When I say Gary Numan, you probably say ‘Cars.’ On the cusp of releasing a ‘Best of’ DVD, composed of ‘various bits of rare TV footage and a collection of promo videos,’ one might expect Numan, like the average listener, to be looking back over the acres of a career that has spanned over thirty years. The opposite is true.
‘When I listen back to old stuff, which isn’t very often, the only thing that really glares out to me are the mistakes, the things that I could have done better. Chord structures that could have been more interesting; melodies that could have been more beautiful, or dynamic. Every album is an attempt to make up for the mistakes of the last one, to try to find new sounds that I’ve never used before or heard before and to try to put those sounds in ways that I’ve not done before.’
The difficulty lies in finding something for everyone. ‘Some fans will quite happily stay in 1979 forever, while others are always very eager to look at what you’re doing next. You’re constantly trying to do things that will please all the different factions that you have. The longer the career goes on, the more factions there seem to be, and it becomes increasingly difficult to do things that please everybody.’ It’s tempting to pigeonhole Numan based on his early work. ‘I don’t think anyone realized that it would go on quite as long as it has, now that it’s been 34 years, since I started. It’s funny because, for me, you don’t get quite as excited about that sort of thing as you do about a new album.’
Having released Dead Son Rising in October of last year, Numan is back in the studio, and constantly looking forward. ‘I’m working flat out at the moment, trying to get a new album finished by the end of May. I’m massively into that and it’s very exciting. It really gives you a reason to get up in the morning. It’s that side of the business that’s getting me going and keeping me interested for such a long time.’ And the new album’s style? ‘My intention for it is that it should be the heaviest, darkest thing that I’ve ever done. It’s hugely powerful in the right environment – to take it on tour every night is thrilling, really. It’s not gentle music at all, or happy or beautiful – it’s a bit of an onslaught, and I love every second of it.’
The studio experience is changing, though, not least due to the array of technology now at Numan’s fingertips. ‘There is so much choice now: it’s just ridiculous the amount of things you can do. One of the disciplines that you have to learn as this new technology has come along is how to know when to stop. You can spend a week just listening to different snare drums – there are fucking thousands of them! The other thing with technology is that you spend most of your time being back at school. Big piles of manuals by the bed – it’s not the sexiest thing in the world. You’re just learning all the time. You spend your entire life feeling ever so slightly stupid – or I do, anyway, because I never feel like I’m quite on top of any of it. I’m always just about hanging on by the skin of my teeth. The technology really helps, but it can really hinder it as well. It’s a tortuous old path, from start to finish.’