Sadly, many people may only know Gary Numan for "Cars," his surprising, off-the-wall hit from 1979. Yet Numan's four-decade-long career belies any classification as a one-hit wonder. Indeed, some of Numan's best music came immediately before and after he made "Cars." Taken together, Numan's catalog makes him one of the most influential figures in electronic music.
Courtesy of B.B. Gun Press Gary Numan
Communicating via e-mail while on tour in Europe and in anticipation of performing at the Firebird next Wednesday, Numan spoke to us about almost dying while doing the worst job he ever had and the amazing continued popularity of "Cars."
Darryl Smyers: How do you feel about being cited as a pioneer of electronic music?
Gary Numan: It feels great. I don't really feel like a pioneer, but it's nice to read just the same. I'm very lucky in that so many people talk about me as being a pioneer, or influential, that it really has helped to generate new interest in me and my music. It's given me a level of credibility that I couldn't have dreamed of when I first started.
Before you became a musician, what was the worst job you had?
I had a job fitting air-conditioning systems into office buildings that were being built in London. I was once trapped and almost crushed by a huge central shaft that broke away during installation and rolled onto me. It had been snowing and raining heavily, and I was almost drowned as it was holding me under about twelve inches of water in the bottom of the building.
The Pleasure Principle featured no guitars, but the synthesizers were fed through guitar effects pedals. Why use this technique?
I only did that on some of the parts; in the main, the synths were put through anything and everything I could find, guitar pedals being just one. I was obsessed with finding new sounds and with manipulating sound in whatever way I could. In that sense I was made for electronic music as, for me, it's always been about sound and sound design.
When you wrote "Cars," did you have any inkling that you had something commercially viable?
Not really, not when I first wrote it anyway. But, I had a No. 1 single in the UK with another song before I recorded "Cars" and so, by the time I did record it, I was riding a huge wave of popularity. At that point it was more of a certainty that "Cars" would do quite well. Even then, though, I had no idea that it would still be around and popular 35 years later. In many ways "Cars" is as popular now as it ever was. It's used on ads constantly, it's covered by people several times a year, and it just continues to resonate with people.
My favorite album of yours is Telekon. Why did you decide to reintroduce guitars? Does that album hold a special place for you?
I only stopped using guitars on The Pleasure Principle to prove a point to the critics of electronic music in those early days. There was a lot of hostility from the UK music press when I became successful and electronic music was widely put down as being unmusical and artificial. The vibe seemed to be that it wasn't real music if it didn't have guitars on it. I made The Pleasure Principle without guitars to prove that you didn't need guitars. The fact is though, I really like them, and once I'd made that point I brought them back in.
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