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Interview with of Gary Numan - Berbati's Pan, Portland, OR - 5/16/98

Jester: How has the tour gone so far? Are you excited to be touring the US after 16 years?

Gary: We have played eleven shows on the tour so far and have sold out eight or nine of them. From that point of view the crowds have been excellent. The audience has been so responsive that we have been coming back and playing two to three encores a night. So, In that aspect, the tour has already been more successful than I would have ever hoped.

However, I was a bit worried before the tour started if people would even come to the shows. I was also worried that the crowd would be unevenly balanced between the nostalgic crowd and new crowd. I wanted as many people as possible to show up, but I need the crowd to be evenly balanced to be considered a viable artist in the Nineties instead of an artist who is still hanging onto the Eighties.

I am very sensitive about which songs I am playing. I am not performing a set of just older material or brand new material. I am trying to balance the music with what I want from the audience. While I have kept the arrangements of the older material the same, I have reworked them so that they sound well next to the new material.

The whole tour arrangement consisted of a number of educated guesses. I had no idea which of the newer songs anyone knew. I didn't even know which of the older tracks people would enjoy since I have only had a single hit here with 'Cars'. It is really difficult to try and make a twenty year wide collection of songs sound very well together.

The whole effort was really quite daunting to walk onstage here for the first time. It was the most uncertain, yet exciting event I've had in a long time. However, it has been an opportunity that I have wanted, and tried hard to get for the past 16 years.

Jester: What did you find the age balance of the crowd to be?

Gary: It's not that easy to tell. I've been spending a great deal of time after each show signing autographs for everyone. I sign everything and talk to everyone. It is obvious that there are people who saw me back in 1980 who came, but there are just as many kids. There are even people who think that "Exile" is my first album who had never even heard of 'Cars'. To me that kind of balance is exactly what I needed.

Every night I need to gauge the crowd and see what their response is so I know what to expect from other crowds. Amazingly enough, 'Cars' isn't what people are cheering for, oddly enough it is for 'Down in The Park'. I think that most people first heard that song when it was covered by Marilyn Manson or the Foo Fighters, which is why they react so well to it.

The whole tour is honestly much more than I would have ever dared to hope for. I was so unsure about how it would go. I was so nervous about the whole thing. I wanted it to go well so badly. I wanted to come back here for so many years. Back in England, I tour every single year, which is a total antithesis to what my career has been here.

I did feel that I made too many mistakes back when I toured the first time. I think I was much too young at the time. I think that I didn't handle it well at all. As a result, my overseas career totally fell away and it even got difficult to deal with music on England.

Jester: Are there any plans to release some of your albums that you released in the Nineties only in England here in North America?

Gary: Actually, "Sacrifice" is out here already under the title of "Doom". That album was a side project that was released before I signed with Eagle Records. That project will continue and the album will be released in it's original form in North America shortly. In fact, almost all my older albums are being reissued. Even Beggars Banquet, my first record label, are once again releasing my entire back catalogue.

Jester: Who is in your live band? Did they have anything to do with the composition of "Exile", or are they just for live performances?

Gary: On this tour I have a drummer, Richard Besley, two keyboard players, one of which plays a bit of bass and the other who plays some guitar. Steve Harris is my primary guitar player and he is completely brilliant. Halfway through a song when he isn't playing anything, he will just take of his guitar and dance around getting totally lost in the song.

I also play a bit of guitar myself. As a result, the show is definitely not as synthesizer dominated as one might expect. The music is very guitar driven and more powerful in places. The music is certainly more aggressive and energetic than my older fans would have expected.

Jester: "Exile" utilizes darker textures than most of your previous work. What brought about this change?

Gary: It all started back in 1992 when I wrote a really bad album called "Machines of Soul". I had totally ran out of ideas and confidence, My career was down the tubes, I couldn't get an album deal and it was all very grim. At the end of it all, I just stopped, fixed all my problems and tried to get back on my feet.

I managed to get really lucky with a huge radio licensing deal for 'Cars' as well as meeting a wonderful woman who is now my wife. She has certainly totally turned my life around. On the musical front, I completely reevaluated why I was in the business and realized that I was writing music primarily to combat all of the money problems that I was having. Ultimately, the music had become soulless and empty.

