As accidents go, the now legendary discovery of a synthesiser by Gary Numan isn’t a bad one. In a curious twist of fate, this then punk upstart began to tread the route of his new career trajectory – one that would see him become a true pioneer of contemporary electronic music. This year’s new studio record, Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), marks a return to form, and looks set to sustain its place in the Top Ten come the week’s end. To mark the latest addition to Numan’s remarkable oeuvre, we caught up with the man himself for a track by track run-down through, from the personal lows that manifested in the record’s pervasive darkness to the most important song he’s ever written.
“I Am Dust”
I have been in the process of writing a science fantasy novel for a long time. I write endless notes and small sections, but never really start the book. I think I’m scared of finding out I can’t actually do it, to be perfectly honest. But, from time to time, I take ideas from the book and turn them into lyrics for songs and this is one of those. It tells of an isolated community who have tried their best to stay hidden and uninvolved in the chaos and war that is erupting all around their mountain hideaway. But, the horror finds then just the same and so they run and try to escape, but they are hunted, until in the end they are almost begging for death, for it to be over.
“Everything Comes Down To This”
More than anything the album is about the four year period following the last album ‘Jagged’. For various reasons I began to suffer badly from depression and I was, eventually, put on medication for it for a number of years. While I was struggling my wife Gemma was also going through several years of post natal depression. Our beautiful and idyllic marriage began to crack and we started to argue, first a little, then a lot, then all the time. This song is about coming to terms with that new situation and, at that time, not being able to see a way through it.
“Here In The Black”
I wanted to write about depression but not in a literal, descriptive way. So, I put it into a setting, like a scene from the book, where you are being hunted by something evil and terrifying. It’s dark and cold, you are outside and totally alone and you know something is coming, you can feel it’s presence sniffing the air, getting closer all the time, and you know it’s coming for you. It’s powerful and deadly and has no conscience or mercy at all. You’re trying to hide but it finds you and you’re too scared to even open your eyes. But, when it reaches you it stops, and in a horrifying twist, it waits for something even more terrible to come and destroy you entirely. For much of the time that’s exactly how it felt when the depression was at its worst.
I guess you’re already beginning to notice that it’s not an album to pull from the shelf on the sunniest of days. This song is a man arguing with God as to why it should be his time to die. As he says, God doesn’t know him, doesn’t hear him, doesn’t love him and yet calls him. He has young children who need him and so asks the question to God – “is this some kind of game for you?”. A number of the songs on the album have very cinematic sections and this is definitely one of them. I would like to one day move into writing film music and I think that I was, without consciously being aware of it at the time, building things in to the album that were examples of what I could do in that area.
This song lists many of the things that make me not believe in God, and the ways that I think man actually learns, or should, the lessons that life teaches us again and again. We are inherently cruel as a species, so many of us are hopeless and lost, shamed and faithless (like me). And as it says, “I don’t believe in the goodness of people like me.” I have been fascinated for many years by the instrumentation and melodic flow of Eastern music and I have sprinkled a number of flavours of that on to the Splinter album. This song especially has a strong hint of the mysterious East about it.
My relationship with Gemma deteriorated to such a point that I began to think about leaving, of running away. I found out years later that she was having similar thoughts at the time. I began to write about it one morning. I was looking for a lyric for a pretty piece of music that was essentially just piano with a tiny and gentle percussion groove behind it. I started to write about how I felt about Gemma, and more importantly, how I would feel if she wasn’t a part of my life anymore. It began to feel very important that I wrote exactly what I was feeling, without poetry and disguise, just real feelings. To do that I had to think very very deeply about how I felt and I began to realise just how much I loved her. I was able to put all of the anger and bitterness from the constant arguing to one side and I realised that arguing and anger makes you forget why you love someone. You don’t stop loving them deep down, you just forget. Writing the song made me remember, it was like falling in love with her all over again. The lyric, when it was finished, is actually written as a series of questions from me to her asking how she feels about us being over, but that’s just the way I ended up expressing questions to myself about whether I should leave or not. It made me realise that so many of the problems we were going through were my fault. When it was finished I went indoors, apologised, and we started to put it all back together from that day onwards. It didn’t take long. I can’t say that writing the song saved our marriage but it was certainly the cause of us fixing it. Probably the most important song I’ve ever written.