Legendary London-born singer Gary Numan – who had iconic No1 hits with Cars and Are Friends Electric in the 70s – tells all about his incredible chart comeback, as well as his battle with depression, and why, at 60 years of age, he’s never been happier.
How did you feel when your latest album, Savage, went to Number 2 in the UK charts?
“As soon as I found out, I got all teary and thought ‘what a big wuss.’ I didn’t expect it. It was absolutely amazing but it was hugely overwhelming at the same time. And I really didn’t know that was coming. And I think it was all the years that had gone by since the initial success and then it all went horribly wrong. And all of those years of trying to get it back. Most of my adult life was spent trying to get back to that point again. To actually get there was properly overwhelming. I really cried like a baby. They wanted me to go to the office and listen to the chart and find out then but I was too stressed to do that. It would be horribly embarrassing and demoralising if it didn’t come in at number 2 and I really wasn’t sure that it would. So I didn’t want to do that so I stayed in the hotel with Gemma and had her answer the phone. It was the most exciting and terrifying moment because it was as much of a dream come true as being Number 1 was, back when I was a kid. Gemma took a photo of me crying and then started filming. She filmed me for like 10 minutes until I said ‘for fucks sake! I’m having a moment’ But it was absolutely amazing. It was just the most brilliant day.”
Was it different from the initial success?
“A lot of people ask if that was as good as being Number 1 back in the day and it really was. When I had all that early success- without being cocky, I really don’t mean it in that way – but it seemed to come so easily. One minute I was in the studio and I see a synthesiser for the first time and few months later I’m Number 1. It didn’t seem that difficult. I know that’s stupid but that’s the way it seemed. The difference between that and a lifetime of struggle to get back to the Number 2 position, well… there is no comparison. One was massively important to me and the other was just like a kid having a bit of good luck.”
You’ve put yourself in very love threatening positions with machines, flying planes. Have you ever got into any superstitions that you have to do?
“No that’s dangerous. Most other pilots do. They have a lucky glove, but I’ve always thought that was a real mistake. If you really believe that makes a difference and one day your lucky gloves falls out the window – then you’re worried about it. So I would take note of what I did, if I was doing something in a repetitive way, I would deliberately not do it that way again. Superstition is just there to make trouble.”
You’ve been close to death defying situations.
“I spent my whole life up until then and never did anything manly. I became a popstar and wore make up. This is a very out of date way of thinking. It might be part of my upbringing because my dad is quite blokey. He’s lovely but blokey. There might be an element of that in it. Trying to do something that my dad could be proud of. That was big mistake on my part. He was proud of the music. I felt that doing something like that would be challenging in the sense that if it goes wrong – you die. It a different kind of challenge to walking out on the stage and being a bit nervous. That was part of the reason for it. The other part was that I’d retired. The main reason was to have a challenge and something that my dad could be proud of. It was absolutely terrifying. I had some really horrible moments.”
Your music is very personal, and you’ve said that every line means something?
“There’s lots of personal songs. But there are things I couldn’t write about, I couldn’t write about my mum because I’d never be able to find the words. Prayer for the unborn, is about one of our babies that died. When I sing that song, I absolutely cannot think about what it’s about. I have to take my mind somewhere else. They leave marks. It’s very important. It’s a lovely way to get these things out without having to go to a therapist. I think it’s much better than going to a therapist to get it all out. The songs have to mean something, at the time, at least. Quite often the lyrics don’t make a lot of sense. Gemma often asks me what certain songs are about and I don’t remember. They don’t always make a lot of sense after, but at the time they do. They all meant something when I wrote them.”
Is Splinter your most personal song?
“It’s about depression. That’s one of my favourite songs to do live. I have to do a little scream at the end of that. There’s something about that song that I love but it is a bit depressing.”
When did you get diagnose with depression?
“When I got to 50, I had my midlife crisis. Not sleeping around, nothing like that. It was to do with age and feeling too old and death rushing towards me. I got very paranoid about being old. It got to a point where I couldn’t look at old people, I used to start crying. I used to think how can you be walking around just not bothered about the fact that you might die any minute. How can you be that cool with it? You’re 85 years old you’re gonna drop dead any minute. I couldn’t figure it out because I wasn’t cool with it and I was only 50. I’m making light of it but it was horrible. Gemma was brilliant. I’d be in a right state and she finally said you need to go see someone. I went to a doctor and he said any anxiety like that is because of an underlying depression. It was a surprise to me because I didn’t feel depressed, or what I thought depressed was. Put me on some pills and they didn’t work, they just made me permanently miserable. But then it was great, you’re not up, you’re not down. But I found it very seductive. My entire life has been my moods, if you like. Very rarely in sync with the reality of my life. To not have these up and down mood swings to be able to go through life and everything was fine was really brilliant. I’ve never had that before. I didn’t want to come off them. They make you so calm and chilled out that you really don’t care about much of anything. I wasn’t writing songs, I couldn’t care less. Opportunities would come and go, I didn’t give a monkeys. In this little bubble. Gemma calls it my Forest Gump years. Who remembers Benny in Crossroads? She started calling me fucking Benny. I had no drive, no ambition, just happy in my little bubble. The thing that had an effect was that Gemma said she didn’t fancy me anymore. For a man with even a tiny ego it’s gonna cut you really badly. The fact that that part of my life, that closeness with Gemma, that was what me realise that I had to come back to the real world. But when I did, my moods were in sync. I’m happy now when I should be and not when I’m not.”
What else have you got coming up this year.
“I’m doing a film score, that I’m not allowed to talk about yet but I will as soon as I can. A new album that’s out in February. This year is the 40th anniversary of when I made it so I’m going to do a big tour at the end of the year, a British tour. What I did a few years back was the residencies and I can’t do that again. It’s going to be a career retrospective tour, I’m going to try to find songs that I haven’t done before or at all. There’s definitely going to be one or two that I won’t do songs from.