There’s all sorts of things that bring bands together. Music is, presumably, a common one, probably the most likely of the lot. A love of drinking and illicit substances has brought bands together-and more often than not, torn them apart. The desire to be thought attractive for commitmentless sex. And quite possibly a combination of two or all three.
In the case of Artmagic, though, it was actually down to Dr. Who. ‘We met because one of my best mates is a massive Dr. Who fan,’ explains Sean McGhee, singer with Artmagic. It turned out he knew Richard’s brother, once we got togther…’ something clicked.
Richard, by the way is none other than Richard Oakes. Way, way back, in 1994, shortly before the release of Suede’s second album, Dog Man Star, guitarist Bernard Butler left the band. His replacement was none other than a young man named Richard Oakes, barely eighteen. As an eighteen-year old bedroom guitarist -one of many in my school and across, well the world- we were green with envy that this talented young man, the same age as us, had got to join Suede. They had, after all, just released what many still hold to be one of the best albums of that decade.
Over the course of the next nine years, Richard helped co-write numerous Suede songs across their next three albums, Coming Up, Head Music and A New Morning. Coming Up was Suede’s biggest selling album, reaching no.1 in the UK and spawning no less than five top ten singles. Head Music also reached no.1, but by the time of A New Morning, the sales were no longer as high as they had once been.
Then, at the end of 2003, Brett Anderson split the band up, announcing that he needed to do whatever it took to get his demon back. This, it transpired, meant getting together with none other than Bernard Butler to work as The Tears, though Suede reformed in 2010.
‘By the time Suede finished, I was pretty glad not to have to deal with about 90% of it [music business crap],’ says Richard. ‘I moved house -which took forever -and by this time thought Sean would have dropped off the map! We had one meeting -and we wrote two songs together. It was quite obvious, even on the first day we were writing we were onto something.’
When I speak to them, the album Become The One You Love has been finished. It was a relatively slow process, despite the chemistry between them. ‘It was only at the beginning of 2010 that we were able to sit down together,’ remembers Sean, though they first met in 2008. ‘At this point, it wasn’t a band it was ‘let write some songs.’ Sean had worked with a number of different artists, including Robyn, Imogen Heap, Alanis Morissette and Britney Spears.
But working together, it became clear that these were songs they needed to do themselves. ‘The songs are very personal,’ Richard says. ‘ When we’d written a handful of songs, it was clear we had to sing them ourselves.’
‘It was always going to be: let’s explore these themes -but accessible!’ chips in Sean.
Become The One You Love is, it should be noted, very different from any of Suede’s albums. the same can be said for the rather fine, four-track EP I Keep On Walking that they released last year. McGhee’s voice bears no relation to Brett Anderson’s, and it’s a different listening experience. This applies to both the songs and the music – in his initial email to me back in January, Oakes wrote: ‘We’ve been describing the album as spectral, often melancholy, adult pop. It’s a collision of influences – Talk Talk, Magazine, Caravan, Field Music, Gary Numan, Scritti Politti – but we’re looking forward, not backwards.’ And this also applies to how the album was made.
Describing the album as ‘very home made,’ Richard tells me that ‘it was all done at home, in a small back room in North London! That’s the way things are done now. The songwriting has evolved [just as] the industry has.’
‘Every record I’ve done has been done this way,’ Sean notes. ‘ The old thing of the big studio and the record company is kind of gone now.’ Of course, some things do have to follow a more traditional approach, such as for gigs. Live they expand to a five piece, and they tell me that they are looking to play live ‘whenever it’s appropriate!’
They’re also surprisingly modest about their expectations for the record. Sean tells me: ‘We are aware that very few people of fifteen, sixteen could be into this record…we’re not imagining an audience.’
But with a new Suede album on the horizon, what does the future hold for Artmagic? It’s clear that the pair of them do not wish this to be simply a one off. Sean revelas that there will be another album and that the two of themhave ‘talked about ideas’ they have had for it, and Richard has been writing as well. But it’s different than being in Suede.
‘With Artmagic,’ Richard tells me, ‘there’s no rules.’ But what they have managed to do is to -quietly -ably prove themselves in their own right.
Become The One You Love is out now