Back on PATROL again!
It’s taken longer than they thought but Snow Patrol have returned to the Wildness
IT was a period that the members of Snow Patrol most definitely don’t want to repeat. After deciding to take a break from a punishing touring schedule that had lasted over a decade, the band found themselves being forced to take a longer time away from music.
Frontman and songwriter Gary Lightbody was suffering from severe writer’s block and his personal circumstances led to a spiral into depression which he dampened down with drugs and alcohol.
He was dealing badly with his father’s diagnosis of dementia and to top it all was living a world away from some of his best friends, in Los Angeles, a place where dreams are said to be made but just as many others are destroyed by fame on a daily basis.
Jonny Quinn, the band’s drummer but also a man with a long-standing friendship with Lightbody that stretches back over 20 years, admits he was worried, not just about what was going to happen with Snow Patrol, but also what might happen to his pal.
‘We were all worried,’ he admits. ‘He had been living in LA so it wasn’t like I was able to see him that much.
‘So it was hearing from people that he wasn’t going out that much and had become quite isolated. LA is a lovely place but it can be quite isolating as well.’
The time since Fallen Empires was ticking along but Quinn knew Lightbody was not in a position to be pushed anywhere.
‘I knew that without a new record, Gary wasn’t going to do a Final Straw or Eyes Open album tour,’ Quinn says. ‘I knew that wasn’t going to happen. And time was ticking on. I couldn’t call him up and say, ‘Why are you not getting your ass in gear?’ because that wouldn’t have helped. That’s more pressure.
‘People have asked me, ‘Did you not get pissed off?’ but he would have gone even further into the darkness. It was just a matter of waiting.’
At the same time, Quinn’s belief that Lightbody would come back from the brink never wavered.
‘We all knew he could do it,’ he says emphatically. ‘The guy is prolific but we just had to wait.
‘And we knew that when he got one song finished completely the rest would follow.
‘It was a tap that got very tight and was slowly released. And then he wrote two albums’ worth.’
And so the band’s new album Wildness was born. Released on this day next week, the record is a return to form that shows Lightbody’s songwriting strengths at their best and tracks the singer — and indeed the rest of us — through a turbulent time in the world at large.
And work, says Quinn, is a kind of a salvation for all of them.
‘We went over to LA to have a chat to Gary about it,’ he says. ‘And then we got back to the studio and finished the record. Gary knows himself he has to be working, he has to be out doing gigs and doing what he does.
‘That’s where he belongs. He is in a really good space now. We’re all happy.’
On the day that we speak, Lightbody is present but has handed the press duties to Quinn. He’s in good form though and looks well, stopping for a quick chat at the bar of Dublin’s Morrison Hotel.
He’s been two years free of any drugs and alcohol and puts his recovery down to acupuncture — he’s even dedicated a song to the acupuncturist who ‘saved’ him after he got ‘really sick’ all those thousands of miles from home.
But it’s not like Quinn was resting on his laurels — in fact he is the man behind Polar Patrol, the publishing company which signed Johnny McDaid, now a fully-fledged member of Snow Patrol but at that stage a man who had just finished up with his band Vega 4.
‘I was running a publishing company called Polar Patrol and I signed Johnny McDaid and took on a few other smaller acts and a few writers. So basically I had an office job in the church round the corner from where I live in Crouch End and did something completely different,’ Quinn says of his time away from the band.
‘It was good to see the other side of the industry and work with managers and other labels and so on — and tell the band what is happening and how things have changed.
‘I mean, we won’t sell 100,000 records in our first week as 50,000 is a lot these days. I think it is depressing for younger bands — it is hard for them at the moment and there are not many guitar bands out there any more. I wouldn’t like to be starting out now.’
IN fact, Ed Sheeran supported Snow Patrol on tour in America, a move that saw Johnny McDaid writing with the singer and the likes of the huge hit Shape Of You ending up on Polar Patrol publishing.
‘I had a few Ed Sheeran songs so it did okay,’ Quinn jokes. ‘Johnny wrote a lot of the Ed Sheeran stuff and we are up for an Ivor Novello at the end of the month so it has been amazing to see.
‘I asked Ed Sheeran to come on our American tour with us and that’s how I got Johnny McDaid writing with him. And it worked,’ he laughs.
Through his work behind-thescenes in the music industry, Quinn is now optimistic that a way to nurture new talent can be found through subscriber streaming. But even with business booming back at the publishing company, he admits he was itching to get back behind a drum kit and play live. And he’s hoping now that his son, who was born just as the last album Fallen Empires was released, will finally get to see what his dad did for a living. ‘My son is five-and-a-half,’ he says. ‘Going away on tour will be different now and Gary and Johnny are his godparents so he knows them well. And Nathan comes round to the house a lot so it will be quite interesting for him to come out and see what I do as he hasn’t really figured it out yet.’
