Seven years. It took seven years to one of the biggest pop rock bands of the 2000’s to come back into the limelight. It took seven years to Snow Patrol to come up with the mesmerizing “Wildness”. Who better than its iconic leader, Gary Lightbody, to tell us more about one of the best comebacks of the year?
How do you come back from a seven-year hiatus?
Gary Lightbody (vocals/guitar): We didn’t come back just like that. There were actually a lot of stuff going on behind the scene, and I was very nervous about coming back. I was kind of afraid about going back on tour, because the band started in 1994 and we didn’t really have any success for ten years. But from 2004 to 2012, we were either on tour or in the studio. We had built a whole momentum to touring shows, then I spent the last seven years seeing it drop away. It was the first time I was building a home, spending time anywhere for a certain length of time, and feeling like there was more to life than moving around. I never really liked staying in the same place for too long. Now I’m much more able to sit and just be.
During that hiatus, you collaborated with Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift etc. It must have felt weird that most of their fans were too young to know who you were?
Gary: It was strange. I think we have young fans because of our connection to Ed, Taylor and One Direction – but we also have fans our age and older. Any age group come see us pay – which is amazing – and that’s what we want. That’s what any band would want… unless you’re a young band who thinks having older people coming to your shows isn’t cool. Believe me, you want to have as many people as possible to your shows! (laughs) And we’re very lucky in that respect! But yeah, working with Taylor, One Direction and Biffy Clyro was amazing fun. The nice thing was that I could do that and then go home at the end of the day. That’s why I was worried it wouldn’t work until we got back on tour. But one minute into the first gig I went: “Oh shit! I love it!”
Did you think about ending Snow Patrol at some point?
Gary: Many times.
Would you say you “need” Snow Patrol then?
Gary: (laughs) I thought that we could just release records and not go on tour many times, but we’re not The Beatles. They could get away with it, but not us. I mean, our time off was not intentional either. I started writing the record in 2013 thinking it would be done in 2014, and we would be back on tour. From 2013 to 2017, I wrote over 600 songs so there was plenty of music but there were no words up until very late 2016. That’s when I started to write properly. In the end, we just wanted to make music.
You mentioned in a couple of interviews that you faced both addiction and writer’s block while you were working on “Wildness“. At some point, was it too violent of an experience?
Gary: It was scary to realise that you don’t any kind of control. I had solely been a songwriter from I was 18. When it disappeared, you’re left wondering what you are. So, I guess I drank for many reasons, but one of them was that I felt useless. When I came to the realisation that it wasn’t doing me any good, I decided to quit. It was the best decision I ever made because it opened up a whole new life for me. I have clarity now. I have the ability to write songs whenever I want now and I’m happy about it.
Did you censor yourself at any point?
Gary: No. Everything that is in this album is completely unfiltered. It’s only filtered in the sense that I tried to make the lyrics as good as they could be, but I didn’t edit anything intentionally. Every part of me that I was afraid to share with my closest friends are on that album. I haven’t been in a relationship for nearly a decade now, so I didn’t have that to write about anymore – at least in a genuine way. I had to write about deeper things. They were the things I was afraid of, and facing them was difficult but I’m glad that I did because it meant that I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore. I have a sensible fear of sharks and things like that, but I’m not afraid to talk about anything anymore. There’s nothing taboo with me anymore, which means what happened is not gonna happen again. I’m not gonna have another seven-year hiatus between albums because I have access to those darker places now. Not to say that “Wildness” is depressing because I had depression, that’s not it at all. It’s full of hope and joy. It’s full of light even though it comes from a darker sadder place.
You have also been quite vocal about mental health recently. It must be tough to protect yourself when you put so much of yourself in your songs?
Gary: It’s funny, I think the effort that went into protecting myself from anyone finding out about my demons was way worse than telling everybody about them. They can’t hurt me anymore because I told anyone who cared to listen the shit that was going on in my mind. If anybody thought any worse of me, it didn’t matter as people close to me didn’t think any less of me. It didn’t push any of them away and in fact, it had people pull me closer to them. I think it can only helpful to talk about the things that are creating problems in your mind. Taking action is important. Inertia is extraordinarily difficult to lift yourself out off, but it’s important that you do.
