It’s not surprising that Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Foo Fighter frontman Dave Grohl and Marilyn Manson have sung the praises of Gary Numan.
The Godfather of synth-rock was way ahead of his time when he broke with the futuristic-sounding single “Cars” in 1979. Numan set the tone crafting dystopian electronic music by feeding his synthesizer lines through guitar effects pedals.
Of course the humble Numan downplays the atmospheric and hook-laden “Cars.”
“That song was the easiest song I ever wrote,” Numan said. “I just bought a bass and when I took it out of the case, the first four notes to ‘Cars’ came to me. And then I immediately followed with four more notes. The music for ‘Cars’ was written in 10 minutes and the lyrics took another 20 minutes. It all just came to me.”
“Cars” propelled Numan’s debut album, “The Pleasure Principle” to the top of the UK charts in 1980. More than 10 million of Numan’s albums have been sold.
“It’s been a great career that is still going long after ‘Cars,’ ” Numan said.
The prolific Numan, who has written more than 400 songs, is touring behind his 21st album, “Intruder,” which will be showcased Tuesday at the Knitting Factory.
“Intruder,” which dropped in 2021, is topical and one of his most emotional albums.
“Betrayed,” “Is This World Not Enough,” “I Am Screaming,” “The Gift” and “A Black Sun” were all inspired by the climate crisis.
“Each song speaks clearly about how Earth is complaining to everyone,” Numan said by phone from his London studio. “It’s all about how Earth is so upset.”
Numan, 64, hopes the next generation, which includes his three teenage children, makes a difference. “I’m not particularly optimistic about where we’re going now but I believe the following generation can finally make a difference.”
Expect a healthy dose of “Intruder,” as well as recent material and some early tunes sprinkled into Numan’s set. “I’ll play tunes I’m excited about and I’m very much into ‘Intruder’ right now,” Numan said. “I really liked what I did at the beginning of my career but I’m not crazy about my middle period. I’m also not into going into my past glories nor will I be nostalgic. So the emphasis on this show is my recent work and I’ll include some of the early stuff. But the material will be whatever moves me. It doesn’t make sense to play songs you no longer want to play but there are some songs from the start of my career that are fun to add to shows.”
During Numan’s early days, he focused on aviation almost as much as music. As a teenager he joined the Air Training Corps in London. In 1980 Numan bought a Cessna and became a stunt pilot and instructor in his spare time.
“I loved flying,” Numan said. “The timing was perfect for me since by the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, my career in music wasn’t going so well. I wasn’t selling albums or many tickets. My self-esteem took a hit with music but my self-esteem was through the roof when I was flying. I absolutely loved it.”’
But don’t expect to see Numan fly his own plane into Spokane ala Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson. In 2005, Numan quit flying due to the aerial deaths of his colleagues and the arrival of his children.
“Four of the six members of my team were killed flying,” Numan said. “I wondered if I had pushed my luck as far as it could go. Then when my family started I realized that it was about them. Kids want to go to the beach or Disneyland. They don’t want to go to an airport and watch their father fly. I loved flying but it was time to end that hobby.”
Numan, who lives in Los Angeles, is a much different performer than he was 40 years ago. Back in his early days, Numan moved in a slow, deliberate manner.
“The reason I did that was because I couldn’t dance,” Numan said. “People thought I was trying to be this android but I was just awkward. I’m much more relaxed now onstage.”
Numan chuckled when asked about the props he received from Reznor, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020. “It’s pretty cool,” Numan said. “It’s flattering but it doesn’t make you write better songs. I appreciate the kind words but I’m already thinking about how I can write a better song for the next album.”