Gary Numan on Scoring for Film, Accepting the Past: "I've Always Had a Problem with Nostalgia"
The '80s New Wave icon trades "Cars" for a post-apocalyptic train in John Bergin's "From Inside"
Gary Numan will begin work on his 21st album in January following the final leg of his tour behind his 2013 release Splinter and, quite possibly, the completion of his first novel.
"I've been putting all of the between-tour time toward the novel," says Numan, whose biggest hit "Cars" hit No. 8 on the Hot 100 in 1980. "It's nice to do something creative that's not about music. I think it helps the whole creative flow — it opens doors in your mind. The greater variety of creative things you can do just helps in general to not get blocked."
Numan's other major project this year was the scoring of John Bergin's film From Inside, the story of a young pregnant woman on a damaged train moving slowly through a post-apocalyptic landscape. It played 35 festivals with a different score a few years ago, but a new deluxe edition of the pic with Numan's score comes out Oct. 21.
"When John Bergin and [Lakeshore Entertainment senior vp of music & soundtracks] Brian McNelis came to us, I realized immediately they wanted something different, so I decided to go grander — more orchestral with some grooves," explains Numan, who wrote the score with producer Ade Fenton. "We took it in a completely different direction, then just waited to see if that was what they were looking for."
Numan spoke with Billboard about the score, his upcoming U.S. tour that runs Oct. 23 through Nov. 8, and his growing acceptance of his past.
There is such a long gap — 23 years — between your first film work and From Inside. What brought you back to film?
I did really enjoy it a long time ago and I really did want to get involved, but I was based in London, and England doesn't have enough of a film industry. So I was probably in the wrong place and speaking to the wrong people. My wife wanted to move to America, and the more we talked about it and the more it solidified, the higher scoring for film went on my list of desires.
How did you make it known you were available and land on From Inside?
When I came to America, I went to a lot of meetings to say I would love to have an opportunity. It wasn't like I was trying to walk out of these meetings with a job; I was just saying, "Bear me in mind." Brian at Lakeshore rang up, and I thought it would be a nice first step. I could find out if I had any talent for it, the company wasn’t taking any great risk, and there was no pressure. I was able to see if I enjoyed it and see if it is a thing I want to do more of. It was a cautious and careful first step, and I'd like to do more.
What elements of songwriting carry over into scoring for you?
Coming up with a melody. I'm no better at that than when I was 19, but I think that the way I put tunes together, how I layer them and produce them has gotten much, much better. As a basic requirement, you need melodies for a film. With my own music, on albums, I do the music first and let the atmosphere of the music guide it from a lyrical point of view. In a way, that's identical to working in film. It's about an atmosphere that you’re trying to create, so it hasn't seemed to be a big jump of working from one way to another.
This score, and your music in general, has grown quite emotional in contrast to your work in the '70s and '80s. Overall, do you sense that, and do you think that if you had scored films in the '90s your music would be wildly different?
I don't think I had the ability back then, not even sure I had the emotions. I was trying to deal with a career that had gone well and then gone badly, a lot of experience in a short period of time for a man who had trouble dealing with everyday life. I probably would have been a poor person to put a bunch of floating emotions in a film score. Been married, having children, I have a much broader palette of emotions than I ever did when I was a younger man.
You have done a considerable amount of touring for Splinter. What led to that decision?
We did more than I have done for any other album, and now we’re trying to hit those places we didn't get to the first time and the more outlying places that I've never been to. When we go to London, we play Hammersmith where I was born, which brings it full circle.
What's different this time around?
I've always had a problem with nostalgia, retro, anything that seemed to be looking back. I'm just not interested. Electronic music is very forward-looking music; it's always about creating something new. When I tour, I'm aggressively selfish about [the music], and over the last few years, I've probably shot myself in the foot. I've mellowed slightly. While the bulk of the show is the new album, I've started to drift in more older songs than I would have in the past. I realized that my fans figured I was sticking my finger up them all the time. It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I was being overly arrogant about this — there is some good in the things I have done in the past, and I should cautiously bring some of it with me.
Is it about bringing in songs from The Pleasure Principle and Telekon, or say, the lesser-known things from the '80s ?
Bit of both. Some songs would be ridiculous to leave out, though I did leave "Cars" out for three years. I put in songs you just have to play, and slide in three or four others that will surprise people. It's a constantly moving goal-post situation where you're trying to keep it fresh for yourself and the fans. The one thing I agonize over any other is set lists. Pain in my side. We try to have three or four sets per tour, so if someone comes to see us on multiple nights, it won't be the exact same show.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of Billboard.