10 Questions for Gary Numan

Kevin Keating
Gary Numan (Photo: Ed Fielding)
Gary Numan (Photo: Ed Fielding)
Electronic music pioneer, Gary Numan, performs live tonight in San Francisco at the legendary Fillmore and we had a chance to ask him 10 questions before the show. Numan's prolific career has influenced countless electronic musicians including Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails and we're grateful that he made the time for SFBAC!

SFBAC: Since this is a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of 'The Pleasure Principle', can you talk about what it was like writing and recording that album? Did you have any idea it would be as influential as it's been?

Gary Numan: No, there is no way of knowing that an album will, over time, become influential. When I was making The Pleasure Principle, I was reacting a little to the media attacks upon my previous album Replicas. Replicas had guitar as well as synths on it, but the media at the time were pretty scathing about electronic music in general. And although the album went to #1, they were very dismissive about the contribution that synths were making. I decided to make The Pleasure Principle without guitars to try and prove that they were not entirely necessary and you could still make music without them. When you take away a primary instrument like that, it forces you to think a little differently, in that you need to find ways around the missing hole left by the guitar’s absence. It's interesting. It was a very important learning experience for me and, as The Pleasure Principle has shown, did prove that there is life beyond guitars. Having said that, I have also used guitars on every album since.

SFBAC: Can you describe how you felt when you had your first #1 single?

Gary Numan: It's hard to describe, but imagine everything you have ever dreamed of, dreams so big everyone you knew said you were crazy, but they come true. It is the crowning moment of any musician’s life, something that can never be taken away. An accomplishment that makes its mark, in a small way, on history itself. So, yes, you feel quite good.

SFBAC: What do you feel was your biggest break?

Gary Numan: I've had two, really. In the U.K., I was lucky enough, as a complete unknown, to be given a slot on the TV music show called “Top Of The Pops,” a week or two after that I was #1 in the U.K., so that TV appearance made me. In the U.S., I was lucky enough to get a slot on Saturday Night Live and Merv Griffin in the same week. That also changed things quite rapidly.

SFBAC: You’ve performed a number of times in San Francisco, do you have any interesting stories from any of those shows?

Gary Numan: Mostly we've played at The Fillmore in San Francisco, which is such a legendary venue it makes you proud to be there. Inside, the walls are decorated with the many posters of previous acts, spread over many decades, that have also played there and it's pretty much an A to Z of every important band the world has ever seen. To be there, to be even a tiny part of that list, is an amazing thing. As far as interesting stories go though, I have none I'm afraid. San Francisco does have the dubious distinction of being the only city on my last three American tours where a fight has broken out in the crowd each time during the show.

SFBAC: Of all the places you've toured in the past, what cities stand out and why?

Gary Numan: 
  • Manchester, England. Quite possibly the best crowds I've ever played to.
  • San Francisco Fillmore. Legendary venue. Great crowds.
  • Los Angeles. Amazing atmosphere.
  • London. Always good to play at home.
  • Sydney. Beautiful city, fantastic people.
  • Tokyo. Strikingly different.

SFBAC: Of all the artists you’ve worked with over the years, who stands out and why?

Gary Numan: I have worked with some very impressive people, but for me Trent Reznor stands out. He has pushed music forward again and again, has written some truly great songs, has pretty much defined an entire genre and has a work ethic that puts almost everyone to shame. He’s ultra professional, highly intelligent and extremely creative.

SFBAC: Wikipedia briefly touches on the mutual admiration between yourself and Trent Reznor, with you going so far as stating that Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" is your favorite song of all time. Can you talk about how the two of you initially met and if/when fans can expect the two of you to collaborate on new music?

Gary Numan: The two of us doing some music together is something that we have talked about once or twice in the past, but nothing is planned at the moment. Hopefully, that will come together one day though. I'd certainly love to collaborate on something with Trent.

SFBAC: Do you find it challenging translating studio material for the live environment?

Gary Numan: Actually, I love doing that. With this Pleasure Principle Tour, I decided to play all the old songs as they were originally recorded as it's all about celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album’s original release. It seemed appropriate to do them as they are on the original album. Usually though, I like to rework things for live performances. Even songs from the most recent album will often get a makeover when we take them out on the road.

SFBAC: Of your previous work, what are you most proud of?

Gary Numan: The second album of my career was called Replicas. It went to #1 in the U.K. and that album launched my career. It also had a song on it called “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” which did very well and another called “Down In The Park,” which has been covered by many bands including Marilyn Manson and Foo Fighters. I have grown to be proud of The Pleasure Principle as it is now considered to be a very influential album. Apart from those two, my other favorites would be Pure, from and Jagged album from 2005.

SFBAC: Of all the artists who have covered your material, is there a particular cover that's your favorite?

Gary Numan: It is very hard to choose because there have been so many by so many very cool people, but I will go for the Nine Inch Nails version of a song called “Metal.” I had the honor of singing this song with Nine Inch Nails at their final shows in Los Angeles last year. We are playing it on our Pleasure Principle Tour as well.

SFBAC: We had the chance to catch that show in LA last year and would agree that NIN does the song justice. Thanks again for your time and we're looking forward to the show!

Here's Nine Inch Nails and Gary Numan performing 'Metal' last year at the Wiltern:

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