Gary Numan Discusses Influencing NIN and Marilyn Manson + Making New Album ‘Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)’
Electro-industrial music pioneer Gary Numan is back with his first full-length album in seven years. Titled ‘Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind ),’ this is Newman’s 20th studio album, and it features guitar work from Nine Inch Nails member Robin Finck. The collaboration makes sense, as Numan has long been friends with NIN leader Trent Reznor and will open for the band at a pair of upcoming shows.
Diffuser.fm recently had the chance to talk with the Numan about the making of his terrific new album, as well as the challenges he’s faced since breaking big with the Bowie-esque 1979 New Wave anthem ‘Cars.’ Numan also shared his thoughts on moving to America and getting shout-outs from Prince and Marilyn Manson.
You’ve lived in the United States for about a year since relocating from your native England. How are you and your family enjoying it so far?
We are loving it. We spent a lot of time here before, and my wife has wanted to live here since she was born. We knew exactly what we were getting into, so the transition was fairly easy. I lived in Los Angeles back in 1981, and I have good memories of that time in my life. Now that we’re here and we’ve got the kids in school and everything, it’s even better than we dreamed. As an English person, this is a very easy place to move to, obviously, because there are no language issues. And now after almost a year here, it still feels like a holiday for us. It’s just such a lovely country to live in. The kids love it; the schools are terrific and overall this was just a wonderful decision. We feel very privileged and grateful.
The new record has been receiving early rave reviews. How much of it was done before you moved here? Did moving to the States influence the work at all?
About half of it was written before we came here. Although it’s been about seven years since the last record, it isn’t like I’ve been writing for that long. I’ve gone through a lot of things personally in those years. My family has grown, obviously, but I also went through a fairly deep depression. It wasn’t until about 2011 that I began working on this record in earnest. When we arrived here in California last year, I did feel like I was getting a fresh new start in my art and in my life. That said, the new record certainly has a dark feeling to it. It’s very dark and heavy because I’m reflecting the periods in my life that were like that. But the transition of moving to America certainly affected the record because there’s a certain energy I have here and strength that allowed me to perform everything in the way it needed to be performed.
How tough is it after exploding onto the scene like you did to maintain that level moving forward? People associate ‘Cars’ with you, but it wasn’t like that was your only hit. ‘The Pleasure Principle’ album was huge, as was the follow up, ‘Telekon,’ and even ‘Dance.’ But then things cooled.
It’s extremely tough because you’re not in full control of it. You’re right: I had this great start, and then I was pretty much dead and buried within just a few years. And then it started to pick up again, and I went back to making music as a hobby. I was just writing songs for the love of it, and I realized that that’s where it had to come from. It was almost a teenage approach, doing it purely for the love of the music. It’s almost as if I had to quit to make things better. Today, I feel strictly from a songwriting point of view that I’m as good as I’ve ever been. At least that’s what I feel. All of the pain of some of these in between years has really helped push me as a songwriter.
The synthesizer-based approach you took early on influenced armies of other musicians. When you hear people like Prince, Dave Grohl and your good friend Trent Reznor speak about how deeply you’ve influenced them, that has to make you feel pretty good.
It’s really very flattering and just such a cool thing. I mean, just hearing you say that really makes me feel humbled. For these kinds of artists to give me praise is something I do not take lightly. I am very proud of that. In fact, I probably get more pride and satisfaction out of that than anything I have done musically. When artists of that caliber say something complementary or pat you on the back, it’s really hard to beat that. Those things have a very positive effect on my confidence. I’ve always suffered from a lack of confidence since day one. So those artists really have no idea how much they help me by saying those things. I’ve struggled in so many ways and then I might read a quote by people like that or even others and it makes me realize that maybe I have contributed even just a little bit to music.
And you never really knew how you are forecasting things back then in terms of the unique sounds you were using.
No, you can never predict things like that. I remember talking to Marilyn Manson once about a new record he was working on. I asked him what he was going for, and he said, “Well a little Bowie and quite honestly a little bit of you.” I was really taken aback by that. That’s when I have to stop and think back to the work I did all those years ago and how it actually does live on in some shape or form. What’s funny is when Trent tells me that I influenced him in the early ’90s, and a listen to it, I don’t really hear it [laughs]. But then you realize that when they say “influence” that it may just be a spark that ignites something new that they’re doing. It’s not as if they are nicking your sound as much as it the sound is just pushing them a little bit to do something fresh or find some new path. That’s interesting to me. People say that word “influence” but often it isn’t the music specifically as much as it is an attitude or something.
Your stage show these days is really entertaining and dynamic. And it seems you’re drawing lots of young people. Do you notice that while you’re up there?
Very much so, and I love that. I meet new people coming in all the time. As we get older, people at my age, myself included, don’t buy as much music or go see as much music as when we were younger. We just have other things to deal with in our lives. So your fan base tends to dwindle somewhat the longer you stay in the game. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So when I look out and see young faces, teenagers and such, it is a very encouraging thing for me because that says to me that my career is healthy, and that there is some future life. I love the people that come out and saw me back in the day. But it’s that blend of old and new that really gives me hope.