ON THE RECORD: GARY NUMAN
When Gary Numan robot-sang his way through “Cars” on Top of the Pops in 1979, his face buried under gobs of makeup (he blames anxiety for the former, acne for the latter), little did the Tubeway Army frontman know that he was cementing a persona that would later define the early days of electro-pop. A diverse array of artists—from Prince to Lady Gaga to Kanye West to Jack White— cite the West London native as an influ- ence, and countless contemporary acts hunt for vintage Moog synthesizers to match the tones of his early work, which Numan finds flattering but confusing. “I’ve stayed excited by electronic music for all these years because it’s very much a forward-looking genre,” he says. “It’s not meant to have nostalgia.”
His latest record, Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), out October 15, continues along the dark, industrial highway that he merged onto in the mid- ’80s. Numan now lives in a castle-like abode north of Los Angeles, and while he speaks at length over the phone about the artists who’ve had an influence on his career, faint shrieks are heard through the receiver. They belong to the three daughters he has with wife Gemma Webb. “I thought it was going to be sugar and spice and all things nice, but it’s nothing like that,” Numan reveals, laughing. “Girls fight worse than any boys I’ve ever known—ever!” Trading in their English country home for a California dream estate wasn’t easy. “Getting a green card unsponsored is very tricky,” he explains. “You have to prove that you are ‘an alien of extraordinary ability.’” Lucky for Numan, he can call on Trent Reznor for a letter of recommendation. “Not to sound corny, but I genuinely feel privileged to be allowed to be here,” he says. “For us as a family and from a musical point of view, the atmosphere is very vibrant. So I’m driving like a granny. I’m not jaywalking. I’m not doing anything that would upset anybody!”
NINE OF THE ALBUMS THAT HAVE SHAPED NUMAN’S LIFE AND MUSIC, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
RAMMSTEIN, MUTTER: Rammstein are a German band, and mutter means mother. There’s a song I really love called “Sonne,” which I think has the best guitar riff of all time. I tried to steal it several times. There’s even a song on Splinter which is vaguely influenced by “Sonne,” and I think there’s one on the album before that. That one song alone has had a massive influence on me. I love it to bits.
T. REX, THE SLIDER: T. Rex made me want to be a rock star. It wasn’t even the music, though I loved it. Marc Bolan had a white Rolls- Royce and this lifestyle that was so captivating. I wanted it. The Slider absolutely blew me away. At that point, I had already made my decision that I wanted to be in a band, and that was how my life was going to be.
ULTRAVOX: SYSTEMS OF ROMANCE: It was ’78 or ’79, and I had just discovered synthesizers, and I was making my first album. So there I was, thinking I was very clever, and along comes Systems of Romance. I was horrified to find out that it was their third album, and that it was exactly what I was doing, but better. It became what I measured everything I did against.
NINE INCH NAILS, PRETTY HATE MACHINE: I started seeing my wife in ’92, and she got me into Nine Inch Nails. Then, I found out Trent Reznor had said a lot of lovely things about me, and I thought, “How cool is that?” He did a show at the O2 in London, and I was invited to do a guest spot during a cover of my song “Metal.” Within a week of us moving here, he invited us over to one of his children’s parties. He’s been absolutely fantastic, very welcoming. He’s also invited me to do two of the shows on their tour in October.
DAVID BOWIE, ALADDIN SANE: I was actually a bit late getting into David Bowie because there was some friction between Bowie and Bolan of T. Rex—I had refused to listen to any Bowie. I was a young teenager, and stupid. I missed the whole Ziggy Stardust thing, unfortunately, but I found it later, and was a big Bowie fan until around ’78, ’79. Aside from the songs he did with Nine Inch Nails, I’ve not really liked anything since 1980. But I still think Aladdin Sane is phenomenal.
THE MONKEES, THE MONKEES: When I was a kid, about eight or nine years old, I loved The Monkees. We had a little, oh, I’ll call it a band, where four of us would mime the first Monkees album. We called ourselves The Monkee Juniors, and we would go into people’s houses, put on the album, and mime. It’s embarrassing, actually. They would give us a shilling and tell us to go away. Then we would go to the sweet shop. That was kind of my introduction into show business, really.
DEPECHE MODE, SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION: The best thing they’ve ever done. This came out when I’d just made Machine + Soul—utter shit, the worst thing I ever did. My career was finished: I had no record contract, I couldn’t give tickets away, and they were trying to repossess my house. After I listened to this, I went back in the studio with no thought of commercial success and I started writing songs for the love of it, much like I did when I was a teenager. I fell in love with music all over again, and none of that would have happened without this album. It turned me toward a completely different style of music—the industrial thing I’ve been doing lately.
MARTY ROBBINS, GUNFIGHTER BALLADS AND TRAIL SONGS: My mum bought this for me when I was about 14 because I used to love Western films. Every once in a while, I hear a song from it called “Big Iron, El Paso,” and I love it. For an Englishman, it’s so romantic. And some of the melodies are really cool. I think I learned a lot about songwriting from this album. I had my own guitar, and I was just beginning to strum tunes and try to put songs together. My grandparents used to moan at me all the time and say, “Why don’t you play something we know?” I said, “I’m not interested, Granny. I want to play my own tunes.”
MARILYN MANSON, THE GOLDEN AGE OF GROTESQUE: I was at a party after seeing Beck in London when Marilyn Manson showed up. This was before it all really took off for him. I’m only 5’8”, and he towers above me, with that one white eye. He looked amazing. We just started chatting, and he said to me, “I did a song of yours, ‘Down in the Park.’” And I said, “Yeah, I know. Thank you very much.” I’ve kind of followed his career ever since then. I did some shows in L.A. many years ago, and I got a call saying, “Brian wants to come and do ‘Down in the Park.’” I didn’t know his name was Brian, and I said, “Who the fuck’s that?”