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Gary Numan

Written by Amelia Schmidt on March 4, 2009

Gary Numan is a pop star and he has a pilot’s license. When you learn this, you realise that you’re never going to achieve anything in your life and that you might as well give up now, throw it all in and stop cleaning your room and doing your tax forever. When asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t a world-famous musician, Numan says, “I always wanted to be a racing driver or a pilot so I guess one of those. I have that blinkered and highly focused desire of the deeply obsessed so I think I would have done okay.”

That’s kind of the coolest answer in the world. I know that his music is important and all that, and he’s doing a tour and stuff, but have you ever met anyone who can fly planes before? I have, once, but they weren’t a pop star. “I’m an aerobatic display pilot flying World War Two aeroplanes so the thrill is all about being very close to the ground, going very quickly, being upside down with a powerful engine dragging you along, G forces distorting your face, all very hectic and physical,” Numan explains, casually. “The only thing that has ever crept into the music that has any connection with flying is the fear. On those rare occasions when it all goes horribly wrong you are left with a lasting memory of what true terror feels like.”

It seems at this point that the rockstar lifestyle must be something of a pale comparison to hectic stunt pilot antics. “I guess I’ve seen my share of sordid and destructive drug and drink fuelled excess but it’s such a tricky thing to talk about without sounding like a strutting teenager showing off to his spotty mates. It makes you sound like a swaggering dickhead,” says Numan. He’s very quiet about the extravagant rockstar stories. “Being in a band is the best thing in the world if you want to live life to the full and I can’t recommend it enough. I actually don’t really like talking about that stuff outside of the bubble we live in on tour.”

Numan explains the fact that he doesn’t want to brag about his music lifestyle with one story that more than makes up for it. “I’m now a married father of three little girls so all the really good stories are no longer things I can talk about. I did have an instance where a girl escaped from the institution she was being held in, after having thrown acid over her ex boyfriend, and was intending to visit me having convinced herself that we were married and that I was having an affair with the girl I was living with at the time. Unfortunately the British press had printed my full address when I’d been arrested for something so she knew exactly where I lived. Luckily she went to her mothers first where the police were waiting.”

Numan’s career before music often included working with machines, so between that and the piloting it’s interesting to theorise on the connections between machines and Numan’s sometimes quite industrial, dark music. “I think the machine connection is coincidental but it’s true to say I have always been comfortable around machines and somewhat uncomfortable around people.”

“I think that has a lot to do with why I like technology driven music and why I’m a solo act. I get to make my own decisions, without going through a band committee, and I get to twiddle with switches and press buttons. Strangely enough though, my favourite instrument is the guitar. I have a Gibson Les Paul that I’ve had since I was a teenager and I love it, it’s probably my most prized possession. I don’t really have any great affection for synths, although I’ve had lots of them over the years. They are very much tools and I get rid of them when they stop being useful.”
The industrial direction in his music appeared somewhere in the nineties, and Numan explains, “Around the ’92 ’93 time, I pretty much thought my career was over. I had no record deal, couldn’t sell tickets for live shows, couldn’t give myself away. Literally. I offered myself to labels for no advance and still nobody wanted me so it looked like it was all over. So I stated to write songs for the love of it again, the way I used to when I first started. Without worrying about radio play and label commitment and all that business bollocks the songs were immediately heavier and darker. It also re-ignited my love for it. I became genuinely excited about writing songs again.”

Things started to fall in to place, like cogs in a machine, so to speak. “Luckily for me this new found musical direction came along just as the new media interest was beginning to build and, luckiest of all perhaps, just as the internet was becoming known to the world at large. I jumped on that and reintroduced myself to those people still interested and then released that new dark album, called ‘Sacrifice’, on my own label and surprisingly it sold better than anything I’d done in the previous ten years. It was a bit like stumbling out of the fog and finding yourself back on the road you’d slid off years before.”

As for how his life is going now, other than the current tour, Numan is working hard on new music. “I have an album coming out within the next few months called ‘Dead Son Rising’ which is mainly unused demos from the last two album sessions plus a few brand new songs. The next main album, what I consider the follow up to my last studio album ‘Jagged’, is called ‘Splinter’ and I hope to have that out by spring 2010. My intention is for it to be the heaviest, darkest, most aggressive and most anthemic album I’ve ever made. Further along the path that the Jagged album took. I liked Jagged a lot and it’s a very exciting album to play live so I’m very comfortable about taking things even further.”

It sounds pretty heavy and exciting, but then so does the rest of Numan’s life. Between psychotic stalkers and G-forces to melt your face off, it’s no surprise that Numan’s music has taken a turn for the more intense. “I doubt anyone will consider it radio friendly,” he says. Whatever, you’re still a pop star with a pilot’s license, right?

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