Sometimes I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. It’s been about a couple of months since I had a crazy idea to swap blog series with Jon (as in I write about influential artists of all time, and he write about artists who are virtually certain to be influential in the near future!); and it’s been a bit more taxing that I thought it was going to be. Not that I’m complaining… which I’m not, because I’ve been musically stretched beyond anything that I even thought I would be, and more than I ever was when I was writing my portion of the blog series all that time ago. It’s just that at this stage of the blog series, from entries #81-#100, you’d think that the 20 artists would be self-explanatory and would reveal themselves like the drop of a hat. And you’d be right… somewhat. Artists like Tim McGraw, Jennifer Lopez and Spice Girls were in the list for as long as I could remember- so there were no surprises there. But Gwen Stefani and Leona Lewis surprised me in a good way- they weren’t in the list for very long, and the fact that I was so compelled to write about these artists meant that there was no room for Blake Shelton and Norah Jones (at the moment). I’ve noticed that even at this stage, I can be enamoured and fascinated by the discography and life of an artist so much that I could include them on a whim at the expense of another; and that’s ok. At no point during this process of writing did I feel as if Gwen and Leona weren’t worthy of being included in a subjective list such as this. But it did give me pause and reason for reflection for the remainder 15 names.
I mean, could I say with confidence that these 15 artists were the definitive 15? Or did I need to conjure up another list of 15 just in case every one of these artists were replaced? I mean it’s inconceivable to replace artists like Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Beyonce and Mariah Carey and leave them out all together (the presumed final 5 artists I’ll be writing about!); but over the past week as I reflected the thought crossed my mind of ‘what if’ and I spiralled. Not that I needed to- a quick look down the list of who I’m supposed to write about, reveals that artists like Richard Marx, The Cranberries and Leann Rimes are on more shaky ground in my own humble opinion. But you know how when you spiral, you really spiral? Yep that was me. I thought that I had to find new artists and find them quick, because what if there were 15 other artists better than these 15? What if I was being too narrow minded and blinded by irrational reasons and favouring the final 15 as some exclusive club that couldn’t be altered for any reason? And then when an artist comes along that breaks my preconception, it totally wrecks me? Just my thought processes, but this past week when I decided to take a plunge and start listening to a new artist (one that is already in the ‘final 15’, don’t worry!), I began to see that my fears of finding a new 15 artists were warranted, but not to that extent of me finding a new 15 artists, or even finding one or two new artists. My fears were warranted as it reminded me what we all feel sometimes.
We feel like certain people can change the world and be popular and influential because of who they are or what they can do or whatever special skills they possess. And then on the flipside we feel as if others cannot, under any circumstances, be able to change the world on a global, massive scale because of similar reasons- because of what they have done, because of who they are, and their life outside of the spotlight. We feel as if one group of people are special, are influential, are worthy of being looked up to as role models; and others are to be tossed aside like yesterday’s news. We feel as if they’ve had too many chances to change, and have had too many chances where they’ve let us down. We hope that the people in our lives or outside of our lives, who are battling with something inside themselves, can change the world in many different and unique ways; but for some reason we don’t give them a chance, we don’t extend a hand and maybe a loving hug and some grace when they need it. Why is that so? Well over the past week as I’ve been listening to British rock band Snow Patrol, I’ve come to a firm realisation. That while we all are scared of looking up to artists and people, and proclaiming them as influential when we feel that they’re too far gone to change and too far gone to be the ‘perfect role models’, that while we have a fear of actively searching for new people to look up to, of finding ‘perfect’ people; it’s more based in the reality that we’re all not that accepting of ourselves, and cannot fathom that any of us could ever be used for good and used for something bigger and better than ourselves. We see a part of ourselves in the ‘unworthy’ people than we reject and we shun… and in reality we’re really just beating down on ourselves. Does that make us feel better though? Have we really bought into the lie that we as people need to be as perfect as we can be before we are used by God to change the world?
I’ve been listening to Snow Patrol for the better part of a week now, and their music hits hard. Their music hits close to my soul, and I’ve found that on the whole, I connect more with songs that tell a story, songs that are special and resonating for the artist who sung them; rather than pop songs about partying and sex. But throughout my week of researching about the band, I’ve found lead singer Gary Lightbody and his life to be… not the smoothest to say the least. Even though now Gary has been appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours for his services to music and to charity in Northern Ireland; during his early days with the band, he used to be quite the drinker, and was seen to be quite irrational, erratic, and neurotic. According to Wikipedia, Gary became frustrated and exasperated at Snow Patrol’s lack of financial success, as well as lost and aimless. He started cursing at the audience and demolishing the band’s equipment, inclusive of breaking guitars they could not afford. Though this phase ran for two years, with Gary later giving up drinking, and crediting his bandmates for the turnaround; there was still a point within the last few years, before the release of the group’s most recent album Wildness, in which Gary felt lost and alone… and though this fact shouldn’t have shaken me to the core, and questioned whether such a flawed band should even be included in a prestigious and inspiring list of artists; it did for a little bit, and I in fact stopped myself in this line of thinking, and stepped back. Why were we doing this blog series in the first place? Was it for us to be inspired, to be challenged, to remember that hope and comfort and healing can come from the unlikeliest of places, or was it just to check a box, to say that I’ve listened to other types of music, and to say that I’ve been changed when I actually haven’t?
