Where art you now, Romeo?

Where art you now, Romeo?

Where art you now, Romeo?

First published in Music

The Magic Numbers' fourth album has been finished for about a year now. Understandably, Romeo Stodart, the man who wrote and produced most of it, is anxious for other people to finally hear it.

Some fans have heard bits of Alias already - Stodart and bass-playing sister Michele toured a few songs in a van last September, during their first-ever acoustic tour - but for most, it'll be brand new, and perhaps the first they've heard of The Magic Numbers in some time.

Their previous album, The Runaway, was released in 2010, but failed to match the chart positions and impact of their first two; their self-titled 2005 debut, which sold more than 700,000 copies and was nominated for the Mercury Prize, and its follow-up, Those The Brokes, released a year later.

The writing of Alias has been happening for the past three years or so, a time significant change, says Stodart.

Most notably, the 36-year-old frontman is now a dad.

"It's been a real life-changer in the most positive way," he says of his son, also called Romeo in something of a Stodart family tradition. "He's made my life so much more meaningful, really. I was lost before."

A lot of Alias was written before Romeo Jr's birth, and deals with the break-up of a long-term relationship and "darkness" that followed.

"I've been dealing with my own crap for ages," Stodart admits. "There's this sort of inner turmoil, as it were. I don't want this in any way to come across like I think I'm the only person experiencing this, or the only person that's trying to figure out what their life means," he adds. "What I have noticed, in writing the album and now talking about it to friends and in interviews, is that getting all this out has been a very good thing. You just let out what's inside when you're writing, but afterwards you can reflect on it all. I think that's reflected in the album's title, too."

He says for so long, music was his life. He and Michele were born in Trinidad in the Caribbean, where their mother was an opera singer and had her own TV show. They left just before a coup in 1990, and headed for New York. By the time Romeo was 16 and Michele was 10, they'd relocated to London where they've lived ever since. It was here that the Stodarts made friends with another brother and sister pair, Sean and Angela Gannon, and started playing music.

By 2002, they'd become The Magic Numbers and began playing gigs. Their harmony-heavy music, jangling guitars and interesting family story soon won them a cult following, and they were pursued by a number of record labels.

"I'd wanted it for so long, when things actually happened with the band it was amazing," says Stodart. "But then there was this huge void that grew and grew. We're all searching for something, I know I was. We're all looking for this idea of contentment, and I've come to realise those moments are fleeting, it can't be that every day feels amazing.

"Coming to terms with myself is a really difficult thing, and so often I'll do something that totally contradicts that idea, but I'm getting there," he continues. "This record is about me working through all of that."

The leisurely pace of making Alias definitely helped. With no label or management watching over them, and no deadline imposed, there was very little pressure.

"It's been important to step away from everything that goes with being in a band," Stodart says. "For all of us, we have to live outside the band. It also means we can put life experience into our music. We've all been doing other things too, other projects, family, lots of stuff.

"It's good now stepping back, there's a rejuvenated spirit."

That regeneration is there to hear in the music, too. With string arrangements by Gita Langley, wife of the band's long-time friend Ed Harcourt, there's a real vibrancy to the album.

Recent single E.N.D, particularly, has a previously unheard disco feel, while Thought I Wasn't Ready, sung by Angela, nods to the sound of classic Sixties girl groups.

"I was really conscious of pushing the band's sound and doing something new for us," says Stodart. "Otherwise we wouldn't have made this album. I wanted to make sure I had something to say. It was very important to get it right."

With that came a new approach, so rather than recording in one go, the band would get together for a week or so, record a couple of songs and then come back to the studio - they now have their own - a month or two later, to reflect on what they'd done the last time then continue.

Roy Orbison is another pivotal moment on the album, and Stodart's favourite song.

"I was reading his autobiography, Dark Star: The Roy Orbison Story," he explains. "I had his song, Running Scared, in my head, and I'd also written this Fifties-sounding song, inspired by listening to him and reading that book, and that line just came; 'Am I just running scared, is Roy Orbison still ringing in my ears'.

"It was totally about how I was feeling and wanting to escape that moment," Stodart adds. "That song is special for me, and just happened at the right time."

EXTRA TIME - THE MAGIC NUMBERS

:: The Magic Numbers are two sets of siblings; Romeo and Michele Stodart, and Sean and Angela Gannon.

:: After releasing just one single, Forever Lost, in 2005, the band sold out 2,000-capacity venue The Forum in London's Kentish Town.

:: Their debut album was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize but lost out to Antony and the Johnsons.

:: The late Robert Kirby, who arranged strings for Nick Drake among others, also wrote arrangements for The Magic Numbers' second and third albums.

:: The band famously walked off Top Of The Pops when presenter Richard Bacon apparently mocked their appearance while introducing them.

:: The Magic Numbers' fourth album Alias is released on August 18. They begin a tour of the UK and Ireland on September 10, full dates below

TOUR DATES

September:

10 - Glasgow Garage

11 - Liverpool East Village Arts Club

12 - Manchester Academy 2

13 - Leeds Metropolitan University

15 - Sheffield Leadmill

16 - Birmingham Institute

17 - Bristol Bierkeller

20 - Cambridge Junction

21 - Oxford O2 Academy

23 - Brighton St George's Church

24 - Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms

25 - London O2 Forum

27 - Dublin Academy

28 - Belfast Mandela Hall

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