Back in black
Life took over for The Magic Numbers, but the band are back after a hiatus, and embracing a darker, heavier sound, Romeo Stodart tells Lauren Murphy
It’s been four years since the last album – an age in today’s music business.
Well, my sister [Michele] made a solo album in 2012. It was something that we’d been trying to make her do for ages, so I’m glad she released it. And we built a new studio, which took a little time – but most importantly, I became a dad. It’s the most amazing thing, so I’m over the moon with him. So basically, life kind of took over. I think it’s important to step away from the cycle of being in a band, too. When we first came out, we went immediately into the second album, and there was pressure. I think it was good at the end of [the last] tour cycle for us to stop, because you don’t want to feel like you’re repeating yourself; you have to live life to bring new things into it.
Do you find yourself inadvertently writing songs for Romeo Jr?
Yeah, there’s been a few little ones for him, for sure. I think it’s kind of the biggest thing that can happen to someone. It’s been really inspirational. It’s made me look at life completely differently; listening to music, even. When I play him things, or hear things, I see things in completely a new light. A lot of the songs on Alias were written just before [he was borm], and some after – so it’s really a strange one for me, in terms of consistency. But there were no problems with songwriting this time around. I’m always writing, but I’m also always waiting for that moment where I really believe that the song is good, and really strong, and saying something.
Did you ever think there wouldn’t be another Magic Numbers album?
We were lucky to have a successful first record, and a somewhat successful second one – but the third one [2010’s The Runaway] didn’t really get the push from the label. No one felt it was commercial. Even though we loved that record, it was a case of ‘What do we wanna do now?’ [Breaking up] was never really on the cards, but I was fearful when we got into the studio together with the new songs I’d written – I really didn’t want to repeat myself. But everyone was on the same page with that; it needed to feel like a new band again. If I felt like we were treading water, we would have probably kept working on stuff, and maybe it wouldn’t have come out for another couple of years. When we went in with these songs, we were really playing the best we’d played in a long time – and it was quite a lot heavier and had more conviction throughout, I think.
There are some dark moments on this album – do you think The Magic Numbers are misunderstood by some people because of songs such as Love Me Like You?
We’ve definitely been misunderstood in the sense that people have focused on certain elements of what we do – and yeah, I’m hoping that this one will change the perception of people who might have seen us as something we weren’t: twee, or soft, or whatever. I would like people to hear this and really respond to it as an album, without even thinking about what we’ve done before. At the same time, there’s something about a band like The Cure, for example: I’ve always loved that they can exist in this pop realm and put out songs like Friday I’m In Love, yet there’s this whole other ‘dark Cure’ side to them, which is almost the polar opposite. I still love that we can have a song like The End, the disco-type uptempo one on the record, but then also have a dark one like Enough.
Speaking of other influences, you’ve been touring with Neil Young and Crazy Horse lately . . .
He’s been a constant in my life since I was a teenager. When I was trying to learn guitar, I’d try to play his songs. He just lives it – whether he’s doing a country record, or an album with Crazy Horse, or a Crosby, Stills & Nash album, or a soundtrack, or a rock album. I really love that versatility, so in some ways, he’s been someone that I’ve always aspired to. Even watching him play: he’s 68 years old and he goes out and does Down By the River, and he opens up with it and plays it for 25 minutes (laughs). I find him so inspiring, because he’s actually just doing what he wants to do and hoping that people will go with it – but he knows, at the same time, that not everyone will. That’s what we’re trying to do as a band.
What’s your hope for this album, in that case?
Well, I feel like we’ve made the best record we’ve ever done, in terms of how we’re playing, the sound and the songs. We’ll never be able to get back that innocence of the first album – and I know that, because my whole life was building up to that album. There’s something in those songs . . . even when we play something like I See You, You See Me’ live, you think ‘Shit, man, there’s something in this song!’ But I feel like this could be a new ‘first album’ for the band, in some respects. I’d like to win over more people, and I’d be lying if I didn’t want the songs that we put out as singles to get airplay, and for us to go on Jools Holland, or whatever. For me, that’s just a way of getting more people into our music.
Alias is out now. The Magic Numbers play The Academy on September 27th and Belfast’s Mandela Hall on September 28th
Regrouping: Romeo Stodart, Angela Gannon, Michele Stodart and Sean Gannon