EXCLUSIVE: The Black Flag Meets Gary Numan

The legendary Gary Numan is currently touring his highly acclaimed album ‘SPLINTER: SONGS FROM A BROKEN MIND’. The UK tour of which was so greatly anticipated that it was...

The legendary Gary Numan is currently touring his highly acclaimed album ‘SPLINTER: SONGS FROM A BROKEN MIND’. The UK tour of which was so greatly anticipated that it was a sell-out show at every venue he performed at. He has also completed sell-out tours of Israel and Europe and is currently back in the US preparing to take the album on tour in the states before heading to Australia and New Zealand. A very busy and no doubt worn out Gary was kind enough to spend some time with us answering a few question about his 35+ year career in the music industry, his relocation to the US and of course ‘Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind’….

 The Black Flag: How do you manage to keep your music so fresh considering you’ve been in the Music Business since 1977?

Gary Numan: I have a real desire to try to move forward with each album. To try to find new sounds, and new ways of manipulating those sounds. I retire old equipment constantly, I’m always bringing new things in so that really helps obviously with avoiding a stale predictable sound or style. I have no interest in nostalgia or what I’ve done before. I am excited about what tomorrow may bring and I couldn’t really care less about what happened yesterday. What’s done is done. I am excited about what new music I might create, not what successes I may or may not have had before.

TBF: Everything I’ve read about the making of Splinter indicates much of the album came from a very private place, which of the songs would you say is the most personal to you?

Gary: Lost is, by far, the most personal in that it was written at a time when my wife and I were going through a difficult time. I was on medication for depression, Gemma had Pst natal Depression so we were both far from being our normal selves. I wanted to leave, she wanted to leave, and so I wrote about how that might feel if it happened. It made me look at her the way I used to. When you start to argue a lot I think you focus on the latest argument and you lose sight of the person that you fell in love with. You need to come back from that, to see the bigger picture again. Writing Lost did that for me.

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TBF: Splinter entered the UK Top 20. Your first Top 20 album for 30 years. That must give you a sense of satisfaction?

Gary: It was a great moment yes. But it also made me realise that I hadn’t had a Top 20 album for 30 years so a double edged sword in a way 🙂 It was very satisfying though to see an album that heavy do so well. It is a hugely personal album for me, it had no commercial ambitions whatsoever, I really wasn’t expecting that, and so to see it actually get into the chart was a fantastic surprise and a real confidence booster.

TBF: The Uk Tour that you did for the album in November was, from what we could see here at Black Flag, a huge success. We went along to the sold out show at the Roundhouse in London and we were stunned at the size of the stage show! Is it a struggle to be able to do a lightshow that big in terms of the cost of it and getting it from venue to venue?

Gary: You can only do something like that on a tour that’s playing reasonable size venues and bringing in a decent amount of money. I wanted to do something special for the Splinter UK tour to say thanks to the fans there for putting the album in the chart. It is very expensive and it does create extra problems with travelling and set up but I thought it looked amazing and so it was all well worth it.

TBF: Was it filmed for a possible future release?

Gary: The November tour wasn’t filmed but we are playing the Hammersmith Apollo in November, which will be the final stage of the Splinter touring, and that will be the biggest light show of them all. Much like the show we toured in November but with some major new bits added. It will be wider, much higher and the set we play will be even longer. We will definitely film that one as it will be the high point of the entire Splinter campaign. I was born in Hammersmith so, for me, it will be the perfect place to finish Splinter, before we start it all again with another new album in 2015.

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TBF: Which of the new songs did you enjoy performing live the most?

Gary: ‘Here In The Black’ is my favourite. It’s so dynamic when it all kicks in, so sinister in the quiet parts. It’s a massively exciting song to play live. In truth though, all the Splinter songs work well live. It was written from the outset with live work in mind so it’s particularly well suited for taking on stage.

TBF: The Splinter album art sees you in a new look once again, what inspired the artwork, and where does it fit into the album concept?

Gary: If I’m honest it doesn’t fit into the concept of the album at all. I just thought it was a cool look. I’ve been trying to think up a believable lie that would work but I just can’t. The truth is, one day I saw some photos of Victorian styled men and I thought it looked great and wanted it for the album cover. I was going for a more steam punk variation, which may have worked better, but I didn’t get the right things in time for the photo shoot so it was more Victoriana than steam punk on the day. I do think it works really well as a cover but the best I can do for how it fits into the album concept is to say it’s ‘abstract’. Which is a neat way of saying it doesn’t fit but looks good.

TBF: Where did the inspiration for the title of Splinter (Songs from a broken mind) come from?

