Interview With Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to hear the new album by The Magic Numbers ahead of its release. I wrote down some questions for the band hoping to run it congruent to the album review. Unfortunately I didn’t get them back until yesterday (who knew putting out an album and prepping for a tour would keep a band so busy??). Many thanks to Romeo Stodart for taking the time to answer these. Can’t wait to catch them in New York City later this summer.

The early tracks on the record (“Shotgun Wedding” and “Ride Against The Wind”) are guitar-heavy. Moreso than on early releases by the band. Was it a conscious effort going in to recording to have bigger/more guitar at the beginning or the album, or was that an organic occurence?

Over the years touring, we’ve definitely grown a lot more confident as musicians and the sound has a harder edge I guess to it. I think you can hear that within the performances of the songs, we’ve finally managed to capture that energy on the more uptempo songs. Dave Izumi Lynch has had a big part to play in that too, he not only is an insane engineer but he co-produced the record with me and really encouraged us not to overthink things, just be in the zone. It was the most enjoyable record to make if I’m honest. I also think that the more sparse, delicate moments on the record benefited from this approach too.

It’s been 4 years since your last album, Alias. Was it always assumed that the band would continue recording or was there a chance that the break would be permanent?

No there was never any thought that it would be permanent, we’re not going anywhere. My sister released her beautiful second solo album Pieces and I’ve been collaborating with a few artists either as a producer or a writer. I think both these outside creative outlets has leant to us feeding new energy into the band. We’ve learnt a lot collaborating and the band are in a better place for it. We all know that there’s something special when the four of us come together and make music but it has to be right and sometimes stepping away for a while injects new leases of life. I think this is the best the band has ever sounded. 

Has the relationship between the siblings in the group changed in the years since the last record? You’ve continued to tour some in the UK and Europe, but I imagine you’ve been able to spend more time thinking of each other as brothers and sisters rather than bandmates?

It’s one family really, two sets of siblings but it’s one family. We know each other inside out, with that it can be so difficult but it’s changed in that we’ve mellowed somewhat and accepted each other for all our flaws, I think we’re more supportive of each other but there’s always something. Currently on the road, there’s been at least 3 instances that are still lingering in the air but the love is strong and most importantly it comes out in the music, especially the anger. 

I was looking at your touring history, and The Magic Numbers have never been big on shows in the USA. You do have some dates that were just announced on the east coast in July. Is there a reason you haven’t toured here much? Will there be further dates in the US if the announced shows sell out? As someone who lives in Chicago, I’d hate to miss the chance to catch the band live.

We have loved all the opportunities to tour the states and we’re very lucky early getting to go out on the road with The Flaming Lips & Sonic Youth, Bright Eyes, Rufus Wainwright – all artists that we love and respect massively. We’ve not toured in recent years as on the last couple of album releases we didn’t have a team onboard to help us get back out there, it’s been such a shame and to be honest we’ve really missed it. With this record though we’ve finally managed to find a new home over in the US with Park The Van, we are big fans of Dr Dog & Broncho and feel a real connection. Together we’re going to give it everything we’ve got and bring Outsiders everywhere we possibly can in the USA. I can’t wait to tour again over there, it’ll be a dream.

We’ve a great team of people helping this time with Girlie Action at press and Steve Fergusson our agent, here’s to it! 

“The Sweet Divide” is quintessential Magic Numbers, but it has some twists in there. The sax and guitar play off each other in a really fun way. How much of the writing of Outsiders was trying to deliver something your fans will be familiar with and enjoy, and how much was trying to do something new and interesting to keep it exciting for the band?