I ended up taking a few months away from music, really thought about how I wanted to continue my career and went back into the studio. What I found was when I gave up writing solely for monetary gain and instead wrote music for the pleasure of writing music. It just seemed to transform what I was doing. When I removed all of the pressure and the worry about the career, I found that my imagination had been squashed beneath it all.

As soon as my imagination came back, the music was suddenly darker. Bizarrely, I am much happier now, but my music is darker. It seems that when I am happy, I have no worries, when I am unhappy, I tend to write about my worries and that doesn't make good music. When I am really happy, I am naturally fascinated by darker things.

I wrote "Sacrifice" and was very happy with the result. My attitude improved and I realized that I was once again writing songs for all the right reasons. As soon as I stopped trying, my career slowly got better. I didn't start doing better over night, but it was finally starting to look up.

Jester: Why did you decide to use so much religious imagery on "Exile"?

Gary: After writing "Sacrifice" I received a number of complaints about the religious imagery that I had started to use on that album. Some of the people complaining were so fiercely protective of their faith, that I tried to write material with more of a middle ground religiously speaking.

The first song I wrote was about the dangers of blind faith. When I had looked at my own lack of faith, I had come up with the idea that God and the Devil might be the same thing. That being in Heaven or Hell was all a matter of prospective. By the time I got to the third song, it was obvious that the entire album was going to work along this theme. Oddly enough it was all sparked by the religious faithful who had complained to me about "Sacrifice".

"Exile" to me is one big horror story. Personally. I don't believe in God at all, but if I'm wrong and there is a God, what kind of god would it be who would give us the world we live in? It certainly cannot be a good deity. At best God would have to be cruel, selfish, and he would have to have a huge ego. "Thou shalt not worship any other gods before me." That is just one huge ego trip.

The more I wrote about this theme, the more fascinating it became and the more ways there became of saying the same thing. In my opinion, all nine songs on the album are saying the same thing. While I tried to write a single story line through the first three tracks, I stopped. The album starts out with a sub-story of a man who has a true vision about the true nature of the Universe and God find out and tries to stop him from spreading the Truth. The theme was meant to continue, and I regret that I didn't. The whole concept was originally intended to be a book, but the whole idea just seemed tailored made for lyrics.

Jester: Who are your current musical influences?

Gary: Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Gravity Kills, Sneaker Pimps, Garbage, Prodigy, Course of Empire, Crystal Method.

Jester: Isn't it rather ironic that these artists list you as a primary influence?

Gary: Yes, it is bizarre isn't it? However, I think it is great. The past year and a half has just been amazing with the sheer amount of feedback I have been getting from artists who say that I was an influence to them. Bands like Beck, Tricky, Republica, Snoop Doggy Dog, Courtney Love, and The Food Fighters have all performed covers of my material recently. It has all been very, very flattering.

I really can't be too humble about it because I think it is great. I also think that it is also one of the reasons why this tour has gone so well. So many people who are coming to the shows first heard of my material through covers by other artists and it has naturally drawn those people to my shows. Overall, it has been very rewarding. To be credited and praised by the same people that you admire is very fulfilling.

Jester: How have advances in technology aided you in the music writing process?

Gary: I have never been a very good technical musician. So the technology has been able to help me correct me lack of musical skills. I have never known how to identify a chord, I have just played them. Computers have made it possible for the talentless musician like myself to be able to sound wonderful.

At the same time, technology has advanced to such a degree that the depth which you can go to create sounds and layer elements, almost anything is possible. As for the whole Analogue versus Digital debate, I can only laugh. Anyone who argues whether one is better than the other is missing the whole point completely. It also shows a complete lack of programming ability on the part of the artists because these days you can get any sound you like from almost any instrument, no matter if it is Analogue or Digital.

This might come as a surprise to some people, but I don't use any Analogue sounds when I play live now. Yet I am recreating all of the old Analogue sounds I used when I first wrote those songs. No one even knows the difference anyways.

Jester: I read somewhere that you started every track on "Exile" with drum loops. Why?

Gary: Drum loops are something that I am really into right now. My studio doesn't have a real drummer so I sort of need them when I write my music. Hopefully, that will change in the future now that I have Richard playing live for me. I hope to be able to bring him into the studio to help me write the drums parts for future releases.