Gary: The working title was Splinter from day one, which was several years ago. I never intended to use that as the final title but the album took so long to make, about 7 years, that by the time it was finished I couldn’t really call it anything else. But, it didn’t fully explain the content so that’s why I came up with the Songs From A Broken Mind sub-title. The album looks at the years I was diagnosed with depression and the fight to not just beat that but to beat the ‘cure’ that was prescribed for it. The cure can be as dangerous as the illness. I did feel broken, I certainly wasn’t the person I was before, and am again now, so I think the title is perfect.

TBF: Has living in the States helped you focus more on the music? Or can it be a distraction?

Gary: Americans seem to have a very strong work ethic. They want a lot from life but they are prepared to put the work in to get it. That desire to work is very infectious. Everyone there, in Los Angeles anyway where I live, is going somewhere or trying to. It’s a fantastically vibrant and energetic environment and you can’t help but feed from it. I’ve never worked harder than I do now. I’m extremely focused on the music, and I’m very determined to make things better for me and my family.

TBF: In making Splinter, how did your approach to making music differ as opposed to your previous albums?

Gary: It didn’t really. I’ve been computer and plug-in based for many years so that was all familiar. New software of course but the basic process was much the same. The thing that was different was my attitude. For a long time I have found it a long, upward struggle to make albums. They really can seem like huge mountains to climb. The more I worked on Splinter, the less stressful it became. Ade Fenton, who produced it, was also doing some incredible work on it which was very exciting. It developed an atmosphere and energy that made it fun to work on rather than a high pressure, stressful thing. It’s never easy to make a really good album but making Splinter was one of the better studio experiences.

TBF: Splinter includes songs with an Arabian style/ influence like a number of your older songs i.e. Cold Warning, My Breathing and The Sleep Room. Where does this influence come from and what is it about that musical style that interests you?

Gary: I just love it. The most played music in our house is Azam Ali. I just spent a little time in Jerusalem and I recorded as many of the prayer chants as possible. It’s beautiful and haunting, eery almost. But the melodic style works really well with western grooves in my opinion. It’s a great mix of musical styles and cultures. I have long wanted to make an album that didn’t just have a sprinkling of that Eastern flavour but was more committed to it. I may still do that in the future.

TBF: How did you find working on Splinter, with you in the US and Ade in the U.K?

Gary: Well the first half was done while I was still living in the UK. I found though that it didn’t really make much difference where I was. If you are not in the same room you might as well be on Mars or just down the street, you still have to communicate the best way you can. With a good internet connection you can trade files wherever you are in the world, FaceTime to talk about things, it’s really not that big a problem anymore. Being in different places didn’t seem to hurt at all.
TBF: Do you feel that the new album has a much more electronic sound than your more recent ones?

Gary: I definitely pulled back on the guitars with Splinter, not to remove them, but to change the emphasis. I think that makes Splinter feel more electronic although it isn’t that different overall in terms of the instrumentation on it. It’s where you put those parts in the mix, and the importance of what they carry in the song, that makes it feel different to previous album I think.

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TBF: You’re about to tour Splinter touring across Europe in February and there looks like there’s some countries you’ve not played in before, Israel springs to mind. Is that an exciting prospect or a daunting one? The Beatles were banned from playing there in the 1960’s, citing concerns that the tousled-haired British band and its strident, amplified music could corrupt the morals of Israeli youth. Hopefully things have moved on a tad?

Gary: The Euro tour went very well I’m relieved to say. I wasn’t really sure what to expect in places like Israel and Poland but it couldn’t have gone much better. Those countries are definitely open to me now and that helps build the career. I’m really glad we went and I’m grateful to everyone that came out to support us. Going to play anywhere for the first time will always be a mix of exciting and nerve wracking I think.

TBF:  Are you able to do such a big lightshow on the European tour?

Gary: Unfortunately not. In Europe the audience varies considerably from country to country so we have a very stripped down rig. It’s something we’re working to change but without big chart singles you can only play live, do as many festivals as you can, and build things that way. It’s a slow process unless you’re very lucky.

TBF: Your tours seem to be quite full on schedule wise. How do you relax between gigs and then when the tour is finally over?

Gary: I have three young children so, for me, the hard work starts when I get home. I honestly see touring as something of a relaxing escape from being a Dad. My tours are very full on. We have few days off, play long sets and the music is powerful and aggressive so it takes it out of you. But, it still feels an easier life than being at home. We don’t really have much time off between gigs and, when we do, we all complain that it makes you feel worse. When you are in that gig, gig, gig cycle you just knuckle down and get on with it. As soon as you stop, even for one night, your body starts to complain and you feel like shit.

TBF: After Europe, you then do an extensive tour of the US starting in March. It must be easier to tour over there now that you’re based in America?

Gary: It feels more comfortable that’s for sure. The US tour will be the longest run I’ve done for many years though and starts just a few days after the Euro tour finishes so we are still tired and aching from that one. I don’t think it’s going to feel that easy while we’re doing it. I’m really looking forward to it though. This is touring the way we used to do it. It’s an adventure.

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