Snow Patrol have been on an extraordinary journey.
The band formed while at university, spending almost a decade as part of the Scottish guitar underground.
But then something remarkable happened: they starting selling records. And more records. And even more records.
Enjoying an incredible second wind, Snow Patrol became part of the fabric of everyday life, their songs beamed out of car stereos and shop windows across the land.
Before something curious happened. Removing themselves from sight, Snow Patrol took five years to construct new album 'Wildness', five years spent battling demons and exploring fresh paths.
Clash writer Johnny Rogerson speaks to Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody to find out why...
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You were at Pinkpop festival over the weekend, how did that go?
Yeah it was great, that was our third time playing Pinkpop and we were on before Pearl Jam. It was a beautiful day as well. Getting to play on the same stage as one of the band that influenced us to begin with. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were the three bands that made me want to be in a band in the first place.
Congratulations on the new album, you put on Twitter that this is the one you’re most proud of, how come?
With this album, I gave everything I could give. With the previous albums I thought that I couldn’t give more but this is the one where I gave everything that I possibly could have given. I had quite a few breakdowns in the middle of it and there were many times when I thought I was never going to write another song again.
I had epiphanies and all kind of incredible things happen and all kinds of terrible things happen during the making of this record. It was an extraordinary thing to be part of. I don’t know whether I’d be able to do it all again the way it was done and I hope I never have to go through it again in the way it was the last time, but it taught me a hell of a lot.
In some ways, it taught me how to not go through it again but in terms of the outcome, it’s certainly the album that I am the most proud of. It feels true not trite.
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It was an extraordinary thing to be part of...
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What was the catalyst for the new record?
The record generally, is based around trying to find a calmness, in an uncalm, crazy world. That’s what I was doing in my own life. I didn’t know I was but, I was trying to find my way in the dark, looking for a light switch that I only found when I stopped drinking, but that was only two years ago. That’s why this record took five years to make. Generally, when records take five years they become garbled, you’ve usually overthought it. What happened was I was trying to get my own life on the straight and narrow at the same time as making a record, which is impossible.
It was only really when I stopped drinking, two years ago, that I was able to start to write with clarity. So, the idea that this was a five or seven year record is slightly misleading, it was a five year, seven year journey of discovery to figure out what was going on with my life and the album just happened to take place during that.
‘What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?’, is this one of the moments where you’re reflecting on the past five or seven years?
Yeah in some ways. The genesis of the song was really about a few friends of mine who had been getting divorced, a lot of people going through a lot of hurt and hard times. I’ve not be divorced but I’ve had long term relationships and stuff, it’s basically me saying I’ve been in the wreckage too, I’ve been in the ruins, come over and we can help each other. It’s a song about trying to appreciate the love we have when we have it but it’s also about sharing your hard times with the people that you love. Trying to figure them out on your own is a bastard.
This record aims to answer questions, rather than ask them like your previous questions, despite the song title being a question, this feels like one of those tracks where you do answer some questions, do you feel that’s fair?
Yeah, the verses ask a question, but the chorus gives a reasonably good answer.: let’s share this pain, let’s share this hurt. ‘What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?’ in itself is a question but built into it is an answer. Do you want this to be what defines you? Are you going to let this slip through your fingers?
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There’s a lot more acoustic guitar on this record compared to the other Snow Patrol records…
Yeah, there’s a quality to the acoustic guitar. It’s not an acoustic album but the acoustic guitar brings not only a cooler sound but also a percussiveness and an extra layer of rhythm that an electric guitar doesn’t have as the microphone doesn’t pick up your actual playing.
It was a fascinating thing to try and use the acoustic guitar in as many ways as possible rather than playing the electric guitar and using all kinds of pedals to make it sound different. It’s like, there you go you’ve got one weapon now use it in as many different ways as you can. It keeps the brain ticking over and made me think a lot more about how I was playing and the rhythms I was choosing to play. The rhythms on this record are a lot more adventurous than we’ve played before.