Long ago when I was just listening to Christian music, I thought that mainstream music didn’t have a place in my life, as I thought that that type of music, was in effect evil to its core. But essentially when Jon and myself started this blog series, for the purposes of expanding our musical horizons and becoming more cultured and less sheltered, I discovered that mainstream music isn’t the enemy. And that God can use any type of person for furthering His kingdom and for our good as well. I know I’ve blogged about this topic a while ago (about how God can use any kind of person, flaws and all, to challenge and inspire us to be better people than we were before), and I know I spoke at length about broken and messed up artists on the brink of being influential (artists like Conrad Sewell and Julia Michaels), while Jon blogged about Creed and Scott Stapp (an influential rock band whereby Scott the lead singer was drunk on stage virtually all the time!), and Casting Crowns (whereby lead singer Mark had dyslexia and cancer later on in life, and was a wreck emotionally for the last few albums the band released so far!); but it was really on this blog of Snow Patrol that I fully realised that you do not have to have your life together, you do not have to be perfect in order for God to use you. Or as I’ve mentioned word for word in my blog about Conrad Sewell- you do not have to be perfect or even appear to be, in order for you to have great influence in the area God has placed you in. You just need to be authentic and willing to show the world parts of yourself that are ugly, messy, and unlikeable. If people know that ‘hey, this guy is just as much of a screw-up as me, and if he/she can make it, then so can I’, then the world will be a better place, won’t it? I’ve also been encouraged as I’ve revisited people in the Bible who have screwed up but who have been used heavily by God in the most crazy ways, but in the craziest good ways (Moses who was a murderer and a stutterer, David who killed another man’s wife, Jonah who disobeyed God and was swallowed up by a while, Peter who denied Jesus three times, Joseph who admitted to his brothers that they’d bow down to him one day, and was hence kidnapped by Pharoah, Rahab who was a prostitute, Matthew who was a cunning tax collector); and I’ve also been inspired and impacted by a couple of songs I’ve reviewed in the past about this very subject of God using less than perfect people to change the world.
Casting Crowns’ song “Nobody” is a stirring duet with Matthew West as all three vocalists (Megan Garrett included!) convey the ever-true theme that as we are spreading the gospel and making Jesus’ famous, it’s not our names that are important, but Jesus’. We are in fact nobodies, but that shouldn’t really bother us. We’re just vessels and agents of change, pointing the world to the true Someone who really matters. The Somebody worth speaking about is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ. And as Mark, Matthew and Megan firmly assert that Jesus used a bunch of nobodies in the Bible to draw the world to Him, it shouldn’t be a surprise that He still does that now- in fact it should really be an honour to be a nobody. Food for thought, right? While Matthew West’s song “Broken Things” is more explicit in the sense that we hear in no uncertain terms that God uses broken things to draw others closer to Him, and to encourage others in their walk that is life. With Matthew fervently crying out ‘…now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King, I wish I could bring so much more, but if it’s true- You use broken things; then here I am Lord, I am all Yours…’, we an say that through this song we certainly have our preconception on God using broken people v God using ‘perfect’ people is shattered completely. Crowder even speaks about coming as you are and about us not having to be perfect before God, because God loves us and accepts us anyway (in “Come As You Are”). So now that I’ve come to the conclusion that you can be broken and you can be a work in progress while God uses you, let me remind you all that Gary Lightbody and his friends have released some of the most thought-provoking songs I’ve heard in recent memory. They’ve forced me to look beyond myself and beyond the artists I think God can use, and just it back, close my eyes and experience an artist for who they are. Preconceptions are wiped away with this artist, and I am now more than ever realising that authenticity, vulnerability and honest is better to God than acting all proud, mighty and better than everything else. Because the moment that you believe you’ve got it made and that you’ve arrived… this just means that you’re still not there yet. The moment that you accept that you’ll never fully arrive, and that you need to submit to God’s ways and be humble… I guess that’s the point where you can surrender to His will and move where He wants us to move.
And even though Snow Patrol are not a Christian band, they truly have subconsciously gone where God has paved the way for them. Consisting of Gary Lightbody, Nathan Connolly, Paul Wilson, Jonny Quinn, Johnny McDaid, the Scottish/Northern Irish rock band formed in 1994, and used the name Polarbear up until 1997, and then changed because of a naming conflict with another band called Polar Bear. Part of the post-Britpop movement; Snow Patrol’s first two albums were commercially unsuccessful, but Songs for Polarbears was a critical success, as was their second album When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up. And when you glance briefly at their achievements, you can tell that God has always been guiding their steps even if they didn’t know it. Which makes me conclude that there has to be something poignant, moving and inspiring to their songs, right? Why else would a band that doesn’t conform much to radio, still make it on radio? I mean, “Run” (their second most popular song ever!) propelled the band to national fame, and “Chasing Cars” (their most popular song!) is the most played song of the 21st century on UK radio. “Run” has also been used in TV episode scenes, including scenes from One Tree Hill, Life As We Know It, Cold Case, Rescue Me, Doctor Who, Jericho, Mad Dogs and Bates Motel; while Eyes Open is the bestselling British album of 2006. Snow Patrol have won seven Meteor Ireland Music Awards and have been nominated for six Brit Awards and one Grammy Award (and a total of 25 wins from 51 nominations). Final Straw, Eyes Open and A Hundred Million Suns albums have sold 10 million copies worldwide, while “Chasing Cars” was nominated for rock song of the year at 2007 Grammy Awards, as well as best British single at the 2007 Brit Awards. Final Straw was certified platinum 5 times in the UK, and in 2005, the band toured with U2 on their Vertigo Tour in Europe. Even musicians, such as Ozzy Osbourne, Bono (of U2), Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.), and Nikki Sixx (of Mötley Crüe and Sixx AM), have also expressed their admiration for Snow Patrol. Terri Hooley, founder of the Good Vibrations label and a lifelong supporter of local Northern Irish music, has also expressed pride in bands like Snow Patrol. Even Leona Lewis’s version of “Run” gained a whole lot more traction than the original version, and in a weird way, the band can thank her for their continued success. But as it stands, when you think about everything the band has accomplished from then til now, from their Polarbear days to their latest album Reworked, you can confidently say that God is working, and that He’s still working. Artists come and go, but songs and the impact of them stay forever… and it is by far these songs and the impact of them that have convinced me to place this band as influential… even songs from a broken and flawed man like Gary Lightbody.
