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'We've Found Our Mojo Again': The Magic Numbers Return With 'Outsiders'

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

If you abandoned the Magic Numbers once the afterglow of their early success faded, you’d be well advised to return to the fold and renew your allegiance. With their radiant harmonies once again set to stun, ‘Outsiders’ is a superbly crafted comeback that mixes together guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll, swinging ‘70s glam and heartfelt Americana to produce a sound that, if we all play it loudly enough, will bring forth some glorious summer sunshine.

You can call the Magic Numbers many things but prolific certainly isn’t one of them. Since 2006’s ‘Those The Brokes’ followed up their Mercury nominated debut after 18 months, four year gaps between albums have become somewhat habitual for a familial quartet comprising  siblings Romeo and Michelle Stodart and Angela and Sean Gannon.

Such lengthy intermissions are perhaps fitting for a band who’ve never been a conventional proposition. Sounding and looking like none of their peers when they emerged in the early noughties, the foursome mixed Fleetwood Mac vocals with a Transatlantic power-pop vibe that was both timeless, infectious and, in contrast to the too-cool-for-school indie acts of the day, sweeter than a pint of liquefied sugar.

Finding critical acclaim and commercial success, they were outsiders who, against all the odds, became insiders. But they never felt comfortable with their change of status, perhaps sensing that being flavour of the month rarely lasts for bands of their ilk. Indeed it didn’t and, on the back of subsequent albums that failed to achieve the same level of recognition, they developed into a cult act who traded in increasingly introspective, but beautifully constructed, compositions.

Yet with the fittingly named ‘Outsiders’ things, somewhat ironically, may be about to come full circle for the Magic Numbers. Thematically focused on society’s fringe players, it’s a vibrant, energised effort packed with short, sharp and punchy singalongs that are tailor made to conquer commercial airwaves. With the band enjoying a 25 date UK tour, we spoke to Romeo about anything and everything to do with their tour de force new record.

First things first. Where have you and the guys been for the last four years and what have you all been doing?

In the break my sister made a second solo album and we set up a new studio in London with all our equipment. I’ve been working on production for people and co-writing. I’ve spent the last two years working with Ren Harvieu from Manchester, a singer songwriter who I fell in love with. An amazing voice. So that and getting these songs together. It’s been exciting, feeling like we had something to say again. As soon as I brought the songs to the band we knew the time was right.

You’ve had a few long hiatuses now. Does spending time away reinvigorate the band so you come back fresh?

Yeah, definitely. It’s been important for my sister to do solo records and I’ve definitely benefited from doing other things. Especially in the studio, because making records for other people, and being in the control room looking in, I can see clearly what needs to be done and what are the main things about songs. Is the song about groove? Is it about the lyric?  

Applying all I’ve learnt inspired me, in terms of making this album and having a clear view of what I needed to do and what the strengths were within the songs. We’ve taken time between records and now I’d love to get this record out, play as much as possible, but then try and make another one and not have that four year gap. Just because it’s feeling really good at the moment in the band. I want to capitalise on that.

For those who haven’t heard ‘Outsiders’ yet, how would you compare it with your previous work?

It’s probably the most immediate record since the first album. It feels like a debut in the sense that it’s got a lot of conviction within the songs. The last two records, ‘Runaway’ and ‘Alias’, were more reflective. More inward looking. We were all in darker places in our lives, personal relationships, lots of change. Whereas with this album it feels like we’re happy to be in a room together making music and we’re feeling in a better place in our personal lives.

I think the album is really exciting. It’s honest. A lot of its songs are about trying to walk your own path, accepting who you are, the failings within that, and celebrating it. Lyrically, it definitely reflects where we’re at. There’s a romance within it and I feel like we’ve found our mojo again. I’m hoping people get a sense of that spirit from it.

You have a very identifiable sound yet each record always has a distinct identity. Is that something that comes out while you’re writing or do you decide on what kind of album you want to make beforehand?

It just happens organically, in terms of how you feel in yourself. I think when we go in, that informs what we make. This time, once we started recording, I wanted to be more concise with the songs. Like saying it in a quicker way or just working out what exactly I was trying to say. I’ve learnt a lot. I feel like I’ve turned a corner as a songwriter.

In what way?

Like I’m learning to trust the feeling of not second guessing everything. I went through a period of second guessing, or over thinking, things. So it feels freer and I’m trying to write more character based songs, which I’ve not really done before. A lot of the time it’s kind of like ‘woe is me’. But it’s liberating at the moment.

Which songs on the album are character based?

Ride Against The Wind, for sure. It was kind of like inventing a girl motorcycle gang who were leaving their lives behind in the verses, taking to the open road of possibility and not wanting to conform. That kind of gang spirit informed other songs like Runaways, which is about being a bit of a misfit, and fucking up every time in a relationship, but somehow celebrating that with someone else who is also like that.  

Sing Me A Rebel Song is a story about coming face to face with….you know when you’re reminded of who you are when you meet someone, or have someone in your life who knows you inside out? Whether it’s my sister in the band or a few friends who’ve known me for a really long time, they can just see through me. Within that you kind of see who you are.

Shotgun Wedding is a riotous six-string blast that kicks the record off in fine style. What’s the story behind that one?

It’s about a poisonous relationship.  I wanted to start with that because it’s kind of getting out of that place. Almost like once that’s out of the way, everything is fine. Even within that, there’s a lyric about ‘whatever happened to us not wanting to be like everyone else’. Sometimes you forget, within a relationship, what happened to the special thing. It’s funny talking about the songs because I’m realising how personal they are. I’ve been thinking that they aren’t, but they are.

I love Michelle’s bass on The Keeper. Her playing always delights me and is a crucial part of your identity.

