires such fear? It is a very scary song (in a good way).

It’s Hammer House of Horror B movie soundtrack music. I was only doing it on this tour because in the U.K. it was the B-side to “Cars.” I found out last night that in the U.S. the B-side of “Cars” was “Metal.” Because of that I dropped “Asylum” from the set in New York and I doubt I’ll put it back in. It kind of bums out the set anyway.

What is the story behind “Praying to the Aliens”?

I generally subscribe to the idea that, if God was real, which I do not believe actually, then he was more likely to have been an alien than a super being. I used to find it amusing to think of people going to church and praying, thinking they were possibly praying to an alien to fix whatever they wanted fixing.

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