I started drinking, with a gusto that a professional boxer might train for a prize fight. It’d be mostly beer. I was quite a happy drunk. There was a hell of a lot of fun. Until it wasn’t. I’d get to 2am sitting on my own, have a cry, and then a glass of something [stronger]. I didn’t have any relationships and I wasn’t having sex either. I was very hermetic. Around 2015/2016 I was drinking every day and also I was hating it. I regret doing it even though I knew I was doing it out of compulsion.
I bent down to touch my toes and everything started spinning. It felt like the floor beneath me was moving. I thought it was an earthquake. But it kept going on. I phoned a friend who lived around the corner. I was like, ‘Are we having an earthquake?’ He said ‘Something’s going on here’… I had a bunch of CT scans on my head. My whole head was infected – sinus, ears, eyes, everything. I’d been having styes and stuff on my eyes. Stick a teabag on it. This was the week before I was going to France to see Northern Ireland play in their first tournament in 30 years. I said to the doctor, ‘I’m flying to France in five days’. He’s like, ‘No you’re not. If you flew with the air pressure it’d feel like daggers ripping into your head’. I was still thinking maybe I’ll be alright. I spoke to a friend, Gabrielle, an acupuncturist, an extraordinary human being. She’d been trying to get me to stop drinking for a while…
Last summer [in 2017] (the interview was conducted in 2018), I thought I’d be relieved to get the album done. We’d just finished. But I wasn’t. I was devastated. I’d opened a place in my psyche and I didn’t know how to shut the door. It was like the ark of the covenant was opened [from Raiders Of The Lost Ark] and there were melting faces left and right and I didn’t know how to shut the thing down. So instead of talking to somebody I tried to shut myself out. Let my own face melt. And the band knew something and they flew from London and arrived at the door and I broke down and told them everything. I have a depressive personality that has no relationship with reality. I could be having the best time on the surface and yet my depression goes, ‘You’re still a c***. Don’t forget that. I’m dragging you down into the ink and the dirt and the darkness’. I could be playing to 15,000 people and three hours later be on a hotel room crying on the floor. That’s happened a bunch of times. The depression and the success have no relation to each other. It’s just part of me. I’ve learned that rather than running from it, which you can never really do – you can never run away from yourself – is you have and turn and face it and look it in the eye and say I’m not afraid of you anymore.
I’ve felt I’ve been running away, most of the time from myself. So…some of the home references [in Wildness] are me feeling disconnected rather than connected…. feeling like I’d never really found a home. I never truly felt at home when I was growing up in Northern Ireland. Then I left and never really felt at home anywhere else. And then I moved back to Northern Ireland and now I do feel at home here, but that has also coincided with me feeling at home inside my own body. Which was the whole problem the whole time. I wasn’t comfortable with myself. I didn’t like myself. So you have to figure that out before you can feel at home anywhere.
When you’re in your late teens or early 20’s, you think you can conquer the world. You think you’re invincible, and that everything you touch will inevitably turn to gold. When you’re in the spotlight also and when you’re in a band… I think that’s where ego gets in the way. Because you long for praise and accolades and awards and then the pressure and pace of the celebrity life can force you to be a different version of yourself that you don’t really like. I guess that’s what happened to Gary (which came to a head in 2012 and 2013!)… but I guess that even when you’re in those moments, God can still impact the world through what you are doing. And that is certainly the case with the band’s debut album, the commercial failure Songs For Polarbears, which contains unmemorable songs, but songs nonetheless that have a deep message. It’s a commercial failure, but listening to the album now, 20 something years later… you can tell that it’s something special that will undoubtedly last for a long time yet. Debut single “Little Hide” is an emotive, heartbreaking rock melody similar musically to Coldplay, Switchfoot or Hoobastank, about unrequited love that I’m sure many of us have related to at least once in our own lives; while the second single “One Hundred Things You Should Have Done In Bed” speaks about the dissolution of a relationship where the woman wanted sex, but the man needed something deeper, and is still not over the woman yet. These singles are rough around the edges, and aren’t polished at all, and they have that grunge garage band feeling. Gary and his friends have tried hard here, but it is doubtful that I will feel connected to these songs within 10 years, 5 years, even a year. No offence to Gary and the band… it’s just that there’s something about them that are uninteresting.
“Velocity Girl”, a slower paced guitar led ballad, speaks about unrequited love yet again, but this time in a more specific fashion, with Gary singing to a ‘velocity girl’, a girl who is always busy and always on the move. However one might think that the girl the persona (or Gary himself) might be interested in is mentally unstable, having had a drinking problem and also taking drugs like XTC which causes temporary hyperactivity. Either way, the girl is living in an extremely fast paced world, and Gary is intrigued by the adrenaline- a track whereby we ourselves should check our own hearts and see if a fast paced life is for us or not. “Absolute Gravity”, a musically schizophrenic electronic melody is a verse-less, chorus-less melody, whereby Gary speaks about his paralysis and anxiety around beautiful women, and speaks about their effect on him being like gravity (a situation where we all can find ourselves in when we are attracted to someone but are too shy to say anything to the person); while “Starfighter Pilot” delves deep into looking up to an idealised version of a celebrity (in the case of this song an astronaut) as a role model- someone who seems to be unqualified for many reasons, but we do it anyway because we’re human and we all need to base our life on somebody. This song again isn’t radio friendly at all, with the track also revealing to us that all of us are flawed, and thus we should know that our role models are fallible and can make mistakes.
