Back in 2013, godfather of electronic music Gary Numan released Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind, an album that became his most critically acclaimed in two decades. In fact, it was his first album to chart in the UK top 20 since 1983. It was long overdue and a much-needed success. The 59-year-old musician, who speaks openly about the depression he suffered prior to the making that album, has seen his career veer up and down since the late ‘80s, an experience that is well-documented in his intimate and eye-opening 2016 documentary Android in La La Land. Now, however, he’s busier than ever and in an entirely new headspace.
Since the release of Splinter, Gary’s name has popped up in quite a few places, some of them mainstream. Aside from his documentary film, he’s leant his distinctive, android-like voice to various collaborative projects with other bands, such as The Mission. Most recently, he provided lead vocals on a wickedly addictive track called “Dark Rain” by Mexican alternative band Titan. He co-composed the score for an animated film called From Inside with his longtime producer Ade Fenton, and even had soundtrack contributions for the hit survivor-horror video game The Evil Within, as well as the Ghost in the Shell: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture album. Even actor Michael Fassbender, who showed off his dance moves to Gary’s classic hit “Are Friends Electric?” during a May 2017 episode of The Graham Norton Show, revealed that his portrayal of David, the murderous droid from the Prometheus and Alien: Covenant films, was inspired by Gary Numan. That same month, Numan also received the prestigious and coveted Ivor Novello Inspiration Award. Gary is everywhere—and that’s a great thing.
Now, Numan is about to release his 22nd studio album, Savage: Songs from a Broken World, the long-awaited follow-up that Numanoids—that’s what Gary’s hardcore fans call themselves—have been waiting for. The new single and post-apocalyptic video for “My Name Is Ruin,” which co-stars his 11-year-old daughter, Persia, is out now. (You can check it out below.) We recently caught up with Numan about his new video and album—and we were surprised to discover that even though Numan often avoids politics in his music, his latest opus was influenced by both global warming and Donald Trump.
Your last album, Splinter, received some of the best reviews of your career and put you back in the spotlight. And just four months ago you received the Ivor Novello Inspiration Award. Has all of this critical acclaim put more pressure on you to put out a worthy follow-up to Splinter?
It really did. I really felt it. With the last one, we got it in the charts in Britain and the reviews had all come out and everything was positive. It was a fantastic reaction. I kind of allowed myself to be happy for 10 minutes and then immediately started to think, “Now what?” Splinter was my 21st album and it’s being regarded as the best album I’ve ever made, so there is this huge worry that you’re not going to be able to make something comparable to that again. It worried me quite a bit and it worried me all the way through it.
As you neared the end of your recording sessions, did the pressure wear off at all?
Right up until the end of finishing Savage, I was still really, really nervous. In fact, when he had finished it, I went to London to do the mastering and there’s this period where you’ve now mastered it—there’s nothing more you can do—you can’t make any more changes, but it’s not out yet. You’ve got all this time to just worry about what’s going to happen. And that was the worst. I was really bothered for a good three or four weeks. And then I started to work on the artwork for it. The photographs came back fantastic. By then, I hadn’t listed to it for about four weeks. I had a good break away from it. I was listening to it again and I just felt that I was happy. The packaging, the music, the lyrical content, the subject matter, everything about it. At the moment now, I’m not massively confident, but I’m not sitting here cocky thinking I’ve done something special. But I am sitting here thinking I did the best I could.
This is your fourth album with producer Ade Fenton. Sometimes when you work with the same producer a few times in a row, creative juices start to run dry. But I listened to Savage and it sounds like the magic and chemistry is still there. Was this a smooth recording session?
I’ve got to say, this one was the easiest, by far. It’s interesting what you say because after we did Splinter, I was absolutely adamant—and not because Ade did anything wrong, he did an amazing job on Splinter, he was absolutely brilliant—but I felt that would be a good time to move on and try somebody else. There were two or three other producers that came along or ones who were suggested to me and I listened to what they did and I just didn’t get it.
When you realized that spark was missing, was Ade quickly and readily available? I know you had a deadline to meet.
So I got back in touch with Ade, I think quite late. I had written quite a lot of it. It was last September and I said, “Could we finish this by March or April? It’s going to be a bit of a rush job. Would you be able to get involved with it for these last 6 months?” And he did and it was fantastic. The relationship we had was so much smoother than we had before. On the last three albums we had worked on, the relationship was very, very strong, but really quite combative. We would argue a lot. With Savage, we had none of that, whatsoever. I learned to trust him. Especially after Splinter. Ade took that in a direction I had not intended. Whereas before, I would kick and scream about that. I gave him that freedom again with this one, without all of the arguing I gave him before. I think that helped. And I think from Ade’s point of view, if I did eventually say “No” to him, he wouldn’t argue with me. We were much more giving and respectful of each other’s opinions and skills.
Between Splinter and Savage, you both collaborated on the original score to a movie called From Inside. If you strip away the vocals from new songs like “Broken” or “The End of Things,” there’s a film score feel to them. Savage seems to have a lot more orchestral elements, so I was wondering if the From Inside project had any influence.
