How I wrote ‘Forever Lost’ by The Magic Numbers’ Romeo Stodart
The English pop-rockers’ songwriter tells us how their debut single managed to blend an uplifting melody with a darker lyric
When The Magic Numbers burst onto the scene in 2005 attention all too often focused on the group’s family dynamic – formed of two pairs of siblings: Romeo and Michele Stodart, with Sean and Angela Gannon – or the fact that they didn’t have the conventional look deigned essential for bands of that period. Those who delved a little deeper discovered a world of close harmonies and seemingly effortless charm, music which combined classic songcraft with an obvious wealth of influences such as indie, country, folk and soul.
Underpinning much of the group’s sound was the songwriting of Romeo Stodart. The 2005 single Forever Lost, which helped hurl The Magic Numbers into the mainstream, remains a key example of his ability to blend universal sentiments with memorable melody to devastating effect. Along with Love Me Like You, another hit from that period, a listen to Forever Lost still provides the listener with all the clues they need as to what made (and still makes) The Magic Numbers such a breath of fresh air.
“It was 2004 and myself, Michelle and Angela would do a lot of harmony singing together. That became something where I thought, ‘Yeah I’m really loving this,’ and so within that you revisit The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Lovin’ Spoonful, lots of harmony groups which made me want to have that feel.
“Forever Lost started as a very slow song with an open-tuning and droney verse; a lot slower and more delicate. It was about the end of a relationship and so the lyric is not the most hopeful. It’s funny thinking of that time, I’d been doing music for so long and nothing was happening, no one was coming to gigs or getting back to me when I would send demos out. So it was probably also a reflection on how I felt within the grand scheme of things.
“One of the reasons that the relationship ended was that I was focussing all my energy into music and the band, like I have done throughout my life. It’s not good for relationships, this line of work. I guess I was feeling a responsibility of messing that up and the lyric reflects that.
“I remember being at my mum and dad’s. Michelle and I were still there back and forth, Michelle was younger and I’d moved out, but I would still go back home because when we moved to London I convinced them to give the front room to us to soundproof and turn into a studio.
“We’d bought loads of egg boxes from factories for the acoustics and I also went round to a foam warehouse and said that we were making foam dinosaurs for a school project and needed as much foam as they had. They were like, ‘Sure, take as much as you need, we have tonnes of the stuff!’
“So there we were going back, making several trips to put foam on the walls, tape it with gaffer tape and then put plasterboard over it. We made a small living room into an even smaller living room, but a soundproof one. We were holed-up there for ages and would play in there all the time.
“The beginning of the Magic Numbers was in that room. Sean and Ang would come round and we’d show them the songs that we’d written. I remember the moment I played Forever Lost and Michelle came up with that bassline to drive it. The verse is all variations on an E chord but then the chorus lifts with the harmonies.
“It turned into a much more up song. I love all kinds of music and I wanted it to be a pop song, with the feeling of a Beach Boys song. It feels hopeful and I wanted there to be some hope musically within the arrangement because the lyric came from a sadder place.
“You write a song and it comes from a certain place but then you bring it to the band and you’re like, ‘I want to do something more “up” musically.’ I love that happy/sad thing and the interplay within that. So then the girls come in on the chorus with, ‘Don’t let the sun be the one…’ and it is quite up in a way, even though the lyric is a bit darker.
“When we arrived we did stick out like a bit of a sore thumb in terms of the way we looked and the sound. It was before the internet but we were noticing at gigs before the album had been released that the audiences were getting bigger and people were singing the songs, which was mad. We played the Forum in Kentish Town to about 2,000 people which was insane.
“I remember when Andy our agent booked it we were like, ‘We’re not going to fill this,’ and he was like ‘Yeah you are, don’t worry you’ve got a following in London.’ Forever Lost was one of the songs that we saw people singing along with at the gigs, without even owning the record.
“I still love the song. The mad thing as well is that the bigger songs of this bad, Love Me Like You, Forever Lost, Take A Chance, they’re all pretty simple. The second verse is just a slight variation of the first verse. But these weren’t conscious things, it’s just how it turned out. I think it’s hard to write simple songs because you second guess the simplicity and you always want to complicate it.
“I’m a dad now and it makes me look at things differently, through his eyes. With songwriting, it’s almost like when kids are painting. There’s a point where if you take it away at that moment it’s genius, but if you leave it they’ll keep going over it until it’s a big mess – there is that perfect moment. Songwriting is the same thing, tapping into that feeling without overthinking it.”