Yet if you thought the ‘indie-ness’ ended with Songs For Polarbears, then you’d be disappointed with the next album- When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up. It was an album that didn’t impress me that much, and I felt dragged on for a while as I listened to the already long 18 song track-list. “Ask Me How I Am”, a Beatles-esque alternative track, delves into the unbreakable bond between a dog and his owner, and broadly delves into the concept of people being in our corner and asking us how our day is, in order for us all to feel sane and safe; while “One Night Is Not Enough”, an indie rock tune, delves into Gary feeling like his ex is slipping away, that she doesn’t love him when he instead wants more. And with the specificity of these songs especially… no more songs on the album charted on radio, and no more songs grabbed me in the moment. That’s not to say that these songs weren’t good… it’s just that they were too niche, and the public needed something to grab onto that was universal and was all-encompassing, that everyone could relate to. That’s the nature of music and of the radio- write what you know, and write from experience, but write more broadly to capture a lot of people.
We spent ten years making records that 6,000 people bought. After Final Straw and Eyes Open, to top ourselves we’d basically have to write songs to order and think about radio airplay which we can’t do at all, because that’s when we’d start to freak out about it too much and we would get a real block. On A Hundred Million Suns, we hadn’t really written any songs like ‘Chasing Cars’ or anything that might have a run on radio forever, so I don’t know commercially if we’ll sell as many with this album, but I think that we’re just really happy with what we’ve created on this record. I think it’s the best that we’ve done so far, but that may not be realized in terms of sales. We’re already really taken back at the size of the band at this point. We don’t have the ambition to be the biggest band in the world like some groups, and I don’t thank that we’ll ever try and chase that.
Final Straw was when we had our first real success and when we started to sell in great quantities, and Eyes Open, especially in America, Australia and Europe, helped us gain a wider audience. There’s a lot more expectation after you’ve sold a lot of albums, and you’ve got a lot more people working with you, your team and live show gets bigger, and for us it’s just a good challenge to try and improve and live up to some of those expectations, in everything that we do. We just know that we’re going to be analyzed a lot more than we ever have been, and the criticism and backlash comes a lot harder and faster. We just have to sort of up our game and succumb to the fact that we have to be professionals.
With ‘Chasing Cars’, we were shocked with the amount of airplay it got, and it felt like it was overplayed and it was just everywhere, and at the same time we don’t want people to get pissed off at the song, which can happen. It became such a big song that we worry that it’s all people recognize us for, and there’s a weird perception that all of our albums are ballads, and anyone who knows us knows that is not true. It gets to a point where a song can become bigger than the band, and you hope that it doesn’t ruin what comes next.
I don’t think we could ever be that picky about it, at whatever level of stardom we rise to. It depends what your ambitions are, and we realize that we have a responsibility to see how far we can go with it, more than thinking about how we can conquer the world and play stadiums. That’s not really our ethos. I just want our live shows to be amazing, and for people to come out thinking that it was amazing and for those two hours that people are escaping from their lives, I just want to be the guys to provide that escape. I want to inspire people to start bands, and that’s where we are right now. That’s success to me.
The next two albums- Final Straw in 2003, Eyes Open in 2006, were Snow Patrol at their peak. Both of these albums have struck a chord with me, as well as other listeners and critics, and it’s hard to not talk about these projects separately. “Spitting Games”, the lead single from Final Straw, is another further song about heartbreak, about an intense love for someone whom you haven’t met and can’t bring yourself to talk to; with Gary himself relaying that ‘Spitting Games’ is written about that kind of inept but sweet, kind of silly first love. All the pitfalls you fall into, all the stupid things your friends say to you that love is, kissing is or sex is over the years, when you’re from a child to an adolescent. Like learning about sex stuff through your friends, the way they talk about it, ‘Spitting Games’ being an obvious, rather crude thing one of my friends said to me once. So it’s about all those wonderfully silly little heartbreaks that you go through as a kid that mean the world to you, that feel like your world is collapsing, but of course it really isn’t. But these things are all in context. “Chocolate”, also from Final Straw, delves into the stupid mistakes Gary has made over the years (in the case of this song, it’s cheating on his girlfriend) and has Gary outlining that he will make amends in the future. “Chocolate” though, doesn’t grant forgiveness and absolution though, as Gary will still have to carry his mistakes with him as he regains lost trust and moves on with peace.
