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INTERVIEW: Gary Numan & Officers

Arriving at a studio buried at the back of a Finsbury Park terrace on a sunny Tuesday lunchtime, the last thing you'd expect see is Nu-Wave pioneer and eyeliner connoisseur, Gary Numan lying half naked on a mortuary slab, but that is what met CALM editor Rachel Clare when she dropped in on the video shoot for Petals, the Officers/Numan collaboration track in aid of CALM. Once all clothing had been reinstated, she caught up with them to discuss musical love-ins, life saving tracks and deadly aerobatics…

CALM: So we hear rumour that it was CALM’s very own ambassador, Eddy Temple Morris, who played Cilla in this meeting of musical minds…

Jamie Officer: It was indeed. Eddy had asked us to play a Soundclash with him on his XFM show, and Matt and I went along with a couple of tunes, determined to beat him.

Matt Officer: We dropped Eddy’s remix of Melt, by Gary Numan…

J: …and straight away Eddy said that Gary would love our album. We chatted about how we were big Numan fans and what a big influence he’d been on us growing up and together we decided to get our album to Gary. We got a ‘get it to Gary’ Twitter hashtag going which went a bit viral. Eddy eventually got the album to him and luckily he really loved it.

Gary Numan: I get sent a lot of stuff and a large percentage of it is not my cup of tea, so I wasn’t overly optimistic, but when the album arrived I genuinely loved it. It was a big moment for me. It felt as if I’d spent years waiting for something to come along that was genuinely exciting, so I got in touch with them straight away. I had a tour coming up and I invited them to join me, which was brilliant. That’s when the idea of a collaboration came up. And that’s the next thing you worry about. It’s all very well liking what they’ve done in the past, but what if you didn’t like the song they sent you that they want you to sing on? Is it going to be embarrassing? I’ve been in that situation before, but luckily that wasn’t the case this time - it's been a real pleasure from day one.

CALM: So it's turning into a bit of an Officers/Numan love in...

GN: I hope the relationship continues, whether we carry on doing collaborations or not. I’m just about to move to America so this is the last thing I’m ever going to do as a UK resident. I’m trying to build up the American thing for me, so if I could incorporate Officers into that, I’d love to. If I tour over there, maybe Officers could come with us. It’s lovely doing things like this with people that you like and respect. Quite often you’re persuaded into collaborations that are not ideal– there’re other reasons for doing it, but with this it’s all about the music and liking the people, which is the best reason of all.

CALM: How did it come about that you decided to donate all profits from Petals to CALM?

J: We were aware of CALM beforehand but Eddy (Temple-Morris), being the ambassador that he is, really encouraged it and showed us the work that you did that we weren’t aware of. The track [Petals] came together really organically and we felt that it would be a shame to do something so great, that was built on mutual respect and love for each others’ music, and to not try to capitalise on it.

GN: It was very much Jamie and Matt’s idea. They were the one’s who introduced me to CALM. Once they told me what it was all about, and what they wanted to do with it, I was very happy to be involved.

J: Both Matt and I have been touched by depression and have had people close to us kill themselves. The work that CALM do is really important, so it was a no brainer really. We spoke to people we had collaborated with before, like Jagz Kooner, who produced Primal Scream, and thought we could get some cool remixes and pull together a dirty Band Aid, if you like. It was all done for the right reasons and with the right intentions.

CALM: Matt, you wrote the lyrics to Petals. Can you explain what the song is about?

M: I woke up one morning and felt horrific. I was questioning what I was doing with my life and why I was doing it - it was a very dark morning. I went and looked in the mirror and I just thought, actually, there’s nothing wrong with how I’m feeling and I shouldn’t be ashamed to feel that way. The song is about literally looking at yourself and thinking ‘fuck you, this is what I am and there’s nothing wrong with that.’ There are always going to be problems in life, but you have to accept that some things aren’t easy and remember that you’ll get through it. The song is a call and response, about the bad things I was thinking and the response that it’s acceptable to feel that way.

CALM: At CALM we not only raise money to fund our helpline, but also aim to raise awareness of male suicide and change mindsets. We want to spread the message that for a man to share his problems and seek help is not a sign of weakness...

J: Matt and I have become quite sensitive to each others’ idiosyncrasies and issues. We look after each other and understand that it’s fine to talk about problems. We’re also like that with our other friends now, too. Whatever job you have, it can be difficult in the work place to talk about these sorts of things, but we want people to realise that it’s okay.

