Gary Numan will be playing Denver tonight at the Gothic Theater. Show starts at 8pm. He’s currently on tour supporting his fantastic album Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind). I caught the show at the Mountain Oasis Festival 2013 and will be at the show tonight. It’s an incredible show so if you are in Denver area come on down.
For those readers not in Denver and for those who have not yet bought the album visit so visit http://www.numan.co.uk for more information on the album and tour.
Gary was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer a few questions for Modulate This!
Mark Mosher: I love the amazing amount of sonic space and dynamic range in the mix of Splinter. I especially like how your vocals are right up front and you can hear the amazing detail in the music and sound design. Even when songs like “Who Are You” are running at full tilt, the mix has enough sonic space so you can make out interesting sound elements like scraping metallic noises and such. Can you shed some light on the overall development of Splinter and your collaborative process with producer Ade Fenton to create an album with such drive and emotion without losing all the sonic detail?
Gary Numan: No special tricks or processes were employed to get the album to sound the way it does, just a lot of attention to detail and care. Ade worked very closely with Nathan Boddy with the mixing at their respective studios in the UK and those mixes were sent over to me for feedback. There was a lot of communication and discussion obviously as things progressed. The songwriting part of it is fairly simple. I start with a piano and work out the melody and structure. When I’m happy with that I turn to the technology and begin to flesh the song out, building the dynamics and mood. A rough guide vocal without real words follows so that I can get the phrasing exactly right without trying to squeeze in lyrics that don’t really fit, then, when I’m happy with that, the actual lyrics, then the final vocal. At this stage I will have a fairly well developed demo that gives Ade the guidance he needs to know where I see the song going. Those files are then sent to Ade and the production part of it begins. From then on it’s a lot of to and fro as we move the song forward. We do argue but it’s rarely angry, we’re always trying to get the song as good as it can be rather than win a contest between us. It’s quite difficult to comment on the way we work as being anything unusual because it really isn’t. I write the songs and create reasonably high quality demo’s, Ade makes them sound much better and, quite often, will take the song in a new direction. Sometimes that works, sometimes not, but I’m always happy to try out his ideas and see where they take us.
Mark Mosher: My favorite track on the album is “A Shadow Falls on Me”. It has such an interesting arrangement. The non-vocal elements of the song are conjured up in a wake behind your vocals. The end result is you really pull the listener along and make them try and anticipate what’s coming next. Was this a idea pulling the listener along with the vocals and melody a conscious idea from the beginning or something that happened as you developed the song?
Gary Numan: Yes, pretty much. The idea was to build the song with each new vocal section, increasing the level of emotion and power at each step. Ade came up with a huge drum part that was great and changed things considerably but it was just too much to have running from start to finish so we adapted it and used the idea to build an even bigger series of steps, following the original idea but with a greater shift in power and emotion each time. Interestingly the vocal line started out as my first attempt to collaborate with the band Battles. They weren’t too keen on my first vocal idea for their My Machines song so I used it on A Shadow Falls On Me instead.
Mark Mosher: There are some amazing textures and sound elements on Splinter. What’s your creative process for creating unique sounds to support your song writing?
Gary Numan: Sounds can come from anywhere. Walking around the street with a recorder kicking things, slamming things, scraping, dragging, whatever. Using software packages like Omnisphere and Massive, whispering words and phrases and then manipulating those sounds beyond recognition, recording journeys, trains, cars, absolutely anything and everything, and then finding ways to mess with those source sounds until you have something you’ve never heard before. There is no process as such, just a real pleasure from finding new ways to create new sounds.
Mark Mosher: There is a fantastic video on the Nine Inch Nails YouTube channel where you make a surprise appearance and perform “Metal” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehMqEXUspfs) back in 2009. You’ve gone on to share the bill with NIN for a series of concerts and NIN guitarist Robin Finck both plays on Splinter and has played with your touring band. Can you tell us more about the Gary Numan-Trent Reznor-NIN connection and perhaps how this connection has deepened since you have moved to LA?
Gary Numan: Trent came to see us at a show I was playing in Baton Rouge many years ago, this was when he was making The Fragile. He brought with him a copy of a song of mine that he had covered called Metal which was fantastic. After that, whenever NIN played in London I would go and see them and we would meet up briefly for a chat. Then in 2009 I was invited to join them on stage at their O2 gig in London, then to do the same thing when they played the last four shows of that version of NIN in Los Angeles that same year. When I moved to Los Angeles Trent wrote the first of my Testimonial letters for the US authorities which really helped. As soon as we moved to the US he invited to his house a couple of times and made us feel very welcome, then the recent shows and some other social things. He’s been a good friend, in his own, quiet way, on several levels and I’m very grateful to him.
Mark Mosher: I was in attendance at your interview at the Mountain Oasis 2013 Festival in Asheville, NC with Geary Yelton for Keyboard Magazine. In that interview, you mentioned that since you’ve now moved to Los Angeles, that you were hoping to get involved with some film soundtracks. Can you give us an update on any developments in this area of your career?
Gary Numan: It’s a very cautious thing for me. The musical side of that idea is very exciting but the political side of it, or at least the horror stories I’ve heard about it, are really quite daunting so I’m not sure whether it will suit me or not. I’m just finishing my first film score, which I co-wrote with Ade Fenton on this occasion, for an animated movie called From Inside. A grim and heavy story about a pregnant girls journey on a mysterious train after the world has been destroyed. It has been a gentle first step into writing scores for both of us and again, I’m very grateful to the people involved, John Bergin the Director, and Brian McNellis the Producer, for giving me the opportunity and for making it a stress free project. We’ll see where it goes from here.
Mark Mosher: Rather than fall back on “nostalgia” you have really pushed the envelope to try new ideas throughout your career. Do you have any advice for Modulate This readers on how to take the “long view” of their craft and their music careers?
Gary Numan: I’ve always been aware that everything you do today will stick to you in the future so you must be very careful. You need to think about how today’s actions will be perceived in the coming years. Will they hurt your reputation, weaken your fan base? Are you doing things now for short term gain that might kill your career growth in the coming years? I’ve made some terrible mistakes over the years but the thing that has always been important to me is never to rely or dwell on past glories, no matter how big they might be. Try to move forward musically with every album, don’t be afraid to try new things, constantly, and avoid nostalgia at all costs. Of course, if you just want to be rich then milk the nostalgia route for all it’s worth. Plenty of people make very good livings by simply repeating things they did decades ago but I think that’s a pretty empty way to look at creativity. Write music because you genuinely love what you are doing, not because you think it might get you on the radio or keep the record label happy. I went through a period of writing ‘strategically’ and the music suffered and I did nothing that I’m proud of or still play today. It was soul destroying actually and almost ruined my career. For the first part of my career, and certainly for the last 20 years, I’ve written songs with no thoughts at all about how they might achieve commercial success. I want that of course, but you must NOT try to design your music to achieve it. Write what’s in your heart, what you love, and then hope for the best as far as commercial success is concerned.
Special thanks to the fantastic photographer and musician Rod Tanaka for coordinating this interview.