English singer, composer and musician Gary Numan pioneered the electronic music landscape, most notably with chart-topping hits Cars and Are ‘Friends’ Electric? He speaks to the Weekender about his new album and his headlining gig at the O2 Academy…
You’re in Los Angeles at the moment; are you working over there?
I live here actually; I moved over in October. It’s just lovely, it’s 85 degrees there’s blue skies…We live in the Valley, which is just north of LA and if you drive for 40 minutes in one direction you’re at the beach, but if you go an hour in the other direction you’re in the mountains and can go skiing. I used to hear people say you can surf and ski in the same day in California and I thought they were ridiculous, but you can. It’s just mental.
You’re touring around the UK and Ireland in November; are you looking forward to being back in the homeland?
I love to play live but I think I did it too much in the UK. I’ve been doing this for a long time so you’d think I’d know better. The way the business has evolved the income from live performances is much better than selling albums; it used to be the other way around. I hammered the live stuff in the UK and was always there. I became like Coronation Street; I was on every week.
Tell me about the new album Splinter (due to be released worldwide October 14)
It’s been a long time coming. It’s been seven years since my last proper solo album. The good thing about that gap is that rather than doing a progressed version of my last album this one is a different animal entirely. There’s a lot more variation, it’s very heavy, very electronic, much fuller. God, what other meaningless adjectives can I throw at you? The vocals are prettily haunting, there’s a strong Arabian feel to the groove elements and it’s much more varied in tempo.
You were one of the pioneers of the electronic genre; does it annoy you that it’s become so mainstream in recent years?
I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. The point of music is to entertain people. Personally I’m slightly disappointed it has become so mainstream. There’s very few trying to do something new with it, there’s lots of repetition, it’s very safe and bland. The way some people are using sound you think ‘why the f**k? How much of a non-event is that sound?’ When I started doing electronic people were looking for new things, the genre was experimental. Then it ‘blanded’ out slightly, which is inevitable once something becomes accepted. The resistance to electronic was phenomenal in my early days, around 34 years ago. The Musicians’ Union tried to ban me for the first two years and said I was putting proper musicians out of work. Queen labeled a few of their albums saying “no synthesizers were used on this album”. There was a lot of ignorance.
You’re headlining the Playground festival at the O2 Academy next month; do you like performing with other artists?
I’m looking forward to it. I’ve played at the Academy a few times; I know it well and it’s a brilliant venue. It’ll be interesting to see how a festival works in just one building. I love festivals, there’s lots of people, a great vibe and it feels like an event. It’s also a really good way of being seen by people who might not usually see you. It expands your audience, which is the main reason for me doing it. My music is too heavy for radio so festivals work well for me.
Gary Numan is headlining the Playground Festival at the O2 Academy Brixton, 211 Stockwell Rd, SW9 9SL on Saturday June 8. Admission: £35-£47.50. Phone: 020 7771 3000 http://www.theplaygroundfestival.com/tickets/