Gary Numan – British Electro Rock Pioneer
Gary Numan is a British singer/songwriter whose career has spanned over 30 years and is one of the most influential musicians to incorporate synthesizers into pop music. This new movement, appropriately dubbed “synth-pop,” dominated the UK, and to some extent, the US charts, for the better part of the early '80s. Though Numan...More
Gary Numan is a British singer/songwriter whose career has spanned over 30 years and is one of the most influential musicians to incorporate synthesizers into pop music. This new movement, appropriately dubbed “synth-pop,” dominated the UK, and to some extent, the US charts, for the better part of the early '80s. Though Numan wasn't the first, he was one of the most popular early proponents of synthesizers and he has used them in almost every chapter of his career. His early android image is a recognizable signpost from the early '80s, and his sound and sense of style was a major influence on later goth and industrial genres.
Gary Numan was born Gary Anthony James Webb in London, England. He grew up near Heathrow Airport and that seemed to contribute to two of his later interests - flying and his penchant for noise. He initially wanted to become a pilot, but instead got an electric guitar and taught himself how to play, writing his own songs from age 15. After answering an ad for a guitarist for a band called The Lazers, Webb formed a new band, Tubeway Army, with Paul Gardiner, the bass player from The Lazers, and his drummer uncle, Jess Lidyard. Shortly after Webb changed his last name to Valerian, but settled on Numan.
Tubeway Army was signed by the newly-formed independent label Beggars Banquet and they recorded a series of punk-style singles for the label that weren't released until 1984 as the album The Plan (Beggars Banquet). While recording their first album, Numan discovered a Micro Moog someone had left behind in the studio, and he immediately incorporated the keyboard into the band's sound. Their debut album, Tubeway Army& (Beggars Banquet), was released in 1978, followed by Replicas (Beggars Banquet) in early 1979. They had a left-field hit with the song “Are 'Friends' Electric?” which went on to be a #1 smash in the U.K., and it catapulted Replicas to the top of the album charts. Replicas also included the song “Down In The Park,” which has become a Numan concert favorite and often-covered song over the years.
Numan became a huge star in the UK almost overnight and used his leverage to dissolve Tubeway Army, forming a larger back-up band (with Gardiner on bass) that performed under his name alone. Numan returned to the studio quickly to craft a follow-up to Replicas. At the end of 1979 he released The Pleasure Principle (Beggars Banquet), an album that would go on to be Numan's most popular album, mainly on the strength of the song “Cars.” Not only was the song a hit in the UK, but it went into the Top Ten in the US. The Pleasure Principle became Numan's second album to reach #1 on the UK album charts, and Numan paid back his fans with a futuristic and hugely audacious stage show.
Numan's next album, 1980's Telekon (Beggars Banquet), was released around the same time as two new singles, “I Die: You Die” and “We Are Glass,” which both became Top Ten singles in the UK, though they were not included on the album. (Later reissues of the album included the singles.) He launched another massive tour and, exhausted from the pace of the previous few years and financially drained from bankrolling his extravagant tours, he announced he would retire from live performance after playing a series of sold-out concerts at Wembley Stadium in London in the spring of 1981. Retirement was short-lived and his next album, Dance (Beggars Banquet), was released in 1981. Dance, which incorporated more funk and jazz elements into his sound, was the beginning of a gradual decline in Numan's popularity and album sales. Numan waded further into electric funk on I, Assassin (Beggars Banquet, 1982), which contained the hit single “We Take Mystery To Bed,” and made it to the Top Ten on the British album charts. After the release of his 1983 album, Warriors, Numan left Beggars Banquet to set up his own record company, Numa Records.
Even though Numan had more control over his career, he was creatively adrift on his next few albums. He also lost his long-time friend and bandmate Paul Gardiner, who passed away in 1984 from a drug overdose. After his 1986 album Strange Charm (Numa), he had to fold his record label, signing with IRS Records to release Metal Rhythm in 1988. Against his wishes, IRS remixed some of the tracks on the album, changed the cover's color scheme, and even changed its title to New Anger for the American release. Next Numan collaborated with a few different artists, including Shakatak member Bill Sharpe on the album Automatic (Virgin, 1989) and Michael R. Smith on the soundtrack to the film The Unborn, which was later released in 1995 under the title Human (Numa). He reactivated his Numa label again and released the 1992 album Machine + Soul (Numa) as something as a last-ditch effort to crack the pop market.
With the encouragement of his now wife Gemma, Numan focused on making music that was important to him. He released Sacrifice (Numa) in 1994, on which he played almost all of the instruments himself. The album featured a much harder, industrial sound with more guitar, calling to mind an updated version of what he was trying to do in his Tubeway Army days. Numan once again deactivated his Numa label after releasing the 1995 live album Dream Corrosion, and signed to the Eagle/Spitfire label for his next release, 1998's Exile. Exile was a further refining of Numan's newfound more personal songwriting style and further explored the industrial electronic rock sound he had started on Sacrifice. He also toured for the first time since the '80s and was joined on stage by Marilyn Manson at a show in California for a rendition of “Down In The Park," which Manson had recently covered. Quite a few collections appeared in the early 2000s compiling Numan's early material, and Numan himself went back over some of his older songs and rerecorded some of them for his 2003 double album Hybrid (Artful). Jagged (Metropolis) followed in 2006, as did a tour of the US and UK, including a reprisal of his 1980 album Telekon. In late 2007, to coincide with Numan's celebration of his 30th anniversary in the music business, Numan embarked on a British tour that saw him perform the entirety of his 1979 landmark album Replicas. Often cited as an influence on Trent Reznor, Numan was invited to perform on stage with Nine Inch Nails at multiple shows in 2009.
In 2011, Numan released a straight-to-the-fans album, Dead Son Rising (Mortal), and appeared on a Battles track, "My Machine," found on their album Gloss Drop. On October 15, 2013, he released Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)(Machine Music U), which features guitarist Robin Finck from Nine Inch Nails and is produced by long-time collaborator Ade Fenton. In support of the new album, Numap will perform at Amoeba Hollywood on October 16, 2013 and will be touring with Nine Inch Nails.Less