Gary Numan

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Interview by Kris Griffiths

PHASE9 chats to Gary Numan about dead dogs, dodgy guitars and allegedly lying celebrities in May 2002.

I bought your last album PURE last February and a couple of days later my dog died. Then I found out that a couple of weeks into the recording of the album your dog died too. And they were both Alsatians. What was all that about?

That’s very strange. Yeah, my dog died right at the beginning of making it. It was fucking sad. There’s a song on it called ONE PERFECT LIE, which I wrote for her just to say sorry. We had to have her put to sleep and it was about feeling so guilty about it. If you really love your animals, you really do love them don’t you? Did you get another dog?

No, not yet. After all that grief we’re going to wait a few years before getting another.

I can sympathize with that, but I’ve got a new German Shepherd now and he really helped us get over the other one. But here’s another coincidence. We had the first one cremated and got a little doggy urn but we were still really miserable so we took him for one final walk – it was quite pathetic – down a beach that he loved, an hour’s drive from my house. So we stopped off at a petrol station on the way and there was this magazine there called ‘Puppy’s R Us’ or something and on the front cover it said, “Buy your Alsatians wisely”. I thought, this is bizarre fate – something’s telling me something here. So we rang up this woman from the magazine who sounded really nice, not like the ones who always went on about show-dogs saying (posh accent) “oh yes, they’re very good for breeding”, and I’m like “I’m not interested in breeding! Is it fucking cute? Is it fluffy?” And this woman we rang up said “oh they’re lovely my dear, they’re all running around all fluffy and lovely”, so I said “right, we’re having one of yours then”. And that was that.

The whole making of PURE was surrounded with tragedy. To what extent did it affect the album’s sound?

Well my Nan had died and my baby died, but the album was already going that way and it was always going to be that way. All it did, lyrically, was to give it much more of a real vibe, rather than singing about imagined tragedy. All my bitterness towards God just poured out. It was going to sound that way anyway but there was a lot more sincerity.

Are you still angry with God or has it died down?

Oh no, I’ve always been angry and I’ve always found really religious people difficult to understand. I respect their beliefs and I’m not saying that I’m right, well I think I am, but like the album says – if I’m wrong then that’s gonna be even worse. But what if he is there and he’s let all these things happen? I don’t actually dwell on it that much anymore but it was obviously a big deal to me while I was making the record, and whenever I’m writing songs it’ll continue to rear its head.

Do you believe in Fate or are we the masters of our own destiny?

I think it’s a combination of both. I don’t think that everything is pre-ordained, but equally, one day you’re gonna be in a plane and it’s gonna fly into that mountain, and what can you do about it? Nothing. It was always gonna happen. Some things are gonna happen no matter what choices you make, but there are other things you can really engineer and things you can deliberately avoid. You’ll never be in a plane crash if you refuse to get into a plane.

At this moment in time, what would you say were the strongest tracks off PURE?

RIP is a corker. I love MY JESUS. I CAN’T BREATHE is great live. LITTLE INVITRO was cool cos of my baby and my dog. As an album I think it was the most complete work I’d ever written. It’s difficult to find a bad track on it… (laughs)… sorry, that was a really bigheaded thing to say. I’d actually say TORN and LISTEN TO MY VOICE were my least favourite songs.

PURE and RIP are my favourites without a doubt and RIP is currently number one in the Kerrang TV chart. How did that happen?

I’m really pleased with it. The band I’ve got now is such a quality band and I’m really proud of them so what I wanted to do was capture what we do live on video. So I took us to this great big deserted warehouse and we did loads of performances of the song and put it all together afterwards looking all fucked up with loads of graininess and jerky cameras. It only cost eleven grand all in, which is a pretty cheap video. The record company, Eagle, weren’t interested so I paid for it myself but then they dropped me soon afterwards. My new record label, Artful, then licensed the RIP video from Eagle, sent it to Kerrang and it goes straight to number one! (Laughs) So how do Eagle feel?

I’ll have to look out for it on Kerrang…

It was on a few minutes before we started the interview. It’s been on about five times already today. I’m so not used to seeing myself on the telly like that… it’s great.

Speaking of seeing you on the telly, last night I caught a few minutes of you on the Graham Norton Show (British comedy chat show), which was quite strange but most amusing. Didn’t you feel a bit uneasy sitting next to that nutter?

When I first came out I was really nervous. There are a lot of things I’ve done in the past, which you can make fun of now, and I’ll be the first to make fun of it. I’m well aware that some of my past images were a bit dodgy and there are things I just wish I’d never done…

But everyone’s done regrettable things in the past…

Yeah, but not everyone has to sit in front of Graham Norton and have all these embarrassing pictures unveiled. (Laughs)

Well you were asking for it.

Well actually, it could have been so much worse than it was… I was really worried. I even went up to him afterwards and thanked him for letting me off so lightly.

Why did you play out the show with ARE FRIENDS ELECTRIC? I thought you didn’t like performing oldies like that.

