Why it's all adding up for the Magic Numbers
Ahead of their Belfast gig, Romeo Stodart of the indie rockers tells Chris Jones why people's opinions about their looks are no longer weighing on their minds
Back in 2005, The Magic Numbers were big news. Indie-pop was having a moment when, apparently from nowhere, two pairs of siblings from west London — Romeo and Michele Stodart and Sean and Angela Gannon — gatecrashed the top 10 of the album charts, bagged a Mercury Prize nomination and became instant festival favourites. Their success was mainly founded on perfect pop singles, while their harmonies, hippyish appearance and cosy, family feel were ripe for comparisons to the Mamas and the Papas.
Despite two albums since – with a fourth, Alias, to come next month – frontman Romeo Stodart feels that the public perception of the band hasn't moved on, and that there's more to them than smiling faces and jangling guitars.
"I feel that we have something to prove to people that have a perception of the band as one thing," he says. "I look at us as being in some ways like The Cure. They managed to have these huge pop singles, but they can also exist in this other world which is darker and more mysterious.
"When we started out, we had a cartoon video for Forever Lost, it was the summertime, Love Me Like You was another big pop single. Then we brought out Love's A Game which was a more soulful, Stax thing, and then I See You, You See Me, which is a duet. We tried to show different things, but I think people see us more as a jangly pop, sunshine [band]. Maybe people don't see the whole thing. But in fairness to our fans, they get it."
It's been a long and circuitous route to get to this point. The Stodarts were born in Trinidad to a Scottish father and a Portuguese mother, though the family moved to New York after a military coup.
"Our parents speak with heavy Caribbean accents and if I'm angry or I've had a joint or two it starts coming out," he laughs.
"I loved it [but] the move to New York, having come from a small island, was good because it made me think, 'I came from this small place and I want to make something of myself'. There was this drive from really early on."
Stodart says that New York was "a shock" but it fired his love of music. He hung out with his gay Trinidadian uncle, a florist who counted Madonna and Quincy Jones as clients, and who took him to see Guns 'n' Roses. "Then I got into The Cure and The Smiths and that was my turning point," he says.
The Magic Numbers began after another upheaval, to London when Romeo was 17 years old. He started writing songs and befriended a drummer, Sean Gannon. After paying their dues making prog-rock with an ever-changing cast of bandmates, Stodart hit on the bright idea of recruiting both of their sisters – Michele and Angela.
"I was getting into harmony singing, re-getting into country music," he says. "I was trying out how it would work with me and the girls, and I really loved it. Then I ditched everything I had and started writing new songs. Within a year of them joining, everybody wanted to know, and word spread so quick. It was mad. It felt like a long time coming, but when it did start happening it was so fast."
Stodart chuckles about the vindication he felt when finally, after nearly 10 years, things started to happen for them ("I secretly felt, 'Yeah, about time") but it wasn't all sweetness and light. The band's appearance – full-figured and hirsute – became a subject for ridicule, and suddenly there was much more than just writing lyrics, melodies and vocal harmonies to worry about.
"I wasn't prepared for doing photo shoots, interviews and all the other things that weren't the music," says Stodart, "and I quickly realised that I couldn't read too much [press] because they would say things about our appearance that would make you feel bad. We were a gang that I was protecting, and when you make a record, it's out there for people to say what they feel."
Things came to a head in August 2005, when the band abandoned what would have been their debut Top Of The Pops appearance after presenter Richard Bacon introduced them as "a big fat melting pot of talent" in rehearsals. The episode clearly still rankles, but Stodart is proud of how they handled it, and says that although those kind of comments are "probably" still out there, they don't pay attention to them any more.
"It was really good because I was like, 'Look, we're not going to take anyone's crap or jump through hoops continuously to achieve some sort of fame'," he says. "That was an important thing; people respected us a bit more, and we didn't milk it. Everyone around us wanted us to make a song and dance about it [but] it made us step away from the circus a bit."
Stodart describes himself as the "daddy bear" of the band, and he is clearly comfortable in that role, not to mention being big brother to Michele, who is five years his junior. "I'm very protective of her," he says. "Not so much when she's on the road having fun, but just in terms of making sure that no-one f**ks with her.
"We have a really good working, band relationship. She's my right hand in the studio. Just this morning we were responding to 10 different emails about the next video, and I need her there to help me with stuff like that.
"Sometimes I forget the whole family thing – we're chatting about band things and then at the end of it I'm like, 'Anyway, how are you doing? What's up?'.
"I've got to look after the four of us – everyone comes to me. Thankfully we have a good [relationship]. It gets dark sometimes, in the creative sense. In the studio, we fight a lot. But overall, we have such good times. It's the best thing to be doing. You feel so lucky that you're able to just go out and play music."
Stodart says that band arguments can get adversarial – family against family. But the key relationship is the one he has with his sister.
"Sometimes I feel like it'll be the end of the band if Michele and I fall out big – that'll be the clincher," he says.
"We've come close a few times. I think if it was my younger brother, Mark, it might be different – like Oasis or The Kinks. But it's my little sister. You have to let them win."
The Magic Numbers play the Mandela Hall, Belfast, on Sunday, September 28. For details and ticket information, visit www.limelightbelfast.com