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THE MAKING OF WARRIORS

THE MAKING OF: WARRIORS
Taken from the Alien Gary Numan Magazine issue 1 March 1999

To many fans the shift of style on the Warriors album was the last straw. To others it was yet another sign that Numan was prepared to try, and not for the last time, a mix of musical styles that was as unexpected as it was risky. It was a difficult time both in and out of the studio.

Nick Smith: “Gary turned up at the studio, a place called Rock City, with his notepad and a Linn drum, which he used to programme some of the original rhythms.

Gary Numan: “I used drum machines quite a lot to write with. Luckily the digital drum machines didn’t sound too electronic, unlike the older Roland designs. The Linn drum has a distinctive sound like a good drum-kit should.”

Nick Smith: “We had the old Dramatis line-up, Cedric Sharpley, Chris Payne and Rrussell Bell all came back for that album. I don’t know whether getting the old guys back again was a sign of Gary having a new direction in mind, or that he was confused about which direction to go in. The biggest change was that Gary had agreed to get in a co-producer - Bill Nelson, ex-Be Bop Deluxe.”

Gary Numan: “I thought Bill Nelson was the right man for the album. I’d gone to see Be Bop Deluxe years before, without knowing a single song and had enjoyed every second.”

Nick Smith: “Gary had outside pressure to lean towards a more commercial pop style. I’m sure the record company suggested a producer and that man happened to be Bill Nelson. Bill came in but I thought it was a very strange thing because Gary has always run Gary Numan one hundred percent. For him to suddenly hand over the reigns to someone else must have been incredibly hard.”

Bill Nelson, 1983: “Gary and I have a very different way of working. I like to build songs out of different melody parts, all working off each other and going in opposite directions. Gary prefers to layer his songs in one direction, so that he creates the kind of power he likes. I think the tension created by our two approaches produced some really interesting results. We felt that we were really getting somewhere and producing something that was different for both of us.”

Nick Smith: “The three of us, Gary, Bill and myself had some great times during the six weeks we were together. I remember one day Bill was buying a Porsche 911 in a Shepperton garage, near the studio, and we all jumped into our cars. Gary got in his Ferrari with our tape operator, while Bill and I went in my car. As we were going through Shepperton, we got pulled by the drug squad. They dragged Bill Nelson out, pushed him up against the wall, got him to spread his legs, the works. Then they pulled out Gary and myself, same deal. They didn’t find anything and it gave us something to laugh about when we got back to the studio.”

Rrussell Bell: “Bill did some nice guitar on the album. We got him on the E-bow a couple of times.”

Gary Numan: “To be with him in a room when he was playing guitar was an honour . . . But sometimes it was really hard to persuade Bill to play the guitar because he was more interested in keyboards at the time. He did get the best out of Rrussell Bell though. I think Rrussell’s playing on the album is the best he’s ever done.”

Rrussell Bell: ‘There was a lot more guitar on Warriors than the previous couple of albums. We used lots of effects, of course. Distortion, compression, flanging, phasing but still from a basic Marshall amp sound.”

Nick Smith: “Gary also played a lot of guitar on the record, the big chords and stuff.”

Gary Numan: “At the time I thought that the guitar in itself was no more interesting than it had ever been, what was interesting was the way you could integrate it with the new technology, which is what I tried to do.”

Nick Smith: “On Warriors Gary also really fell in love with the saxophone. I understand the criticism that it’s overused but I wouldn’t necessarily agree. Once Gary finds something that’s new, he really goes for it in a big way and it usually works.”

Gary Numan: “I really started to get into the sax and I discovered Dick Morrissey who had played the intro to one of my favourite Peter Gabriel tracks, I Don’t Remember. He’d also recorded with Vangelis for the Blade Runner soundtrack.”

Nick Smith: “I’d just done an album with Morrissey/Mullen and I think initially it was just another session for him. But Dick discovered that he was really into what Gary was doing and developed a lot of respect for Gary. It worked well and they played together for several years. Dick’s a very nice, quiet, unassuming guy and Gary really liked that about him. Anybody who did get too big for their boots in the studio, it was a case of, ’thank you, goodnight’. It didn’t matter who they were.”

Dick Morrissey: “Gary wasn’t quite my first experience of electronic music because I’d worked with Vangelis. I didn’t really change my style of playing when I was with Gary, I just enjoyed myself, playing along naturally. I loved working with a fairly unconventional musician like Gary because I’m also self-taught.”