Do you ever feel pressure to match the success of a song like “Chasing Cars”?
Gary: I think it’s impossible to have that type of success anymore, because even when “Chasing Cars” first came out many things went right at the right time. We were on the rise as a band. We were getting a lot of attention; the radio played that song and it featured in a couple of TV shows that were coming out at the right time as well. Everything was kind of magical. You can’t recreate this scenario. You can’t recreate that sort of feeling and put all those things together again. Even if you could just come up with a song like that again, you can’t because that song already exists. To write another song like “Chasing Cars” would just be a repetition of it really, so we’ve always tried to move on from it. “Wildness” has been well-received and it’s doing very well, but we would be deluding ourselves if we thought it would have as much success as “Eyes Open”. It was just a moment in time that we’re grateful to have had, but we can’t live in the past. We have to think about what we want to do next, not what we once did.
Do you wish people would quote another song when they talk about you?
Gary: (laughs) If that’s an identifier for quite a lot of people, that’s OK. It’s a song we’re very proud of! If it were a song that had been written by somebody else or a song that we hated then it would be a bummer, but it’s a song that we cared about. We still do. We play it at every gig, and we don’t try to distance ourselves from it. If it draws people in to our new album and convince them to come see us live, then that’s all we want.
Switching to a joyful subject, you mentioned in a couple of interview that you were concerned about the political situation in Northern Ireland. Do you view it as a duty to express yourself on such matters because you have a platform?
Gary: I don’t really talk about politics that much. “Take Back The City” is probably as close as we’ve ever gotten to a political song. It was not completely political but it was about Belfast. The comment that I made on that BBC interview were more about the fact that our government has completely deserted the people of Northern Ireland. We’re in a stalemate at the moment. That’s what I was upset about. I was upset about Brexit too. I’m just sad that it’s happening and I still have this vain hope that it’s gonna fall apart and won’t happen. The thing I was the most worried about with Brexit was that there would be a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland again. That would be heartbreaking, and it would set back the peace process. People think we have peace in Northern Ireland and they’re right to an extent, but it’s an ongoing process. It is a fragile peace at times and things like a border going back up between the two countries could be devastating!
Back to the music! You also mentioned that “Wildness” was the album you were the proudest of. Why?
Gary: I think it’s my favourite for a lot of reasons. It was the toughest record to make, but it had the best songs. “Life On Earth” is probably the best song that we ever wrote, in my opinion. “Soon” is very dear to my heart, and “Empress” is a song about my goddaughter therefore it means a lot to me. “Don’t Give In” is a song that probably saved my life. No other record has all these elements on it. They are so vital to the existence of this band, and maybe even to my existence.
It must have been tough to pick the first song to release?
Gary: We put “Life On Earth” up first as a kind of a teaser to the record. I was fighting really hard for it to be the first single, but I was told by wiser men and women than myself that it wouldn’t get on the radio. I tried to fight it, but “Don’t Give In” seemed like a better first single to everyone else. It has done very well, so I guess I was wrong!
Do you keep a song radio friendliness in mind when making a record?
Gary: It’s not that I’m not grateful for radio support, but I think that it’s the death of progress when you’re thinking about what other people are gonna think about the songs when you’re making them. It’s really irrelevant. If you’re not making the songs you want to make, you’re doing yourself a disservice and you’ll never be proud of your work. Trying to please other people is a torturous path because the only person you can really please is yourself.
Snow Patrol will play at the Zénith on January 23, 2019. What’s your relationship like with France?
Gary: I have a massive love for France! I love French movies and French music. Phoenix don’t know this, but we have a special relationship with them because we played “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” before we went on stage for something like four years. I’m also obsessed with French movies, and Vincent Cassel is probably my favourite actor of all time. It’s a relationship that I’m very excited about renewing and getting to play in Paris again is a big deal.
If we looked through your phone, what would be the most surprising song we would find in it?
Gary: Probably Rosalia. This girl is gonna be a superstar. She’s unbelievable!
To finish, as our website is called “RockUrLife”, what rocks your life Gary?
Gary: At the moment, it’s Sam Fender. He might be – not to but too much pressure on him – one of the new saviours of rock music in the UK. It’s not just him by any means, but I think that he might be the beginning of something great for guitar music.