With his career floundering, 1970s/1980s star Gary Numan was receiving offers for nostalgia tours. But now, wielding a dystopian new album, he has relocated his mojo
Gary Numan brings a Middle Eastern flavour to new album
When Gary Numan received the news that his crowdfunded album had debuted at No 2 in the British charts, he cried.
It wasn’t so much down to the number of sales and the critical acclaim received by Savage (Songs from a Broken World). Instead, the album’s reception answered a question that had been gnawing at him for the past decade.
“And that’s whether I did have something to say with my work,” he states in an exclusive interview with The National from Amsterdam Dance Event.
“And the reaction for both this album and the previous one, Splinter [(Songs from a Broken Mind)], has been really amazing. It feels great that the people are behind it and appreciating where I am right now in my career.”
Judging by the quality of Savage, the 59-year-old’s muse is in rude health.
The concept album is bold, cinematic and relentlessly loud: Numan’s signature Moog synths are as heavy as ever and the staccato and distorted drum rhythms are unyielding. On top of this foreboding sonic landscape are Numan’s vocals, which are mixture of icy barks and ethereal croons. With a loose story following the last tribe of humans surviving in an inhospitable desert environment, Savage flows with Middle Eastern melodies and Arab drum patterns.
“That part comes from a long-term interest in music from that part of the world,” Numan says. “Ever since I moved from London to Los Angeles to live, I have had my mind more open to listen to different kinds of music, particularly (Iranian American singer) Azam Ali quite a lot, which has been useful.”
Pointing to his single My Name is Ruin, Numan says dipping into Middle Eastern melodies offers a new pallet of tones to draw from.
“I don’t want to sound like an expert on it or anything, but I do find that Middle Eastern melodies are more haunting than what comes out it in the West,” he says. “There is something there that as a vocalist you can use to touch your audience. But I view this album as my sprinkling it with Middle Eastern touches as opposed to diving fully in there.”
Savage is born out of some of Numan’s other creative pursuits. The story-line is loosely based on a science-fiction novel that has been in the works for two decades, while the wide-screen songwriting and production stems from Numan’s fascination with film scores.
He explains that the album really took shape during the final few months of the United States presidential campaign last year.
“Originally the album just borrowed ideas from the book,” he says. “But once the elections were happening, what was being said about global warming really starting to bother me. In a way, the more that Donald Trump spoke about the environment, the more I wrote about what could be the result of such thinking, which is an apocalyptic future.”
But not all of the record is dark and broody. There is a certain amount of glee coursing through Savage, whether it is in the pomp of And It All Began with You or the stadium-sized chorus of When the World Comes Apart.
“There are moments that are a lot of fun. There a big anthemic moments and just some of the instrumentation just sound huge and epic,” he says. “In that sense, the album is not dystopian at all, but the lyrics do point to a darker future than what we have now.”
Such heady ambition was bereft of Numan material in the mid-1990s – a period he viewed as the nadir of his career. With album sales drying up and a new recording contract at risk, Numan recalls how he was starting to receive offers to tour as part of 1980s nostalgia tours, where he would essentially be contracted to play his big
1979 hits Cars and Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
“I got offered that again a few days ago,” he says. “For me, those nostalgia tours are the kiss of death. You might as well raise a big flag that says I have no new ideas, I will live off past glories and I am OK with that.”
Numan’s heralds his move to Los Angeles six years ago as reinvigorating, in addition to a slew of rock stars such as Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson publicly stating Numan’s huge influence on their careers.
Having made his first foray into the music industry as the frontman for punk group The Tubeway Army in 1977, Numan says that his fourth decade in the music industry is still paved with its fair share of self-doubt.
“People use the word legendary a lot these days, and I get that a lot,” he says.
“But to be honest, I don’t feel any of that. Each new record, I find, is harder to make than before. I don’t go to the studio feeling legendary. I worry about having a good day, because if I don’t then my confidence crashes. That’s the challenge, to maintain that confidence. So I talk to myself and tell myself that it will be OK and that what I am doing is good enough.”