It’s super important. She’s such a melodic bass player and comes up with these really hooky lines and drives it. It’s mad seeing Michelle grow in confidence as a player, and within herself, because when she started in the band her hair was all in her face and she was quite shy.

She’s gained confidence from becoming a really great bass player and come into her own. She’s a real force and a demon. It’s inspiring for me because I’ll bring something to her first, I always bring songs to her first, to see what she thinks. But she’ll instantly start playing along and add something great.

You mentioned how you’ve fallen in love with the electric guitar again and that’s clearly fed into the album. What rekindled that passion?

On the ‘Alias’ tour we got a chance to open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse around Europe and also, as we’ve gone on, we’ve rocked out a lot more on stage and it’s become a lot harder than when we started. I wanted to capture that so we tracked a lot of the record live.

I would revisit some of the guitars and still do a whole take. Sweet Divide is very Crazy Horse and I wanted to have that wild abandonment in the playing so it’s not like I constructed a guitar part. I just got a cool tone from the amp and guitar and went ‘right, I’m gonna play…just perform it’. What’s on the record is one take without labouring over guitar tones or different layers of stuff.

I also think working with Ren on her records, because I wrote a lot of songs on the piano, coming back to the Numbers I was like ‘oh yeah, this is what I do.  This is great’. That’s the other thing that’s making me happy. You sometimes forget what you have and, going away and doing other stuff, come back and are like ‘you know what, the four of us have got something’. We have a sound. That’s a strength, whereas in the past I thought ‘maybe we should try different things?’ We’re using the strength of what we have again.

Talking of Sweet Divide, I want to ask about the song’s meaning because the line ‘maybe there’s no grand design, what if this is all we find?’ doesn’t feel as bleak as it sounds?

I wasn’t thinking of it being bleak, I was thinking that if you acknowledge that then you can move on and enjoy the moment for what it is. That’s been a key thing for me. I’m enjoying everything to do with the band and everyday life a lot more. Not always thinking about what’s to come.

Now I’m thinking ‘this is great, we’ve done this, and this is happening now.  Okay, cool.’ I spent too many years chasing this dream or idea of success in the band, throughout my whole teens and early 20s, and then we got signed and things happened. It was amazing, but I still wasn’t happy because my personal life wasn’t in a good place.

And music is a ride, so sometimes you have your falls and there were a couple of records we expected more from….and then there’s the battle of demons within that. Sweet Divide, I love playing that because it’s a reminder that, even if things are in a dark place or there is no real answer to anything, you’ve got to be living in the moment. Without sounding too hippy about it, you’ve got to feel like you’re present in your life and thankful.  

The album’s called ‘Outsiders’ and features references to rebels, underdogs, dreamers, misfits, loners. When did that theme start to take shape?

It just happened in a really good way this time. I realised a lot of the songs were talking about that and it just felt like there was this rebellious spirit to some of the songs, and the characters, and also an acceptance of feeling like that. That’s the whole thing with ‘Outsiders’ as well…..just accepting ourselves as a band. That we’ve never fitted in and it doesn’t matter.  We’re doing this record that means the world to us and the main thing is the creative side, getting it out there and not worrying about what will come.

Also, throughout my life if someone was to ask me where I was from...because I was born in Trinidad and moved to New York, lived there in my teens, moved to London and hated it.  Then I met the Gannons, started making music and kind of locked myself away from anything and tried to create my own little thing. So in terms of belonging I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider, a bit of a loner at school or whatever.

Why did you, as a band, always feel like outsiders?

Because when we arrived, and even before when I used to send demos around, people always said ‘you look different from a band’. And all our early press, always talking about being overweight or whatever the hell it was, alongside the attention the music was getting, and there was always a sense we didn’t really fit in.

But obviously that was a strength. People were drawn to us because we stuck out. You don’t realise that at the time. And now, coming back, where do we fit in with everything? We don’t really and that’s kind of cool, but it’s something I’m always aware of in a way. We’re just happily on our own road doing our own thing, but aware of the fact we are on our own.

You still feel like outsiders after all your achievements?

I do. It’s not feeling like an underdog, it’s kind of different because there’s a triumph of coming from nothing and getting somewhere. There is that. As a band we came from nothing, so you’re always looking in on what is ‘the thing’. I’m happy doing that in a way. It’s like going to a party and you’re the ones in the corner. I think that’s how to describe it. But happily in the corner, just causing our own mischief.

'Outsiders' is out now on Role Play Records.

The Magic Numbers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed May 16 2018 - BRIGHTON Old Market
Thu May 17 2018 - LONDON Student Central
Fri May 18 2018 - BEDFORD Bedford Esquires
Sat May 19 2018 - LEICESTER Scholar
Mon May 21 2018 - OXFORD Bullingdon
Tue May 22 2018 - COLCHESTER Arts Centre
Wed May 23 2018 - ALDERSHOT West End Arts Centre
Mon May 28 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Hare & Hounds
Tue May 29 2018 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Wed May 30 2018 - POCKLINGTON Arts Centre
Thu May 31 2018 - HEBDEN BRIDGE Trades Club
Sat June 02 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Cluny
Sun June 03 2018 - EDINBURGH Caves
Mon June 04 2018 - CARLISLE Old Fire Station
Tue June 05 2018 - STOCKTON Georgian Theatre
Thu June 07 2018 - BELFAST Empire Music Hall
Fri June 08 2018 - CORK Cyprus Avenue
Sat June 09 2018 - GALWAY Roisin Dubh
Sun June 10 2018 - DUBLIN Whelans
Tue June 12 2018 - LIVERPOOL Arts Club
Wed June 13 2018 - NORWICH Norwich Arts Centre

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