Gary Numan has released his twenty-first studio album Intruder. Exploring the idea of the modern world warning against and fighting back against humanity’s catastrophic behaviour, it proved that fans remain hugely fascinated by Numan’s still modernistic sound some four decades into his career. Musically there’s a striking contrast between the beautiful simplicity of the song’s introduction and the cacophonous, post-industrial aggression that emerges. It also highlights a contribution from Görkem Şen, the inventor of the yaybahar (an acoustic stringed synthesiser), which adds a portentous texture to the dynamic production. The album was recorded between sessions at Numan’s home studio in Los Angeles and at producer Ade Fenton’s studio in Bath. It represents their fifth studio album together after Jagged (2006), Dead Sun Rising (2011), Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) (2013) and Savage (Songs From A Broken World) (2017). Gary speaks to Hi Fi Way about the album.
Congratulations on the album, you must feel that after the last twelve months or so relieved that it’s finally out there?
Yeah, I’m relieved it’s out. I’m relieved it’s doing well in lots of places. You do worry about this thing you know. I do find as I have gotten older, and I make more albums, it got a little bit harder with each one rather than easier. I’m more anxious about whether the ideas are going to be there and is the quality still going to be there. It’s very satisfying actually to see it doing as well as it is.
Did you have a like a special celebration on release day just knowing all your trials and tribulations of trying to put out an album during a pandemic?
I got fucking shingles, yeah that’s all I got! How shit was that? The day it came out, I was not too bad actually the day it came out. I was doing press whole day and I started to get this weird old thing on my side. Anyway, first of all they thought I might have an appendicitis, it was all just rubbish, the week of release, that’s not what we want to be doing. Anyway yeah I got shingles it was a right pain in the arse but yeah, it could be worse!
Did you feel the weight of expectation or any sort of pressure with Intruder?
I do, you do actually. The better something does, and the better it is received, the easier it is to fall away from that and to see that the gains you made but then to see them collapse again. I obviously have been there before, more than once you know. I know that in the past when things have been going very, very well, and then they suddenly take a downturn you do worry about that. The other thing a lot of people have said some very complimentary things over the years, some quite notable people, and above that makes you feel more confident because these people say all this cool stuff about my music. It’s lovely to hear all those sorts of things, as it’s lovely to see the album is doing better but if anything, it adds pressure to what you’re doing. To live up to what they say or in the case of an album, the need to try to make sure the next one does not lose as well if not better. So in a way, the more successful you become, or the more credibility you get, the further you have to fall, because I’ve been there before, I’m probably sort of more aware of that the most. I guess it does haunt me a little bit. I’m really enjoying it and yeah it feels great and it feels good to get back to a better position than I was for the years leading up to this period so yeah. I’m absolutely not grumbling, it’s a great position to be in.
Given the impact of the pandemic have it forced you to change how you go about making music and whether this sets a blue print for the future?
Well strange enough, the way I work is incredibly well suited to a pandemic. I have my own studio at home, actually in a little guest house in the back. I go in there in the morning and come out at night, I’m in my own world and my producer who’s based in Britain, he is in a similar position where he is, he’s at his own studio, he works in there all day long. We just exchange files which is what we were doing for the last four or five albums we worked on together, we don’t ever a sit in a studio together at any point. So when the pandemic came along, we just carried on much like before and it didn’t have any effect really. The only time that there is an effect was towards the end of it when we were mixing. I normally fly over to the UK for the mixing, get that done, and be there for the mastering and I couldn’t do that this time which was a slight change, but as far as recording was concerned, it didn’t actually change anything at all luckily.
When you compare Intruder to your previous albums Savage and Splinter, do you see much difference sonically when you compare those albums together?
Well, each one is an attempt to try to move on a little bit from the one before but I think truthfully, I’m pretty much on the same road in a way musically. I think Splinter, I think we’ve got a really good album with Splinter. Very very different theme obviously as that was all about coming out from depression and then with Savage, it became just a little bit more anthemic maybe. I would say Savage was a soundtrack album looking for a film. Intruder is much the same. It feels like a soundtrack album looking for a film. I don’t think Intruder is drastically different to Savage, or Savage is drastically different to Splinter but I’m really proud of all three of them, and I do hope that with each one we’ve just tweaked and made it a little bit better but I’ll be struggling to point out what that will be. I’m just really, really happy with all three of them. I don’t know have any worries or concerns but you are always looking to try to find new sounds, that’s always an important thing. You’re always looking to try to find a way about making each one better than the one before. I’m just not sure with Savage in particular, that I could do much better really, I just think I need to try make something that was as good as, and hopefully has some new sounds in it that expressed a different theme to people. I really worried after Savage, I was after Splinter to be honest, I just wasn’t sure I could do much better than those two. I suppose in a way I was just trying to stay at that level.
With Intruder, were the ideas really clear in your mind with what you wanted to do and where you wanted to take it? Or does it take shape and unfold in a studio?
