Romeo Stodart talks wrestling art, luring Neil Young out of his dressing room cave, and becoming a poppa...
Four years on from The Runaway, Alias is London-based The Magic Numbers' fourth studio record and one borne out of a helter-skelter period in their singer's life that saw one important relationship end, another begin and with that the entry into fatherhood.
Come the end of a 30-minute chat with Romeo Stodart, The Magic Numbers front-man has inadvertently serenaded me with a selection of songs including the chorus of Cork legends The Frank & Walters' famous anthem 'After All'. Added to that - Cork being the humble size it is - I not only know the few Leesider folk he calls friends but I have spoken to both in the past 24 hours, one barely 15 minutes before our Monday afternoon call.
The G-Man: Where are you in the world and how are you feeling?
Romeo: Feeling good. Trying to sort a lot of things out in my life. Personal things. Excited to get back out on the road because we had an amazing European tour that we came off maybe two weeks ago and it was great and we loved all the shows and enjoyed some great crowds so we want to get back out there and play these new songs.
Does it sometimes feel like living two lives and can your own personal life disappear amidst the bubble of touring?
It is very difficult. I guess when you are making a record you can’t think of anything else. You have to immerse yourself in it. It can be draining because you are thinking all the time that this is going to last forever and you want it to be this thing so life outside of that sometimes takes a back seat. That’s just how it is, well for me anyway. Touring is fun and an escape. When the shows are great you celebrate. When it’s not a great show you just get drunk anyway!
As time goes on you learn how to plan it a certain way where you are not on the road for extensive periods. You can lose your mind on the road as reality is blurred and is this bubble like you say.
It’s nearly 10 years since the first record. In what ways do you feel the band - and you yourself - have changed since then?
Massively. It’s crazy to think that. 10 years! I think we’ve grown into the band that I was always hoping we would be. I feel like I’ve progressed as a songwriter; It’s always been about my own experiences but I feel I am writing better songs and I am trying to write a lot differently. The new album is a fully realised version of the group and it’s got the energy of when we play live. Previous records saw us get the full representation of the songs down but maybe didn’t capture the energy as this one has which I am glad for. As time goes on and the more experience you have making records, and now we have our own studio and are more hands on - totally hands on - as I produced this one myself, we know what we want a lot more from it. I have nothing against the first few records but it feels like we are a new band in a way which feels good.
Recording Alias, what ground-rules were laid before heading into the studio? It must be tough to avoid falling into old habits?
Totally. I was doing it a lot to myself. I didn’t want to go into the studio until I felt like I wasn’t repeating myself lyrically, that I had something to say and come back with the best songs that I had ever written. That was the first rule to myself.
Then, when we got together as a band I wanted to push things differently in terms of the sound of the group. But the thing is and with groups that have a distinctive sound, as soon as Angela, Michele and I start singing, no matter how different the music is we are going to sound like us. Bob Dylan will sound like Dylan, Neil Young like Neil Young. The rules were not to fight the things that make us us, and at the same time what we could change - like songwriting, the sound of the record, techniques used to record - and then afterwards create a world of sound. There are a lot of layers in experimenting in other ways on there. In the back of your mind you know it sounds us like but I think that’s a good thing.
Obviously you’ve been through some tough times recently with a lot of the experiences coming through in your music. Art needs to be honest and open to connect. One line that jumped out at me:
"That empty house where dreams remain I wonder how it could have been"
from ‘Better Than Him’. Do you worry about opening a window to your self when writing songs?
Luckily, that’s something that I did think about with the new record. There’s a lot of personal things in there but it was only until we really listened to it together as a whole that the guys were like ‘some of this is pretty heavy dude’ [laughs]. I hope the songs are written in a way that people can take from it, For me I needed to use it like a cathartic thing and just let it out and worry about it afterwards. When I sing some of the songs live - even the older songs - when I go into the state when it was written and delve into this headspace it can be emotionally draining but then you open your eyes and people are getting into it with smiles on their faces and getting into the bounce and rhythm of the music. They’re not thinking about the fact you are saying ‘oh it all went wrong’, begging the person in question ‘this isn’t what I want’.
Still, you have no control over it sometimes. You just got to do it.
Staying with that song, it opens so dark but ends up quite pop-py come the chorus.
Some of the best pop songs are based on dark material. E.g. 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' by The Walker Brothers. Why do you think that is?
