‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ was two songs: the verse part and the talking part. Two different songs I couldn’t finish. One day I was playing the main verse part of ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ and after a few minutes I got frustrated, as normal, then started to play the other song, and realized they went together.
Album sales have collapsed, with few artists making money from albums; touring is more lucrative. But I’m 53 now and won’t be able to tour forever, so a logical step is to get into writing film scores. Trouble is, you need to be somewhere which has a big film industry – another reason why I’m thinking about living in California.
And I used to go the punk clubs such as a gay club in Poland Street that everyone would go to because it was the only place you could go to looking like that without getting beaten senseless.
Any time anyone says anything nice about me, whether it’s Lady Gaga or your neighbor, it’s a nice feeling, I’m very grateful for it. It’s very helpful for your career. Every time someone says something complimentary it introduces you to their audience. It gives you credibility.
Before breaking into music, I had various jobs: forklift driver, driving a courier. But I was forced into working rather than doing it off my own bat because that was my dad’s way: you got a job and paid your way.
Being a display pilot is probably the thing I’ve been most proud of in my life. Don’t really fly anymore now though. I have three small children and as most of my friends were killed in different accidents, I realised that it was probably just a matter of time before I went that way.
Fame came quickly. I was only 19 when I secured my initial recording contract and my first two hit records – ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ – were number ones.
I always say it took me 10 minutes to write ‘Cars,’ but if I am honest it could have been even less than that – and it has been a really successful song over the years. It is still massively used, in advertising, in films, and people do cover versions of it a lot.
I am very old-fashioned about marriage. It is for life and I mean it. I always knew that when I met the right girl, the life I had before – being single, in a band, girls everywhere – would be over.
I became an air display pilot. I used to teach it. I was an examiner for a few years as well. It was great fun. I would still be doing it now if pretty much everyone I knew who was doing it hadn’t died. In the first team I joined there were six people in it. By the time I stopped, there was only me and one other left – everyone else had died.
I became famous so quickly and so young – it was daunting. I was immature and I used to say some really stupid things in interviews. I never smiled on stage so I looked really serious, but it was because I hated my teeth and was incredibly nervous.
I collect fantasy swords, replicas from films, and have them displayed on the wall as you go up the stairs.
I did an album a long time ago called ‘Replicas,’ which was entirely science-fiction driven, or science-fantasy. Since then it’s been a song here, a song there. It’s not really a constant theme. I’ve written far more about my problems with religion, with God and all that.
I don’t believe in sharing my money. If I go out and work my nuts off and make some money, I don’t feel that I should have to share it with my community.
I genuinely don’t know how many albums I’m going to sell when the new album comes out, because I honestly don’t know how many fans I’ve actually got at the moment.
I got involved in music because I love everything about it, but now I’m in it you see the other side and it isn’t much fun. Not as glamorous and enjoyable as you imagine.
I have a condition called Aspergers Syndrome, which is like a mild form of autism It means I don’t interact properly in certain social situations.
I have always been far more interested in sound than technique, and how sounds work together, how they can be layered. I think electronic music, in its infancy anyway, allowed us to create music in a way that hadn’t really been possible before. It created a new kind of musician.
I have one brother, John, an airline pilot, who is seven years younger. He’s adopted, though we’re still blood related – he’s my cousin. My parents couldn’t have any more children after me, so when Dad’s brother died, they adopted John, then just a baby.
I honestly don’t know what criteria makes someone right-wing or left-wing anymore. The boundaries of those definitions seem to be in a state of flux. I’m not socialist, I know that.
I just didn’t make music that you could sing with a big grin, still don’t.
I met Gemma, my wife, when she was 12. She had a schoolgirl crush on me and her dad had arranged for her to meet me. Later, she started coming to my concerts, but I only got to know her well after her mother died. I rang to see how she was, and that’s how it started.
I much prefer touring to anything else. Studio work is great, and can be hugely satisfying, but live work has the excitement and the lifestyle that I love.
I never call myself a singer, ever. I never will. I’ve always been really embarrassed about my voice. I’ve never been confident about it. I think it’s a little bit better now than when I first started. There are people I admire who are genuinely brilliant singers and I know the difference between what they can do and what I can do.
I sometimes wonder if I might be a bit of a disappointment to people, because they are expecting all these ’80s hits and what they get is a dark industrial wall of noise.
I think any song should sound good just played on a solitary instrument with the vocal. If you have those basics you have all you need. The production then just polishes that idea into the finished thing.
I think if you are creative then it’s an unstoppable thing. It just keeps coming throughout your entire life.
I want to start my own airplane business. I’m going to buy two Dakotas, paint them up in war colours and do, er, nostalgia trips to Arnhem – you know, where the old paratroopers used to go – and charge them about 20 quid a time.