“How To Be Dead”, an acoustic guitar prominent alternative melody, passionately details a conversation between a man and a woman about their relationship souring over infidelity, with the conclusion being that they would rather blame drugs as the core root of their issues rather than themselves. And it is in this song that we see that honesty, communication and being transparent is key to any successful relationship, romantic or platonic. “You’re All That I Have”, from Eyes Open, emotionally highlights Gary’s undying need and want for a female to complete him, and as he relays that ‘…it’s so clear now that you are all that I have, I have no fear ’cause you are all that I have…’, while we as listeners need to realise that we cannot have people complete us because our entire mood will be based on something external rather than intrinsic; while “Hands Open” is a rock song that is an invitation from Gary to his ex to forgive him for his past mistakes and transgressions, and an invitation for her to give him another chance. Gary has dated 5 women in the past, and the songs about his ex are about all 5 women at times; and we can all learn a lot through Gary’s mistakes- treat women with respect and never try to lead a woman on. “Set The Fire to the Third Bar”, a haunting, beautifully sung duet with Martha Wainwright, is led by the acoustic guitar, and tells the story of a long distance relationship, and about how the two personas would settle in front of an electric bar fire and enjoy their presence together, as Gary highlights to us that ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ is a song that I wrote with Martha Wainwright in mind, like a love song between the two of us. I don’t know whether that’s creepy, when it’s someone that you don’t know. But it wasn’t meant like that. I think it’s beautiful. I sent it to her – again, we’d never met or spoken – and we got a pretty quick response saying she would come and sing it. So she was playing in Dublin, so me and Garret went up to Dublin, went into a studio in there, the day of her gig. And we recorded her singing ‘Set the Fire’, and…I mean, she’s just extraordinary. She’s just like a big breath of life. Extraordinarily intelligent, very funny and warm. And she came in and she sung it once, and it was perfect. She sung it again for luck, and we used the first take; while “Open Your Eyes”, a 6 minute rock melody, is used heavily in pop culture, and is a beautifully written track about Gary’s earnest and undying love for someone who doesn’t know he exists, as he eloquently pleads to the woman to ‘…tell me that you’ll open your eyes…’, although I don’t think the track is famous for the lyrics, but rather the anthemic and cinematic atmosphere and the feel of it, especially the synth led instrumental bridge.
“Shut Your Eyes”, a fan favourite at concerts, is an emotive and moving ballad whereby the persona directs someone who is hurting to shut their eyes and imagine a world where everything is perfect and everything is alright, and according to Gary, ‘Shut Your Eyes’ is probably my favorite song to play live because it’s one of the songs [where] I kind of have free reign. And getting the crowd involved is almost the responsibility of a lead singer, you know? I really don’t like it when bands come on – especially bands I love – they come on, they don’t say anything to the crowd. They don’t communicate, or they communicate in a way that they’re almost pissed off the crowd is there. We always try to bring to joy. Even with the sad songs, you know? There’s an element of joy in playing them live, and people are singing along to a sad song. It almost negates the sadness in the song. It breathes in new life into it. “You Could Be Happy”, not a single but popular through usage in the show Smallville in an episode in 2007, dives deep into the theme of lost love and desperation, and seems to be a final goodbye to someone you so desperately; but it’s extremely evident that “Run” and “Chasing Cars” are the pinnacle of Snow Patrol’s songs from the era of 2004 and 2006… in fact from any era ever!
About Run: I’ve never told anyone before and I don’t want to spoil it for people because it has its own meaning for them. But in 2000 I was on a massive bender and one night I was drinking in the bar of the Glasgow School Of Art. I fell down a full flight of stairs. Jonny Quinn (Snow Patrol’s drummer) found me in the stairwell with blood coming out of my head. He said I looked like a police chalk line and he thought I was dead.
I was very lucky. A fall like that could easily finish you off. I split my head open and my eye was closed and I lost a few teeth. I was put on a plane to see my mum and dad and they were terrified when they saw me. I wrote Run soon after in this little guitar I’d tried to smash up in my s–t little room near Hillhead. The words ‘light up, light up’ gave this sense of a beacon. There had to be a light at the end of a tunnel.
“Run” was written in 2000, wasn’t released until 2003 on Final Straw. All I really wanted from life was to be able to take care of my family: my mum and dad, my sister, my niece. So it was a song written about that, and any future family that I have of my own, of course. So it was a song about the future, written in a heightened situation, an imagined apocalyptic situation. Like, running for your life: what are the things you wanna take with you? Who are the people you wanna save? Who puts a light into your life? So my family and my friends, it’s a song written about them. It’s dedicated to them. I owe my life to them. So it’s really for them.
That’s what you want a song to do [to have a life beyond the original version]. Different interpretations and meanings. Songs aren’t monolithic, at least the good ones aren’t. What Leona Lewis has done has touched hearts. The success of Run is obviously brilliant. I won’t have to worry about bills for a long time. But the main focus is that Snow Patrol is a band, a band that means it, and we’re in this for the long haul, as you say. Hit singles can come and go, but Snow Patrol is on solid ground. Count on us being around.
“Run”, from Final Straw, has been covered by Josh Groban (with Sarah MacLachlan), Lucy Thomas and Leona Lewis (and this version had special praise from Gary- She obviously studied the song and thought long and hard about how to interpret it. She’s stripped it to its bare core. I think she sounds absolutely phenomenal.), with the essence of this song being explained in the various interviews above that are linked; while “Chasing Cars” is the band’s only big hit in the U.S., with Gary describing the song being the most pure and open love song I’ve ever written. With this blog already outlining that in 2019, “Chasing Cars” was announced to be the most-played song of the 21st century to date… well, that’s something, isn’t it? With the concept of “Chasing Cars” being inspired by Gary’s dad’s remark about a girl Gary was infatuated with: You’re like a dog chasing a car. You’ll never catch it and you just wouldn’t know what to do with it if you did; the song itself create raw and brutal emotion out of apathy, and pride out of indifference. With the song soaring on the iTunes charts after the inclusion of the track on a Greys Anatomy episode; Gary and his band have created an anthem for the ages, and a song that will never get old. Snow Patrol may split up one day, but it is the songs of “Run” and “Chasing Cars” that will live on in the hearts, souls and minds of all who listen, and all who are a fan of music in general.