For the last ten years I’ve absolutely blanked doing that. As a rule I’ve generally avoided anything that has me playing old stuff cos I just think it’s a mistake. It’s bad enough having the 80s tag hanging over me anyway – this is why the RIP video on Kerrang is so important to me… it’s a major step forward in recognition…

So why then?

Well firstly, the version we perform nowadays is much heavier and industrial sounding and they let me do that version of it, and then because of the Sugababes version getting to number one recently there was a definite connection with something happening now. So all in all, it was worth the risk.

I’ve got a good quote from the Sugababes saying, “We don’t know who Gary Numan is”.

No, apparently not. The original ARE FRIENDS ELECTRIC? was at number one seven years before they were even born so you can’t really blame them. They know who I am now.

I saw you live at the London Forum, which was one of the better gigs I went to last year. Do you have any favourite venues around the country?

I’ve done Wembley Arena a few times which is a really vibey venue but I’m not big enough to play there any more. One of my ambitions is to get big enough to play at Wembley again cos to walk out at the arena is something else. Other than that, I play at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire more than anywhere else cos I like it there so much.

You come from the Shepherd’s Bush area don’t you?

Yeah, I was born in Hammersmith.

I’m from just round the corner in Ealing…

I actually lived in Ealing for a while.

Yeah, I know, because I read somewhere that you bought a guitar from a guitar shop in West Ealing and they did you over. Well this is another coincidence because I got ripped off by exactly the same shop when I bought a guitar there about ten years ago. The pick-ups fucked up and the strings rusted over. What happened with yours?

I was about 17 and Gibson were doing guitars at the time called Gibson Seconds which had a ‘2’ stamped somewhere on them because they had a minor flaw and were supposed to be sold cheaper. Well this shop sold me one at top price. Then a few years later a mate of mine was reading a book called ‘The Gibson Story’ and cos I was the only one with a Gibson at that time he was taking the piss and saying “wouldn’t it be funny if you had one of these shit ones”. I was like “ha-ha” but when I got home and checked it, fuck me it only had a ‘2’ on it, and they’d charged me the top price! Is the shop still there?

It sure is, but they’ve changed their name now.

I’m gonna have to go back there! I’m gonna go back there and ask them if they remember me. (Laughs)

I also found out that you once failed an audition for The Jam. What do you reckon would have happened if you’d got the nod? You and Paul Weller would have made quite an odd combination.

(Laughs) I’d have had a fight with Weller within about two weeks! You’d have had two front men in the same band with the same forceful personalities and both wanting to get their own way. You couldn’t have us both in the same band.

What do you reckon you’d be doing now had you not made it as a solo artist?

What I’d have liked to have been is a racing driver… what I’d have probably done is become a forklift driver. I got expelled from school before I did my O Levels so I’ve got no education or any academic qualifications whatsoever. I would have been doing an unskilled job or I’d have tried to become a racing driver.

In all your years of experience, what would you say is the worst thing about the music business?

(Long pause) I think the fact that it all turns out to be business and it can be a bit soul-destroying to see the things that you’ve done just become ‘products’. There’s a huge amount of bullshit, lying and deception, and very little loyalty. People who you thought were your friends will stab you in the back, the two-faced cunts.

In your interview with PHASE9 last year, I read with interest about your appearance on the Jo Whiley Show where you said you were framed for being a racist…

Yeah, the lying, fucking bitch. Do you know what I said? I said that R & B music had become a bit samey and then they cut to a camera shot of me looking angry and she later said that there’d been an awkward silence in the studio afterwards. I couldn’t believe it. I’m a racist? What a terrible thing to say about someone. In the studio, because I hadn’t said anything racist, there was no atmosphere or silence but she said there was. Of course, she was apparently mortified that she’d been misquoted and was supposed to apologise to me but she never did. She would do anything to get her TV show more ratings and she’d lie through her back teeth to make it a bit more interesting than it was, because it wasn’t very interesting actually. She’s gutless.

I take it you didn’t buy THE SOUND OF JO WHILEY then?

What the hell is that?

She released a compilation of her favourite songs.

God, I bet that’s good. When you ask around, not many people like her anyway. It’s surprising how unpopular she is.

Well so far 2002 has been a good year for you. What are you up to for the rest of it?

For the next few weeks I’m promoting EXPOSURE and then after that I’ve got two main projects: one is the new album, which has got to be sorted out, and the other is a DVD of the last few gigs we’ve done.

Doing any festivals?

No. I’m very, very disappointed with my agent because he sorted out one festival, which was shit, and I had to turn it down. Jools Holland was doing it. Jools Holland? Is that the kind of audience I want to be playing to? I don’t think so. And then there was another festival, which was just as bad. So for all the good rock festivals I’ve been passed by which is really annoying, I mean I’m number one on Kerrang! Hopefully it’s not too late.

Hopefully not. Thank you for talking to PHASE9.