SXSW Interview: Gary Numan

Electro innovator shares long, strange journey

In the Eighties, Gary Numan had enormous commercial success, but wasn’t always happy with his music. He’s not interested in repeating the experience. “If I hear something and go, ‘Oh, that’ll sound good on radio,’ I instantly erase it.”

by Shelley Hiam

The dark electronic innovator found success early in his career: “An accidental collision between public taste and what I was doing.” While recording his first album, he came across a MiniMoog. Liking the sound, he rewrote his punk tunes as electronica. When the label couldn’t afford to re-record it...


For Numan, instant fame was like grabbing a speeding train: You don’t dare let go, but you’ll tumble off eventually. Weird times for a natural outsider.

“I’ve met Bryan Ferry twice, and both times it was in the toilet,” he recalled, but by 1992, “I was dead and buried. I lost my record deal. I literally couldn’t give tickets away.”

So he just stopped trying to salvage a failing career.

“I went back to making music without listening to what the radio was playing or what A&R men were saying – all those things that just squash you down.”

Even with celebrity friends like Trent Reznor telling him how much they love The Pleasure Principle, he still hangs on to the anxiety of its recording process.

“If I started to think I was something special, I probably wouldn’t try in the same way.”

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