After the highs of both Final Straw and Eyes Open; one could say that A Hundred Million Suns falls flat. But in my opinion, the follow-up to the previous two near-flawless albums, though containing no actual big hit that compares to both “Run” and “Chasing Cars”; still impacts, encourages and comforts, with the atmosphere of the album still resonating and captivating. “Take Back The City” is a patriotic rock song about Belfast and Gary’s love for his hometown (similar in theme to “Made In America” by Cimorelli; while “Crack The Shutters”, a radio friendly pop/rock track, is said to be the purest love song Gary has ever written. As Gary eloquently relays that he wants to ‘…crack the shutters open wide, I want to bathe you in the light of day, and just watch you as the rays, tangle up around your face and body, I could sit for hours, finding new ways to be awed each minute, ’cause the daylight seems to want you just as much as I want you…’, we are met with a song whereby the persona longs to be close to their significant other, and a song we can unequivocally cry out to our loved ones as well. The ethereal, mysterious and haunting electronic focused reflective ballad “If There’s A Rocket, Tie Me To It”, explores humanity’s fascination of the stars and worlds beyond our own, and speaks about the concept of us being super small in the infinite galaxy, with Gary outlining that he wasn’t good at school, but that he has been captivated by science lately, that “[the album] it’s set in the context of a world that’s as terrifying as it is beautiful. Which is why a lot of the imagery refers to space. As in ‘get us out of here’. I don’t think we’re doomed, but there’s darkness here, looming over me rather than in me. In the past, my lyrics have sometimes been bogged down by my own self-flagellation – can’t see past my fingertips. This time, the opposite has happened. It’s about realizing that we’re just dots.”.
“The Planets Bend Between Us”, a Jon Foreman type track, is as musically simple and lyrically profound as any other Coldplay or Lifehouse or Switchfoot song, with Gary passionately recounting just how small we are in the universe. This track is the heartbeat of A Hundred Million Suns and is the pseudo-title track, and also quite soothing, even though it’s describing something gigantic and grandiose as the universe, as prosaic as it may sound, this song is about my house in Northern Ireland which is on Belfast Lough beside a little beach. There’s something about being on a beach in winter time, no-one else is there, it’s blowing a gale, raining sideways, and there’s something redemptive about yelling into the wind. The line in the song ‘a hundred millions suns’ just cried out to be the album title. It captures the vastness of the universe and us as tiny dots within it. And it expresses the big sound of the record and it puts it all into perspective. While it is “The Lightning Strike”, another sky metaphor song title and the album closer, that is the band’s crowning achievement on this project, with the absurdly long but absurdly good 16-minute song needs to be heard and experienced to be believed. It’s a song that builds and builds until it is epically awesome, and is actually three songs in one… so enough of me talking about this song, why don’t you listen to it instead? And as Gary has mentioned (and also as to why only the first part of the song is on the group’s greatest hits album!)- ‘The Lightning Strike’ is a three-song suite that’s 16 minutes long. The first part, ‘What If This Storm Ends?’, actually has been used a lot in trailers and in TV shows and things like that, and fans were trying to get their hands on it. And the only way to get your hands on it is to buy…because it’s so long, iTunes won’t sell it as one song. So you have buy the whole album, A Hundred Million Suns. And feel free to buy that! It’s a really good record! But we thought, seeing as it was on so many syncs and TV and trailers and things and movies, that we would let the fans get a hold of song itself, or the first part of the song itself.
“Called Out In The Dark”, from the band’s sixth album Fallen Empires, delves into dance territory musically, but lyrically is a mess of metaphors of which I can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. It’s a mystery to me- and hopefully with repeated listens I’ll be able to find out what the track means. At least it sounds good, am I right? Thankfully, “This Isn’t Everything You Are” is lyrically simpler, and much more lyrically compelling, captivating, and powerful. With Gary delivering probably one of the most inspirational and encouraging songs of the band’s entire career, we are presented with a song full of encouragement, hope, comfort and peace, as Gary outlines that any tragedy that happens to us, does not define us, and that we are more than our struggles, more than our failures, more than the bad things that happen to us. Similar in theme to Tenth Avenue North’s “You Are More”, this song peels back the misconception that we are what we do, and instead points out that we are more than that, that ‘…in one little moment, it all implodes, this isn’t everything you are, breathe deeply in the silence, no sudden moves…just take the hand that’s offered and hold on tight…there’s joy not far from here, I know there is…’; while the song also is set to remind a lot of us that we do have a reason for breathing, and that people in life do in fact value and love and accept us for who we are. “I’ll Never Let Go”, the album opener, is a hard-hitting, no-nonsense rocker, which is inspired by a homeless man that Gary met, that I’d meet him pretty much every day at some point and he would always not remember who I was… [One day] I said I said “take care of yourself, you know, man.” And [as] I was walking way, he shouted after me, “I’ll never let go, don’t worry about me. I’ll never let go.” And okay, can I make that into a song, I flat out asked him and he was like “Yeah man, you do that.”
“New York”, a piano ballad, is a track that details Gary’s sustained love for an ex he was seeing at the time, but couldn’t make it work because of long distance and other circumstances beyond his control; while the alternative rocker “In The End” tries to make sense of life, with Gary concluding that in the end, all that matters is our relationships with our friends and family. It’s a simple song musically and lyrically, and perhaps that’s what makes this song so profound and resonating? “Lifening”, a transparent, reflective and melancholy melody about the passing of time and what we as people really want from life and the rest of it, is inspired by Gary’s own desire to have kids and to be a father like his dad; and is as emotional as ever. It’s especially thought-provoking in the sense that that we can look at ourselves in the mirror and see if the person looking back on us is who we want to be, as Gary himself explains that That song is really about the line, ‘to be a father like my dad’. That’s probably the most personal thing I’ve ever written. I want kids for sure. I wasn’t sure men had biological clocks, but I can hear mine so f—ing loudly, it’s right behind my eyes. But they rarely let single guys in rock bands adopt, and that’s not actually a bad policy, is it? I know that my moral compass is still spinning randomly, but I want to rediscover the playfulness and innocence I had as a kid. That time when I could just round around, covered in mud, laughing out loud and not giving a s–t about anything. It kinda boils down what is important in my life and I think it’s relatable in that the essence of what truly is important. Family, friends, football and music for me. Trying to remove yourself from what doesn’t matter.
