Snow Patrol – Checking in with Gary Lightbody

I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol twice – once over the phone, once via email – and found him to be one of the most open musicians that I’ve ever dealt with. His responses to my questions have been well thought out, informative, and often very witty. Most recently, I sent off 15 or so questions to his publicist towards the tail end of 2006. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. And when it finally seemed like the questions were lost in never never land, I get a very length reply with answers better than I could have hoped for. These questions were answered just before Snow Patrol hit the road with OKGo and Silversun Pickups (this tour wraps up in the U.S. on April 6).

Before getting to the Q&A, take a listen to Snow Patrol’s contribution to the Spiderman 3 soundtrack, “Signal Fire”. Yeah, I know, EVERY blogger and music website out there was serviced with this stream, but you might as well take a listen as you read the interview. (WindowsMedia) (Quicktime)

You debuted material from Eyes Open at last year’s SXSW festival in Austin. Now, nearly a year later, you’re still on the road. Will these dates in March and April bring to a close the tour for Eyes Open or do you plan on continuing through the summer?

Yes, it’s been a long road and a long time spent on said road. The dates at the moment are the last we have scheduled; however this might change. We tour a lot. Constantly. In fact we tour so much that we fall to pieces. “Come see Snow Patrol, the amazing collapsing band,” says the poster. I think my lungs are somewhere on the I95, ground into the concrete by a billion tire treads. Paul’s leg is at rest on Lincoln’s giant Mount Rushmore eyebrow, so now the enormous stone face looks rather quizzical as a result. Like if Roger Moore played Lincoln in a movie. Jonny’s had to get a wooden heart fitted and Nathan actually carries his insides around in a wheelbarrow. And the less said about Tom the better. Aside from all this, spirits (for it seems that is all we’re left with) are high. We love touring. America, and indeed the world, is a colossal and beautiful mystery to solve and the only way to crack the code is to get involved. We ride around in our tour bus/mystery machine and pull the masks off of angry theme park owners posing as ghouls. The only difference being that it’s a gang full of terrified Scooby-Doos and none of the functioning (boring) characters.

How exciting was it for you to perform at SXSW to an audience that hadn’t heard anything from Eyes Open and receive such an overwhelming positive response?

We love Austin and South By. There were grumbles from some people I talked to this year that “it’s getting too big” and “it was better the first few years” and “did you eat my burrito” but people are always gonna say that. It’s best to go out and try and have fun. Our gig last year at SXSW was brilliant. Having never heard the songs the crowd were exceptional. We played a few shows and they all were fantastic fun. Especially the acoustic show we did the day we left. A great atmosphere and a lot of laughter. The good kind of laughter not the bad kind: ‘with’ and not ‘at’.

Given Snow Patrol’s past track record with “Run”, and the general success of power ballads such as “Yellow” by Coldplay, were you pretty sure that “Chasing Cars” was going to be a huge hit?

We’re never sure of anything. Best to be that way as everything is a surprise. ‘Power ballads’ is such a funny phrase to me as it conjures up images of Poison and Mr. Big and other hair metal bands that had the one slow song, you know “for the ladies”. Ha. I hope our music bares no relation to that. “Chasing Cars” was written the week before Final Straw actually came out so it’s been around for quite some time and ever since it’s conception people have been saying it was going to be a big single but we’ve been guilty of getting excited prematurely on prior occasions, so we wait until things actually happen these days. It was amazing to watch though as it really was a global hit. Our first.

I know that you’re a big movie fan. Maybe you don’t do it consciously, but in the back of your head is there ever the thought when writing songs that, “Hey, this would be a good song for a soundtrack”?

Ha. No not really. We don’t really imagine the songs in the outside world when we’re in the studio. I guess we’re just trying to please ourselves first. It’s most important to be proud of your music and worry not about which song will be a single and which song will be used in movies or whatever. However since the release of the record people have been asking us to allow certain tracks to be licensed for this or that movie. We are a lot more precious than it might seem with our music, which at this time might have the glint of ubiquity about it, and we say no to ten times more movies than we’ve approved. The ideal for us would be being used in any capacity in The Simpsons. That would be enough for me.

Have you been approached to write music exclusively for a soundtrack? If not, this could be your big chance to appeal to filmmakers! What type of movie would you be interested in writing music for?

I recorded some music for one of (Scottish director of Young Adam and Hallam Foe) David Mackenzie’s early short films. I’d love to do something with PT Anderson, Lynne Ramsey, Michel Gondry or Jonathan Dayton or with anyone who uses music as a dramatic device and thinks it is integral in the telling of the story. Cleverly chosen music can elevate a scene stratospherically. Just as poorly chosen music can ruin a great scene.

With all the touring you’ve done, did you have much time to catch any good movies in 2006? What were your favorites? Is that how you kill time in the bus when traveling between cities?

We don’t get to see too many. Sound checks in the middle of the day tend to be perfectly placed to put pay to movie going. I did see Little Miss Sunshine, which I thought was stunning, and a great example of exquisitely chosen music (what with Sufjan Stevens and Devotchka being road trip highlights). Also glad to see lots of Oscar nominations especially for Alan Arkin who is always amazing in everything he’s in but especially here. I also enjoyed Casino Royale (Daniel Craig is the best ever Bond), The Departed (Scorsese back to his best), The Queen (Helen Mirram and Michael Sheen both flawless), An Inconvenient Truth (scared the shit out of me as it should us all), The Proposition (bleak and brilliant), Thank You For Not Smoking (hard not to laugh although such a serious subject), The Matador (Brosnan never better), The Notorious Bettie Page (stunning performance from Mol) and Children Of Men (Caine is sublime and ridiculous. The film is terrifying and relentless)

What other things do you do to break up long travels on the road? Read books? Write new songs? Play poker?

