One year after it owned the No. 1 spot on the UK charts in 1979, Gary Numan’s song, “Cars” rode onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart, lodging itself at No. 9. His choppy, synth-powered anthem was a refreshing break from the chart-topping pap of the day. Sure, Michael Jackson, Queen, and Pink Floyd tunes were pouring from the airwaves, alongside Blondie and some other edgier acts that were starting to push through. On the other hand, there was also “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).”
That track came from his album The Pleasure Principle, where Numan swapped electric guitars to create a Moog-synthesizer fueled record, using both the Mini-Moog and Poly-Moog models. Armed with a gritty spirit, exhibited in his earlier, punk-influenced bands like Tubeway Army, he has been making electronic music since. Sometimes it is dark, thick, and hypnotic; other times, you get upbeat and jerky sounds that inspire dancing. Numan is consistently innovative.
From industrial dance favorites like Nine Inch Nails to YouTube sensation Poppy, artists are regularly paying tribute to Numan’s work through covers and praise. He is currently touring on his latest release, Savage. We talked to him about this current show and what he thinks of his place as a pioneer.
New Times: What does your current live show look like? What’s the lineup?
Numan: This tour is still very much part of promoting the new Savage album, so there is a strong focus on that. The band is the same as the first Savage U.S. tour last year, Richard Beasley on drums, Steve Harris on guitar, David Brooks on keyboards and Tim Muddiman on bass.
Are you going to work some classic tunes in, too?
With such a massive back catalog — I’ve made 21 albums, I think — there will also be some older things in there. It’s predominantly more recent material, but the older songs that I do play are all from the first three or four albums. Stuff from 1982 to 1994 I’m not so keen on, so I mostly ignore that period.
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It’s been a trend for long-running artists to tour and only play specific – usually popular – records in their entirety. What do you think about that?
Done that. I’ve been around so long I have actually done that a few times now, but nostalgia is something I dislike with a passion, so I only do that sort of thing on significant anniversaries.
You’re four decades in; what keeps you driven and motivated?
My interest in music is to constantly find new sounds and new ways of putting music together — to constantly be moving forward and finding new things. Being essentially electronic, and so technology driven, makes every new album a journey into the unknown. It’s never obvious what you’re going to find or create, so it’s never stopped being challenging and exciting. Motivation has never been a problem for me.
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So many bands credit you as an important influence. Do you realize the impact you've had on electronic music?
A little. I’ve read many things from the media and other artists that talk about me as being influential or a pioneer. That’s very nice to read, and it obviously makes me proud to have played an important role in music. The truth is, though, it hasn’t made any difference to my confidence. I still struggle with a lack of confidence even though I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m okay with that, though. I think worrying about not being good enough makes you try harder.
Do you have time (or desire) to absorb some of the new electronic acts out there?
I don’t really follow music at all. I do my own thing, I like a few bands, go to see bands live often, but I don’t follow the charts or gossip. I don’t really care, to be honest. When I’m not in the studio or touring, I’m with my family, and that’s all I need.
What do you most want your Phoenix audience to know?
I just want to let the fans know how much I appreciate their support. It sounds a bit glib, I know, but coming out to a show takes time, money, and effort and the fact that people do that to see me is something I’m genuinely grateful for.
Gary Numan. 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 5, at Crescent Ballroom, 308 North Second Avenue; 602-716-2222; crescentphx.com. Tickets are sold out.