You know sometimes you get this sort of blinkered memory of something, or somewhere. Like when I first went to Whitby and I thought it was this fantastic place where I had literally had the food of the gods (well, the best fish and chips ever), but every other time I’ve been I’ve so looked forward to it, and it’s always been this rather drab place where the Fish and Chips have been good, but never tasted like that first visit.
Sometimes though, things are as good as you remember them. And one of them was The Magic Numbers debut album. Packed with fantastic melodies and delicious harmonies, it showed a whole gambit of emotion from painfully sad to singalong euphoric. I fell in love with it straight away, and I still love it today. What’s more, all the Magic Numbers subsequent albums have held multiple delights for the listener, so when we got to speak to Michele and Romeo from the band, about their upcoming acoustic tour, we were excited. And we got to wondering a little bit about whether there might be a fourth album from the band coming up soon…..
Welcome back Magic Numbers! It’s been a little while? Did you just need that bit of time off to go and do other things? Was it planned, or did it just happen like that?
Romeo – I think it’s really important to live outside of the band so to speak, just live, otherwise it becomes routine or potentially uninspiring. You need to discover new things about yourself and have real life experiences like everyone else and it’s hard to do that if your world is pampered or overly self absorbed. Whether you decide to start or family or do more self soul searching, by going travelling or putting yourself in a new situation, it’s healthy I think.
Romeo, you’ve been busy with loads of things, playing on the Spiritualized record for a start, how was that?
Romeo- That was an incredible experience, pretty surreal to be honest, as I’ve been a fan of Jason’s from the start really. He’s the real deal. Just really passionate about what he does and knows exactly what he wants, down to the finest detail, I love that and can totally relate to it myself. I’m over the moon to have taking part with this new record, I think it’s another classic of his. Playing banjo on ‘So long you pretty thing’ being a real highlight, and singing harmony on Freedom, what a song. I got to play the Albert Hall with them just before the album came out also which was pretty special, considering last time I was in the audience getting my mind blown.
And Michele, you made a solo record in the time off – was that exciting, nerve –wracking? Something you’d like to repeat?
Michele – It was a dream come true to record ‘Wide-Eyed Crossing’ a very personal album for me and since it’s release last year, and it’s positive response, I’ve been able to close a door on a particular part of my life. It’s always strange going onstage without my family but I’m fortunate to be in the best band in the world who understand and support me. I’m constantly writing songs and will continue with every chance I get to take them into the studio. You can definitely expect a few more albums from me for sure.
Michele Stodart – Foolish Love (the crypt sessions)
You have also been keeping yourself busy with another album. Tell us a little bit about the school project you’ve recently released?
Michele - I basically approached my daughter’s school about making an album reminiscent of the 70′s cult album Langley Schools Music Project with all the kids, every single one, singing songs by Fleetwood Mac and Bowie and they said yes. It really was an unbelievable and incredibly moving experience working with the children of Oaklands Primary School. The album ‘The Oaklands Sessions’ was dedicated to a child in Year 6 who sadly died of pneumonia over the holidays, her friends and I co-wrote a song together (on the album) in her honour – so it was a very special record to make.
Anyway, you’re back working together. Has that been enjoyable?
Romeo -Yes, it really has actually. I think we’re playing the best we ever have at the moment and we’re not fighting all the time which is a plus.
Michele- I think going away from something for a while makes you really appreciate it when you come back. Or what’s that saying? Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
And what was the thinking behind the acoustic tour? Sounds a great idea to us….
Romeo- Thanks, we’ve never done a full tour like this, just the odd one-off show, so it’s gonna be a new experience. We’re really looking forward to it, doing new arrangements of the old songs, using different instrumentation, lots of surprises. There can be so much freedom in playing like this, you really learn a lot from the songs when you’re exposed to the bones of them and I kinda think that should be the way for people to hear all the new ones for the first time I think, plus there are a lot of quieter songs on our albums that don’t get out very much so it’s time we did.
Has it taken a lot of rehearsal, or did you just click into the acoustic versions?
Romeo -Most of the songs were written in that way I suppose so it’s been really interesting reverting back, seeing which songs have actually benefitted from a bigger sound and which ones can pretty much stand alone a capella. It’s also been really fun working on completely new arrangements for a few of them. I really want to make each show different from the last, we’ve tonnes of ideas.
And, excited to be on the road again? It’s a pretty extensive tour (no Sheffield though, boo….)
Romeo -I know, we promise to make up for that, maybe a christmas show in the same vein. We’ve had some great gigs in Sheffield, I particularly remember a show at the Leadmill being unbelievable. We absolutely love the road so are beyond excited as it’s been such a long time, also with this tour we are getting a chance to play a lot of places that we’ve never been before and with that potentially play to audiences who have never seen the band before so that’s gonna be really cool.
And there are plans for a fourth record? Has that been recorded? Or are you in the process of making it?
