Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody on depression and the fear his fans would 'run away'
The rocker talks to Saeed Saeed ahead of Dubai Jazz Festival and admits he is 'the last person you want to speak to if you want a jazz education'
Many successful artists will tell you it is the years of struggle that are ultimately the most fruitful and rock group Snow Patrol have, perhaps, tasted it more than their peers.
They spent the first ten of their 25 years confined to a small yet dedicated fan-base in their native Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
It was only with the success of their third album, 2003’s brilliant Final Straw, and its dynamic one-two punch of barrelling rocker Splitting Games and the monumental power ballad Run, that the group found international success.
Three years later, the Grammy Awards and years of international arena tours beckoned (including a sell-out Dubai show in 2012) courtesy of their big selling album Eyes Open and the runaway hit Chasing Cars – also known as ‘that Grey's Anatomy song’.
The band’s trajectory may have plateaued somewhat these days, yet they still have enough pull to support the likes of Ed Sheeran in his run of US stadium shows earlier this year.
Affable frontman and guitarist Gary Lightbody likes it this way, he says, as it keeps the ego in check.
“Not that I don’t have one, because if you are on stage playing to thousands of people every night then of course you will get an ego,” he says.
“But it is not a toxic or corrosive one. I think if we had that early success we would have been done as a band by now, because we simply weren’t ready for it. The fact that it took 10 years gave us an appreciation of what it means to be successful and appreciate what I have now.”
The most personal album yet
Lightbody says that their UAE return at the Dubai Jazz Festival is part of their first world tour in six years, a period he essentially spent pottering around the house.
“It was kind of daunting to get back on the tour bus and not feeling settled again,” he says.
“I kind of got used to being off the road and living a more sedate life, and I was kind of worried that I wasn’t going to like being on tour. But within the first two minutes of the first show I felt ‘this is what I should have been doing all this time. I remember this.’”
But that’s not to say the years off the road was anything but calm. Idle hands welcome unpleasant thoughts, and Lightbody spent that time battling his depression and addictions.
It all made for last year’s album, Wildness, to be their most personal yet.
Although Lightbody’s lyrics often focused on the nuances of relationships, Snow Patrol’s first album in seven years has the microscope focused on himself.
With tracks such as the U2-ish Don’t Give In, a plea to work through the hardships of depression, and Heal Me, a tribute to a friend who got Lightbody of the booze, Wildness is a testament of survival and, ultimately, hope.
These are all emotional themes that Lightbody wasn’t sure the fans were ready for, especially after being away for so long.
“I didn’t know how it was going to be received,” he says.
“I was wondering if the people would kind of run away from my madness and if people would never speak to me again if I showed them my true self. But then I realised that everybody goes through these things.”
Lightbody is reminded of that that regularly.
Ever since the album’s release, the band has been receiving letters – “actual letters”, he beams – where fans detailed how the album has got them through their own travails.
“It means a lot to me and it definitely changed the way I write now,” he says.
“I don’t necessarily have to write about the darkness all the time but, instead, to just always be completely honest and not be afraid of bearing myself any more. It’s the thing that caused me the most grief in my life, like hiding my depression. It’s just not worth it.”
Hanging out with Ed Sheeran
Part of that new open approach to life is Snow Patrol accepting varied touring offers, such as tagging along to Sheeran’s run of massive US shows.
It was a chance for Lightbody to see how the Shape of You singer, one of the most in-demand artists in the world, operates under such circumstances.
“Ed is like you imagine him to be, that’s the best way to describe him. He is extraordinarily friendly and down to earth” Lightbody says.
“I would see this a number of times in that he would go into a room and shake everyone’s hands and say ‘Hello, I am Ed.’ He would chat and spend time with people. He is the same person that I met seven or eight years ago, before his meteoric success.”
Is the Dubai Jazz Festival really jazz?
Performing in a stadium of 40,000 teenagers is one thing, but headlining a jazz festival is quite another.
While laughingly admitting that he is certainly “the last person you want to speak to if you want a jazz education,” Lightbody says the Dubai event is part of growing trend of such festivals with eclectic line ups, with Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival being a prime example.
“But it’s nice to be associated with a jazz festival regardless,” he says.
“Matter of fact, I would love to play in a jazz festival if our band was actually jazz. I don’t know, I think we would be booed off the stage. I like to get into these scenarios sometimes. I think it will be fun.”
Snow Patrol will perform at the Dubai Jazz Festival on Wednesday, Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets begin from Dh350 at www.dubaijazzfest.com
*Additional reporting by Adam Workman
Updated: February 20, 2019 05:25 PM