I know some people are not to into drum loops, but I think they can be hugely powerful. When you mix certain loops together, you can come up with rhythms that never could be played by humans. You can use drums loops to add depth and layering to a song by adding loops after each verse of a song. You can mix loops with a good stereo system and make the intro loop hard left in the speaker and the next in the far right. Before you know it, you have very deep rhythm panning back and forth. You cannot do that with a live drummer.

Jester: How did you manage to get your album licensed to Cleopatra Records?

Gary: I am signed directly to Eagle Records in England. They licensed me to Cleopatra. Ironically, last year I sent out about thirty demos to various labels and Cleopatra was the only label that was interested. At the time, I backed away from the deal because I thought they were a back catalogue label and I didn't want to get involved with that sort of label at the time. I am very paranoid about this Retro thing and I am really trying to stay clear of it. Then of course, I end up licensed to the label and find out that they really are not that kind of label, which is good.

However, the most bizarre coincidence was that my wife got a tattoo of the Eye of Horus at the bottom of her back and that sign turns out to be the Cleopatra logo. Lastly, they release the album on February 10th, 1998, which is twenty years to the day that I went professional. I think that all those coincidences gave me good vibes.

Jester: Have/Will there be any single or video releases for tracks from "Exile"?

Gary: 'Dominion Day' came out as a single in England and didn't do very well. I just finished a video for it before I left for the tour and I'd like to use it to promote the album.

Jester: How did the "The Mix" compilation released by Cleopatra happen?

Gary: A few years ago a band called Techno Army approached me and asked me if they could write Techno/Dance cover versions of about twelve of my songs and they wanted to use fresh vocals. While I am not a great fan of that style of music, it seemed like a great opportunity to expose people to my music. The band also offered me a huge amount of money for very little work so I agreed. Then I found out that music was atrocious. Unfortunately, I could not get out of the deal. The people were very nice, but I thought the music was horrible.

The finished album was sent to Cleopatra for a possible North American release. The label didn't like the music at all and decided to have bands on their label write cover versions of my music and just use the newly recorded vocals. So, in the CD is a mixture of several different projects rolled into one.

The only thing I am slightly unhappy about is that the CD was marketed as a Gary Numan album, when in fact it has very little to do with me. The music is entirely written by other bands, even if they are cover songs. I simply donated guest vocals on the album. I will need to talk to the label about rectifying that issue when I meet them on the Los Angeles tour date.

Jester: Whose idea was it to add the live version of 'Down In The Park' to the end of "Exile"? It seems like that track appears almost on every Gary Numan release in various versions.

Gary: That track is another issue I have with the label. I can understand the label trying to use the inclusion of 'Down In The Park' to try and identify me with bands like Marilyn Manson. Personally, "Exile" is nine songs about a very specific subject, and no one can just throw other material at the end of the release, especially without asking me first. I spent three years on that record and I was really unhappy about Cleopatra adding that track to the North American release of "Exile".

Jester: Who maintains the Gary Numan web site? How has the Internet helped you reach your fans?

Gary: I run the site myself. I have been on-line since 1995. I went out and created my own site as an ego-booster. I learned how to do it by example and slowly wrote my own web site. The first version of the site went on-line by November 4th of that year and I revamped it again within a few months. In 1997, I totally reworked it again to what it looks like now.

The Internet certainly takes a lot of time to deal with, but I think it has helped tremendously with this tour. I can't honestly say to what degree, but when people hear about the tour from the Internet and not from local promotion, I know it is worth all the trouble. I love it, but it is so hard to find the time to update it.

The sheer amount of e-mail I get daily is phenomenal. I am thinking about hiring someone full time just to deal with it. I do mention on the web site that I don't have time to handle personal e-mail, but people send it anyways. My dad and I are the only ones handling the business, so we have started sending out form letters as responses just to stem the load.

In fact, I have been so busy with the Internet that I haven't written a new song in over a year. I should be writing music every day, but I simply can't find the time.

Jester: Does music fill up all of your free time? Do you have a job? Hobbies?

Gary: I used to fly planes a great deal, but I have only flown three times this year for just over an hour of air time. I fill my time with the business. Anything to do with Gary Numan, I am responsible for. I design all the album artwork, the t-shirts, backstage passes, fan club newsletters, the web site and the music. I'd estimate that I spend 1-2 days a week updating the web site.

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