After 6 years, you’d think that Snow Patrol’s comeback single would captivate all of us and that they’d rock out and rock out good. Well… I guess you’re half right- as the album Wildness is like a second coming of the band, and is like a new chapter, with Gary purposefully writing and singing about meaty issues and relevant topics. “Don’t Give In” is an encouragement and inspiration to keep going, directed to a friend wanting to commit suicide, and is a heavy ballad that could easily double up as directed to himself, and his writers block, which contributed to the album being delayed multiple times; while the album opener “Life On Earth”, one of the few songs where Snow Patrol use curse words, passionately describes the hardships and ups and downs of life on Earth, and that it’s hard but that’s an element of the complexities of life. “Empress”, an anthemic rock song, speaks about realising that there are a lot of people on this planet who feel like you do (whether it is happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, etc), while Gary concludes that people are people and that we’re all more alike than you think, whereas “Heal Me” is a lifeline- type of song, an electronic/acoustic hybrid directed to the person who saved Gary’s life from alcohol addiction- Gabrielle Hamond, an acupuncturist and friend. It’s such an emotional, personal and honest song and you can’t help but tear up when hearing this melody. “Life And Death”, a sort of questioning about life and death and what comes after, isn’t a definitive statement but rather an abstract narrative with an eclipsis (…) that signifies that maybe there is something after… and hey at least the song gets us all talking about God and the afterlife and maybe if there is a heaven and a hell.
Yet however, it is the probing and confronting “What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?”, that is the pinnacle of Wildness. As Gary stares at the blank canvas of the rest of his life, and then examines and analyses everything that has come before the present, he concludes that life is about comforting the people that you love and being there for your friends and family. And as he states in this revealing interview- so much better than I ever could- that life is about being there for your friends, that “…That song is less about love as it is about friendship. A lot of my friends in L.A. and back home in Northern Ireland were actually going through break-ups and divorces around the time that I wrote the song. And I wanted to let them know that I’d been there, you know? And to just come over and sit together. Don’t have to talk, don’t have to say anything. Just know that I’ve been there too. I’ve been in the ruins too. You don’t have to talk immediately. You do have to talk […] but you can both sit together and just know that you’re there for each other. And that’s what I learned through my depression that I was going through for many, many years, is that the first times I started opening up about it was the only times that the light came in. […] With this song, it’s more about just showing your friends that you’re in this together. You don’t have to say anything right this minute. But when you’re ready to talk, let’s talk…”; we are blessed to hear a song just about sitting in the rubble in comfort and communion with the people what you love. as humans, we try to offer people solutions to things. It’s how we work and it’s how we’re wired. We think that if we can fix it, then we’re ok. But this song states that we don’t have to fix anything, and instead we should just let things be. I don’t know about you, but this sitting and waiting can seem like it’s unnecessary… but Snow Patrol remind us that being a true, real friend is just being for them. And not trying to fix anything. It’s never ever been our job.
It’s arrogant to think you understand what’s going on in someone else’s life. Deal with your own s*** first and then if it relates to other people, that’s great. I know so many of my friends who have been through the same things I’m talking about on this record. You realize that everybody goes through periods of dark times, and nobody’s good at talking about it. The environment is changing to a place where it’s not taboo anymore to talk about mental health. There was a study done recently in Northern Ireland that focused on people in the arts, and something like 65 percent of people have thought about killing themselves… I don’t want to belabor the point, but it was a good start and important for the record, I think.
I was determined that this wasn’t going to be a record that was a bummer. That comes from writing about it as it’s happening, but also you’re healing as you get through it, and you see the light in these situations as well. I think if I was writing thoroughly in the depression, purely seeing the bad side of my alcoholism, this would be a heavy record. But I feel like I got to the other side on a lot of these things. I feel lighter, I feel more connected to the world, to my friends, to myself; happier. I allowed the time, which is why it took seven years, to actually experience the whole thing, every facet of these things, rather than just writing a record about being in the hole.
Garret, he’s not had a drink for seven years now, and he said, “After about six months [of sobriety], give me a shout. Everything feels great now, waking up without a hangover. After about six months, something’s gonna happen.” Around that time, I just went, “boop!” Like all the demons that I had been drowning in booze just [appeared] like leviathans. The Kraken just went up. I went, “Shit, yeah it happened.” I started to go see [a therapist] here in LA and she was very helpful. It was a long process, but I was able to start to communicate about when I was a kid growing up in Northern Ireland. I was born in the mid-‘70s, so I was a kid in the ‘80s, which is possibly the worst time for the war. They called it “The Troubles,” but I call it a war. … I didn’t understand the country that I was in and I wasn’t able to talk about it with anybody. I felt very alone and I felt like I was different. I felt self-loathing from when I was a kid. … There’s young adults that are 20 years old that have lived in a peaceful Northern Ireland their whole lives. It’s just a beautiful thing. I reconnected many years ago with Northern Ireland. I have a house there, I love the place. But I had a very complicated relationship when I was a kid.
I grew up in Bangor, which is reasonably sleepy town, until the weekend, when it turned into a mayhem. I went to school in Belfast, so you’d be driving up to school in the morning and it would be like an army, a military truck, guns pointed at your window. When my teenage years hit, I started to feel very isolated and that’s when I started writing poetry. I had an amazing English teacher, who introduced me to Seamus Heaney, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, all at the same time. Dylan I love, but Van Morrison became like a constant companion — not a literal one, but his music — and Seamus Heaney is the reason probably why I’m a songwriter.
