Electronic music icon Gary Numan returns to the spotlight
NEW YORK (AP) — While working on his new album, electronic music pioneer Gary Numan found himself stuck. He’d been working on a song all day in his Los Angeles home studio and his dark waves of industrial synth weren’t crashing quite right.
That’s when his 11-year-old daughter, Persia, came home from school and poked her head around the door to offer a friendly “Hello, dad.” Numan seized the opportunity.
“She came in and I said, ‘While you’re here, I’ve got some problems with the song. Would you mind singing for me?’” recalled Numan, 59. “She’s a natural. Absolutely natural at it. Within half an hour, done.”
The song that father and daughter created that day was “My Name Is Ruin,” and it’s the lead single on Numan’s strong 21st studio album, “Savage (Songs from a Broken World),” a CD of post-apocalyptic electronic music beautifully littered with Middle Eastern rhythms.
The cinematic, layered album reunites the British innovator with producer and frequent collaborator Ade Fenton, and the duo finished it in just six months. Numan, ever the tinkerer, had a hand in everything, right down to the font on the album cover.
“Savage” comes four years after Numan, who first shot to fame with the New Wave hit “Cars” in 1979, found himself back on the British charts again in 2013 with “Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)” and newfound respect as a godfather of industrial rock.
“The credibility and recognition that came from that was enormous. But the problem with that is you’ve got to do it again. I allowed myself 5 minutes to go, ‘Yeah, how amazing is that!’ and then immediately started to worry,” he said.
Some four decades ago, Numan plugged in a synthesizer and created the electropop masterpiece “The Pleasure Principle” (with the hit “Cars”), influencing everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Marilyn Manson. He was fascinated with making interesting music and had a stack of synthesizer manuals by his bed. (“I was an exciting date,” he joked.)
“My career started really well and went down rapidly after that. It bobbled around for a bit and the music became much more industrial and heavier and more interesting, in my opinion,” he said. “So it’s been an exciting but gentle rise back up again.”
The new album is a grim vision of the future, set in a “windswept hell” generations from now after global warming has erased the concept of East and West and created violent tribes. Numan said he has to credit — of all people — Donald Trump for helping it come together.
How’s that? Trump?
Numan explains that by the end of 2015, he was pretty happy, actually. He had emerged from a four-year struggle with depression, had moved his family to Los Angeles and had a hit record again. He actually didn’t know what to write about.
So Numan “liberated” some ideas from an unfinished post-apocalyptic novel he’s been working on for years, the one that featured savage tribes. Trump’s stance on climate change helped sharpen his vision.
“Trump appears and gave the whole thing a focus it really didn’t have before,” he said. “It helped me to focus on lots of the ideas that had been slightly chaotic and aimless before that.”
For Fenton, who grew up as a 12-year-old boy with a Numan poster on his wall, the album is a step up from the last CD and represents both men “firing on all cylinders.” He said the challenge was to make it sound contemporary while remaining true to Neman’s special sound.
“I think that he was ahead of his time and I think that even if you released ‘The Pleasure Principle’ now, it would still sound like the weirdest record ever made because it is like nothing else,” Fenton said. “He’s always just done his own thing and I think the pendulum has swung back to electronic music.”
Keyboards might be king these days, but Numan recalls the days when he faced a synth-pop backlash. Guitar bands would proudly sneer “No Synthesizers!” and the nation’s musician’s union tried to ban him, saying he was putting musicians out of work.
“I wasn’t trying to create sounds that you could get on the violin. I’d have used a violin if I wanted that. I was trying to create sounds that you hadn’t heard before. That’s the thing that attracted me to electronic music in the first place — the ability to create sounds and noises no one had ever heard on this planet before,” he said.
“I’ve got friends now that were in guitar bands back then — big bands — who’ve admitted that they hated me back then. They thought I was the death knell of music. I was going to replace everything that they held true and dear,” he said. “I never replaced anything. It was always about adding.”
Speaking of adding, Numan’s daughter’s contribution wasn’t done with just her vocals. She joined dad for a two-day video shoot for the song near Joshua Tree National Park. It was 118 F but Persia was a champ.
“You know, it’s not a dad just sticking their kid on it because he’s a dad,” he said. “The contribution is fantastic and it transformed the song. It gave it a sense of energy and an attitude that it didn’t have before.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits