When Snow Patrol released their last album, Fallen Empires, Obama was still in his first term, Justin Bieber was 17 years old and Game of Thrones had just aired its first season. The thematically ambitious follow-up, Wildness, is finally out, but where have they been for the last seven years? Frontman Gary Lightbody explained the struggles behind that delay, his experiences working with Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, and much more, in an in-depth interview on the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, hosted by Brian Hiatt. Here are some highlights from the conversation. To hear the entire discussion, press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
There was one major cause for the delay between the albums.
“A lot of the reason why it took seven years to make this record was because for the first five of them I was hammered,” Lightbody says. “And then, you know, two years ago I quit. And lo and behold, as if by magic, we started working in earnest with gusto. I got to a stage with drinking where it wasn’t fun anymore. It was creating too many problems for me and my health. I would go out and get drunk every every day and sometimes just be sitting in a bar by myself drinking and I always promised myself that I would never do that that.” Still, Lightbody, who was born in Northern Ireland, recognizes some cultural differences over alcohol: “I’m an American alcoholic; I’m an Irish drinker.”
Lightbody was also trying to broaden his subject matter – and the album ended up addressing his depression, his father’s Alzheimer’s, and more.
“I was trying to write about different things this time,” he says. “I hadn’t been in a relationship in a long time and a lot of the stuff that I had done in the past was maybe based around relationships going through some tough times. I wanted to write about something that was actually happening to me right that moment. So I think that’s why it took so long because I hadn’t figured out how to do that yet.”
Hearing a Nick Cave song helped inspire the new album.
Producer Jacknife Lee lines the walls of his studio with vinyl, and often pulls records down for inspiration. “Peter Gabriel was a big one during this record,” says Lightbody, “and a lot of African stuff – Fela Kuti, William Onyeabor – and the Staple Singers. And then he brought in Nick Cave’s most recent album, [Skeleton Tree] and the first track on that was ‘Jesus Alone,’ and he put that on, and I kind of went into a trance. … It started to kind of like jar things loose in my psyche. We listened to it 10 times in a row. I just kept saying, ‘Put it on again; just put it on again. Something’s happening, something’s happening.’ Whatever was going on in the fabric of the song, it was telling me to go deep, deep, deep into my soul.”
Lightbody bonded with band pal Ed Sheeran – who’s touring with Snow Patrol beginning in August – over Bon Iver.
“Ed wasn’t completely covered in tattoos at that point, but he had a few and I was admiring his tattoos,” recalls Lightbody, “and I said, ‘You know, the only tattoo I’ve ever thought of getting was a lyric by Bon Iver.’ And Ed, without missing a beat said, ‘Everything that happens is from now on.’ And I went, holy shit, he just read my mind! He’s like, ‘No, I want that too.’ We both wanted the same lyric by the same artist! I thought, we’re going to be pals and we have been ever since. I’ve worked with him a lot and I’ve worked with him recently, actually, and he, by far, has more ideas than anybody else that I’ve ever known. He is an ideas machine. It’s just constant energy. I mean, he writes 10, 15 songs in a go. I don’t even think understands the concept of writer’s block.”
He has fond memories of collaborating with Taylor Swift on “The Last Time,” from Red.
“It was so fast. She works really fast. She’s extraordinary. We actually did that song, wrote it and recorded it in a day. And that was the version of it on the recordm which is very rare. Normally you write and record something with somebody and then down the line they’ll record it, if you’re lucky. With her, the whole thing was done in nine hours. I hope we can do it again sometime!”