Interview: The Magic Numbers – ”We hate being known as twee!”
Written by Tommy Juto
Roll with the changes. One of life’s immortal mottos whose meaning is so obvious we’ve almost forgotten exactly what it is. Still, in the age of rapid evolution, if there are some mottos more applicable on musicians today than others, that’s got to be one of them. For The Magic Numbers, whose praised career began just as the number of consumers buying their music in physical copies started its decline, the changes to their guild of choice has forced the group to, well, roll with them. Nowadays, touring is a necessity to keep them in business, not least proved by their second visit to Stockholm within a few months. But the grind of being on the road has also made them a better band, as well as they’re enjoying playing live even more now, the way singer/keyboardist Angela Gannon sees it:
– Yes, we’re definitely as eager to go touring as ever, we can’t get enough of it. Last night, we played for two and a half hours. We were only meant to play for an hour and forty minutes! So we love it, I think we’ve even learned to appreciate it more over the years. When we’ve had time off we have felt that we missed touring.
Do you think that the music business has changed a lot?
– Definitely. We did a tour in September, and you find that everybody’s on tour. So many other artists seem to be doing a European tour just like us, you look at the tour bill and virtually everyone you’ve met over summer are doing it again. It seems like this is the only time you can go out, ‘cause in summer no one really wants to pay for concerts, and then it’s the same for the Christmas period.
So you feel that you really have to do tours to be able to make a living?
– No doubt about it, that’s probably our main income now. It’s hard to see returns from record sales these days, especially since there’s so much music available out there.
While on tour, what’s the most insane thing that’s ever happened to you?
– It was in Sweden, actually, in Stockholm at Where The Action Is. About an hour and a half before I was supposed to go on stage I leaned back where I was sitting and there were candles right behind my head, so my hair caught fire! I had hairspray in it too. I heard this hissing sound and I thought it was my jacket, so I ripped it off and Sean and Michele went “No, it’s your hair!!!”. There are a few more incidents, but that one always sticks in my mind. Actually, it has happened to me twice, and both in Sweden. But the first time I was drunk lighting a cigarette…
One of the occupational hazards for a touring musician…?
– I guess so! No more candles in the dressing room!
Since you started out, have you noticed any changes to music journalism?
– I tend not to read too much, unless it’s an interview. Reviews and stuff I try not to read. Because it’s more like “I’ve made it, it’s out, can’t alter it now”. There’s no point even thinking what other people are gonna think. The only people we should be caring about is when we’re doing a show. But I think that in the older days you would recognize more of what was written. Nowadays it’s lots of blogs and other things. It’s all good, though. That means there’s more opinions now, people aren’t just listening to certain things, you get more variation.
Have you ever had to tell an interviewer to fuck off?
– No, but we have cut it short, in a polite way. It’s when you feel that neither part like eachother, why even carry on. It’s annoying when somebody’s been given a job to do, and they don’t really want to do it. ‘Cause you can tell, so what’s the point? It has to be somebody who’s really interested in asking you questions. I mean, even if you don’t like the interviewee, you can still be interested.
A friend of mine collects songs that use the drum intro from “Be My Baby”, the Ronettes song, in a specific playlist. You use that particular beat on “Roy Orbison”, was it with “Be My Baby” in mind you did that?
– I think it was just in Romeo’s head, how he wanted it to start. It’s a very similar beat. And it’s kind of a little bit in “Forever Lost” as well. Romeo probably heard it somewhere, and that kind of sparked off the lyrics, ‘cause we all called it “the Roy Orbison one”. Is that playlist on Spotify?
At this point, James Dale from supporting act Goldheart Assembly abruptly crashes the interview, unknowingly, to get a beer from the cooler in the dressing room where we’re sat down. He’s just on his way to go on stage, so we’re left to carry on again, several polite excuses later.
You’re doing lead vocals on “Thought I Wasn’t Ready”. Well, are you ready? I mean, to do a solo album of blue-eyed soul?
– I don’t know. Funny, I know I’ve got that soulful voice, and a lot of the songs I’ve sung on our albums have been that way. But if I was to make an album, I don’t think it would be quite like that. It would be a bit darker, moodier, like “Black Rose”, that’s much more my thing. I mean, I love singing those songs as well, I’m a big Janis Joplin fan, so that’s where it comes from.
But have you toyed with the idea of a solo album?
– I’ve thought about it. Michele has done it, and it’s great. But first of all I’m a singer, even though I play stuff, so it’s a whole different step. I think I’d have to work with somebody else to get the ball rolling.
On Alias, I detect a bit of paranoia in the lyrics, in particular in songs like “You K(no)w” and “Enough”.
– Yes, there is. We’ve always felt like our lyrics were quite dark, and I guess it’s come out more in the music now. That’s where Alias came from, The Magic Numbers are known for their sweet sound…
The “twee” sound…
– Yeah, we hate that!
Oops, sorry for mentioning it!
– No, but it’s true, though! That’s what people think! Like “Forever Lost” and “Love Me Like You“ are on the same album as “This Love”, which is like the saddest song we have. Upon the album release we were doing the same songs over and over during a whole string of in-stores, two a day, and by the end of the tour we were really tired because it’s really hard and awkward playing in a record shop. Right at the end a woman requested “This Love”, and we were like “oh, thank you!”, finally we get to do the darker stuff! And that’s probably one of the reasons this album is darker.
Is there anything in your sound that you want to change but you keep coming back to?
– When we play live, I think that the sound has changed over the years. It’s definitely got more rocky and dark. When we did the UK tour someone described us as an “indie prog band”, and we were like “finally, someone gets it”. I think it’s naturally changed over the years and it’s been a necessary journey. We’re better now than we were.
Why did it take four years to make the album?
– You know, with kids come along, and we’ve changed management, a new label. Changing all those things, it slows things down. The next one won’t be as long, promise.
You have introduced a new song in your live set, haven’t you? It’s unusually soon, isn’t it?
– Yes, Romeo wrote a new song called “Damned Anyways”. It will definitely be on the next album, it’s another introspective one, asking lots of questions. Playing it live so soon after the album we just released isn’t so common, no, but he can’t help himself! We haven’t recorded it yet. But we have recorded a new Christmas song, actually it’s an anti-Christmas song.
What’s your favourite Christmas song?
– “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. It’s a classic. That, and “Fairytale of New York”. Both of them have been overplayed, but still.
We’ve come to the end of what has been an enjoyable interview, and later as I watch the band shine with their live show, I realise that Angela laughs exactly the way she sings: powerful, auspicious and somewhat hoarse. The stage backdrop is an enlargement of the Alias album cover, and I begin to wonder who all those people are on the photos. Afterwards, when the band has moved down to meet and greet at the merch stand I grab hold of Michele Stodart and ask her how it was made:
– The people on the photos are both friends as well as ones we don’t know who are friends of friends Most of them, like ours, are passport photos, which is pretty cool. It took ages to assemble, a real labour of love. Some of them didn’t fit so well next to eachother, so we had to move them around a lot.
”A real labour of love”. Those words just about sums up what The Magic Numbers of 2014 are.