I was a loner as a child and happiest at home, launching toy rockets and aeroplanes. When I started causing trouble in my third year at grammar school, Mum was really surprised. My parents sent me to a child psychologist, who suggested I might have Asperger’s syndrome.
I was always a bit different. I had a very happy childhood, but I could never hang on to mates.
I would never take part in one of those Eighties nostalgia tours, although I’ve been asked many times, because it’s like admitting you have nothing new to offer. As long as I can keep making music I’m happy with, and people want to come to my gigs to hear it, I’ll carry on.
I wouldn’t say I’m vain – I’m just in a job where the way you look is important. Well, at least the facelift wasn’t vanity, but the hair was.
I’d been a Bowie fan before punk and used to get no end of trouble. I was always getting knocked about and having to run up the street, getting chased by people. It was horrible.
I’d see an old person on the street and start crying. I couldn’t understand how people could cope, knowing they only had so long left. It would be like dominoes and then the last one fell and I’m a little heap on the floor. Doctors put me on anti-depressants for a couple of years.
I’m hopeless at small talk and have a problem making eye contact.
I’m not good at happy, lightweight kind of music. I’m not really good at pop music. ‘Cars’ is probably the only true pop song I ever wrote. I wish I could write more, but I’m not very good at it.
I’m very into science-fantasy, that kind of swordfights and magic and technology thing.
I’m very intolerant and I get fed up with people easily.
I’m very lucky in the sense that I’ve got a voice that’s distinctive. Not good, but distinctive. That’s a very useful thing to have in this business. I’m glad on the one hand that I’ve got it, but I wish it was more powerful. I wish I had a greater range. I wish it was more accurate at times.
I’ve always considered myself to be fiercely patriotic. I love Britain – its history and the down-to-earth attitude people have.
I’ve got Asperger’s syndrome and I’m not a very good people person, so I’ve always been more comfortable around machinery. Not in a weird way – I don’t want to marry my car or anything stupid like that!
I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States and I’m not under any illusions that it’s a crime-free nirvana. I’m well aware it has plenty of problems, though they seem to be associated with particular areas.
If I thought that any of this was pre ordained, then it takes away any kind of incentive to struggle, or to put up with things, to reach for those impossible dreams, all those dramatic things.
If you’ve been massive and it’s all slid away, you tend to get written off. It’s quite difficult to overcome that, which is why I’ve got this problem with nostalgia.
In the mid-1980s to the early 1990s I was writing songs not because I particularly liked what I was doing, but because I was desperately trying to get back into the charts. I really didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like the music I was making, I wasn’t proud of it, like I have been before or since.
It seems no matter what you say and how politically correctly and carefully you say it, you offend someone. Or at least I always do.
Maybe I over-do the ‘not-80s’ thing. It should be a part of my life that I’ve got some sort of pride in, but I’ve got this huge chip on my shoulder about ’80s nostalgia – and it annoys fans sometimes.
My dad was a baggage handler at Heathrow and careful with money. He worked hard and had three jobs when I was young. I wish I’d inherited his care for money. Sadly, I’ve grown up to be rather scatty when it comes to finances.
Song-writing is therapy for me. I’m a very moody person, very difficult to live with. There’s a lot going on and a lot of contradictions. My life is always one step away from disaster.
Strangely enough, when the Sugababes’ ‘Freak Like Me’ went to number 1, which was built around my ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ song, I had another song called ‘Rip’ go to number 1 in the Kerrang TV chart, so I was pulling new people in from very different areas of musical interest. That was quite an amazing week.
The idea of collaborating with anyone else was quite daunting. If Battles had any trepidation in asking me, I can assure you I had more after agreeing to do it.
The industrial thing came about mainly through giving up trying to write pop songs in the early ’90s. I don’t think I was ever very good at pop music and as soon as I stopped trying, and started to write more the things I loved, it became much heavier and more aggressive.
There does seem to be a kind of split. There are those people who are more entrenched in the early electronic years, and new people who have come to it because of people like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
There’s no point in lying saying I am doing really, really well because I’m not; I’m cult level.
Ultravox were the blueprint for what I wanted to do, but I stumbled across them by accident.
When I was 11 I became a massive fan of The Monkees. We had a so-called ‘band’ of kids on my street and we’d go along to people’s houses and mime to Monkees records.
When I was a kid it was big news when someone flew around the world in a little aeroplane, but nobody cared when I did it. Then, to rub salt into my wounds, the customs people ripped my aeroplane to pieces, looking for stuff.
When I went to record my first album, which should have been a punk album, there was a synthesiser in the control room. I’d never seen one before but they let me have a go on it and I loved it to bits.
When you decide to do this kind of music then you just accept the facts.