4 Or 5 Magicians are a Brighton-based indie-pop outfit mixing sparkling melodies with lyrical wit in a manner not wholly unlike a certain Stephen Malkmus-fronted act of not so long ago. This: a good thing. They’re also set to play at the next DiScover Club gig, at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club, on August 18. Only…
They’re sort of not: personnel changes will be resolved by the time the band tour in the autumn, but currently we’re looking at a solo set from frontman Dan Ormsby. Which is cool with us – a little unfortunate timing wise but believe us when we assure you, readers many, that we’ll be down the front for 4 Or 5 Magicians’ dates in October. Check their MySpace site, here, for all confirmed shows.
All answers below answered by Ormsby.
First things first: what is currently going on in the world of 4 Or 5 Magicians? You've a record forthcoming through Big Scary Monsters spin-off Alcopop!, a tour booked, but membership tumultuousness…?
Right this very moment I'm running through two new songs I've written in preparation for playing a solo set on August 18th at Notting Hill Arts Club. They are called 'The Switch That Turned Off The Sun' and 'Out Of My Hands'. It was meant to be the full band playing, but yep, you are right, Matt (guitar) and Jon (bass) have both recently decided to leave the band.
When I started the band back in October 2005, I was going to try and play with different people at every gig. But after three or four gigs with the same line-up it stuck, and we've played together (changing drummer every now and then a la Spinal Tap) until now. We've all now graduated (only just in my case!) and they both want to move on to other stuff in life, so good luck to them. They have been my best two mates over the past four years, so I'm sorry to see them go, but there is such a wealth of musically talented layabouts around Brighton that replacing them - while as people they will be impossible to replace - shouldn't be too difficult in a musical sense. I already have two new members in mind, and we will definitely be back up and running by the time our tour in October comes around - maybe I'll have even learnt what these pedals I've bought for my guitar do by then, too.
The single has a semi-confirmed release date of September 24th, through Alcopop!, yeah, which will be 'Forever On The Edge' backed with 'Conversational Karate', 'Orderly Queue', and 'Tom Waits' Blues', which is me and Mike (drums and keyboards) playing ‘Forever On The Edge’ in the style of Tom Waits. We were doing this shit way before Scarlett Johansson. Except she probably sings like him better than me, the sex-line-voiced minx.
Alcopop! is a stepping stone, right? You're not presently locked down to a label. Have you had any 'proper' approaches as yet?
The deal with Alcopop! is a one single contract, a limited run of 500 3" CDs. I think it is really cool that Kev and Jack at Alcopop! have asked us to do this single, because there have been a lot of labels approaching us, then not being entirely clear about their intentions - they have continued to come and watch us live, so obviously are keeping a watchful eye on our progress, but they’ve not talked to us, which I suppose is par for the course from what I've heard. But Alcopop! literally heard us then offered us the chance to do the single straight away. As yet, we’ve no formal approaches for any kind of album deal from anyone, and I have self-managed the band because it has made the most sense up until this point, but this may well change in the near future if someone I think I can trust wants to take over!
You're picking up a healthy buzz right now on the back of a well-received demo and some stirring live shows: is 2007 the year where you see the band taking The Next Step?
I suppose it's not really about what I think - if a label steps in and offers what I consider to be a good deal then obviously we'd consider it whenever it comes, but it really is up to them rather than me. I'm ready to unleash a classic album on the world at any moment if someone is willing to ask me to do it, but I don't really like looking into the future too much. We'll do these dates in October, then play as many shows in London and Brighton as we can between then and the end of the year, and whatever happens, happens!
Comparisons to acts established can, sometimes, be a hindrance as audiences continue to demand originality. While I'm not suggesting that 4 Or 5 Magicians lack a kind of creativity, have the parallels to Pavement, Pixies et al put a few people off the band, do you think?**
If it has, then I don't think it should have. I think we have some really good songs, and I wouldn't bother doing it if I didn't think that. I'm creating music that I want to hear - a kind of amalgamation of all of my favourite bands to create something that sounds different to any of them. Pavement, Pixies, all the other bands we've been compared to like Built To Spill, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr, REM... they are all fantastic bands. We're not claiming to be half as good as any of them right now, but given time I am confident we can be just as important to a lot of people. I'm only just finding my feet as a songwriter (and to be honest as a guitarist and singer, too), but I have just written three new songs that eclipse anything I've done before, and I can only continue to get better. The thing about originality is that it can certainly be a good thing, but then sometimes it just doesn't matter. My favourite two bands that exist right now are Oneida and Dead Meadow - Oneida being pretty much unique, and Dead Meadow being completely unoriginal but simply brilliant. Good music is good music. Anyway, we don't sound that much like Pavement, do we? Do we?_ Ha ha..._
** Beyond the demo EP, what other releases/material is available?**
Well not a great deal right now, but like I mentioned above, we have our debut single coming out on September 24th through Alcopop!, and you can listen to the live session we recorded for Radio 1's Huw Stephens show at our MySpace page, here. There are three tracks there, 'Forever On The Edge', a new one called I'm In The Band' and our cover of Sebadoh's 'Gimme Indie Rock'. I should take this opportunity to thank Huw and his production team for their support - they have got us in for this session, and played our un-mastered demo about four times over the last couple of months, so big thanks to them. In a world without John Peel, he is doing a sterling job of carrying on his legacy by supporting the best in new music.