Cedric Sharpley: “Dick Morrissey would play something straight off the cuff which would completely blow our heads off. In fact a lot of the recorded solos are first takes. He’s an extremely lyrical player who doesn’t do the obvious, technically correct things.”

Nick Smith: “Dick Morrissey was a hundred percent into the music. He thought it was great because it was a challenge for him. He was a real jazzer and at that time a middle-aged guy, so to be working with someone like Gary, it was so different from anything he’d come across before. He was well into it and did some great stuff. Because they were from such different worlds they didn’t clash at all. Dick would listen to the track, get the vibe of it, Gary would suggest what he wanted, and he did put over exactly what he wanted very effectively. Then Dick would jam to the track and we would record it. Gary would either get excited by it, or he wouldn’t. Gary doesn’t like jazz music particularly but he liked the saxophone, the sound of it. We put a lot of effects on the sax playing, not every track, but a fair bit. Not to make it obscure but just to add to the sound.”

Gary Numan: ‘The saxophone gave me a new lease of life. Warriors is full of avant-garde jazz solos and I think it shows there’s no need to have a resistance to mixing conventional instruments and technology.”

Rrussell Bell: “We also got in a new bassist to replace Pine Palladino, an American bloke called Joe Hubbard. He was a very good player although his heart was in jazz. The choice of people was quite limited, because there was hardly anyone in the same league as Pino.”

Cedric Sharpley: “Right from when I first started working with Gary we’ve mixed electronic percussion with natural, real time rhythms. There’s a bit of that on The Pleasure Principle, a lot more on Telekon, Dance and Warriors. Personally I’ve always enjoyed that mix of sound. I think they complement each other extremely well.”

Nick Smith: “The vocals are quite... well, Gary is mumbling, I suppose. It started with Dance in 1981 when he had really dark vocals. You could hardly sing along with the vocals on Warriors but that’s what he was doing at the time. I can’t explain that. I was concerned about whether it was the right thing to do but in a strange way it has stood the test of time, so obviously it was. I have bands working here at the studio, young kids of 18 or 19, and they want to know all about Gary. I think it is because Gary has always stood by his guns. He’s always taken the attitude, ‘This is what I am, this is what I do, you either like it or loathe it.’ And so if he wants to sing in a very perverse way, then that’s the way it’s going to be. With the female singers I think he was just trying to develop a new element. Tracey Ackermann from Shakatak was the first. She came in; Gary loved her voice and wanted to use it. I don’t know why Gary wanted girl singers, he never said. It’s like the synthesizers, the saxophone and the fretless bass - he discovers something and he goes for it. After Tracey he found Tessa Niles and loved her. He used to give them all carte blanch. He’d say to them, ‘go out there and sing what you feel’. And they did. The song would be finished; all Gary’s vocals would be done. The girls were the last thing to be added to the album.”

Rrussell Bell: “The girl singers? It was always nice to have a few girls in the studio to brighten the day up a bit.”

Nick Smith: “On Warriors Gary played virtually all the electronic stuff, which was still completely analogue at this stage. He hadn’t got into computers yet. Even on albums where there a lot of
other musicians featured, Gary is still the main musician, as well as the writer, producer and singer.”

Gary Numan, 1983: “To me Warriors just sounds like me, they always do. We’ve got all these great jazz musicians on the album and there’s little old me in the middle of it all on the electronic side. The MiniMoog and PolyMoog are still like old friends to me and I turn to them when I can’t think of what else to do. I used the ARP Odyssey more for bass things because it has more cut to it, and my favourite at the moment is the Oberheim OB-Xa.”

Nick Smith: “Gary doesn’t write songs in a conventional way. He doesn’t write verse, chorus, verse, chorus, outro. He doesn’t come into the studio with an acoustic guitar and then sit down and play the song. Basically, he makes it up as he goes along. Most of his stuff is recorded in that way. Even when you listen back to Are “Friends” Electric?, that song is weird. Cars is probably the nearest thing he’s got to a regimented type of pop song when you break it down and listen to it, and that was just done with a fantastic, catchy riff. But even Cars isn’t a standard, uniform pop song because it doesn’t have a chorus. And that weirdness comes from the fact that he isn’t musically trained. I think that’s a great thing because he comes up with unusual ideas and it’s down to the individual whether he or she thinks they work or not. I guess to a fuddy-duddy musician it might seem wrong.”

