The last decade has been a resurgence of sorts for British synth-rock icon Gary Numan. That’s not to say he went away, but the admiration shown by several rock stars including Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor brought him to a new generation of fans.
Now the singer – perhaps best known for signatures such as “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Cars” – is touring North America behind 2017’s Savage (Songs From A Broken World). It’s an effort inspired by a novel Numan is slowly but steadily putting together.
“When it came time to write Savage where I would normally write from personal experience or some sort of drama over the last few years,” he says. “Honestly life had been pretty good actually, we’d moved to Los Angeles and that had gone very well. The kids were all healthy and enjoying school, my wife was happy.
“So I sat down to try and search my brain for drama to write about and there really wasn’t any. Life was just really good. And so I thought, ‘Fuck what do I do?’ I tried to look at the novel that was sort of a look at a post-global warming world and how brutal it all was. I borrowed a couple of ideas, to begin with, and it was really just to get me going.”
Numan, who plays Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre Tuesday (Sept. 18), said the major catalyst turned out to be then-Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016.
“He started to say things about global warming that I thought were very wrong and very ignorant,” he says. “It kind of made me want to write more about it. So instead of just those two songs were just the starting point it just kind of grew. Write one more, write one more, write one more and eventually in a reaction to what Donald Trump was saying I ended up with an album that was pretty much devoted entirely to this global warming theme. It’s about the world that we might inherit should it happen should we not be able to control the temperature.”
Numan, who was having problems nailing one song, also had family help when his daughter Persia “popped her head into the studio” after her school day was done. The end result is heard on “My Name Is Ruin.”
“I knew she could sing, she’s got a fantastic little voice and she sings around the house,” he says. “I said, ‘Do you mind just trying something for me? I’ve got this kind of Arabian vocal that I’ve been trying to do and it’s not working with my voice. Do you want to give it a try?’ She did and she was brilliant at it. When her first vocals come in during the Arabian part the whole song just explodes.
“It’s just been a really, really lovely experience to have her on it. And it wasn’t calculated. I didn’t put her on it thinking, ‘Oh that would be a good talking point!’ It was just a lovely thing that fell into place.”
One item which might have fans talking is a recent op-ed piece, Numan, now an American citizen, penned for The Kansas City Star from an immigrant’s perspective. The piece concerns the rather rapid erosion of civil discourse in the States.
“I can remember sitting down and when talking about these things could be an enjoyable process. You might sway your neighbour’s point of view, they might sway yours a little bit but a discussion was an enjoyable pastime. It wasn’t aggressive. You didn’t punch somebody because they had a #MAGA hat on or they were liberal.
“The thing that is most shocking is not that there are these different points of view, I’m sure they’ve always been there. But just how aggressive it’s become. This is not the way democracy works, this is democracy crumbling. It’s frightening actually and it’s really sad.”
On a far lighter note, Numan says he’s enjoying his current trek and plans to continue writing his novel when his 2018 tour dates wrap up. Meanwhile, a surprise birthday celebration on stage in Belgium last March left him misty-eyed.
“I’m on stage and I actually forgot the whole turning 60 thing,” he says. “We had done the main set and it was great, we came off and came back out to do the encore. And when I came out and went to the microphone to just say thank you the whole happy birthday thing started and the band came out. They had a cake and this big thing (card with hundreds of fan comments) they put up in the foyer. It was really touching. It was lovely
“Then they showed this film of my children when they were home saying, ‘Happy Birthday Dad!’ That made me cry and that was really, really emotional. And it went on, got back on the bus and the bus was decorated like a party venue. It was just a really, really lovely, lovely day. The only thing is you wake up the next day and you’re still 60, there’s no party, all the decorations have gone and the band have all gone home and you’re still fucking 60!”