Romeo- I’m pleased to say that it’s all recorded, it’s finished, it’s in the proverbial bag so to speak. There’s something about this record that really feels like a debut album. It has this unhinged spirit, this energy and blind confidence that you get with first albums, it’s weird. The process was different this time round mainly because I really knew what I wanted from us, you gain more and more experience making records, so each time you step back into the studio you tend to start off where you feel things really worked last time and then take it from there. This time we really wanted to nail that thing that happens when we play live together and we’re in that unconscious place, not thinking too much, just playing music. Having our own studio helped as when that spark is there you can capture it, the worse thing is trying to conjure up that thing you can’t describe or not in control of and there’s a clock ticking. It’s by far the best sounding record we’ve ever made, purely down to the two Bens. Ben Amesbury who engineered the record and Ben Hillier who mixed it. I just can’t wait for people to hear it.
Do you work differently now, both in the studio and the writing of the songs, or has it stayed pretty much the same throughout.
Romeo- It has changed somewhat over the years. The writing process is similar though I tend to write on different instruments now rather than just the guitar or piano and sometimes songs stem from the lyric where that never used to be the case, melody was always the starting point. Michele is usually the first person I’ll bring new songs to and I can read her pretty instantly if she thinks it’s any good. She’s been a great sounding board for me throughout, and we push each other which is really important. Together we work on the arrangements as a band, seeing through everyone’s ideas and try to stay true to the song and almost let it decide where it wants to go because it can pretty much go anywhere. The approach in the studio now is very free, whatever works best in laying the song down. Altogether in the live room or build it, one layer at a time. There are
no rules. There’s less red light fever and more experimenting with sounds, the more hands on the better.
And you have spent a lot of time over in South America – has that music had any influence over the record? You’ve just done a couple of shows out there – good?
Romeo -We just really love it over there, the gigs have been incredible. They’re just so passionate about music and aren’t afraid to show it as an audience. There’s great music over there too, on our recent trip to Argentina we hooked up with a few new artists who I love, a really interesting guy who goes under the name Guazuncho and a badass space rock band called Bosques. It was such a great night, after our show in Buenos Aires I went back to their studio and we all just jammed tip the early hours in this room without stopping, and not even talking to each other. I highly recommend them both. I’m also obsessed with Victor Jara who was a Chilean poet/folk singer- songwriter from the early seventies who was tortured and beaten to death by military leaders who were threatened by his music, as his songs spoke to the people. They apparently crushed the bones in his hand and mocked him demanding he played for them now, really tragic. His songs are so moving, you can hear his heart in his voice, reminds me at times of Leonard Cohen. I’ve also been in love with Brazilian Tropicalia music for a long time, we recently covered a Caetano Veloso song ‘You Don’t Know Me’ for an album commemorating his 70th birthday, he’s responsible for pushing so many musical boundaries and was a big part of that whole movement being one of the originators.
Can you give us any hints as to anything else on the record? Will there be a single coming out before the album?
Romeo -There will definitely be a single before the record, possibly a song called ‘Roy Orbison’ I think it may be the best thing I’ve ever written. The Big O is name
checked in the lyric as his is the voice I hear soundtracking my life and movements at the time in song. It questions identity I suppose, that moment of realisation that occurs from time to time where you no longer recognise who you are anymore.
Michele -Or we may go for what is The Magic Numbers’ version of disco. A song provisionally titled ‘The End’
And its out round about when in 2014?
Michele -Really early in the new year, we’re aiming for January or February.
Any other plans/collaborations you’ve got coming up soon?
Romeo – To be honest the full focus is on The Magic Numbers, we’ve made our best record to date and I’m just looking forward to getting back out there and playing in front of people again. I am a big believer in the song triumphing, and that’s something I know we have lots of. This forthcoming tour is gonna be killer, can’t wait.
So, the best record we’ve heard this year is…..
Michele- There’s been quite a lot actually that I really love so far this year, Nick Cave’s Push The Sky Away probably being the favourite of the whole band’s. Romeo- I love the new Anna Von Hausswolff record Ceremony, that’s on a lot at home. So haunting and just really different. I also always welcome a new Camera Obscura album with open arms and this one is especially beautiful, I just really love Tracyanne Campbell’s voice, one of my favourites and they write such perfect pop songs. The new Goldheart Assembly album is great, can’t wait to hear those new songs live on the tour. Mathew E White’s album Big Inner, sounds so warm the vinyl cut, I recently discovered an amazing singer from Canada called Camille Delean who I’d really love to write with, I also just bought the new Guy Clark album too, the title track is such a moving song about the favourite picture of his wife who passed away, oh and the new Luke Haines album is equally as bonkers as his last few, never disappoints.
The thing about the band that I think makes me excited and happy and expectant isn’t anything to do with how I remember things actually. You only have to look back through their catalogue to see that when they all get together and make a record (before we go any further can I apologise for this, but I couldn’t resist it) it’s packed full of, ahem, Magic Numbers. Taxi for me, anyone?