WHEN GARY NUMAN released The Pleasure Principle in 1979, it sounded like the future—the kind of cold, dystopian future depicted in Philip K. Dick novels. It sounds even more advanced when you consider this was the year Sister Sledge released We Are Family, and the Village People were still riding the wave of "Y.M.C.A."
Almost 35 years later, that record still sounds like the future—frigid, sleek, and dark. And while most Americans know Numan for the album's single "Cars" (which unfairly cast him as a one-hit wonder), he is also rightfully credited as being a forefather of synth pop and, it could be argued, industrial music.
"For a long time, I saw it as a curse," Numan says of his early success. "If I'm on a radio show it's guaranteed they're going to play 'Cars.' You build up a bit of resentment. But, almost begrudgingly, I've stopped acting childish, and it's a cool thing."
That single certainly gave Numan some leverage—something he's keenly aware of—but he hasn't rested on his laurels; for the most part, he has avoided any nostalgia tours. Numan is set to release his 20th full-length album, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), in October, a record the 55-year-old says he was fully immersed in upon relocating to the States from the UK. "Things I'd written before sounded much more vibrant," says Numan, who turned his guesthouse into a studio. "I was like a kid again, running around."
But just getting into the country was a trip unto itself. The process of becoming a US citizen took two and a half years, requiring Numan to put together a profile that essentially spelled out his worth as an artist, including old clippings and testimonials from other artists. "I was surprised by how much positive stuff there was," Numan says. "My memory is far more hostile. My career has been extremely up and down. There were some periods that were really grim."
One of those testimonials came from Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who did a cover of Numan's "Metal" on the 2000 remix album Things Falling Apart (they would later perform the song together during NIN's 2009 tour). That, along with covers and samples from a range of artists including the Foo Fighters and Basement Jaxx, opened American ears to some of Numan's fantastic deep cuts.
After a dreadful stretch in the late '80s, Numan rebounded with albums like 1994's Sacrifice and 2000's Pure, which found a place among industrial enthusiasts, but lacked the more textural sound of his early work. Splinter admittedly doesn't break new ground—when your best record still sounds light years ahead of its time, I guess it doesn't matter—but it is a more balanced album.
"Lost" is one of Splinter's most subdued moments, but it's also one of its most powerful, written after a particularly rough stretch in Numan's marriage. "It's therapeutic. I don't really talk to people about my problems—my wife, obviously. When I write songs it's like talking it out with a therapist."
For a guy who deserves any accolades he receives, Numan is still charmingly gracious. Where the future according to Gary Numan used to be a dark place, it looks much brighter these days. He's lived comfortably in Los Angeles with his family since October 2012. A year later, Numan is ready to release possibly one of his best and most human records to date. "It feels like a new start," he says. "I had a huge amount of enthusiasm. It was such a big move—it really is like starting a new life."