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Gary Numan: the Dark Genius Behind a Broken Mind

Gary Numan's own dark days inspired the creation of new album "Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)."
Gary Numan's own dark days inspired the creation of new album "Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)."
BB Gun Press

"There are still people trying to work out what a genius Gary Numan is"

-- Prince

In the U.S., Gary Numan is mostly viewed a one-hit wonder. His 1980 Top 10 hit "Cars" (and its accompanying iconic video) remains a perfect little time capsule of synthy New Wave keyboards and a contagious melody guided along by Numan's robotic vocals.

But in much of the rest of the world, Numan is seen in an entirely different light, as a pioneer of EDM, synthesizer-based and industrial music, and an artist who is forever seeking to expand the technological frontiers of music with a deep discography. He's just released his 20th record and first full length studio effort since 2006, Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) to overwhelmingly positive notice. Combining elements of New Wave, industrial, goth, scuzz-rock and the occasional dreamy ballad, it's a dark work of foreboding and walls-closing-in doom. Not surprising, since it's mainly about Numan's fight with depression, with which he was diagnosed in 2008.

"I went through a fairly rough time and was on medication for three years and didn't write a song for four," he types in an email interview while on a plane from London to his current home in Los Angeles.

"And the cure for depression is almost as bad as the depression itself, as it replaces a total lack of drive with a total lack of care about pretty much anything. My career was going down the toilet, my marriage was in trouble, and everything around me was falling apart. And I just didn't care."

Fortunately, Numan got help and support from a close circle of family and friends. And he started to write again, making the creation of Splinter a form of therapy in tracks with decidedly non-rainbow-and-unicorns titles like "Love Hurt Bleed," "A Shadow Falls on Me," "Here in the Black" and "I Am Dust."

"I think being able to write about it was as good a therapy as possible, and I feel as if I've come through it without any scars at all," he adds.

As for the album, Numan says he purposefully wanted the songs to have more variations in dynamics than previous efforts, from anthemic tracks to wistful ballads. And he wanted to stretch out his voice more.

"I've never been that confident about my voice, and I've tended to smother it in layers of FX as a 'get out of jail' tactic I suppose," says the 55-year-old whose recording career began in 1978. "With this record, we took all that away and left the vocal quite naked for most of it. And that was a huge step to take."

The result is an amazingly moody and evocative piece of work, whose cover art features Numan looking like a morose, scary steampunk undertaker in sepia buoys the themes found inside.

Numan's career has also gotten a boost lately from the very public admiration heaped his way from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who has had Numan open shows (NIN guitarist Robin Finck is also all over Splinter).

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"Trent has said some very cool things about me, my music and the influence it's had on him over the years he says. "And I'm very grateful for that; in turn I see what he does as the standard we all need to reach. He's an incredible talent and a fascinating human being. He's helped me a lot, in a number of ways. And I'm proud to call him a friend."

And now that Numan, his wife and three daughters are permanently in Los Angeles, it's also helped him have a happier life.

"The move itself was one of the best decisions I've ever made," he says, although he had to wait two months for the ship containing all of his musical equipment to make the trip across the pond.

"I write from a very dark corner of my mind, so it doesn't matter really if it's cold, rainy, and grey outside, or warm and sunny with blue skies. The music just comes out as dark."

So then...what do his daughters think of Daddy's Dark Ditties?

"They all say very kind things about it, and even figure out how to play some of it in the piano and sing parts," he says. "But mainly, though, they love Katy Perry, Beyonce and Rhianna!"

Coming up Wednesday: Numan talks about the mixed blessings of "Cars," critics who feel that electronic music has no soul, what to expect on his upcoming tour...and his connection to the U.S. Confederacy. Numan plays Fitzgerald's Wednesday with Big Black Delta and Roman Remains

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