Northern Stars: Snow Patrol


With the release of A Hundred Million Suns, Snow Patrol will seek to emulate the enormous success they have accomplished over the years. Kate Rothwell speaks to guitarist, Nathan Connolly about the re-establishment of the band.

Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly has plenty of reasons to be tired, and it’s unlikely that he will be getting much rest in the foreseeable future. Weeks of rehearsing and promoting the band’s fifth record, A Hundred Million Suns, have kept the Belfast-born musician and his band mates busy beyond belief.

However, exhaustion did not prevent Snow Patrol from taking time out to enjoy a night in Dublin before the album’s Irish release.

Otwo met the subsequently fatigued guitarist on the day of the album’s release, just before the whistle-stop Take Back the Cities tour that would see the band play Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh and London in a mere two days.

With four intimate venues, tickets available only to a lottery-allocated few on the Snow Patrol mailing list and certain fortunate audience members, this was about as up-close-and-personal an experience as any Snow Patrol fan could hope for.

However Connolly is not afraid to admit that there was obviously a marketing agenda behind the exclusivity of gig tickets.

“It’s not gimmicky but, of course, it’s a marketing ploy. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We’re clearly just saying we’re back; this is our record, we’re making a statement.”

Marketing is an issue of huge importance to a band whose last record, Eyes Open, sold over 4.7 million copies worldwide. The main single from the album, ‘Chasing Cars’, enjoyed a colossal post-Grey’s Anatomy response, with huge radio airplay in the UK and Ireland and over two million downloads of the song in the US.

The double-edged sword that is mainstream status has had an effect on the band’s latest offering, which, according to Connolly is partly a response to the success of ‘Chasing Cars’.

“That song has given us a lot of freedom, and enabled us to do so much more. However, it is also what people know us for, so I think we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do other things, that we can sound different and push ourselves without losing in essence what we are, which is a band that write pop songs. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, because it would be very easy to do that and we wouldn’t be happy making a record of eleven ‘Chasing Cars’.”

This change is a move away from the orchestral, stadium-geared Eyes Open and has been claimed by some as a return to the original indie-rock format of earlier albums such as When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up.

Connolly appreciates that there are echoes of what has gone before to be heard on A Hundred Million Suns, but believes that this is just the next step in what has so far been almost fifteen years of developing the Snow Patrol sound.

“I think we’ve taken the best aspects of all the previous records and added them with something new, different… at this point I kind of feel that the other records were almost training for this one. You make every record with passion and [it is] hopefully the best record you can make at that point, but I think it does feel like this is the one we were meant to make.”

“That song ‘Chasing Cars’ has given us a lot of freedom, and enabled us to do so much more. However, it is also what people know us for, so I think we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do other things, that we can sound different and push ourselves without losing in essence what we are”

Prophetic notions aside, the question of whether or not the commercial success of A Hundred Million Suns will match that of its predecessor is something that the band will be asking themselves over the next few months, and Connolly doesn’t pretend that being “so in love with this record”, is enough- at the end of the day, he still wants people to buy it.

“There’s no point in saying that we don’t care about success. We don’t care about chart positions but we want this album to sell, we want it to be successful. We still want to play in front of 10,000 people a night. And in order to do that our record has to sell. That makes it sound very business-like, but with passion and heart, we do that.”

It may sound like a quest for world domination, but Connolly is adamant that the band is not tailoring their music to try and guarantee success. “It’s something you think about, but it doesn’t affect what we do. We’re very lucky that no one ever has told us what to do. It’s 100 per cent us, that’s our personality.”

Connolly might hope that their current success rate continues, but he won’t be greatly concerned as to how the record fairs with critics, as in his opinion it’s “not that we need anyone’s approval, because we don’t, and we don’t fucking care.”

There is a definite sense that Snow Patrol would like to disengage from their reputation as balladeers and prove to the world that the band who brought us the definitive ‘songs-to-sway-your-lighter-to’, such as their breakthrough ‘Run’ and the equally enduring ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’, which was aided by vocals from Martha Wainwright, are also rock stars in their own right.

“Well we are a rock act. People know us for those songs because those songs took on a life of their own and got bigger. That was nothing to do with us, we wrote it. We have no control over how big a song is going to be.”

A Hundred Million Suns does include elements that may find it to be more of a grower in comparison to the upfront easy listening of Eyes Open, one of the differences being the final sixteen minute track, ‘The Lightening Strike’, which Connolly hopes will be appreciated by its listeners. “I hope people aren’t afraid of that or at least give it a chance and not judge it straight away.”

“Well we are a rock act. People know us for those songs because those songs took on a life of their own and got bigger. That was nothing to do with us, we wrote it. We have no control over how big a song is going to be”

Essentially three songs merged in to one, the track incorporates brass, piano and a choir, and is possibly one of the band’s more daring works as of late, even claiming a slight kraut-rock influence from the time spent recording the album in the Hansa studio in Berlin, where David Bowie recorded during the 1970s.

Previously to this, the band spent six weeks recording in the secluded Grouse Lodge in County Westmeath, but finding different musical ‘homes’ for themselves is something that they have become accustomed to, with both Scotland and Northern Ireland fighting to claim the globally recognised act as their own home grown talent.

Connolly realises that their origin is relative to each of the members, but he personally sees it as essentially being Irish. “We’re an Irish act, the majority of us are Irish. It ties in well with the whole ‘Take Back The Cities’ thing, because we’re very lucky that we do have three or four hometowns, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast. We’re kind of spoilt in how people treat us and claim us as their own, it’s actually very complimentary… If you asked Tom, he’d say a Scottish act but we’re an Irish band and that’s what it’s about. It’s geographical”.

Whatever scene they may align themselves with, front man Gary Lightbody has busied himself promoting both, performing with Scottish side-project, the Reindeer Section and more recently lending his support to the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast. Lightbody’s list of side projects is a long one, and Connolly is quick to commend his dedication to the Northern Irish music scene.

“He’s been amazing about it, it takes up a lot of his time and he’s incredibly passionate about it and really cares, which is the point, he cares.”

As a Northern Irish citizen, Connolly does have his own recommendations of upcoming acts to watch out for.

“Cashier No. 9 is a guy I went to college with, Danny [Todd], I hadn’t seen him in years and Gary turned me on to his stuff. There’s so much, even young bands like Kowalski, people like that. When I was that young, I certainly wasn’t that talented and as cool.”

This self-deprecation and modesty will surely prevent the band from becoming obnoxiously arrogant over the years, but having re-released Songs for Polarbears and When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up in extended form in 2006, the band are clearly still proud of their initial efforts.

“Absolutely, it’s part of who we are. We’ve done it, we can’t change that, we may as well be proud of it and we are. I guess the whole point of being in a band is growing and maturing and being affected by things. If you close yourself off from that you’re stunting growth,” Connolly comments.

The songs that will be taking pride of place on this tour will of course be those from A Hundred Million Suns, as the band prepares to get back to the stage after a year’s absence from the live circuit.

“We just can’t wait to get out and play; it’s been a year since we played live. We’ve been recording and working and we spent three months making the album… the idea of getting to do four shows; I think everyone was well up for it because we’re just excited about getting back out.”

As Snow Patrol aim for those hundred million stars, only time will tell if their excitement matches that of their audience. Yet as Mr Lightbody will be singing, the fearless five are “not afraid of anything, even time, it’ll eke away at everything but we’ll be fine.”