Interview: Ade Fenton Producing Gary Numan's New Album
'Intruder' is due for release on 21st May 10/03/21
Gary Numan's latest album 'Intruder' is due for release in May so we took the opportunity to have a chat with his long-term producer Ade Fenton about the production, formation and development of the record. It features some brand new collaborations with Gazelle Twin and the inclusion of a unique musical instrument. The audio recording of this interview is available to all Sonicstate Patreons.
What can you tell us about the new album?
Well, we finished it at the end of October last year (2020) and because of vinyl turnarounds caused by Covid, delays in vinyl manufacturing and BMG's strategic plan for it, it's not being released until May 21st, which is obviously quite frustrating, but totally understandable. October already feels like a long time ago and there's still another two and a half months until the album gets released. In terms of the album itself, I think it's quite a step, I feel really uncomfortable saying it's amazing and all that kind of stuff but we're really really pleased with it. It's different to Savage - we've got some guest performers on it and that's added another layer of texture that sets it apart from Savage.
I would say there's more space in Intruder and the use of drum machines is probably more obvious on this album than any that I've produced for Gary. I'm keen to occasionally tip the hat towards Gary's signature sound whilst keeping it as contemporary as we can, and I think we've done that - I've managed to get away with it without pissing Gary off too much for the last four or five albums! It's a subtle hint at the classic Gary Numan sound without it being pastiche and that's always the challenge.
Gary sent me a track called 'The Gift' for example, and he'd used this fantastic drum machine groove. I built on top of that with the use of a CR-78 and of course, much heavier drums. It's a sound that I love, but putting it through tape saturation and distortion to give it a real bite and a real edge. There is lots of space in Intruder that allows the songs to breathe - there's still lots of very loud moments obviously, there's some big choruses of course.
We have Gazelle Twin doing vocals on four tracks, Gorkhem Sen who invented this instrument called the Yaybahar which is unique, one of a kind, he's on three tracks. It took us a little negotiating for him to trust us that we would treat this thing very carefully and his recordings - I mean, it's just the most insane sound that you've ever heard. Mix that with Gary's songs and my production and it creates this vast palette of weirdness and I honestly think that people are going to be pleasantly surprised by just how different this album sounds to the previous four that we've worked on together.
Can you describe the Yaybahar, what sort of an instrument is it?
Imagine a giant cello I mean GIANT cello or a giant double bass with strings but it's electronic - he just creates this feedback. It's played as a musical instrument so we would give him the MIDI files and then Gorkhem would learn them, record two channels - one bass channel, one treble channel and then send it back to us.
It's part musical, part harmonics cobbled together to create this otherworldly yet completely organic space and it's particularly noticeable on The Gift. Gary and I are both big fans of (I hate using this culturally appropriated phrase) middle eastern sound, the Arabian sound as demonstrated on the albums we've done together. It's definitely got that flavor to it and it's just been an absolute pleasure working with Gorkhem - lovely guy and we couldn't be happier with the contribution that he's made.
The same goes with Elizabeth, Gazelle Twin - we kind of got to a stage with the production where we're going "right, it's almost finished" and then we had this idea: "why don't we ask Elizabeth if she fancies just doing something?...if it works, great if it doesn't, it doesn't". Anyway, she ended up collaborating on four songs and on one of the songs, when it came back, I sat here at my studio desk and pressed play and and just went "F**K" because it was so good - I'd done this really grandiose intro to the track, a big orchestral sounding intro and then she added these vocals and you go "oh my god, oh my god!" I'm a massive fan of her - she's absolutely genius and I'm so pleased that we got her to add this layer of wonderfulness on the album.
Gary said that the album is giving the earth a voice, how do you bring that into the production?
My job as a producer is to build on what Gary gives me and make it a commercially releasable record to the highest standard. There is an added layer with me and Gary, in that he completely trusts me. If I think "let's just see what it's like if it goes in that particular direction" he'll just trust me to do it and not get pissed off if I've tried to change something. Equally, I don't get precious about ideas or anything like that, so there's no upset with us.
We've known each other about 20 years - he's one of my best friends as well as work colleagues and we just trust one another. When he gives me a song, the structure of it is already there, so I have the foundations of where he wants it to go. Occassionally, I might then go "what about if we just go left a little bit and try that" and he'll go "alright, just try it and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work". That happened a couple of times on this record - it happened on Savage and Splinter too - it's just one of the things that we've gotten used to now.
The Gift - I keep coming back to that track, from memory; Gary did a vocal, I loved it, he hated it, then he sent another one, it wasn't quite right, then he sent another one and in that time i was getting an idea of what this song is about. Lyrically it was about the virus - the earth giving as a virus and so I i started to look for old recordings of when coronavirus first hit - news channels and all that kind of stuff and I started building this kind of introduction to the track which was based on all these horrific reports from places like italy and places that had it really bad. Then noises start coming in your head and then it kind of reaches a peak and then it drops down to nothing.