You’re right. It did have an effect on it. That project really taught me a lot about orchestrating things and how to add elements of that into the music. Since then, Ade has gone on to do more in the film score world than I have, so he’s learned a great deal about it. We both agreed from the beginning that we wanted Savage to be more filmic. The album comes from a book I am writing, but ultimately, I have some big ambitions to maybe turn it into a TV series or something like that. So I was already thinking that way in terms of screen and how it would adapt to that. So the musical parts of it being more thematic and film score-y was a deliberate thing from the very beginning.
This is one of your first film scores. How challenging was it to make music to moving pictures, and do you see yourself doing it again?
I found music to film to be really exciting. You didn’t have the problem of lyrics. [Laughs] It takes one big challenge away, but gives you another one, which is you’re now actually working to somebody else’s film with somebody else’s requirements. It’s about trying to understand not just what you think is needed for the film, but what the director thinks it needs. There’s sometimes slightly different points of view. There’s a political element in working on films that I don’t feel I’m particularly suitable for. From Inside went really well because I had a very lovely director who liked what we did and who was a fan beforehand. That made it much, much easier. But I do hear really horrible stories about how it can be quite different than that. And I honestly don’t think that that’s for me.
It’s always nice to see your name attached to mainstream projects. An early version of “Bed of Thorns” appeared on the Ghost in the Shell: Music Inspired by the Film soundtrack. Was that written specifically for the movie?
I got approached by them to potentially get involved in working on the score for that film. Not necessarily writing the score, but adding electronic elements to it to make it feel more technologically advanced, musically speaking. For various reasons, I couldn’t get involved. But coincidentally, I did send them the “Bed of Thorns” song because I wanted them to understand that what I do now isn’t like what I did back in 1979 or 1980. I wanted them to know that something like “Cars” isn’t what I do anymore. So I sent them “Bed of Thorns,” which is an absolute raw demo at the time—and I didn’t hear anything about it for a while. Several months later, I got an email saying they wanted to license it for their album. And I just thought, “Wow, you never know.” [Laughs] I assumed things weren’t going down very well. But I did tell them again, “You do understand this is just a demo. It’s not even mastered yet.” And they said, “Oh, no, no, we like it,” and that was that and on it went.
You mentioned that you wanted them to know that your music doesn’t sound the way it did in 1979 and 1980. There are lot of retro soundtracks like that these days. Stranger Things has an ‘80s style score, there’s that Canadian ‘80s-inspired film, Turbo Kid. What’s your opinion on this resurgence of synthwave movie scores?
I don’t have that much interest in it, to be honest. Probably because I was there when it was around the first time. To me, it just feels like going backwards. But I do understand why other people are interested in it. Because the ‘80s and the early electronic sound is now such a long way in the past that it has its own kind of nostalgia like the way the ‘50s and ‘60s does. A new generation of people will come along who weren’t even born while that was going on and that music suddenly becomes charming and interesting to them in a way. Even the equipment people talk to me about Moogs and all the synthesizers used in those days, and they talk about them as if they’re these almost magical bits of equipment and I say to them, “Well, no. They’re not at all.” [Laughs] But you’re kind of talking to deaf ears really, because to them it’s magical and amazing. It’s funny.
Your 11-year-old daughter, Persia, appears on Savage. When I first heard “My Name Is Ruin,” I would’ve never guessed that was her on backing vocals. She sounds like an adult. It sounds like she’s even channeling Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance a bit. She’s quite impressive.
First of all, she’s going to love the fact that you said that and I’ll tell her later today. That will blow her away. [Laughs] She’s been singing for years, since she was really young. She’s in the school choir. She is extraordinary. She has incredible control of her voice and it’s absolutely beautiful. She’s absolutely gifted in that way. And if she wants a career in it, I don’t think she’d have any trouble at all.
Did you always have her in mind for vocals on “My Name is Ruin?”
The plan on my record was actually interesting. I was trying to do a backing vocal for the song and I was having trouble reaching the high notes. It needed a high octave vocal. So I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. And then I came up with this Arabic-sounding part in between the verses. I tried to sing it and it was OK, but it didn’t have that kind of urgency that it needed. It didn’t lift that part of the song in the way I thought it should have. Persia came home from school and poked her head inside the studio door and I think my wife walked in and said, “Why don’t you get Persia to do it?” So she came in and she nailed the Arabian bit in about 10 minutes. She had to learn it, first of all. It’s actually a complicated little part. So I played it for her on the keyboard, she tried it a couple of times, got the hang of it, and then she did four takes in a row—all of them perfect. I was amazed by that. So I said, “While you’re here, I’ve got this other section. Let’s give the chorus a try then.” [Laughs] I said, “Could you sing this, as high as you can?” And she just did it.
And then you asked her to be in the music video.