Dick Morrissey: “I think Gary is a very natural and original songwriter, which is more important than technique. I always found him very easy to work with. To be honest I don’t have particular favourite albums or tracks. I’d just go into the studio, play along with different songs and then leave when Gary was happy. It was very easy and good fun.”

Rrussell Bell: “Warriors is great because it’s got a bit of everything which is why it has such a weird sound to it. Gary just comes up with ideas as he goes along, layering it all up, bouncing one thing off another. And he used to knock out his songs incredibly quickly. He wasn’t one for worrying things to death which was good because it kept things fresh.”

Nick Smith: “He’s always been the man in control and in a way you daren’t suggest ideas to him. I must admit there were times during the making of the album when he wasn’t the easiest person to work with. He could fall into long silences and you didn’t know what he was thinking. But at the end of the day he was the one having the success and so, quite rightly, he was the one who was calling the tune. However, he didn’t get what he wanted from Bill Nelson. Later on during the album they really started to fall out. Gary was Mr. Jo Blunt, very focused on his own opinions, and I think that did drive a wedge between them.” Gary Numan: “Bill Nelson told me that all creative people pick up beams of inspiration from across the cosmos and we channel it into creative art and we do what we do for the people. I said, ‘That’s complete bollocks’, and it all went downhill from then on really.”

Nick Smith: “In the end Gary lost complete interest in the album. He would be outside playing pool with the band while Bill Nelson was working on stuff. Gary would come in, go, ‘yeah, that’s fine’, and then walk out again. From a selfish point of view I really missed Gary’s input. He used to drive me mad at times because I couldn’t see what he was trying to do until we’d finished the albums but then it would all made sense. I had the greatest respect for him because nine times out of ten he was always right about his own stuff. So this was a tense situation and I was piggy in the middle. I wanted to be loyal to Gary but I liked Bill very much and I do think he’s a genius. It was a trying time and it led up to the reason why I left in the end. Warriors was the last Numan album I worked on because I really was torn terribly between the two. I used to think, ‘I really don’t want to go to work today’.”

Rrussell Bell: “The Bill Nelson thing was an interesting experiment. Gary is so much in control in the studio, there were always going to problems. I loved working with Bill because he’s one of my favourite guitarists but he had a different idea of sound mixing to Gary. Bill is quite a toppy mixer. That’s why the clean, clinical Bill Nelson approach would have sounded quite odd. Bill mixed with great clarity, a very discreet and sort of textbook placement of sound. Gary goes for power, overlapping and mixing together so it’s not so clean - more of a wall of sound with thunderous bottom end. He used to mix at phenomenal volumes, absolutely deafening. I’d leave the studio with my ears ringing”

Nick Smith: “Bill took Gary in a direction that Gary did not want to go in. It was more poppy, up-beat, not so dark or hardcore. I have to tell you something, I thought that album was fantastic and that Bill did a brilliant job on it. Gary will totally contradict me on this because he hated it. Anyway, we finished the album, mixed it, copied it, Bill took away a cassette and he went out the door. I walked back into the control room and Gary said, “right, wipe everything.” And we started again. It took forever, week after week. We didn’t get rid of everything but ideas that Gary didn’t like, he made us take them off. Basically he’d strip each song down and decide what he was going to use and what he was going to throw away. In some ways it was a relief to me because we were back as a working team but by that time I’d got fed up.”

Cedric Sharpley: “A significant amount of remixing went on, and one or two bits of recording were added. I can’t remember exactly what, but I think the tracklisting would have been slightly different if we’d stuck with the Bill Nelson version.”

Rrussell Bell: “Gary wanted more bottom end so he remixed it, basically. He put a lot of extra work in but in my memory most of the arrangements stayed roughly the same. Bill had made it into a pop record but I prefer the way Gary mixed it in the end. It’s got a lovely warm, rich, bassy feel to it.”


WARRIORS REVIEWS:

Sounds on the Warriors single: Gaz lives out his fantasies once more; this time as a Mad Max-style studs ‘n’ leather fetishist which has him looking not that different to a certain Rob Halford from Judas Priest. The music shares a similar identity crisis, meandering electronic mood music which would be better suited to a similarly apocalyptic film.” 

