Could you describe a typical day in the life of Gary Numan as Savage was taking shape?
Yeah, it starts really conventional. You get up really early. The kids are going to go to school, so breakfast with the kids and help out with that, drive the kids to school. I often wake up really early. I don’t sleep particularly well. So before the kids wake up, I try to get a load of emails and conversations with Britain done, because Britain is still a massive market for me, and I really have to concentrate on it. You’ve only got a few hours in the morning when Britain is effectively at the end of their day. So I do that first, then do the kids, then when I come back from the school, I try to get an hour or so of American work in, talking to whatever’s going on in America and get that sort of thing sorted out.
I’ll probably have another hour or two of doing other things, maybe artwork ideas or other related things, but not actually the music itself. And then I try to be in the studio by 10:00 if I can, 11:00 at the very latest, and then I’ll work in the studio—it’s not a massively long day—until about 4:00. That’s when the children come home. I like to be there when they go to school, and I like to be there when they come home. So then I come out, I spend a bit of time with the kids, see them for a little bit, and they’ll eventually go to bed. And then I’ll [go back to the studio] and carry on where I was before.
This is something that’s taken me a long, long time to be able to do. Before children, I would go out to the studio in the morning, and I’ll be there all day. It might be the early hours of the next morning that I’d come in and finish it. And that was all I did. I did nothing else at all. I’d just work in the studio.
That was your whole life?
That was it. That was pretty much everything. I didn’t go out much. I was quite reclusive. I just did that, really. And then the children come along, and you cannot do that anymore. I found that my working time was so fragmented. I’d get a couple of hours here, a couple of hours there, and it was just awful. I could not get my head around that. It would take me two or three hours just to get into the sort of headspace that you need to be creative. And it lasted quite a few years. I just could not find a way of fixing that. I wasn’t able to do it in these little bits and pieces, but I can now.
What I notice now, what I notice with this album even more than the last one, is that I’m able to go into the studio, and within five minutes I’m on it and it’s working and I’m writing stuff and it’s good. I have no problems at all with it, whereas before Splinter and absolutely with all the albums before that, I couldn’t do that at all. If I didn’t have at least eight hours clear, you just didn’t do anything. You just sat in there and twiddled around, and you didn’t ever really get into it, and before you know it, you had to finish again. It was just rubbish.
So I think I’ve adapted finally. It’s just taken me way too long. But I finally adapted now to being able to work in a fragmented kind of way. I can be instantly on it in a way that I wasn’t able to do before. So that’s a big step forward for me, to be honest. I think that way of working is always going to be like that now.
When you feel musically inspired, what’s the first instrument or technology you turn to?
It actually depends slightly where I am. One of the songs on the album is called “Ghost Nation,” and I woke up out of a dream with that one. I had a mad panic to try to play it before the dream went out of my head. The children were fussing around because they thought something was wrong. I couldn’t say anything because it would have broken my fragmented memory of the dream I had. We have a piano in the house, a real piano. And so I got to that and was able to play this one out before it faded away. So sometimes it’s that.
Sometimes if I’m in the house and I think of an idea or whatever, I go straight to the piano and play it on that. Most of the time it’s in the studio where I always have a basic piano sound set up. Other times I’ll just be working on grooves. But I would say probably 75 percent of the time, at least, it will start on piano, either in the house with the real piano or in the studio on a synthesizer piano.
And the other 25 percent of the time?
That would probably be drum grooves, or it would be when I’m out and about. I take a little recorder with me pretty much everywhere I go, and if I hear sounds or noises or anything that I find sort of vaguely interesting, then I record everything all the time. And then I’ll go back to the studio, and I will put those noises into the computer and start to mess with them and just see how you could manipulate them.
I think one of the challenges of what I do, but the most fun part of it, in a way, is creating this collection of noises, just bizarre noises from all over the place, and then finding a way of trying to turn them into music, because it’s not music to begin with. It can be a door slamming or an airplane flying overhead. It can be pretty much anything that makes a noise that sounds cool that you’re lucky enough to capture it.
But to be able to find a way of bringing that back into the studio and shaping that either into music itself or into a musical framework where it works as a sound, I really love that side of it. And that’s pretty much where the other 25 percent comes from. It’s just me walking around or driving around anywhere and gathering noises.
How much of Savage contains sounds you came up with?
I would say on Savage, about half, I guess. It’s difficult to know really because it’s hard to judge it, because Ade put a great deal of stuff onto it as well. But from all my original demos, I would say maybe 40 to 50 percent of the sounds on there at least started life on my little recorder or being gathered in that kind of way. I don’t think all of them ended up on the record, but quite often that sound will start something or give you an idea for a groove or rhythm, or you would incorporate it into the song. But then you might find something else that works better playing that part. So sometimes it gets lost along the way.
In fact, at rehearsal today, the bass player was asking me how the notes went on a particular part of a song, and I couldn’t remember. It was many weeks ago that I finished it, and I told him, I’m really sorry, but there was so much of it in such a short space of time that you’re switching from one song to another, and I haven’t really listened to it for the last four weeks or so. I just had a complete break from it, ready for the rehearsals and the touring. I didn’t want to keep drilling it. And I’d actually forgotten, not just the sounds on it, but I’d actually forgotten some of the major parts themselves, which is a little bit embarrassing. But I think you get a little bit swamped by everything or overwhelmed by it perhaps a little bit, and you have to revisit it again a little bit later, and you can start to remember all the things that went on with it.
I think a lot of people go through exactly that.
Really? Well, that’s good to know. [Laughs.] I’ve always been slightly embarrassed about that.
Don’t be. I’ve seen a lot of artists who don’t remember their own songs when they haven’t played them recently. I’ve seen entire bands sit down with their own records to learn something they recorded.
Yeah. That’s what we were doing today. We had to play the album first so I could remind myself how certain things went.
If you missed the first part of our interview with Gary Numan, click here.