Interview: Artmagic

Doors close; windows open etc. One of the many valuable lessons to be learned from the Sound of Music and when Suede’s door closed, another window of shining opportunity opened in the form of Artmagic: the new project and meeting of minds of Richard Oakes and producer, now vocalist, SeanMcGhee (Imogen Heap, Britney Spears et al.).

Then yes, Suede’s door reopened, but fear not, that won’t be affecting the duo.

We caught up with them for a chat/‘peak behind the magic,’ if you will.

SPINDLE: Before you hear Artmagic’s music, it seems at first like an unlikely
pairing; how did you form? What’s the story behind Artmagic?

SEAN: I was a big admirer of Richard’s work and was curious that he’d seemingly disappeared when his other band split.  Here was this enormously talented guitarist and writer, suddenly off the radar. I must have been in a fearless, bolshy mood, because I just decided I wanted to write with him. A friend of mine was egging me on, and it turned out that he knew Richard’s brother. So I was able to get in contact and arrange to meet up. We wrote our current single, Forever In Negative on the very first day of working together; once that was under our belts, we both knew this wasn’t going to be a one-off.

RICHARD: We exchanged show reels via our manager Charlie in late 2007, but we didn’t actually meet until July 2008, and started writing straight away. Not really the traditional way bands form- meeting at art school, sharing a squat etc… But right from the off Artmagic was never going to be a typical rock ‘n’ roll outfit. I think of it as a project, rather than a band, with none of the clichéd behaviour, image or attitude. Sean doesn’t model himself on his influences, and this definitely attracted me to working with him.

SPINDLE: Why the name?

SEAN: It comes from something film director John Waters said about modern art; he noted how it lets you take seemingly unrelated everyday objects and, by using them in the right way, turn them into something meaningful.  Art, he said, is magic, like alchemy – transformative. And I loved that, immediately, because song writing is art. We take disparate fragments and craft them into the whole. I’m not afraid to appear pretentious when I say that. I’m get exasperated by the clichés of rock, so framing what we do in artistic terms suits me much better than relying on tired posturing.

RICHARD: Sean chose the name, my input was a shameful zero! My past career has left me with a strong ethic that the only thing that matters is the music; everything else is secondary. It’s easy to spot the bands in the past who have concentrated on name, image and impact first… and then forgotten about the actual music.

SPINDLE: Obviously there were a lot of expectations for the band; were you at all
apprehensive putting new music out there in the beginning?

SEAN: Not at all; the moment we released the I Keep On Walking EP was when Artmagic became real, and I think we were both hungry for that moment. I can’t really imagine what expectations people had, but I hope we confounded them by giving them a moody song cycle about 3 unwillingly intertwined lovers.  I’m immensely proud of it, and I think it was a gutsy way to lead off.

RICHARD: Releasing your work to the world is always exciting yet daunting, no matter what you believe the expectations to be. I’ve had reviews of my past work that have ranged from glowing to utterly awful, and I’ve learned to take both with a pinch of salt. The most important thing is that people get to hear it; I believe there will always be someone in the world whose life is touched by it, and that’s the whole point. 

SPINDLE: How have you found the reception so far?

SEAN: Gratifying. It’s thrilling, really, that we’ve already got some very passionate fans and it’s very exciting when we do shows and we can see the audience getting it. Obviously some people have had difficulty moving beyond our previous work, and get upset or confused because it doesn’t sound the same, but you can’t please everyone, and I wouldn’t want to anyway.  Pleasing ourselves is the first priority, and will remain so.

RICHARD: I believe we’ve attracted the kind of people who like music in the same way we do. When talking to someone at a gig you can instantly tell if they’re there for the right reasons, a genuine open minded love of music as an art form, or whether they’re there just to stare at you. People who have the usual prejudices won’t appreciate what we do, and I have no interest in playing to them. 

SPINDLE: Sean, how was it making the transition from ‘behind the scenes’ as it were to taking the mic and being at the forefront?

SEAN: Artmagic happened because we realised that no-one else could sing these songs we were writing – they were too personal. That, and Richard’s support, gave me the confidence to be the man to sing them. Doing so was both the realisation of a long-held ambition and a serious challenge.  But that’s a good thing, because anything that’s easy to do is generally not worth doing at all.   

SPINDLE: Richard, after taking time out of the spotlight following Suede’s split, how was it releasing new music? Is it something you’ve been working on since the break or did you take time away from it all?

RICHARD: I did take some time out to move house, but I had been working on a whole load of music, some of which became the backbone for the album, for a couple of years before I met Sean. The intensity of being a Suede member for so many years cast a long shadow over my work, and it took me a lot of soul searching to realise exactly what I wanted to do with my career. The one thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to simply join another band, or have a new band formed around me. I wanted to just write and write, and when I met Sean, that’s what we concentrated on. I threw a lot of (probably very confused- sounding) music at him, and he was able to pinpoint the underlying emotions and feelings, and turn them into very personal songs.

SPINDLE: How does the creative process as Artmagic differ from previous projects
for both of you?

SEAN: The process is both the same and different.  I’ve written with a lot of people over the years and I’m past being tentative; you have to fearlessly throw down your ideas and say, “what about this?” to get a song happening. Truly poor songs get written by the disinterested or uninspired.  That is never an issue with Richard because he’s always got something great up his sleeve, and that means I have to respond in kind. That’s not always been the case for me in the past, so I relish it.

RICHARD: The biggest difference for me is that Sean invites me to be involved when he writes the melodies, there is no separatism.. This was never the case in Suede; almost all co-writing would be done alone, often even by post. It just goes to show how many different ways there are to write a song. We have a few that have come out of spontaneous jamming round at Sean’s, but they’re a world away from the traditional band rehearsal room jamming! Something that rarely works well..

SPINDLE: Have you faced any major hurdles so far as a band and if so, what?

SEAN: Not really. Any musician who has a career is living a charmed life, and they know it. Never mind the endless whining we hear, saying how hard it is.  It should be hard, because that weeds out the faithless. I’m a true believer in Artmagic specifically, and music generally. I crave widespread appreciation for Artmagic, because I think our work deserves it.

RICHARD: The only hurdles, the only hoops we’ve had to jump through have been self- imposed, in the writing and recording. We set ourselves a high standard, and despite having no corporations breathing down our necks, it was hard work.. but the end result was all the more satisfying.

SPINDLE: What’s next?
SEAN: Touring and festivals in July, more touring in September.  Our second single Down In The River comes out in October.  We’re working hard to give Become The One You Love its due, and once that’s done and dusted we’ll start thinking seriously about album two.  We already have some songs in hand, and some very interesting ideas about how to approach the process differently next time around.  But I don’t want over-think it; better to run on instinct.

RICHARD: Live appearances in the many different guises of the band, up and down the country. I’m especially looking forward to the album release gig at St Pancras Old Church on 9th July with the whole band. But I can’t wait to start writing again- I believe that is the most important part of our job. Creativity will outlive industry.

SPINDLE: Anything else to add?

SEAN: Please don’t call us “indie”.  Do we look like skinny 18 year olds?  I was never skinny, or young. This policy will continue.

RICHARD: Please do call us “indie”. It’s funny to watch Sean’s reaction!

Watch Artmagic’s live acoustic version of Heaven Is Here here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWPeF5INEXM&feature=player_embedded