Well, this one I'm personally really excited about! Had the pleasure of interviewing legendary musician, composer, producer and electronic music pioneer Gary Numan.
Synth History: Who were your personal music inspirations growing up?
Gary: When I was very young, pre teen age, I was a fan of The Monkees, but my first really big musical hero was Marc Bolan and T-Rex. I think the lifestyle he projected attracted me as much as the music. Then came Bowie, although I was quite late getting in to Bowie, but neither Bolan or Bowie were actually inspirational musically. I liked the music of course, loved it in fact, but they inspired in me the desire, through music, to do something different with my life. To make my life an ongoing adventure. To reach for things my friends, and teachers, seemed to feel were too far away, too unrealistic.
Synth History: Do you remember your first gig, what was it like?
Gary: If you mean the first gig I ever went to then yes. I went to see Nazareth at the rainbow theatre in London, probably in 1973 or ’74. I saw the support band first who were called Silverhead, with Michael Des Barres singing and Nigel Harrison, later of Blondie, on Bass. I thought they were amazing and went out and bought their 16 and Savaged album the next day.
Synth History: I became obsessed with the Polymoog and specifically the Vox Humana preset with "Cars". Can you recount the story of recording that song in the studio, did you know it would take the world by storm?
Gary: I had no idea the song would become what it’s become. It’s arguably one of the most well known songs in the world now which is a bit odd. I’d bought a bass guitar that day because I wanted to learn how to play bass better and the Cars riff was the very first thing I played when I took it out of its case when I got home. The very first four notes. The next four was the riff counter line. I had all three main parts done in about ten minutes tops, probably less. I think the lyrics took another twenty so the entire song, from the moment I opened the guitar case, took about thirty minutes to write. I’ve always found it slightly ironic that ‘Cars’ is considered a classic early electronic song but it was written on a bass guitar.
The Vox Humana sound that plays the lingering high string part was the reason I bought a Polymoog. I loved that sound. The reason that first high note lingers for so long on the song is because I hit that note first when I was trying to come up with a part for the the intro and couldn’t think where else to go with it. So I just held it for way too long before finding the descending line that followed, and it worked, so that long held note became a key part of the song.
Synth History: Do you have a favorite synthesizer of all time?
Gary: I do but it’s a software synth called Omnisphere. I think Omnisphere is an incredible tool for people like me, songwriters that are grounded more in sound than technique. If you mean a hardware synth I’d probably go for the Oberheim OBXa. The OBXa always seemed to come up with the unexpected.
Synth History: Drum machine, acoustic drums, or both? Gary: Depends. I don’t really use drum machines at all, haven’t for many years. I have always used real drummers live of course, usually working with loops and other triggered drum parts or sounds. In the studio it’s usually loops first for the vibe and then programmed real drum samples, but not a real drummer. I’d like to use a real drummer in the studio again, at least in part, to add to all the programming, and we may do on the new album.
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