Over his remarkable 40-year career, Gary Numan has been a pioneer on many fronts. With his group Tubeway Army, he was one of the first artists to employ iconic Moog synthesizers in pop music on classic No. 1 songs like “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” And as a solo artist with tunes like 1979’s “Cars,” he broke ground with the nascent music video on MTV.
Thirty-seven years after he released his debut solo album, The Pleasure Principle, the 57-year-old British songwriter—who’s been name-checked by everyone from Lady Gaga to Trent Reznor as an inspiration—is still looking to take unconventional paths to sharing new music with fans. His latest frontier? Partnering with Pledge Music and letting fans in on the creative process.
“I’m slightly nervous, I must be honest,” Numan tells EW of his 12-month journey to make his next album. “I had some friends of mine in a band and they stayed at my house and they did two pledge campaigns. They’re alternative and independent and I saw them as a great model.”
Numan says he wanted to try a new approach after releasing 2013’s Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)—his twentieth. “That album came out in a more conventional way,” he says. “I was quite disappointed and I wanted to find a new way. There are so many opportunities now. You get the feeling everyone is winging it slightly—the internet, social media, and other opportunities. It seems to be a bit of a golden era for bands.”
Numan is taking a similarly freewheeling approach to the sound of the music, too. During a recent recording session, he says he went in with no preconceived ideas for lyrics. “I’m doing one later today where I’m just singing nonsense,” he says. “I’m singing ideas that come to mind. Some of it is really badly done—I’m hitting the wrong notes. But I’m going to put that out so people can see the process. When I go into start an album, I have a clear objective. With the pledge campaign, I’ve not done that. I’m going into it with a blank canvas.”
While his recording sessions have an improvisatory vibe, Numan admits he’s had to keep a strict work ethic. “The Pledge campaign has deadlines, which is good in one way,” he says. “You have to focus. You can’t f— about. It brings you pressure—I’m not sleeping properly. But I’m out there every day slightly on edge of panic. But it’s a good thing though!”
So far, the sessions have yielded around nine pieces of music. “I would like it to be sort of heavy and dark,” he says. “I am looking to move a little bit around but not too far because I’m really happy and comfortable in that heavy, electronica area.”
Once Numan wraps up the sessions—he has 260 days left as of Tuesday—he says he’ll look into partnering with a label to help with distribution. And in addition to a string of tour dates, he’s also stoked about vinyl reissues of his classic albums Replicas, The Pleasure Principle, and Telekon—though he admits he cringes hearing the original recordings now.
“It’s ridiculous how amateur it sounds,” he says with a laugh. “There are some notes [on the synths] where it’s speeding up or slowing down. There was no MIDI or anything like that in those days. And I had no experience with synths, really, and no idea what I was doing. But it was still really exciting—it was great.”
For a list of Numan’s upcoming tour dates, head to his official website.