Snow Patrol (2004)

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Bubble. Bubble. Boil over. That’s the best way to describe Snow Patrol’s career. After releasing two albums for Jeepster Records, the label formed by Belle and Sebastian, the Scottish band (by way of Ireland) finally is starting to get some well-deserved attention on this side of the ocean. The first single from Final Straw, released by A&M Records on March 30, “Spitting Games,” is receiving pretty heavy airplay on alternative radio stations though it’s the Brit-pop ballad that some are calling Snow Patrol’s “Yellow” (in reference to the Coldplay breakthrough hit), “Run,” that will undoubtedly catapult Snow Patrol to the top of the heap once it’s released as a single. We caught up with a tired (and slightly hungover) Snow Patrol lead singer, Gary Lightbody, who let us get to know him a bit better.

So I’m looking for you on a Friday night, where do I find you?

Generally I’ll be out in a pub. Nathan, the guitar player, and I live together. It’s not Bert and Ernie. Well, it is but less puppets and we don’t share the same bed. We live on a street, we just moved into a new flat, we overlook a street called Ashton Lane in Glasgow and in every single building there is a pub. So it’s like a street of like ten pubs. It’s a little cobbled street and in the summertime everybody stands outside. It’s about as European as Glasgow gets. So we spend a lot of time in the bars. The girls are all pretty hot too.

The west end of Glasgow, where we live, is kind of like a tiny little corner of itself. It’s where all the musicians and filmmakers and artists and our friends all live within a couple mile radius of each other. There are very few Glaswegians who live in the west end of Glasgow; they generally import the population in the west end. Most of the Scottish/Irish cities are very compact apart from London which is a fucking nightmare. That’s why it’s such a culture shock for anybody that lives outside of London to go into London because everything is so far away and everything is a hassle. It’s like 70 or 80 little towns all connected, it’s not really a city at all. It’s difficult to navigate. People from the States or even mainland Europe must find it very mindboggling when they get to London. Even trying to negotiate the tubes was a bit tricky for me for the first few times I was there. I was like, “I don’t have a fucking clue.” I’m from a very small town outside of Belfast and Belfast is a small city itself.

So if I meet you at a pub in Glasgow, how can I start a conversation with you? What topics do you like to talk about?

It goes like this: music, films, books, in that order, very, very close together. Music edges it obviously because that’s what I do. I would love, love, not to act or direct, but I would love to make music for films. They are a massive part of my life. I love movies and I love great movies and I get very passionate about them. And books as well. I have a degree in English so I guess I’ve read a lot. But I still read, I probably even read more now that I don’t have to read. Sometimes if you’re compelled to do something your natural reaction, if you’re perverted like I am, is to not fucking do it. I find myself reading a hell of a lot more now.

I generally read current fiction. I’m a big fan of Dave Eggers; I think he’s a genius. Sometimes HE thinks he’s a genius as well. I’ve just recently, like the rest of the world, gotten into Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code I’ve just finished, and Angels & Demons I’m halfway through. There’s a Scottish author called Christopher Brookmyre – it’s not pulp fiction but it’s not too taxing, it’s really well written. They are really, really good stories. It’s not something your mind boggles over. It’s more magazine literature perhaps than actual highbrow stuff. I find myself reading a lot more but maybe that was my one little reaction against the stuff that I read at University. I’m reading a little more lowbrow now but I’ve read enough highbrow shit to last me a lifetime.

Youth is wasted on the young. Whoever said that was very true. James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, or even F. Scott Fitzgerald – all those books that I read when I was in school, because you were made to read them, your mindset was that you were reading them to write a paper or take an exam on them. You weren’t actually appreciating the greatness of the novel. You were just pecking bones out of it before you had actually looked at the whole thing. I guess maybe I should re-read some of those to really appreciate them now.

What about movies? What are some of your current favorites?