She’d never done anything like that at all. She’s never even seen me making a video. So we take her out to the desert in these incredible temperatures and dress her all up in the clothes and so on. We have her look at the camera and sing along [Laughs]. I just thought that she’d absolutely crumble. I didn’t think she’d be able to handle it. There was a little crew around her, with people giving her direction and she just did it and she was absolutely brilliant. Then, I did some shows in Britain recently and she came out onstage, in front of the crowd. Again, never had a live microphone, never been on a stage like that before with all of those people, and she just absolutely nailed it. I was so proud of her.
Now that she has the hang of it, do you plan to take her on the road for more shows?
Absolutely. We’re hoping she can do the British tour. She says that she’s happy to do all of the shows. She’s there for a week or two, so she’ll do whatever shows while she’s there. I’m going to bring her out in the U.S. tour as well. She’ll do some of the American shows, some of the Canadian shows. It’s a little bit difficult because obviously I can only take her out when she’s on holiday, or something like that, so she doesn’t miss any schooling. But it can be done.
It sounds like all of this experience she’s getting might pave the way for a future Persia Numan album. Do you see yourself producing an album for her one day?
Interestingly, my oldest daughter, Raven, has been writing songs herself. She’s only 13 years old. They’re very much pop songs. They’re not the sort of thing I’m doing, but she’s a big Ariana Grande fan, and Katy Perry before that. The stuff she writes is very much in that vein. She’s brilliant at it. My youngest daughter, Echo, is very musical, too. She’s a really good piano player, great cello player. So between the three of them, I’ve got the making of a fantastic little girl band there. I would love it, I really would. If they were to go into music as a career, I would support them. I would love that to happen.
Your new music video was directed by Chris Corner of IAMX, who also shot the “I Am Dust” video for you. I love that you guys keep working together.
Chris is brilliant. I think IAMX videos have always been so stylish and beautifully put together. They’re done with a real kind of photographer’s artistic eye. He’s a genius with that sort of thing. The two music videos he’s done for me, “I Am Dust” and “My Name Is Ruin,” are definitely the best two videos I’ve ever put out and that’s entirely thanks to Chris and the talent he’s got. I’m a massive fan, both of the band and him as a person, and definitely of his video skills.
There seems to be a Middle Eastern vibe going on with this album. Aside from the desert-themed video and Persia’s vocals, that Middle Eastern sound is heavy throughout and appears in songs like “Bed of Thorns” and Broken” to name a few.
I long had an ambition to be a novelist. I kind of abandoned that slightly. But I’ve very much gone back to that. This album takes ideas from a book I’m actually writing. It’s set in a post-global warming future. This attempt to stop the temperature rise failed for various reasons and the planet is devastated and so the album is set in that environment. In the stories in the book, Eastern and Western cultures are no longer opposed to each other. They’ve merged into one because the bigger problem is simply surviving. And we’ve broken down into very tribal-like societies. That’s the framework for it, and within that, there are stories. Ruin, the character, that’s part of it. It’s all really about how difficult it would be to live in that environment. That’s why the video was shot out in the desert. That’s the whole reason for the image on the cover art. It’s meant to be a representation of that world. And some of this came about, really, because of President Trump.
Yes, I read you were deeply affected by Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accords.
When the election was happening and Trump was talking about climate change and how it’s nonsense for the most part and then he put someone in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency who is actually a climate denier, it began to really resonate with me. Now, I’m not a denier, I absolutely believe all this is happening. I think the Paris Accords was a fantastic first step at beginning to do something substantial about it. When Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords, that really bothered me. At that point, it gave the album a massive amount of real world relevance. Up until then, I was worried about global warming, but when Trump came along, it suddenly felt like we were genuinely in a crisis. These things I was writing about, rather than being some ridiculous fantasy about the future, had become a genuinely relevant possibility. In a strange way, it made it a lot more exciting to write because it felt like it meant something now. In another way, it’s also quite a frightening thing. All of a sudden, it’s something that could actually happen. Now, I’m not claiming that Savage is any kind of prophecy, but I think, without a doubt, it’s definitely a few steps closer to being a reality because of Trump.
It’s strange to hear you talk about Trump because you’re not known to get political. When you relocated to the U.S. in late 2012, the country was a completely different place. Things changed after our recent, crazy election. From your point of you as a new resident from the UK, did this change your impression of the U.S.?
It has a little bit. [Pauses] Which is unfortunate. I live in California so, to a large degree, we live in that Southern California bubble. [Laughs] So I think, in some respect, you’re kind of cushioned from the larger effect of things, but nonetheless, we are very aware of it. I’m not political and I feel very awkward talking about anything like that, especially in a country where I can’t even vote. In that sense, I’m very much an outsider looking in. But it’s very shocking to see these things happening. For a while, America was at the very forefront of equality and all of those very admirable things, and then, it feels like in a blink of an eye, it’s suddenly gone backwards 50 years, and it’s just a horrible thing to witness. And I hope that—given the right leadership at some point—it can be put right again.
Gary rocks out in his brand new music video for “When The World Comes Apart,” which you can view right here.
To purchase *Savage: Songs From A Broken World, visit Gary’s official website.*