by Jeff Niesel
Though not quite a household name, singer-guitarist Gary Numan has had an illustrious career that stretches back to the early ’70s. Numan, who plays the Beachland Ballroom tomorrow night, still remembers the first guitar he ever got and how that inspired him to play in several punk bands before forming the seminal punk/New Wave act Tubeway Army in 1976.
“I had my first guitar, an acoustic, when I was very young, maybe four or five,” he says in an email exchange. “My first electric came when I was about 11 or 12, I think. The Les Paul was a dream come true for a teenager and I got that when I was 16 I think, thanks entirely to my parents who were very supportive of my dreams of being a professional musician. I can’t honestly say having the guitar made a huge difference to my progress, it was just a lovely thing to have. I still have it; it still gets used on every album, every gig. It’s the one and only possession I’ve kept, and it means a great deal to me. It’s been with me, literally, through every up and down of my long career and I love it very much.”
Numan’s career hit a huge up when the song “Cars” became a bonafide hit in 1979. The song’s lurching, synthesizer beat stood out during a time when post-punk acts were just beginning to experiment with electronics.
“I think it was different enough to sound new and unusual, but conventional enough to sound familiar and comfortable,” he says of “Cars.” “I think it crossed the bridge between the known and the experimental and so, for many people, it was a ‘new cool’ thing to be into. I think that was true of The Pleasure Principle album that it came from as well. I didn’t go the full electronic route. I added synths as an extra layer to the guitar, bass, drums package that people already knew and loved.”
Throughout the ‘80s and ’90s, Numan continued to record and tour, attracting the attention of acts such as Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who cited Numan as an influence. Numan's new album, Splinter, is a compelling collection of dark and brooding tunes that suggests the personal difficulties Numan has experienced in the last several years.
“Both my wife Gemma and I were diagnosed with depression at various times and we were both on medication for a few years,” he says. “Not at the same time for most of it but, nonetheless, it put a lot of strain on our marriage in particular and life in general. My career began to suffer. I didn’t write a song for nearly four years. It was just a really unpleasant thing to go through. When I started to get better I started to write again and it was those years that I wanted to write about.”
The songs also provide a great showcase for Numan’s vocal abilities as he whispers with a distinct intensity and puts his vocals up higher in the mix, signaling a welcomed sonic shift.
“I have very little confidence in my vocals so, in the past, I’ve tended to swamp them with FX and drop them low in the mix, or smother them with backing vocalists,” he says. “With Splinter my producer Ade Fenton wanted to drop the FX and make the vocals more upfront and naked. I was very against this to start with but that’s the way we eventually went with the album. That simple idea has given the vocals far more prominence and that has made a far greater difference than even I had expected.”
Numan seems to have gotten burst of creativity with the new album and tour and has already started writing new music.
“Since finishing Splinter I’ve co-written a film score for an animated movie called From Inside,” he says. “That experience was very interesting as it requires a very different method than writing an album. I learned a lot and I think that will definitely help with the next album. I will start that one as soon as I get back from the current North American Splinter tour. I’m slightly reluctant to project a release date as I’m notoriously overly optimistic with such things but, with luck, it should be out in Spring 2015.”