Gary Numan was in fine form for his run of Australian shows on the back of his Splinter record, striking lightening like poses in true rock star style.
He didn’t say much, but then he didn’t need to. “I was going to say he’s not much of a conversationalist,” I said, turning to my companion during the show, “but then I remembered actually he is.” That’s because I was lucky enough to have an actual conversation with him. He is a truly lovely bloke and one of the most generous interviewees I’ve had in a while, opening up about depression, his wife’s post natal depression and how music is better therapy than drugs.
Here is the story that originally appeared in the Sunday Mail, followed by a bonus surprise ‘how we made Gary laugh’ outtake at the end…
HE MAY be a master of moody, dark wave electronic a, but the place that British musical pioneer Gary Numan now calls home is sunny, friendly California. He moved there 18-months ago after he and his family got sick of life in dreary old England.
“It’s fantastic actually. I absolutely love it,” the 56-year-old says from his home studio. “I’ve gone from somewhere that’s quite rainy and grey and miserable and now I’m somewhere that’s just sunny all the time and it’s friendly; there’s the ocean and palm trees; we’ve got a swimming pool, so the kids are really happy. It’s just a totally different life from the one we had back in England and honestly I feel bad for saying I love it so much but I do.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to start writing sunny happy records, he promises with a chuckle. In fact, his latest record, Splinter, is anything but – it’s a dark, sexy record that comes from the depths of a troubled place – when he was dealing with a deep depression. Numan has released 20 albums since his first with Tubeway Army in 1978, topping the charts with early hits like Cars and Are Friends Electric? But now critics in the UK are calling Splinter his best album yet.
The album’s subtitle is “songs from a broken mind”, and it talks about the years following his wife’s post natal depression and his own battle with the dark side.
“I was diagnosed with depression in 2008 and that’s where the title comes from,” Numan says. “I spent the next three or four years dealing with that. Initially you’re dealing with the problem itself and then you’re dealing with the cure. The cure they give you is almost as bad as the problem itself, and then you have to get round that. I didn’t write a song for at least three years and I was really in trouble. My marriage was in trouble, my career was in trouble. I had people around me telling me that I really had to get my shit together, and I just didn’t care. That’s because of the cure; the cure stops you from caring about anything. So it’s a very dangerous thing.”
White psychiatric medicine didn’t help him, writing songs proved to be the beginning of the way out. And the resulting album is anything but depressing: it’s strong, exciting, heart-racing, an epic triumph against inner demons, full of distorted dance beats and catchy hooks.
“I think writing about it helped me get through it,” Numan says. “I feel completely unscathed by it. There are no scars or damage whatsoever. In fact I think I’ve come out of it nicer than I was before.”
And one person who might agree with that statement is his wife, Gemma O’Neill. Gemma has stuck by Gary for 17 years, or even longer if you count the years when she was a member of the young pop star’s fan club. Their unique story began when she first got an autograph from Gary when she was 12 years old. They met again in her 20s, and married five years later. They now have three children together, Raven, Persia and Echo.
“I’d known who she was for a long, long time and it was only when her mum had died that we sat down and our first ever proper conversation and it was through that that we got together,” says Numan. “So it was a really sad beginning but it ended up being the most amazing relationship I could have ever wished for; with all the ups and downs it’s gone through, I couldn’t be more happy. I’ve never been more happy since the day we started seeing each other.”
And rock star Numan knew what he was talking about when he finally met “the one”.
“In a horribly macho way, I went through a lot of people before I found the one that I really wanted,” he laughs. “I don’t mean it in a showing off way but it’s really important. I think an awful lot of people settle. I was absolutely convinced that this was the right person for me, when I found her I never looked at anyone again. I’m very faithful. None of that midlife crisis crap. I’ve been absolutely happy and contented and fulfilled since I met her.
“She was the first one I wanted to talk to when I had some good news, the first one I wanted to be with when I had some bad news, and my absolute best friend that I’ve ever had and it’s never gone away.”
Their kids, who are loving the LA lifestyle, are into very different music to their parents. “One of them’s into Katy Perry, the next one’s into Beyonce and the third one’s into Rhianna,” says their dad.
But the Numans do have some very cool neighbours. Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck lives not far away. He ended up contributing to a number of tracks.
“He and his wife Bianca are our closest friends in LA,” says Numan. “He was coming around very often when I was making the record and one particular day he just said that he’d be interested in playing on it. I was really honoured. I didn’t even have the courage to ask him if he wanted to be on it. I’m just not very confident really. I just do my own little thing and keep to myself, but when he offered I was blown away.”
The resulting record has left everyone blown away, and perhaps more than anyone, the creator himself. It’s a triumphant ending to a difficult period for Numan.
“You go through something very seriously unpleasant and at the end of that come up with an album that many people have said is the best thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to be in this stage of my career and having those sorts of comments made about it especially when it’s come out of such a horrible place. So sometimes I think the darker things that you go through can make the most amazing artistic statements at the end of it.”
And now for a wee bonus. In my interview we also talked about dreams, relationships and technology. My friend specifically asked me to ask about that, since Gary was quite prophetic in the late ’70s about man’s relationship to the machine. This was his reply:
“I love it to be honest. I’m very comfortable with it. I don’t have any anxieties about it whatsoever. Obviously everything that comes along there’s a price to pay. But I don’t think it’s an inherently bad thing. Like my children are not allowed to have Nintendo and iPads, I want them when we go out to dinner to sit and talk to me I don’t want them sat there on Nintendo so I think to a degree you can control the problems that come with it, certainly for children, but all in all, you can be walking down the street and just think of something and go oh I wonder what’s happening in wherever, pick up your phone and within a couple of seconds you know everything there is to know, it’s right there, I think it’s absolutely phenomenal, my work is totally based on technology, the music I make is technology.”
So Facebook friends are electric?
(Laughter) “Funnily enough I’m a bit shit at Facebook but I’m quite good at Twitter.”