After 20 years together, Quinn says that touring will be a different kettle of fish to when the band were in their twenties.
‘It’s definitely less rock and roll,’ he admits. ‘There are more kale smoothies on the rider than there ever was, yoga mats everywhere.
‘It’s a typical ageing rockers — next there will be no booze backstage or anything like that. We’re getting to that age, it’s kind of scary.’
But life for everyone differs greatly when you are 25 as compared to 45 and it’s almost miraculous for a band who have been together for as long as Snow Patrol have to still contain such tight friendships.
‘We get on really well for people who have been in a band for 20 odd years,’ he says. ‘Exceptionally well considering the amount of time we have spent with each other. We have literally been beside each other on buses for quite a long time.
‘It has its ups and downs like any relationship but we have a good time. And I am really looking forward to playing. I have just missed playing — all of us have. It has been in our blood for so long, this is what you do and we missed that so badly.’
Like so many other bands, the tour for Fallen Empires was beginning to feel like a chore for the members of Snow Patrol but the gap between gigs was so long that they felt
nervous, even performing in venues that were much smaller than they were used to.
‘Being away was okay for a couple of years when we needed a break because I think on our last tour everybody was just not enjoying it any more.
‘And we just didn’t appreciate it. I think we were toured out because we had been on the road for 15 years in a row.
‘So when we played our first gig in London a couple of weeks ago, everybody in the band was nervous. Everyone was freaked out but it was such a relief and a release that people were happy to see us back again.
‘We did a gig in New York and one in LA and it just felt like the crowd were really happy to see us. The break had been a really good thing.’
Wildness has already struck a chord with music lovers, as a return to form for the Irish band with a depth and maturity reflected in the songwriting which finds love and beauty against all odds amidst the chaos and chatter of modern living. And for Quinn, the track Life On Earth distills the essence of the whole album.
‘It was one of those songs that when we finished it, I would play it to people first,’ he says. ‘I felt it was lyrically quite poignant for the times we’re living in as it’s not meant to be this f ***** g hard, life on earth.
‘And it works in a number of ways for the climate we are putting this record out in with what’s happening in America, Brexit — this sort of fear and aggression that seems to be happening. I think that song speaks about that and it just feels very powerful. And playing it live has been great fun.’
With the likes of Run and Chasing Cars now in the canon of international hits that will stand the test of time, it must be hard to try and match the success of songs that have been the soundtrack to weddings and break-ups all over the world. But the band had no idea Run would be such an international success story, Quinn says, and he insists they write without any intention of creating hits.
‘You just never know as a song just takes its own life,’ he says. ‘We thought Run was a B-side so we’re not that good at picking singles, clearly.
‘I think it’s kind of like doing your homework and handing it in and then you have to just wait and see. We did our best we just hope we get good marks now.
‘You have no control over it and we couldn’t try and write another Chasing Cars as it would just sound like us trying to write another Chasing Cars.
‘The single just appears after you write a lot of demos so we have to see what happens. We have no idea of expectation on this.’
Quinn says the band are pleased with the way things are going do far. All the gigs in smaller venues like Dublin’s Olympia Theatre and Derry’s Millenium Forum sold out in record time and tickets ended up like gold dust.
Happily fans won’t have too long to wait as the band are planning an arena tour for later this year and are hoping to recreate the magic of their Ward Park gig in Lightbody’s home town of Bangor that took place a few years ago.
So far tracks from the album have been playlisted by radio stations at home and abroad.
‘I feel the record is quite modern,’ Quinn says. ‘In America we are getting lots of airplay for Don’t Give In in particular and it’s enouraging. So we just have to want and see how that goes.’
Quinn insists the band is not worried about where Snow Patrol fit in the grand musical map. But what they are concerned with is where they are going and what’s still to be done.
‘We want to do Slane Castle,’ he says. ‘We want to do Wembley Stadium, we want to do Madison Square Gardens. Things have just taken off for us in South America recently too so it would be great to go there.’
And the proof will be in the pudding when Wildness is released on May 26.
‘It will be interesting to see who our audiences are now,’ Quinn says. ‘You go away and come back you don’t know if it’s still there or if people are like they did. You can’t take anything for granted. But I really think this is one of the best records we have made.’
Snow Patrol play Galway tonight and Belfast on Sunday, Wildness is released on May 25.
Polar Patrol: Ed Sheeran teamed up with band member Johnny McDaid
Band of brothers: (l-r), Paul Wilson, Nathan Connolly, Gary Lightbody, Jonny Quinn and Johnny McDaid