Gary Numan: “I’d had the Mad Max look in mind during the making of the album. I was just interested in the idea of people fighting for survival after the bomb had dropped. Not that that had anything to do with the album though.”

London Evening Standard on Numan’s performance of the Warriors single on Top Of The Pops: “Gary Numan, a thuggish blond with a lot of panstick make-up, stood rooted to the spot by the weight of the black leather encasing him. His arms confined in what looked like callipers, his legs booted up to stocking-top level, he was totally immobile.”

Elvis Costello, NME 1983: “You can’t take Gary Numan seriously, can you? Have you seen this LP cover with the idiotic Warrior outfit. Here he’s posing as well. “I’m Render, I’m mad, blah, blah, blah, blah. With Tubeway Army he only ever just messed around. At least here he’s trying to bring a rhythmic change into things. But despite that - no!”

Chris Bohn, LP review, NME: “Why dress up in Mad Max drag when lurking somewhere in his soul is a more indigenous and better-suited myth? As the Road Warrior he isn’t anywhere near so interesting as his earliest incarnation as a paranoid worrier. . . he has always been a seasoned scavenger, so one shouldn’t deny that Warriors is the most negatively attractive electronic pop muzak since Eno’s influential Another Green World.”

Robin Denselow LP review, The Guardian: “The music shows some signs of progression. Chattering synthesisers and good growling bass work from Joe Hubbard lead off into efficient electro-funk pieces like I Am Render and This Prison Moon, or cool, gentle jazzy pieces like The Iceman Comes.”

Jim Reid, LP review, Record Mirror: “Warriors is about the most bearable Numan record I’ve heard. It’s well played, sweetly produced and at times Dick Morrissey’s sax is quite lovely.”

Dave McCullough, LP review, Sounds: “With Warriors Gaz proves that he is eternally stuck as a rock ‘n’ roll Blake’s Seven.”

Helen Fitzgerald, LP review, Melody Maker: “Warriors suffers from Numan’s critical identity crisis: should he step boldly into a new arena and disown the past, or should he reassemble old components in a frantic attempt at mass deception?. . . The Iceman Comes is the only track where Numan sounds like he’s having fun. A gradual and brooding example of slow-tempo funk, its chilling basslines weave a compulsive spell and just for one moment Gary lets spontaneity override his obsessive need to control, allowing the vocal to ride with the music instead of dominating it. The Tick Tock Man exhibits Gary’s penchant for artificially adopted camouflage, but with Tracy Ackerman’s support it’s turned into a more than passable stab at a looser, less restrained feeling . . . in spite of a few flashes that suggest what might have been, Gary has sunk further into his make-believe world of ominous fantasy where sci-fi escapism can bolster insecurity and Gary can sink grate-fully into his comic strip character and remain forever the hero.”

Mark Steels, LP review, Time Out: “Numan is possessed of far more talent than he is given credit for, showing him to be both a mood-piece composer of no little merit and a producer of imagination and skill. Morrissey’s measured solos, Joe Hubbard’s nimble bass work and Cedric Sharpley’s crisp, unfussy drumming lend many of the tracks an engaging jazz-funk feel. This curiously complements the ever-present electronic doodlings, often, as in the case of The Rhythm Of The Evening, to great effect. What Gaz lacks in the crooning department he more than makes up for in aural atmosphere and if the live show is as good as. . . . oh, my, God, I’ve just seen the sleeve.”

Gary Numan: I still like a lot of the Warriors stuff and Bill Nelson did a lot of very inventive things on it which, because of our differences, I failed to appreciate at the time. I think the Mad Max image convinced a lot of people, the press especially, that it was a sci-fi album. Much of it though was actually quite autobiographical. Even songs like ‘The Iceman Comes’ and ‘This Prison Moon’ were more to do with what I was going through than anything sci-fi. Lyrically I was already becoming overly focused on the career struggle. Warriors was written, in the main, in a hotel room in Jersey. My girlfriend had just left me, I’d been evicted from the house I was living in and I felt pretty much alone in more ways than one. Despite its surface gloss of futurism it was really very inward looking. To me the image was meant to represent someone fighting for survival as much as anything”

Steve Maims.

(This feature is based on recent interviews with Gary Numan, Dick Morrissey, Rrussell Bell, Cedric Sharpley and Nick Smith. Other quotes are taken from comments made in 1983)

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