A little bit of both really. Once I found out what the idea behind the album is going to be, the idea that it was the Earth speaking about how it feels about arson, it was obviously related to the climate change but seeing how the Earth feels about human beings and how we’ve betrayed it and disappointed it and so on, but now we would need to fight back against us. Once all of that was established, then the theme of the album was fairly solid. All I needed to do after that was try to find here and there in different ways of explaining that. So with a song like Saints and Liars for example, we tried to find that contradiction between religious belief where, I’m an Atheist, it’s my way of thinking it says whether it’s to believe in the unbelievable and yet on the other hand many of those same people would not believe in climate change when there was abundant evidence to show that it’s real. So try to draw a parallel between those two it is more than that. There was a black sun which looks at the way love changes, the way you feel love as a child, it’s very painless and open ended and yet as you get older, you worry about parents dying and your wife, you believe in your kids because I’m getting at the age where I worry about not being there for my kids, the nature of love is a very different thing when you’re older to what it was when you were young. I tried to draw a parallel between the way the Earth felt about us, when we were new to the planet so to speak and what we have grown into over the years to what we are now which is more like an infestation. The idea was sound right from the very beginning, but you are looking for new variations and how to express the idea as you work through it. So it is a bit of both.
You must be really satisfied as well with how people are being able to connect with some of those songs given what people are going through at the moment, it might seem well-timed some of these songs?
Bizarre in a way you know because when I started working on it, it was probably a good year before the pandemic really hit. Yet within the ideas for the album was already the idea of the Earth fighting back against us, and what mechanism there might be in place for it to do that, and viruses was one of them. I haven’t specifically written about a virus as being a way that it would fight back against us. When the pandemic came along, Covid really started to hit, that felt weird to me because that was almost exactly the sort of idea I’ve been thinking as a way in which the Earth had fought back against us to bring our numbers down, to have less damaging level or to get rid of us completely. I did write a song on the album called The Gift which is about Covid specifically, but in the sense that it’s a weapon, not just a chance happening, it’s a weapon designed by the planet or nature’s assistance to fight back against us. It was strange for me to write an album that looked at that sort of an issue as a pandemic arrived and started to decimate the planet, it was pretty unsettling, to be honest.
Did you feel in some ways that you were a bit ahead of your time in that you could almost predict the future in some ways?
It wasn’t really intended to be a prediction. I’m not sure that with Covid for example would be considered the first of the ways in which the planet fights back. It’s quite possible the Earth’s been fighting back against us for a long, long time, we just haven’t realised. We’ve been in a silent war, or an unknowing war. In fact that idea, is something that I’m thinking about moving onto with the next album that I’m just about to start. I don’t see Intruder as a prediction really of what’s going on but definitely a reflection of how the planet would feel about us, should it be able to feel of course. I think it does in its own way.
When you start talking about the Earth fighting back and the strong climate change themes on the album do you think these useless politicians who are actually meant to be representing us are actually listening to the people?
I don’t think so, to be truthful. It’s pretty depressing, really. Intruder is really just a very, very, very tiny voice in that argument. I am under no illusion that I have any kind of sway in this at all, I clearly don’t. There are some extremely intelligent, hardworking people out there, activists out there that are doing far more than I would ever do. It’s quite possible that there are changing opinions. That’s all you’re trying to do, you’re trying to change opinions to create, or to encourage more people first of all to believe that climate change is a very real threat and that something needs to be done about it. In so doing, persuading people that it is real and that something needs to be done about it, you encourage the way that you vote, the way they vote sends a clear signal to the politicians of the day as to how you feel, the population at large feels about something. I think that at the moment that the best thing we can hope for with the politicians that we have at the moment is that we can bring enough pressure on them, to do enough, to just slow it down enough, so that the next generation can move along and have something left to fight for. I personally believe it’s the next generation, my children, maybe even their children but mine hopefully that will really make the fundamental changes that needed to be made. When it gets to the point of being in office or whatever, then there will be less resistance given to them. If you look at Biden, fifty percent of congress in America is actively against everything that he says and does. At least half of the government seems to think that it’s not real, or is saying that they think it’s not real. So even when you have something in power that appears to want to do the right things, the obstacles against him are enormous. It makes it almost impossible to do the fundamental things that need to be done. It’s always just going to be chip in at the edges and we seem to be out of time for chipping at the edges. I’m not massively optimistic to be honest, which is a bit depressing.
Are you feeling optimistic about playing shows this year and maybe on a bigger scale?
Things are pretty good here in California for example and in New York I believe. In the US, there are very, very positive signs of things going back to normal, in fact, California is pretty much back to normal, full capacity indoors and outdoors, no mask mandate if you have been vaccinated. We’re just one step away from what it was before. Fingers crossed the whole city doesn’t flare up again with that sort of openness. I have a US tour being sold now for the start of September so I’m very hopeful that that would happen but it feels far from certain to be truthful, but you know, things are still going in the right direction and quite rapidly so I’m more hopeful now than I was a month ago that it’s going to happen. Apart from that I don’t have anything booked from a touring point of view until late late April in 2022. I think by that time, I’m really confident that by that time we should have it under control.
Interview By Rob Lyon