FIVE YEARS OF GROWTH AND OPEN-MINDEDNESS
A CONVERSATION WITH GARY LIGHTBODY OF SNOW PATROL
When Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody sat down in 2013 and began penning a new song, centred around the theme of “life on Earth,” he couldn’t possibly have known just how much life he would live – and how much his life would change – before the song would see its completion.
In 2013, the band had recently wrapped up touring their 2011 album Fallen Empires, when Lightbody wrote the words, “This is life on Earth.” A line which would, four-years-later, become the basis of a song of the same name – and the opening track on the band’s latest record, Wildness.
“The chorus came very quickly, but I struggle to go back to a song so I think that’s why there was a delay in writing the song. When you write a chorus that involves the theme of life on Earth, that doesn’t narrow it down very much.” Lightbody laughs over the phone.
Snow Patrol were recently in Toronto for a two-night tour stop. The band has been supporting close-friend and collaborator Ed Sheeran on his North American tour.
“There were a lot of things that this song could be about and I had to narrow down what it was, and I ended up making each line of the verse a different part of my life.” Lightbody adds.
Framed in this light, it becomes a little more clear as to why this song took four-years for Lightbody to complete. The path from 2013, to now, and to this record, has not been easy or clear-cut by any measurement for the Irish-born musician.
While he has never been conservative in his songwriting and has always been open to write in an truthful way about his real-life experiences, Lightbody claims Wildness as the band’s most honest album yet – reaching a level of honesty that was not easy to attain, and took time.
“This one went a bit deeper than usual. I kind of went into a darker, deeper place that I hadn’t really shone light on before. It was a natural progression.” He said.
“In the past I’ve written a lot of songs about relationships, a lot of songs about love, or the lack of love or loss of love, but I haven’t been in a relationship for nearly 10 years. It would be disingenuous in the extreme to write about relationships or love or primarily about love, so I had to think about what else I was going through and that started to open up places that I had always been too afraid to write about – darker places.”
These “darker places” include bouts of depression and alcoholism – both things that Lightbody has struggled with for most of his adult life.
In the five years since he first began writing this album, Lightbody has been keeping a low profile, living what he refers to as a “quiet” life – while privately tackling these personal demons.
And where he previously shied away from traditional forms of therapy, he now sees it as an essential aspect to of his artistic process.
“People from Ireland probably won’t mind me saying that we’re generally not the type of people that run towards therapy very often in our lives, and I avoided it just like the stereotype would suggest for most of my life.”
“It’s only been recently in the past few years that I’ve actually started to deal with my stuff and go to therapy and that’s been so helpful. I’m able to communicate better and write better – things are clearer for me.”
For Lightbody, songwriting itself is part of the therapeutic process, but it is also a cycle of introspection and realization.
Writing about something you’re struggling with – yeah, shit, it gets to a lot of deep places, and I realized that I needed to do a lot of work in those places, which is something I might have avoided if I hadn’t written the songs.” He said, speaking about songs he had written in the past, including the band’s 2006 hit single “Chasing Cars,” off their album Eyes Open.
With a career as expansive, and songwriting as honest, as Lightbody’s, it’s interesting to consider the relationship one might form with older songs. For Lightbody, he says this relationship is constantly changing – sometimes, on a nightly basis.
“I don’t carry with me what I felt when I wrote the songs. It’s not like I have PTSD when I’m playing them and I’m immediately back in that place again. I’m actually more in tune with the environment that I’m playing in. So if people are there and enjoying the gig, then I’m more in tune with that dynamic than I am with the meaning of the song.”
“I’ll be in a country and not even realize a song was a hit there, but then the whole crowd is singing along, and you know, you’re not quite sure how it ended up being so popular, and that changes my appreciation of the song. Not just because it was popular but because the communal experience is a very powerful one. When everybody is singing at once, it can change your perception dramatically.”
This idea of openness – being receptive to whatever the moment has to offer – is truly at the heart of the record, Wildness. The album is a cumulative result of five years of growth, and open-mindedness.
“The communing with nature, and with each other, and with ourselves, is something I had lost touch with, and I think I’ve regained, and have reintroduced into myself and feel so much better for.”
“I’m not suggested we should all get rid of our phones and go live in the woods, but from time to time, I feel the value of disconnecting and breathing fresh air, speaking to people face to face, which was something I avoided doing for many years because I was depressed. Re-emerging back into the world after that kind of absence feels like everything floods back into your life, you’re living in colour again rather than black and white.”