You’ve also tested your own voice on this record by using more falsetto vocals throughout…
Yeah, I never thought about having to sing them live every night! Yeah, same with the acoustic guitar though, I was trying to do as many things with my voice that I hadn’t done before and push myself. There’s a lot of songs that I’m singing in a range, sometimes even full voice falsetto which is not something I’m particularly known for. I’m singing in a range and a power that took me a long time to get comfortable with. These are not one take vocal tracks, these were me trying and trying and trying. Garrett Lee has the patience of a saint, so he does.
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The rhythms on this record are a lot more adventurous than we’ve played before.
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Jacknife Lee has produced your last five records, what makes you continue to use him?
He’s got a lot of dirt on me. No, he’s just a genius, he really is. There’s no other word for it. He’s the best producer working in music at the moment. He’s not just a producer, he’s a co-writer, a co-conspirator, a track builder. I’ll bring a song to him and he will help build it. He plays every instrument too, he’s one of those guys, one of those bastards. So he can build a track and we have a look at it and actually being able to see a track form in front of your eyes is a hell of a thing.
Some producers will tell you things like I want this song to sound a bit more purple or make everyone swap instruments. He’s like, let’s get in a place where you can be inspired and then let’s work hard.
You’ve got a huge tour of America with Ed Sheeran coming up, then you’re back to the UK and Ireland for the arena dates, how excited are you to get back out there playing shows?
I can’t wait. America’s going to be great fun. We took him on tour in 2011, we were playing theatres and small arenas, playing to between three and six thousand people and now we’re playing stadiums on his tour so he’s repaid the favour in ten-fold but we’re very grateful to him. Then we’re back to the UK and Ireland and we can’t wait.
Going away for seven years you’ve no right to come back and expect to play arenas. We’re just blown away and completely over the mood by the response. You can’t be arrogant and think things are going to fall back into place again. It’s not going to be like it was because a lot of time has passed but to be able to get to back to arenas is an absolute joy.
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We had a resurrection in 2003 that not many bands get to experience. It’s very rare.
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It’s 20 years this year since your debut album, what’s been the highlights?
We started the band in 1994, so next year will be 25 years and we’re arranging some interesting things for the quarter century. The reason why we didn’t release anything in the first four years was because I was at university and my mum would’ve killed me if I’d have left early! We’ve been very blessed. Playing the biggest show in Northern Irish history, 42,000 people, that was something very special. Getting to headline so many festivals and our own arena shows.
Selling 15 million albums too. The first 10 years we released two albums and got dropped. We sold 14,000 albums in those first 10 years and so we weren’t expecting to be a million selling band never mind a multi-million selling band. We never thought that’d happen so that’s been a massive highlight.
I guess to have a second career, we’re kind of on our third career now, but to be dropped by an indie and then signed by a major, that never happens! We had a resurrection in 2003 that not many bands get to experience. It’s very rare.
Finally, let’s go back to 2009 V Festival when you stepped in for Oasis, what goes through your head when you receive that news?
It’s funny, that was the first thing I thought of when you asked about the highlights but I didn’t say it because we were deputising, so I thought maybe it’s not quite our moment it’s someone else’s moment that they bestowed upon us. That was the best gig we ever did. That was the most extraordinary night of our lives.
In the morning I woke up to missed phone calls and text messages and everyone was trying to tell me Oasis had split up and you’re headlining, asking me if I felt the pressure? I was thinking to myself, well yes, I may well be crushed into a diamond at any point. Walking onto that stage I’m just glad people couldn’t hear my knees clanging together I was terrified thinking, these guys are going to be pissed off because they were expecting to see Oasis and they’re not there.
We walked onto that stage and the reception that we got was just unbelievable and everybody sung every word and they treated it as if we were a headline band. We played some Oasis songs as an encore, so they got a little bit of an Oasis fix. There was loads of other bands saying that that was the best gig they ever saw and that’s how it felt to us.
But it’s rare when you do a gig like that and people agree. That night everybody was like that’s the best gig we’ve seen in a long time. That was an amazing night, it’ll be very hard to beat that.
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Snow Patrol's new album 'Wildness' is out now.
Words: Johnny Rogerson
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