Gary Numan interviewed about "Savage (Songs from a Broken World)"
By Bob Gourley | Published on November 19, 2017
Best known for his new wave synth pop hit “Cars,” Gary Numan’s greatest success in decades was his 2013 “Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)” album. Having felt pressure to follow it up, it was actually Donald Trump that provided the creative spark behind his new “Savage (Songs from a Broken World).” Gary Numan recently embarked on a US tour, and before heading out took a few minutes to talk about the new release and what audiences can expect from live shows.
There seems to be a strong concept behind “Savage (Songs from a Broken World)”. Did you have the idea in mind when you first started working on it, or did it evolve out of the songwriting?
Gary Numan: “When I very first started it, I didn’t have any idea at all. In fact, I was struggling slightly to know what to write about. The very first song was called ‘Bed of Thorns,’ and that was simply me writing about the pressures I felt with trying to write. The previous album, ‘Splinter,’ had done much better, by my standards, than the albums before. And it felt as if things had moved up a little bit. In Britain, especially, the album had gone back into the charts again. That was quite a significant advancement. A lot of the reviews were talking about how ‘Splinter’ was one of the best albums I’d ever made. It just felt so incredibly positive, so I worried about being able to come up with something as good again or better with the next one.
“I wrote ‘Bed of Thorns’ to explain that pressure. But beyond that, I didn’t have much of an idea, really. I’d been working on a book about a global-warming, apocalyptic future. I’d been working on this book for a few years, actually. All it really was, was just a collection fairly chaotic ideas. I hadn’t really gotten that far with the book, although I had been working on it for quite some time. Just to get me going, I borrowed some ideas from the book and wrote a couple of songs. This would be towards the end of 2015. As I did that, I started to notice Donald Trump making maneuvers to do with the election, and I was quite interested in that. I listened and some of the things he said related to global warming, so it pricked my ears up a little bit. He was talking about global warming being a hoax. I think at one point he said it was a hoax being perpetrated by the Chinese. He was very dismissive of all the scientific evidence that I was a firm believer in. As I began to write a couple of songs that had a global warming sort of theme behind them, Donald Trump was saying it was all rubbish and it was nonsense and he was going to pull out of the Paris Accord and so on. I thought that was shocking. I couldn’t quite believe that, and so the global warming idea became much more important to me. It grew from that. So apart from the ‘Bed of Thorns’ song, I ended up writing an album that was all very much taken from the book. Every song has some relevance to the story I’m writing. In a sense, it’s a musical version of the book I’m hoping to finish. But without Donald Trump, I don’t think it would have been there, I don’t think I would have written an album that was devoted to this one global warming idea. It’s not that he was a positive influence, I don’t mean it in that way, but nonetheless, his comments played a part in my making the album. It went from being a science fantasy, silly futuristic story to something that had a certain amount of relevance to today. It’s not meant to be a prophecy or a scientifically-informed vision of what the future is going to be, but I think it went from being something extremely unlikely to something arguably a little less unlikely now because of what Trump is doing.”
Did crowdfunding through Pledge Music have any impact on the development of the album?
Gary Numan: “No, it didn’t, to be honest. For me, the Pledge campaign was never about funding. I’m very lucky, I have my own studio at home and financially, I had no problems making the album. It was about trying to give the fans a chance to see something they normally wouldn’t see. I have strong feelings about the way fans and artists interact. My opinion is that there has to be a much closer relationship between us. I’ve been doing it for a very long time. About 25 years ago, we would run these fan club monthly events where we would have a completion. For example, 20 or 30 fans could come along and go go-karting with me. Or we’d do paintballing, or some kind of interesting activity, once a month. That was my early attempt to try to build a close relationship with the fans where it wasn’t just this aloof artist who didn’t talk to anybody. We had a proper relationship where we’d have regular contact with groups of people who were supporting us, and we were able to sort of give a little something back to that. So, this is something I’ve been doing a very long time. The meet-and-greet thing that everybody does now, we’ve been doing that for years. We have 15-20 people coming to sit in on a rehearsal day. Again, it’s trying to find ways to have a better relationship and a closer bond with the fans. I think its valuable and important in terms of longevity and just general relationships. The Pledge campaign was an extension of that idea. I wanted people to be able to see the album being made, I wanted them to be involved with the process, I wanted them to understand how it developed from an original piano tune to the finished thing. Not just the musical side of things, but also the visual side of things, the sleeve, the artwork, how all of that came together, how the lyrics evolved, why changes would be made, why a song title would be changed halfway through the album. I wanted them to understand the processes and really be a fly on the wall. The other thing is that I have a feeling that when a fan gets an album, a shrink-wrapped CD or whatever will arrive; they listen to that and they will like it or they won’t like it. They will make that decision pretty much instantly. I had a feeling that if people were more involved with it from the very beginning, if they understood why those lyrics were there, why those changes were made, why those particular sounds were there, why some sounds were no longer there, they would have a greater appreciation of that music than just listening to it could provide. They were more involved with it, more a part of it. That again was part of what the Pledge campaign was all about. And I think for most people, it worked really, really well. It added a certain amount of pressure for me, to let people in early on to hear things that you know are not right, that you know are going to be changed at some point. It’s difficult to do that as an artist, to let people hear things that you know need fixing, but that was part of the deal. That’s why I wanted them to be a part of it. So overall, I’m really glad I did it.”
The video for ‘My Name Is Ruin’ is great. Having done a lot of videos back in the days of MTV and other music programming on TV, do you feel your approach differs now that people are primarily seeing them online?
Gary Numan: “I think it does have an effect. The thinking behind the ‘My Name Is Ruin’ video was that I wanted something that would be a visual representation of what the entire album was about: the desolate landscapes, the desert, the heat, the whole imagery behind it. It was very important to me that we tried to film something that gave you an instant impression of what the album in general is all about. The world that the album describes, I wanted to have a video that would show that. That particular song is about a man who is searching for his daughter who was taken by religious fanatics, a sub-story of the overall theme. My daughter sings on that track, so the idea of my daughter being the child I’m searching for just made perfect sense. For me, to have her on it was just fantastic. I couldn’t be prouder as a dad.”
Will you be focusing on the new album when touring?
Gary Numan: “There is a big focus on the new record, that’s for sure. A good third of it at least is devoted to the new album. I would say there is about 1/3 which is from the early stuff, the ‘Cars’ era, that sort of thing. But no more than that. There’s quite a lot from the previous album, ‘Splinter,’ and a couple of other things from the more recent stuff. I do that small group of songs from the very beginning, and then I do quite a lot of stuff from the last 2 or 3 records, the new one especially. But I don’t think I’m doing anything from the years in between. It’s very much the beginning and right now.”See all interviews →