Gary Numan – The MusicTech Interview
With the success of the album Splinter, Gary Numan has finally come to terms with, and is proud of, his early work – including tracks like Cars and Are Friends Electric? that kick-started synth pop and heralded a new world of music technology back at the end of the 1970s. Andy Jones meets a very […]
With the success of the album Splinter, Gary Numan has finally come to terms with, and is proud of, his early work – including tracks like Cars and Are Friends Electric? that kick-started synth pop and heralded a new world of music technology back at the end of the 1970s. Andy Jones meets a very English man in LA and finds someone more at home with today’s studio technology, but still coming to terms with newfound levels of respect…
You could argue that Bob Moog was the guy who did more for the advancement of music technology than any other person in history – this was the man who brought the synthesiser to the masses, after all. But you could also argue that Kraftwerk put the sound of the synth on the music-making map.
They exported their robotic noises Stateside and contributed to and informed – heck, some even say formed – techno and hip hop. Indeed, such is the hushed reverence that these German robots are held in, it surely can’t be too long before some kind of hi-tech religion starts.
Yet the person who I would say did more for the ‘tech’ in MusicTech – albeit unwittingly – was Gary Numan. While Kraftwerk impressed the beardy geeks with 22-minute tracks about motorways, while The Human League stayed in the lab in the midst of their white-coat phase in Sheffield (pre-girls, pre-pop and pre-hits) and John Foxx’s Ultravox impressed the art school with their synth rock, it was Gary Numan who picked up a Moog, used the first sound he played on it for the track
Are Friends Electric? and suddenly, everyone wanted a synth. He’d hate to admit it, but the sound and popularity of the instrument wouldn’t be quite where it is now without him. Indeed, John Foxx tells us (in an interview for our sister magazine, Classic Pop): “Gary triggered the whole synth thing off in 1979. It was an instant changeover and, of course, very welcome for everyone who was doing that sort of thing – it was great.”
But over the last 30-odd years, Gary has had a hard time coming to terms with the impact he made. Never one to dwell on the past or be retro, he has struggled to move on, to get ‘out of the shadow’ caused by numerous number-one hit albums and singles at the end of the 70s and start of the 80s.
“I was very sensitive to things that put you in an era,” he tells us now. “I’ve had a very long career and it’s still going. I might not be having number-one singles, but I am still having an ongoing career.”
You’ll notice he now describes this sensitivity in the past tense. It was the album Splinter that not only injected new life into Numan’s career, but also helped him come to terms with his past. Splinter was released a couple of years back not only to huge acclaim, but it also became an album which, when played live, actually went down better than Numan’s classic material.