Yeah it’s great, dark song though. But it still gives you a warm feeling. I’ve always liked that juxtaposition of happy/sad. Leonard Cohen for me is comforting. Some of it is incredibly moving and makes you question your place in the world but there is still fun in the lyrics.
I’m actually waiting for my full appreciation of jazz to hit me. Maybe someday that realisation will come.
Staying with inspirations, what was it like opening for Neil Young?
To be honest it came at such the right time, just before bringing out the record. When you have been away for a while you always believe in it 1,000,000% but you always have a little sense of self-doubt about what other people will think about it, will they buy it, 'oh god people don’t buy records these days', what’s going to happen - all these doubts festering away. I watched him every night and thought this is what it is about. He’s made 35-40 records and not all of them have been successful, he’s done country, band records, rock, soundtracks: he just does what ever the hell he wants to do and during that tour he went out every night and improvised.
He walked out in Germany and opened with ‘Down By The River’ - which he hadn’t played on the whole tour - playing it for half an hour simply because there was a river close by. It may not be the masses but if you just walk your own road, people will recognise that. We might never repeat the success we had when we started out but we will have a different success of people who have stayed with you, realise what you are trying to do and it will be a true thing. It was a good injection for us as it’s something we’ve always felt so it was good to have it reaffirmed.
And also just standing side-stage. that guitar sound is just killer and he's such a cool dude, very zen like.
Did you meet him?
We were half rehearsing but secretly half knew his door was ajar and thought maybe he would come in if he hears us singing so we kind of constructed this meeting. It was really funny. I said to the girls to pretend we are warming up and sing the best we ever have and sung a song we know he loves. [starts to sing] "Why does the sun go on shining, why don’t they know it’s the end of the world." We saw him walk over and he was such a good soul. His presence was really good to be around. That will stay with me forever. A real moment for all of us really. And I am glad it happened now as well rather than ten years ago. So many things were happening back then and it was hard to digest many of them. One minute you’d be playing the main stage at Glastonbury to thousands of people and the next you’d be off somewhere else and it was very hard to take it all in.
How are you adapting to life as a dad?
I absolutely love being a dad. He’s going to be three in January. It’s incredible really. He’s at the playful stage and my days are filled with just wanting to make him laugh. I’m the fun guy! Someone’s got to laugh at my jokes, I’ve been the only one doing so for years so I love it. It’s a massive life-changer of course. Are you a dad?
Take your time…[laughs] Enjoy what’s out there but when it does happen it’s going to blow your mind. I saw my sister Michelle go through it, having a little girl and becoming a mum and it blew my mind but it still didn't really register. Then it’s suddenly 'holy shit'...
I’ve heard it makes people very efficient at getting things done in the brief free time you have.
Definitely. I’m trying to do a million things in a short space of time. Thankfully the rule is if I have any ideas musically I am allowed go and do what I gotta do. That gets you out of doing the dishes. [Laughs] I just happen to be very creative after dinner every night 'wow, I just got this amazing idea!'
Do you have any hidden talents or skills?
I like cooking and being creative and getting a bit out there and trying to create all sorts of concoctions. It’s very cathartic, it really is. And soothing which I never would have known until recently and having to do a lot more around the house. Before as a so called "free spirit" I’d pick something up on the way home after getting completely wasted and wake up with something next to you thinking OH GOD.
I hear there's a Christmas 7"?
Yep. The pressing plant hasn’t got them down in time for the Ireland gigs so we are just getting them ahead of the UK shows. It’s a brand new song, an actual Christmas song we wrote. 'I Don’t Care if it’s Xmas' which works a treat right now! The character in the story is fun and the artwork is great too. [Romeo kindly offers to put aside a 7” for me as a Christmas present].
[So delighted with myself I more smash than segue into a final question] Your living space is burning...what do you take with you? Non-musical items only mind.
I’ve got these paintings from Luke Haines who used to be in The Auteurs. He's started writing books now but he’s done tonnes of stuff. He did these limited paintings about this Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early '80s and that’s the name of the album! I bought a couple of these one-off paintings from him. I’m not even into wrestling which shows how brainwashed I am by this guy! If I am not allowed to take my guitars I’ll grab those.
Upcoming Magic Numbers tour dates:
- 30th November - Roisin Dubh (Galway)
- 1st December - Dolan's (Limerick)
- 2nd December - Half Moon (Cork)
- 3rd December - Academy (Dublin)
- The Magic Numbers play Half Moon (Cork) on 2nd December
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