Ohhhh, let me count the ways. I loved, adored, Lost in Translation, Pirates of the Carribean – it was just fucking brilliant. Anybody that slags off that movie just can’t like movies. It’s just the most perfect blockbuster that I’ve ever seen. Every tiny little detail is just magnificent. And Johnny Depp – I heard somebody on British radio slagging off his performance saying, “Oh, it was hammy.” Of course it was fucking hammy, he’s playing a fucking fictional pirate. What are you expecting here? Have you seen the footage of Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet? That was fucking hammy! I don’t know what people are expecting. I love those two movies. A film that I watch again and again is Pleasantville. I always say that it’s my favorite movie of all time. In a way it is but there are so many other movies that I love but that’s the first one that comes to mind when somebody asks me.

Do you go see movies in the theater?

I go to the cinema as much as I can. Lost in Translation was probably the last movie I saw at the cinema. I saw that about four times. I don’t get to go very often. On tour you get up and do promo and interviews for radio, then you soundcheck, then you have to do a meet-and-greet, then you do the gig and then you get in the bus and go. I’m not complaining. It’s the easiest fucking job in the world. Anybody that complains about being in a band should really rethink their choice in life. It doesn’t leave you anytime to go and do things like that anyway but most people don’t have that much time to go do things like that anyway.

I saw a really terrible movie the other day, I was interrupted on the bus as it was, Underworld with Kate Beckinsale. It was a travesty against cinema. It passed a couple of hours but I’d like those couple of hours back. I might petition the filmmakers.

I’d like to see the new Jim Carry movie.

Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Michel Gondry directed that one. He directed all the Daft Punk videos and a Chemical Brothers video. Have you seen his debut movie, Human Nature? It’s got Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette and Rhys Ifans in it. Funny fact about Rhys Ifans – do you know who I’m talking about? He’s the Welsh guy in Notting Hill, The Replacements … he’s the funny, skinny Welsh guy. He used to be the lead singer in the Super Furry Animals just as they were started out.

Yeah, I just realized that Glen Hansard, the lead singer for The Frames, was in the movie The Commitments. I love The Frames and loved that movie but didn’t put two and two together.

We played with them (The Frames) once. He talks very openly and freely about The Commitments. It’s a great movie but some people are sort of touchy about that sort of thing. If you’re a serious musician then some people will say that you only used that to get on in the music business. I don’t think that but I’m sure some people have given him shit about that. He talks openly about all the hijinks on the set. He’s a very lovely man.

Do you get starstruck when you meet actors or actresses?

No, I haven’t met that many actresses or actors. If I met Tobey McGuire for the trilogy of Ice Storm, Wonderboys and Pleasantville, I would be very, very starstuck. I absolutely adored him in his early films. I guess I feel the same way that some people feel about bands whenever it’s their little secret and then suddenly the band becomes famous and it’s not their little secret anymore. I’m not like that with bands; I’m always hoping they’ll do well. I’m not one of these indie types but I get more like that with film stars (laughs). “Oh now he’s really popular. I remember him when he was in …”

How versatile is Ang Lee? He directed the Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, The Hulk. I don’t think enough people call attention to that. That is a maverick. That is a proper maverick.

Changing subjects, are there any records that, when you hear them, take you back in time to a place in your childhood and memories of that time?

The first time I heard Back in Black by AC/DC I was eleven and I had just started at a new school. Those are pretty daunting times, especially when your last name is Lightbody because everybody laughs at roll call the very first time. I had a grudge to bear about my name until I realized that it’s the fucking coolest name in the world.

My last name is Midnight.

Midnight? THAT’S the fucking coolest name in the world! Fucking brilliant! My name derives from German. It was a nickname for somebody that was jovial. Our family motto is “Brighter after the darkness” so that’s a cool motto to have.

I’ve forgotten what we were talking about.

Back in Black.

Oh yeah, Black in Black for secondary school, then Nevermind four years later. My one friend had a tape of it and we had one headphone each on the back of bus and we listened to it. The b-side started with “Territorial Pissing” … “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” That just blew my mind off. Every time I hear that song I’m back on the school bus again.