Your 'bands we've played with' part of MySpace is fairly impressive: are there any acts in particular that stand out, that you've previously played with?
When we supported Seafood in October last year, that was pretty special as they were one of my favourite bands when I was growing up - they even played ‘Folksong Crisis’. I started a huge fight in the crowd at Reading 2001 during this song completely by accident after I jumped up at the climax and elbowed some guy in the face. He hit me back, my mate swung at him and missed hitting someone else, and the biggest fight pit I've ever seen started (NB. potential lack of violent gig experience). No such antics at our gig, though the night out after was pretty messy. If you'd told me when I was 16 I'd be partying with Seafood six years on I would have laughed in your face.
It's also been great to be able to play with a lot of bands that are doing really well and coming up through the ranks right now... bands like Johnny Foreigner and The Strange Death Of Liberal England are both really cool and seem to like us as much as we like them. There are also a lot of bands we've played with who deserve to be listened to by more people - Favours For Sailors, Wintermute, My Psychoanalyst, Lonely Ghosts vs. The Tumbledown Estate - I'm sure all of these will go on to do really big things.
** Is being a 'pop' band a respectful calling again? It seems that melodies are coming back into fashion, what with the success, critically, of of Montreal, and the domestic acclaim for Los Campesinos!. There's nothing guilty, pleasure wise, about 4 Or 5 Magicians, right?**
My favourite band of all time is REM, who found exactly the right mix between catchy melodies and clever music. So much pop music has relied simply on the tune, but it should definitely be about more than that. In 4 Or 5 Magicians, the tune is definitely important, but then everything else is too (my one pet hate is bands that don't pay attention to the drums - they are just as important as, or even more so perhaps than, the other instruments!). A lot of bands get a guitar hook stuck in your head, other bands a tune; I don't see why both shouldn't happen. In this respect, as well as REM, I take big influence from contemporary bands like The New Pornographers and yeah, Los Campesinos!. I don't think Los Campesinos would give themselves a label like 'pop', though I'm sure if people referred to them as that they wouldn't object. I think, like me, they are just making music that comes naturally to them, and I wish them all the best because they are lovely people, and make some of the most fun music I have ever heard. Hopefully we'll get to play with them in the future - I joked to Gareth Campesinos! we'd be doing the NME tour together next year. Weirder things have happened. I guess like Amen and JJ72 doing the NME tour together.
Tesco Value vs Sainsbury's Basic: discuss. Me, I go Sainsbury's all the time. Basics juice = a winner. Does Asda still have 'Farm Stores'? Does Denise Van Outen really pish you off on ads for Morrisons?
Yeah screw Denise van Outen and Mark Owen squealing in the background - give me Jane Horrocks and Prunella Scales having a mother/daughter tiff any day.
Tesco has good bits - the bakery section is far superior to anywhere else I've come across, but then the Sainsbury's fresh fish section is much better. But on the economy produce stakes, I have to go with you Mike, Sainsbury's is the winner - just for those descriptions they have on the packaging. I actually bought some basics shower gel just because it said "Cleans, no other promises". That's the kind of honesty I like. Though in all honesty, I actually shop at Asda. I think Farm Stores was phased out a while ago. It is called Smart Price now. But yeah - just to make something clear - I'm not supporting these massive multinationals in 'Forever On The Edge', it's just a song written in character. Support your local greengrocer (butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc).
** Magicians, in general, don't seem to enjoy such high profiles as they did in the 1980s. Wasn't Victoria Wood's husband a magician? Seeing Paul Daniels on Wife Swap: just depressing, isn't it? This isn't a question as such. But yeah, magicians: shit, aren't they? Rabbits and hats and coins from behind your ears. That levitation shit? ANGLES…**
Even though I knew he was married to Dawn French, I always picture Lenny Henry with Victoria Wood, maybe because they were both on the telly so much when I was growing up. Anyway, magic isn't dead - the amount of 'street magicians' that have added us on MySpace is ridiculous. I was delighted to see one, called Dynamo, on the Richard and Judy show the other day showing off his crazy skillz. Hopefully 4 Or 5 Magicians will get a chance to show off their crazy skillz on the Richard and Judy show before too long. Well, you know, it’s not as if we can look forward to Top Of The Pops any more, is it?
Dan Ormsby plays the next DiScover Club – with Yeasayer, Public Relations Exercise and Mandelbrot Set – on August 18. Full details can be found here.