You could hardly fault British electropop artist Gary Numan for being seven years late with his new album Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind). Originally that record was supposed to released soon after his 2006 album Jagged, but work on it was interrupted when Numan and his wife became parents to three girls. For Numan, the shock of becoming a father and the responsibilities that came with raising children – along with him turning 50 – brought on depression.
“I started to panic about being old, about dying, about not being there for the children,” Numan tells Rolling Stone. “It got to such a degree that I couldn’t even see an old person in the street – I get really upset. I actually started crying, and I’m not a crying person. I would see an old person and I’d say, ‘I couldn’t imagine how they could live knowing that the end was just around the corner.’ I started getting anxiety attacks, panicking – all sorts of shit was going on. I ended up with medication for depression. The marriage was starting to get a little bit rocky and [my wife and I] were arguing a lot. So it ended up being a really difficult period of life.”
It wasn’t until he and his family moved to Los Angeles late last year that Numan felt renewed creatively. Given what he had been through, it is perhaps not surprising that those experiences informed the lyrics on Splinter, an industrial-influenced work of driving rockers and somber mood pieces. For example, the song “Lost” drew from the difficulties he and his wife shared at the time. “I wouldn’t say we got close to breaking up,” he explains, “but we were certainly both thinking about it – we were both thinking about running away.”
The latest single off Splinter, “Love Hurt Bleed,” also falls in that edgy, turbulent-sounding vein, but it is also quite catchy and danceable. “When we were getting close to being finished,” Numan says, “we realized that I had actually gotten too far into the other way – there were quite a lot of gentle songs, heavy songs, but sort of slower tempo and kind of moody rather than being driving. And we said one day, ‘You know, I think we actually need another big one, we need another stomper in there.’ So I went and tried a few things, and ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ was one of the things that we came up with – written really to try to address the balance.”
Splinter features guest contributions from Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, whose friendship with Numan dates back to Nine Inch Nails performing Numan’s song “Metal” on stage in London, when Numan appeared as a guest vocalist.
“He’s one of my favorite guitar players in the world and has been forever,” Numan says. “I gave him four or five songs . . . and he came back very soon after with just the most amazing stuff. Whatever you think he’s going to do, he’ll do something so different, which is even better. I think he’s been a fantastic contribution to the album.”
For Numan, the stylistic shift towards industrial music from the early synthpop sound of his 1979 masterpiece The Pleasure Principle could be traced to when he released 1992’s Machine and Soul, a work that represented an artistic nadir.
“That was a dog shit of an album,” Numan says. “I’ve wished I’d never done it. At that time, that was the best I could do. I’d run out of ideas. My career was dead and buried. I realized at that point I had been writing songs for a long time to try to salvage my career, writing songs that an A&R man said I should write. That’s the soul-destroying stuff – you’re writing songs to simply salvage your career. You’re really not writing about things you love or care about. I also think if I hadn’t done that one, it would have never had made me stop and take stock the way I did.”
Certainly Numan will always be associated in people’s minds for the late Seventies electropop hits “Cars” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” He admits that for a while the success of “Cars” almost became “a cloud that hides you or stops you from moving on. Even to this day, if I had go onto a radio station to do an interview, they’ll play “Cars” when I get there and [they probably play] “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” when I leave.” Now he’s more accepting of those accomplishments – a few years ago, he performed The Pleasure Principle live onstage.
“I came to realize most people that write songs for a living would bend over backwards to do something that well, and now I appreciate it in a way that I didn’t really appreciate it for the first decade or two of its life. [‘Cars’ has] given me – probably more than any other song I’ve ever written – a fantastic life. I’m lucky enough that I’m still here and that I’m still around, and I’m still doing things. So there’s nothing to be resentful for at all.”
After being in music for 35 years, Numan is grateful that artists such as Nine Inch Nails, the Dead Weather, Foo Fighters and Marilyn Manson have covered his songs. “As a songwriter, it’s such a huge pat on the back,” he says, “such a huge compliment to have people of that caliber who are very talented songwriters in their own right. I suffered massively with confidence problems for my whole career, and to have these people saying these things really helps. More than anything, to have people like Trent [Reznor] cover my stuff gave me more pride than anything else I’ve ever done.”
Meanwhile, Numan will resume his U.S. tour beginning on October 16th in Los Angeles. The tour will include two dates with Nine Inch Nails in Florida on October 30th and 31st, followed by a British tour in November. In addition, he plans to head back into the studio to record his next record, which shouldn’t take as long to release as Splinter.
“My intention is to get the next album completely finished and ready by the end of 2014,” he says. “If Splinter is still moving, then we’ll just hold on to that new album. There’ll be much more consistency and regularity with records. We’ve seen very positive signs with Splinter. I think it would be an absolute tragedy to go through that and then see through another few years’ gap between that and the next one, where all of that momentum is lost.”