Several types of modern artists have credited electronica trailblazer GARY NUMAN as an inspiration. Now, he’s speaking for himself with a new album.
Gary Numan is proof that early adopters often are late in getting their due. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Numan pioneered electronic rock, wrote some of the first songs about a world overrun by technology and came to brief fame as the paranoid android singer of the 1979 song “Cars.” But the hits dried up, and Numan faded from sight for years until the likes of Kanye West, Prince and Nine Inch Nails started claiming him as an influence. The 55-year-old British musician talked to American Way from his home in Los Angeles about his first new studio album in seven years, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) (Machine Music, $13).
American Way: Why did you choose such a gloomy album title?
Gary Numan: I wrote the songs amidst a lot of emotional crisis and depression. I’d crossed the 50-year-old mark, and my wife and I had three young girls in a short span. Even though I loved the children, I didn’t adjust well to the new lifestyle, probably because I’m inherently childish myself. But I did eventually grow up and adapt to being a family man, and now I love it. I’m happy with my life, even though all my songs still sound miserable.
AW: What initial reaction did you get in the 1970s to using synthesizers and writing songs about robots and technology?
GN: There was hostility toward electronic music back then. The musicians’ union tried to ban me and said I was putting real musicians out of work. I also took a lot of flak from the music press, who thought it was silly to be writing songs about the onslaught of technology. But I was fascinated and concerned by it — I thought it would be far more dangerous than it’s actually become.
AW: Today, a new generation of artists sings your praises and covers your songs, including Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. How does the vindication feel?
GN: It’s a great confidence booster because I’m very quick to think badly of what I do. It’s been a career-long problem. Trent has been amazing to me, inviting me onstage and always mentioning me in interviews. He comes across as aggressive and hard but, behind the scenes, he’s very thoughtful, and he’s become a fantastic friend. I’m proud to be an influence, and it’s doubly cool because I love his music. He’s an absolute genius.