“A lot of people don’t know that country music was big in Trinidad at the time” – the Magic Numbers talk their new album and growing up in the Caribbean
Hank Williams, Slash and the Bee Gees aren’t names that would normally be associated with the Magic Numbers, who are better known for their pleasant and upbeat indie pop.
However, over the course of a brief conversation with bassist/singer Michele Stodart, it becomes clear that this is a band who defy convention at more or less every turn.
Their fourth album – Alias – is by some measure the darkest and most introverted to date, so naturally the band’s choice of lead single, ‘E.N.D.,’ is all-out jukebox disco.
Speaking to Something for the Weekend, Stodart explains it was important to have an element of contrast on the record, considering the heavy nature of the subject matter.
She says: “The record is a lot darker, and dealing with a lot of big questions in our lives at the moment, and that track on the album is sort of like a release for the listener.
“It’s one of our most positive tracks out there, actually, and the contrast between that track and a lot of the album is quite different.”
It’s an energetic track and, along with previous single ‘Shot in the Dark,’ Stodart considers it to be one of the more exciting tracks to play live.
She feels that with Alias they’ve finally managed to translate the energy and intensity of their live show onto record, something they’ve struggled to realise in the past.
It’s the first record the foursome have recorded in their recently-assembled home studio, and far from offering the temptation to overdo things, Alias turned out to be their easiest recording experience to date.
Much of which owes to their decision to record live to tape as much as possible, which the four recording vocals together and with minimal overdubs, and Stodart proudly notes that in the majority of cases it was the first or second take of a song that turned out to be the one they used.
She says: “We tried to capture the band’s live energy and adrenaline on the record, and all of that thing we’ve been playing live together for a long time and finally getting those ‘tingle at the back of your neck’ moments on the album, we’ve finally learned how to do that.
“Two weeks prior to going to record the album, we went into a rehearsal room and tried out all the songs, and Shot in the Dark just seemed to have its own kind of energy.
“I kind of didn’t want to map it out too much in the structure and the arrangements, and it became one of those songs that you kind of just let it go. You can hear it in the backing vocals, where me and Angela are just kind of taking a line when there’s something we feel or want to say out loud, and it’s completely different from how we usually do a Magic Numbers song.
“We went into the studio with the idea of going, ‘right, let’s just completely let go’ and this sort of wild abandonment thing came out in Romeo’s guitar. It was great to be a part of that, really, and we all just played the best we’ve played, really positive and confident in our playing, and it came across in that track. We knew then it was going to be the first single off the record.”
The band comprises two pairs of brother and sister: Michele and her brother Romeo, lead singer and guitarist; alongside singer/percussionist Angela Gannon and her drummer brother Sean.
This arrangement came about by accident rather than design, as Stodart explains.
“We fell together in a way. Romeo and Sean played together in many bands before – Romeo was the guitarist, he wouldn’t sing, and Sean was the drummer.
“They were going for ten years and the other members left and went off to do their own thing, families and jobs, and then I was playing the guitar and I’d be writing my own songs at home.
“We had our own home studio, because mum had converted a front room, so there’d be many a day and many a night when Romeo and Sean would be in that room.
“One night, Romeo asked, ‘hey man, we haven’t got a bass player, do you want to try out some stuff with us?’ I don’t think they actually meant for me to join the band on that day, but it fell together really nicely.
“Me and Sean loved playing together, and I was able to sing as well, which he never had. Suddenly, Romeo started writing songs with backing vocals, so me and Angela officially joined the band. Within a year, we’d been signed with Heavenly.”
While the four met and became friends when all were based in London, Michele and Romeo had a nomadic childhood that included formative years in Trinidad before relocating to New York and, finally, returning to the UK.
Stodart explains that the lack of certainty growing up ensured music was a constant comfort for herself and her brother and had a powerful effect on their journey to pursuing lives as musicians.
She says: “It had a huge influence on us growing up in realising that music was forever going to be a constant in our lives – everything else was going to change, our friends and family, we’d miss our family when we moved, and our surroundings changed, but the music was always the thing that kept us solid.
“That in itself was a big thing that gave us something to cling to. Musically, the different cultures, like in Trinidad they had calypso music and there’s also a huge staple for country music there – a lot of people don’t know that country music was big in Trinidad at the time. Our uncle used to listen to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and all the greats, and that stayed with us being four years old and listening to these great songs.
“And then, moving to New York, and realising that any dream is possible. If I did want to be singing or if Romeo wanted to be Slash, which he did at the time, it was possible. New York has this energy that makes you feel like you can do anything you want. Moving there made us what we are today.”
Alias is out now. The Magic Numbers play Dublin’s Academy on September 27.