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Synth-pop pioneer Gary Numan opens up about his ups and downs

Numan's Own

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If all you know about Gary Numan is his 1979 New Wave staple "Cars," then you don't know Gary Numan. In fact, the synth-pop pioneer's groundbreaking Thatcher-era LPs, like Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, only scratch the surface of a 20-plus-album career that's inspired every New Wave and industrial-rock knob-twiddler from Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor to the dudes in Depeche Mode. It's that body of work — made all the better with the addition of last year's comeback record Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) — that the 56-year-old singer celebrates with a sure-to-be-coveted club show at Mercy Lounge. In anticipation of the show, the Scene talked to Numan via email about the legacy of his signature hit, struggling with depression, the aggressive nature of his must-see stage show and more.

It seems your career has thrived more in the past decade-and-a-half than it did in the '90s. Is it a matter of your influence on artists? Is it a testament to how well records like Replicas and The Pleasure Principle have aged? Or is it a matter of becoming more active and inspired to create?

I think it's a mixture of some of those things but not the more active part. Certainly the amount of mentions from other artists that talk about me being influential has been a great help in building my credibility to a new level, and attracting new interest and new followers of course. Songs from the older albums continue to be sampled, covered and used heavily in ads and other places so are still very active and, luckily, just don't seem to date.  

Was "Cars" a blessing for you, or was it an albatross? Have you come to terms with it now?

It's been a blessing and an albatross, but I have now come to terms with it. For many years I tried to distance myself from it but, one day, I realized that most songwriters would give their right arm to have written something that successful. "Cars" is a very famous and successful song globally, and continues to be widely used and covered today, so I began to feel I was being very childish in the way I thought about it. I should be proud to have written it, and I am now. I don't think it's the best song I've ever written, by far, but it's arguably one of the more famous songs around, and long-lasting, so I'm comfortable with it now.

How have you managed to stay creative with music and motivated to make music in this era? Also, what kind of things — whether they are other artists or life situations — inspire your music these days?

I've never found it difficult to stay creative. In fact, I find it hard to understand how people that have been creative lose that desire or ability. ... As for inspiration, it evolves. For Splinter, I took most of it by writing about the last few years of my life, mixed with some ideas from a science-fantasy novel I've been trying to write for some time. In 2008 I was diagnosed with depression and was put on medication for that for about three years. I stopped writing, my career was fading away, my marriage began to crumble a little, and I was just lost, first with the depression itself and then with the pills they give you to fight the depression. In a way the cure is almost as hard to beat as the illness itself. That experience gave me all the material I needed for Splinter.

Listening to Spinter, I'm reminded of your classic sound, as well as the sound of artists you've influenced, like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Are you inspired to have your music feel like it's part of a sonic conversation with your contemporaries and followers?

I don't set out to do that. I do feel that any creative person is sponge-like. We soak things up, breathe things in. We are very receptive to the ideas floating around us, be they TV, film, music, conversations, pictures, whatever, and I believe we absorb this stuff and mix and merge it with ideas of our own and then send it all back out again. ...What separates those of us that are considered influential from those considered derivative must be the way we blend all the ideas and how "new" our output seems.

What are your shows like on this tour? What can we expect to see here in Nashville?

The show is relentlessly powerful and aggressive, with the notable exception of one song halfway through, where we all take a big breath before kicking off again. We have a great light package for the venues we are playing, the band has been playing this set for a while now, we've toured Splinter in 10 countries already, so we're very tight. We play a lot from Splinter obviously, but we also play songs from older albums such as The Pleasure Principle, Replicas and Telekon. It's very full-on. Anyone expecting plinky-plonk synth-pop will be horrified, as it's somewhat ferocious these days.

Email Music@nashvillescene.com.

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