I was really into hair metal the first time I heard Nevermind and it changed my outlook on music.

Me too. Not really Motley Crue but I was listening to Kiss and Iron Maiden and stuff like that, pretty pot-heavy rock I suppose. Kurt put the kibosh on all the cock rock posturing and basically opened a whole generation up to simple, straightforward, heartfelt soulful songwriting that hadn’t been around for a long time. It was always bubbling in the underground with bands that Kurt freely admits to being inspired by, bands like Mudhoney, the Vaselines, Sonic Youth, The Pixies. He was the one that brought all those bands to the wider audience, especially in Northern Ireland where music was hard to come by. No bands came. There was a really strong punk scene, a homegrown punk scene. It was the music of distressing and disturbing times. It was an anger release, sort of an early form of anger management. Punch some guy’s fucking lights out and you’ll feel fine. I didn’t do that, but …

Nirvana sort of changed all that. I always read a lot of magazines and he opened me up to all those bands, Sebadoh as well. They had as big of an impact in our music as Nirvana did. Lou Barlow’s back catalog is the temple that I worship at. It’s pure coincidence that we sound alike, it’s just a simple quirk of fate, people living 3,000 miles away. I’ve actually met him and he doesn’t think we sound alike at all. That’s how most people get into a wider range of music – they listen to the favorite bands of their favorite bands. I guess that’s what happened with Nirvana. That’s the reason why I’m sitting here in Boston on a tour bus talking to you.

I just got the new Blender magazine that has a one-page feature on Snow Patrol and I’m going to steal a question from there.

Did the picture look good or did we look drunk?

Both. You look good and drunk.

Good. That’s what I like.

They asked Steven Tyler if he could relive one night from his past, what night that would be? That’s the question I have for you.

When I was growing up I was in unrequited love with this girl, Sarah Jane Patterson. I don’t think she’ll be reading this to be honest with you. I think she’s an architect now and she’s probably got beautiful kids and a husband that would beat the shit out of me. I was totally out of my head over her. One night we were all out together – she was kind of a friend of a friend, we were probably 16 – I was sort of chatting to her and she told me that she liked me too. We ended up kissing that night. Just kissing. It was a really, really innocent night and it’s the first thing that sprung into my night. Just kissing Sarah Jane Patterson for the first time, that would be a good night. She was so hot. I haven’t seen her in years. It wasn’t long after that that was the last time I saw her.

I caught Snow Patrol, for the first and only time, this year at SXSW in Austin.

Festivals are always kind of rough; they are always seat of the pants type shows. You go on with rented gear, you don’t have a soundcheck, you kind of just get out there and say, “1, 2, 3, 4” and hope everything goes well. We don’t normally get nervous before shows but everyone was sort of visibly nervous before that one. It was like the record company was like “Don’t worry about this but don’t fuck this up.” They didn’t say that but that was the impression that we got. There were a lot of people who were writing about us that were there and people that worked at record stores. We were just relived to get it over with. I much prefer going out and loving the show for what it actually is. We really enjoy ourselves. When there is more riding on it, you have to try really hard rather than just let it come out of you. We’ve played together for so long we just want to connect with each other and the crowd.

Walking down 6th Street in Austin is like walking through Glasgow. I bumped into people I haven’t seen at home in months. As a band, if we had to vote on our favorite experience in music thus far, SXSW this year would be it. All of us came away from that not wanting to leave. We have fun pretty much all the time anyway. We could have fun in an empty room. Give us a couple of beers and we’re done. But that was double fun, that was triple fun, that was crazy fucking Holy Grail fun. I’m going back next year whether we’re playing or not. I think Nathan and I are going to come live in the States next year after we finish the next record, in New York, or Austin, or L.A. We absolutely love it over here, especially in New York.

I don’t know what we did without SXSW. I don’t know why I wasted my whole life … Every St.Patrick’s Day I’m getting on a plane and coming to SXSW. We spent this past St.Patrick’s Day in the air; you know how weird that is for an Irish band?

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