We read a lot. I’ve taken to reading a lot of science books lately as it’s a subject I’ve always been fascinated with but never very skilled at in school so I took the artistic route (a course which led me here so I’m thankful). Lately I’ve been working my way through Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watch-Maker. I’ve also been taken by Steve Jones and have The Single Helix and Almost Like A Whale bought and ready to read on the forthcoming US tour.

We do play cards too occasionally but I didn’t get the name crazy bets for nothing and I tend to lose my PDs quick smart. If I’m honest though whilst on the tour bus there is an awful amount of time spent sleeping and when not sleeping we’re generally picking on each other. How appropriate I should be learning in depth about Natural Selection.

You also seem to be such a huge music fan. A lot of artists will say that when they are working on new material, they shut themselves off from any outside influences and won’t listen to any CDs or even the radio. That doesn’t seem to be the case with you. You seem like a genuine music fan. I’m thinking specifically of your daytime performance at SXSW. In between songs you spotted one of the guys from We Are Scientists and introduced yourself to him from stage saying something like “Hey man, I love your CD. Nice to meet you. This song is for We Are Scientists, a great band.” Is it fair to say that you are as hip to new music as your average 18-year-old fan?

At the moment I’m listening to lots of great stuff (I buy music on line everyday and try and get to as many wee record shops as I can on tour.) including: The White Birch ‘Come Up For Air’, Duke Special ‘Songs From The Deep Forest’, Field Music ‘Tones Of Town’, Scott Matthews ‘Passing Strangers’, Of Montreal ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’ Klaxons ‘Myths Of The Near Future’, The Shins ‘Wincing The Night Away, Cold War Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ‘Some Loud Thunder’, Annuals ‘Be He Me’, The Hold Steady ‘Boys And Girls In America’, Deerhoof ‘Friend Opportunity’, Arthur Russell ‘Another Thought’ and a fantastic new band from my home town of Bangor, Northern Ireland called Kowalski who’ve just put out an amazing EP called ‘Are You Noisy Sunshine State’. I keep finding new great stuff all the time so it never gets dull and the great thing about music is that there is no possible way you could here it all in your lifetime so you’ll always be surprised if you just make the effort.

Do you have any say in the bands that you have opening for you? I ask because you’ve put together a phenomenal package with Ok Go and Silversun Pickups (a band I “discovered” for the first time at SXSW 2006).

We pick most of our guests. I’ve been a fan of the Silversun Pickups for a while now. Their Carnavas LP is a beauty. I’m very pleased with the line-up on this US tour. It should be great as having two brilliant bands on before you gives you a kick in the ass and makes sure you never suffer from complacency. On our UK tour at the end of last year we tried to have a different line-up every night and we were graced with the likes of Elbow, Fields, The Crimea, Duke Special, The Frames and The Young Knives among many other amazing bands. We take pride in the show as a whole and want it to be awesome from when the doors open. I chose all the music played in between the bands too to keep the evening up to that standard (obviously that’s in my own opinion)

You also are a very socially conscious person. You don’t necessarily use your lyrics to bring issues to the forefront the way a band like U2 might, but you include the “Mums and dads of the world, be patient with your children” message on your CDs and you participated in The Cake Sale project which is raising money to support the Make Trade Fair campaign. Tell me a little bit about what drives you as a person, outside of music.

I do want to something good with the success that we’ve had. I’ve always been socially conscious but struggled with how to help from a personal position. So when charities like Save The Children, Oxfam and Make Poverty History asked us for our time and support we were very keen to get involved. Now we’re trying to do our own thing in our hometown of Belfast to help the next generation of musical talent break through a lot easier than we did. The project is called Oh Yeah and through this Snow Patrol, along with a crack team of musical wizards (including ex assistant editor of the NME, Stuart Bailie), will set up a music centre in Belfast which, upon completion, will house rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, office space for music related businesses, a live venue and a café to hang out in. Within its walls kids can have lessons in musical instruments, sound production, management, promotion and a host of other related stuff.

Will you continue to work on projects like The Cake Sale and The Reindeer Section in the future? Any projects you have coming up and that you’d like to mention?

Yes. I love writing and have been writing for other artists recently as well as movies and another side project of mine, which should be out this year all being well. The Patrol are very busy on tour so this may take a bit longer than I’d originally hoped.

Finally, is there anything that you really wanted to do musically or personally in 2006 that you just couldn’t find the time to get around to? Will you begin working on a new Snow Patrol CD in 2007 or will you use the year to finish off touring, take a little break, work on other projects, etc?

I can honestly say it was the best year of our lives and to ask for more would just be rude.

(Thanks to ENVY Magazine for giving me permission to run this interview in its entirety. A shortened version can be found in the March 2007 issue)

3 thoughts on “Snow Patrol – Checking in with Gary Lightbody”

  1. I saw a much-postponed(due to illness AND scary London bombings) Snow Patrol show in NYC back in september or october of 2006. Martha Wainright opened and then came out for a live performance of the track she recorded on the latest Snow Patrol LP. Very cool.

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