M: Sometimes you can feel that you’re burdening people with your problems, but within our group of friends we now understand that nobody’s perfect and it’s absolutely fine to talk about it. You’re not burdening someone, you’re just talking and that’s what friends do. We talk about as many good things as we do bad. It’s often the case that you remember the bad things and we need to think ‘this isn’t going to last very long’, go and share it with someone and the minute you do, it’s gone.

CALM: Who came up with the concept for the video?

GN: I’m very aware that it’s [Officers’] song. I wouldn’t want to come in saying they should do this, that or the other – I’m just singing it. A guest singer, at best! I’m very, very aware of that. Jamie is the driving force, and I’m just happy to lie there and let it happen. I would definitely say something if I thought it was shit, though! As long as you’re happy with what’s going on and it’s complimentary to what you’re doing, then I’m very happy to just be part of it and let it happen.

CALM: Gary, to have been in the industry for such a long time, and still be cited as being a huge influence on a younger generation of musicians must be a great feeling...

GN: It’s lovely, yes, but it’s not always been that way, and because of that I appreciate it all the more. There was a period in the early 90s where my career was all but dead and buried – I was finished - and there was certainly no respect coming my way from anyone. All my early stuff was being dismissed as irrelevant, but I think round about ’93 there was a subtle change. A tribute album came out, which had some great people on it, and then the likes of Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) started talking about me as being an influence and from there it just grew and grew. More people were doing cover versions, some of which were really successful, like Sugababes, Basement Jaxx and Foo Fighters - all kinds of really cool people, from pop through to hip hop, rap, thrash metal, industrial and so on. It introduced a whole mass of people to my music who didn’t even know who I was. And that coincided with my own music taking a much heavier and darker direction, but that was just good fortune. If it had been 4 or 5 years earlier, when the music I was doing was shit, it wouldn’t have worked at all. It all fell into place very nicely. The only problem I’ve had since then is maintaining that and living up to that reputation.

CALM: So do you feel a certain amount of pressure to live up to expectations...?

GN: A little bit. Once people start to talk about you as being innovative and influential and you’re still going, every new album then has to be exactly that. I’ve gone through 10 or 15 years of nobody even listening to my albums, so all of a sudden it was very different. It’s a very welcome pressure and it’s worked out very well. My last two or three albums have received the best reviews I’ve ever had and because of that people have now gone back and re-evaluated my earlier albums. When they came out they said they were shit, and now they’re classics, apparently!

CALM: Music can be a very cathartic tool and many people turn to it when they're feeling down. A certain song can encapsulate a very particular emotion. Do you have any tracks guaranteed to get you through the shit times?

M: In A Dark Place by Gary Numan, of course! Mind you, I was singing The Time Warp yesterday, so maybe that…

J: Higher Than The Sun by Primal Scream.

GN: There’s a song called Closer by Nine Inch Nails that I think is the best song ever, but it couldn’t be described as light hearted or uplifting at all - it’s quite the opposite, but nonetheless there’s something about it that’s stirring. It makes you feel like getting off your arse and getting on with things. To write something as good as that just once in my life would be amazing. It’s invigorating somehow, very powerful. Maybe the key to it is that it simply takes your mind off what you’re thinking about at that moment in time

CALM: What is your one rule for living life?

GN: I have a couple, actually: ‘Do whatever you like as long as you don’t hurt anybody’. I don’t have any moralistic values at all, I’m afraid, but as long as you don’t hurt anyone in the things that you do, then it’s all fine. Also ‘live every day as if it was your last’. I became a professional air display pilot when my music career wasn’t going so well - doing low level aerobatics and that sort of thing, which is very dangerous. Almost everyone I knew who did it was killed in an air crash at one point or another. The man who taught me was killed. This thing about living life as fully as you can is really important. I have no religious beliefs whatsoever, I don’t think I’m going to come back as a slug or a frog and I don’t believe in Heaven. What I do believe that this is it, so you have to make the most of the time you have when you have it.

J: Be open and comfortable with who you are, and let people know that. I’m still trying to do it, if I’m honest, but realising this has been a big turning point for me. I’ve felt a lot happier since I’ve tried to live by it.

M: Try to Be Happy. Not just be happy, but TRY to be happy.

J: Yeah, you can’t be happy all the time, but you can at least try to be happy as much as possible. If you try, maybe, say 70% of the time you’ll manage it. That’s not bad going.

And with that, they returned to mortuary slabs, buckets of fake blood and latex gloves….to see what we’re talking about, watch the new video for Petals below. The track is out Nov 19th and features exclusive remixes from Jagz Kooner, Losers and Ade Fenton. Download Petals on iTunes HERE

Gary Numan Official Website

Officers Official Website