I’ve done tours when I had not been drinking, but it’s a different story [because] I knew there was a drink not too far away. Now, there’s nothing to fall back on if anything goes wrong. After the gigs has been the silence. The hotel room is kind of deafening in a way. After the LA show, I [went] back to my house, and it felt like the furniture changed position. Everything felt very strange, very different. It’s hard to explain. Because there are less highs, falsely created, artificial highs, in my life now, there are no massive lows. It’s more even. I can stand onstage and be fully present in a way I wasn’t able to before. I don’t think my mind is racing as much as it was. It’s like it was a different rhythm. It feels stronger.
I reckon everyone should listen to Wildness at least once, maybe even twice. It’s Snow Patrol’s most complete album, not just because it deals with morbid topics like death… but because it was the album just after Gary became sober, and it is in one sense a new chapter for the band- it was 20 years since Songs For Polarbears. And since that time, both “Run” and “Chasing Cars” released. But more than that, the band learnt the hard way that success is earnt, and that in the end, success isn’t even the flashy awards and the accolades and the applause. It’s the family and friends around you that love you, and the realisation that the songs you sing are greater than yourself and connect with a lot of people around the globe. With Gary also forming the supergroup The Reindeer Section, as well as receiving a doctorate in Letters from the University of Ulster in 2012; in 2018 Gary was also honoured at the Northern Ireland Music Prize with an award for outstanding contribution to music– and from hearing these heartfelt and thought-provoking songs… how could you not give him an award for his services to music? Snow Patrol also founded Polar Music, and the band also own a stake in Houndstooth Pub in NYC. In 2007, the group performed in a project called Little Noise Sessions for the charity Mencap; while in 2009, Gary and Nathan donated plectrums and certificates to the Music Beats Mine project. Gary has also formed a side project, a country supergroup called Tired Pony… and let’s not forget all the awards the band has won and been nominated for; inclusive of a World Heritage Award in 2010. So there’s plenty of things Snow Patrol will be known for… but I guess it’ll still be the songs they’re known for, namely “Run” and “Chasing Cars”.
Snow Patrol have also unveiled to us plenty of covers and stand alone singles, as we are still reminded that these guys can rock, and rock out good. “Just Say Yes”, from the band’s 2009 compilation greatest hits album, is a love song at its core, and an electronic dance track, which was offered to Gwen Stefani who rejected it, was given to Nicole Scherzinger for her solo album apart from the Pussycat Dolls, and then was taken back by the band when Nicole’s album was shelved- the track’s done the rounds and feels like it’s a Snow Patrol song- I don’t know what these guys were thinking when they were passing the song around. While “Time Won’t Go Slowly”, a vulnerable and honest piano led ballad, speaks about an everlasting love and a love so deep that it gives us peace beyond understanding, and is present on Snow Patrol’s remix album Reworked; the group also deliver to us all new songs (5 of them in total!) from their Fireside Sessions EP from last year with the Saturday Songwriters. “Signal Fire” (Spiderman 3 soundtrack), “I Won’t Let You Go (Divergent: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), “Crazy In Love” (Beyonce cover), “I Am An Astronaut” (Ricky Wilde cover), “Isolation” (John Lennon cover), “When Love Breaks Down” (I Give It A Year soundtrack), “May You Never” (a tribute to Johnny Martin) and “The Last Time” (a collaboration with Taylor Swift for her album Red) are all other collaborations and songs not included on albums, that have impacted and resonated with fans, critics and with myself over the years and months and weeks- and because the band have never gone out of style, and have never been in a tough spot apart from when Gary was drinking heavily; it seems as if now sky is the limit for Snow Patrol.
I’ve always mentioned time and time again about how an artist is influential based upon their life outside of the spotlight. At the start of this blog, I also voiced my fears as to why I thought I haphazardly had to replace all of my upcoming artists in my blog with new ones- because they weren’t ‘perfect’ enough. Well, we’ve read previously what Snow Patrol and Gary have done in the music industry that has garnered them awards and achievements… now can I say that my fears have been quelled and have been squashed down, given that I’ve heard extensively the intensity and depth of these songs even while Gary was an alcoholic. I always thought that the deeper you go lyrically, the more you need to have your life together. And now that I’ve heard an artist, a band that shows me otherwise- let me say this before I wrap this blog up. And it is that God uses WHOEVER HE WANTS in order for us to grow as people and in order for God’s kingdom to be realised here on Earth as it is in heaven. And so as I finish up this blog, and remind you all that influential artists on someone else’s list can be different, and that’s ok; let us all immerse ourselves in Snow Patrol’s discography. There is something special about this Irish band- are they the next U2? Maybe, just maybe. If only they do another gigantic single like “Run” or “Chasing Cars”, am I right? Or how about a Christmas album, guys? That’d be cool, don’t you think?!
I think we’ve been through everything you could possibly get thrown at you in a band. Bands split up usually over personal differences. They’ll call them musical differences, but they’re usually personal ones. And I think if it’s a friendship first then you’re golden.
To get to play in venues like this is what I wanted as a kid. I might also have wanted to be a rock star, but I didn’t know what it entailed. Now I know. I’ve never really had to deal with fame in a real sense, but I’ve seen it up close with friends and I don’t want it. I have the life I truly want. I can forgo the rock-star bit.
Does Snow Patrol make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Run”, “Chasing Cars”, “Open Your Eyes”, “Lifening”, “Don’t Give In”, “In The End”, “The Lightning Strike” and “Hands Open”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!