Gary Numan

The odd, aloof, distanced persona of his early work was an ""accurate representation"" of how he actually felt, proving fascinating for some and off-putting for his haters

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 16 Apr 2006
Nervously waiting for Gary Numan to pick up his phone, The Skinny expected him to answer in a Steven Hawking computer-aided voice and was a bit disappointed to hear the blunted tones of a Croydon bus driver rather than the robotic monotone of "Fitter, Happier..."

Always a lone figure in the music industry, pioneering the use of synthesisers when punks were monomaniacally sticking with their guitars, he was initially vilified for his wooden stage presence, affectation and stubborn refusal to produce music that fitted with the zeitgeist. After watching his old videos for a compilation DVD, he realised that he "was wooden, in fact I was just thrown on stage at twenty-one without any real conception of what giving a performance meant. I was hardly doing the can-can." His image, a lonely, androgynous robot, jarred with the public's conception of what a pop star should be in the age of punk.

His affinity with synthesisers started when his mate left a Moog in the studio: he wandered over to have a fiddle and "luckily, he'd left it on this really cool, massive sound that sounded like an orchestra of guitars. It blew me away." After this discovery came number ones with Are Friends Electric and Cars, sending him somewhat awkwardly into pop stardom without even thinking to move out of his parents' house.

Numan has long been a popular whipping boy of the press. Throughout the eighties he bumbled through several ill advised image changes, taking his musical influence from Prince or Robert Palmer. Recently though, through the stylistic influence his music has had on bands like Nine Inch Nails and Union of Knives, his work has been slotted into an alternative canon of goth-tinged electro. He claims not to feel exonerated by the attention, but merely pleased that "his music is still considered relevant."

It is his relationship with technology that has most informed his career, and he expresses the belief that he is "more a technician than a serious musician." Recently having bought a George Foreman grill, he enthuses about the internet, the revolution brought about by computer based music and the technological pace that means "you don't need to have ideas anymore. You can just wait until a new program comes along and then boom, you've got your idea right there."

He seems at his most passionate talking about flying planes, an obsession of his that was first brought to the public's attention when he crash landed in India to be subsequently arrested for smuggling and espionage. After seeing "a lot of my friends die," in air display flying, his wife, sick of "the constant fear," forbade him from further piloting. When asked whether he sees a parallel between playing pop music and flying planes, in the way they're both about macho peacock-strutting and showboating: "I don't know really. All I know is that I treated both with the same obsession. The worst that can actually happen to you on stage, disregarding all the off-stage pitfalls, is that you play the wrong note. Up there in the sky, you could die in seconds. It's fucking exhilarating."

His wife, who was a member of his fan group called the Numanoids, diagnosed him with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism that prohibits communication. It "explained a lot," to Numan, who realised that "in controlled circumstances, like this where you ask a question and I answer, I'm fine. When it comes to meeting people in the pub, I don't know what to say. Sometimes when my mates are round I'll just start reading a magazine and I won't be aware of being rude. I just think it's normal."

The disease also explains his "obsessive nature and ability with machines," two traits that have been invaluable throughout his career. Like Billy Connolly said of his Attention Defecit Disorder, Numan claims that without Asperger's, he simply would not be the same person and his working practice would be barren of the idiosyncrasies that give it character. The odd, aloof, distanced persona of his early work was an "accurate representation" of how he actually felt, proving fascinating for some and off-putting for his haters. Regardless of all the "bad vibes" he's got over the years, he insists he has "the best job in the world. I can get up when I want, do what I love. It's not so bad."
Gary Numan plays the Glasgow QMU on April 26. The new album, 'Jagged', is out now.