I never really think about there being any fans to be honest when I’m writing, I’m doing it for myself. I do imagine though what it will sound like with three part harmonies and myself and the girls have a distinctive blend that does just instantly sound like The Magic Numbers, we’ve grown to accept that as a strength which has allowed us to embrace different textures like the baritone sax and the swirling crunch of the hammond. I wrote Sweet Divide on a nylon string acoustic but I could hear the sound I was after for the song whilst it was a really gentle whisper of a thing. That Crazy Horse kinda groove was something that happened naturally when we got together and started jamming through it, I didn’t want to nail down an arrangement as such before heading into the studio hence the freedom and excitement within it. It’s a new direction for us in terms of sound and one I hope we develop more and more especially as it’s growing into something really hypnotic when we play it live. 

“Wayward” is one of my favorite songs you’ve recorded. By my research it’s also the shortest. Was it an easy song to record? Is there a longer version that was scrapped in favor of the one on the album?

Aw thank you, it’s mine too as it came from something my 6 year old son asked me one day. ‘Why is it that when leaves fall from the trees onto the ground they don’t make any sound?’ I wanted to answer him in a way that some of his big life questions move me, he’s an inspiring little guy who has filled my world with real meaning and I am truly blessed to have him in my life. The song reflects that I hope, it’s for those people who come into your life and teach you about the things that truly matter. I loved the way it’s short and to the point, it’s a special song for me so I’m really touched it is for you too. 

From the beginning The Magic Numbers have always had a hand in production, with you eventually moving to produce all the songs with no guidance from anyone outside the band. Was it just the timing of being comfortable with doing it all on your own that led to the decision or was having another person in the studio stifling the creativity of the band?

The studio is almost a second home for me, from when I bought my first 4 track tape recorder I was overwhelmed by the possibilities, I just love seeing things come to life. We have our own studio in London where I’ve been producing lots of records for different artists and I think it has definitely helped us this time round as I’ve learnt a lot. One of the most invaluable lessons is one of trust, when I met Dave at Echo Zoo studios I knew I could trust him, he’s a real genius in the studio that’s a given but if you let him into your world of imaginings it’s beautiful, that comes with time and confidence though knowing what you need. 

“Sing Me A Rebel Song” sounds like an elegy of sorts. What was the catalyst for the song and how did it evolve? The Elton John reference feels rather poignant as he’s recently announced his (eventual) retirement.

I wrote this on the piano and it felt like it needed to stay that way. I do love early Elton but he wasn’t a conscious inspiration for this tuneS Rebel songs are songs of conviction, songs that mean something, songs that can change your life. I wanted to paint a picture of someone in need of some form of solace or an awakening and asking to hear something that was true and pure. I don’t want to give too much away with this song as I’ve purposefully left it open. 

There’s a track on Outsiders called “Runaways” and you have a 2010 album titled The Runaway. Was this song a holdover from those sessions or something that came up after that album was released? Is running away a common theme for the band?

No Runaways is actually a new song. 

Our third album was called The Runaway and I think now with hindsight the feeling of that album was very introspective and reflective, a lot of unanswered questions about identity. Where exactly does one fit in? A lot of our personal lives were in a constant state of flux so there most certainly was a desire to run away and start afresh.

I feel with this record and this song in particular, it’s the opposite. There’s definitely hope and acceptance of oneself within it, it’s really a love song for the misfits in society, the unashamedly flawed individuals who find it very difficult to conform within the parameters of so called normal every day life. There’s a defiant spirit within the mood of this record, it’s also very hopelessly romantic in places but that sense of reckless abandon is within the heartbeat of the songs. 

“Ride Against The Wind” has a very 70’s AM radio kind of feel to it. What kinds of music was the band listening to when the songs were written and recorded? Does that kind of thing generally have an effect on the resulting product?

We tend not to listen to a lot of music when making a new record because we wanna just be doing our own thing but sometimes we’ll reference the feel or sound of a track, like on one of the lead guitar lines in the 2nd verse there’s a cheeky nod to Ernie Isley from The Isley Brothers with that fuzz tone plugged straight into the desk. I guess our musical DNA is very much from the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s anyways. The main objective is to try and bring something new and exciting to the stories of the songs. I love how it turned out as it’s a real driving song, the choruses have that feel of cruising down the open road leaving your troubles behind you.