I know where Gary's coming from and I know what he's trying to achieve with what he sends me and he allows me to build on that. I know from the lyrics or from talking to him what the song's trying to say and so it's really about choosing sounds. I'm making a patch on one of the synths just thinking about what might fit in that particular space that the song occupies really.
You mentioned the CR-78, what other gear was used on the album?
Access Virus obviously, Analog Solutions Leipzig-S, Arturia PolyBrute made a very late appearance on the album because I've not had it that long, just behind me is the Analog Solutions Vostok and just behind my seat there's an Arturia MiniBrute 2S and that came up with some of the little sequencer things that you'll hear on the album. Obviously, Spectrasonics and Native Instruments plug-ins also feature quite a bit.
I'm not precious about analog or digital - if it sounds right, it sounds right. I certainly appreciate that a pure sound, a pure analog sound is a pure analog sound and I can tell the difference between a bass note from Omnisphere or a bass note from my Leipzig but it depends if it fits in the track.
Steve Harris makes another appearance, who plays in Gary's band - he's played guitar on the album - we've tried to avoid power chords as much as possible unless absolutely necessary and come up with some weirder stuff. Tim Slade, bass player extraordinaire who I also work with on films - he's played bass on the album, so having the luxury of a bit more time has enabled me to spend a bit more time with people in the studio.
During the strict lockdowns, I would be speaking to Tim via FaceTime or Zoom or whatever, telling him the kind of feel that we're going for, which is horrible but needs must, as there was no other option. Thankfully, there's a lot of lovely flowing bass that Tim did on the record that I think adds another layer. It certainly gives it a bit more musicianship. For example, he's on a track called Betrayed (the opening track to the album) and Tim came up with this brilliant bass line and it just makes the mid 8 flow beautifully.
How does the process of making music work between yourself and Gary ?
Just before coronavirus hit I flew over to Los Angeles - we'd already worked on the title the track 'Intruder' - it was the first track we did, and I'd already got quite a long way with it. Gary then decided he was going to switch from Pro Tools to Logic Pro and asked me to come over to LA to go through the change with him. So him working on Logic really helps because he gives me sessions now, whereas before he would give me stems and MIDI files exported from Pro Tools.
I've worked with Logic from as early as I can remember, that's made working together much easier, but with this album because of coronavirus we weren't even able to get together once, apart from that time when I flew over to LA - even for the mixing and mastering everything had to be done remotely.
Gary would give me the projects - the whole structure of the song is there and I just build on it really. There are a couple of songs that we changed or I changed structurally, but not too much. One, which is called 'The End of Dragons' - we've done two versions of that because the demo that Gary sent me was just the piano and his voice and so we've done one version which is just that and a few cool noises and then we did another version of it which is a big ethnic sounding drum thing - very tribal sounding version of it.
How was working under the restrictions?
It was a challenge to be sat in the mastering studio with Matt Colton at Metropolis in October and Gary not being able to be there, it just felt weird and wrong. He wasn't there but at least I was able to go with a mask and get it done. It's been a massive challenge and certainly a test of your resolve in order to be able to work completely remotely. Even more so than we would normally would have.
Sometimes he'll give me something and all I need to do is keep building on that and it's great - I don't need to reinvent it because it's already great and then other times I'll try something and it'll go off in a different direction. If Gary likes it, we'll then build on it and build on it so that's the kind of the process that we go through and have done since Jagged in 2005. It's a process that we're both comfortable with, we both enjoy working together in the studio but we also enjoy working separately.
We'd normally go and spend time with our mix engineer Nathan Boddy, sit down with him for two days and absolutely tweak the hell out of something. We had to do all of that using the Audio Movers plugin - Nathan would stream the mixes to my studio, I would then make a list of what was right and what was wrong and Gary would do the same. Our notes would go back to Nathan, then he'd stream the next mix and by the time you've hit version 10, it's usually all good.
It's a very futuristic way of working...
I do still miss the human side of it though - during Savage, we were able to spend time with Nathan in his studio and I did miss it a lot with Intruder. In fact, Gary and I have been keeping an eye on when the travel restrictions are going to be lifted so that I can go over there because we haven't even had a drink to celebrate finishing the album! I think May is possibly when the restrictions are being lifted so if the album does well then I'll make sure I fly over to LA and we can have a drink over there.
What was the highlight for you personally, working on the album?
I think it was working with people like Gorkem and Elizabeth - it was a feeling of satisfaction that the ideas we'd been floating around had really worked. There was no big pat on the back for myself in terms of "I've managed to succeed in doing something that I set out to do", nothing like that - but when the whole thing was finished and Nathan Boddy and Matt Colton had added their genius touches with the mixing and mastering, it's obviously very satisfying. Gary also wrote to me to say how pleased he was with it, so that's always nice, coming from the boss. When you set out to make an album however many months ago and you have all these different ideas of what it's going to be like, when you've actually finished it and you sit down and listen to it and then you go "yeah, I'm happy", that'sa good feeling.