Interview: Snow Patrol

Celebrating twenty-five years as a band, Ben Standring chats to Snow Patrol bassist Paul Wilson to understand the journey of one of Britain’s most successful modern bands.

Over a twenty five year career, Snow Patrol have carved out a unique place in the music industry for themselves, becoming pop-rock monoliths in the process. Whilst their 1998 debut record Songs For Polarbears turned the heads of some intrigued music aficionados, it wasn’t until third and fourth records Final Straw and Eyes Open that the Scottish-Northern Irish band hit their stride and reached worldwide fame. Consisting of Gary Lightbody (vocals, guitar), Nathan Connolly (guitar), Paul Wilson (bass), Johnny McDaid (piano, guitar) and Jonny Quinn (drums), the group have racked up many critical and commercial accolades including: more than seventeen million global album sales; over a billion global track streams; five Platinum albums; an Ivor Novello award, and nominations for a Grammy and Mercury Music Prize.

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Earlier this year it was also announced that their enormous single Chasing Cars was the most played song on UK radio of the 21st century, and to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary since forming in Dundee, Scotland, the band are hitting the road again with their Reworked record – a celebration of some of their most loved tracks from across their vast catalogue. The Mic was able to talk to bassist Paul Wilson to chat about the upcoming Reworked record and the subsequent tour as well as their illustrious career to date.

‘We wanted to do something for the twenty-fifth anniversary, so we thought we’d get a lot of the songs we did over the various years’, Wilson says of the decision behind making Reworked. ‘Instead of a greatest hits thing we wanted to do new versions of the songs. We recorded mostly on the road backstage. They’ve been worked on in so many different places, with different people at different times so it is quite interesting’.

'Earlier this year it was also announced that their enormous single Chasing Cars was the most played song on UK radio of the 21st century'.

Delving into the back catalogue of their career, it was always going to be a roller-coaster to revisit and change some of their well-known tracks from across the years, but Wilson also highlights how he benefited from visiting some of the deeper cuts. ‘I got a bit reflective when we were choosing some of the songs that should be on Reworked. There’s going to be some songs we’ve never played live before, there’ll be some famous songs but played in a different way. I think maybe the ones we haven’t played will be more reflective because I don’t really listen to the albums anymore once they’ve been recorded. You kind of forget about it and shut yourself away from it. By the time you’re out of the studio, you’ve heard each song about a thousand times. It’s been nice to revisit them – we had to think about what songs to play for this tour, so it was nice. There was loads of stuff as B-Sides, it was interesting going through it all’.

For many artists, having to approach old tracks with a fresh mindset and approach is a hard task to manage, but Wilson shrugs the suggestion off, highlighting how the band’s dynamism allow them to think with a more experimental mindset. ‘I think a lot of us do different projects and different things and you take from that’, he confirms. ‘I play in a band called Lieutenant (with Foo Fighters’ bassist Nate Mandel), so I think everyone brings different stuff and our producer has been working on other things with bands like The Killers, so he learns different things as well. It always changes – I don’t want to have expectations and I want it to be unique and unpredictable’.

'We record in an environment where we’re in a house and we bring in equipment and see what happens. Most of the songs will start off on a piano or on an acoustic guitar and it can end up being anything!'.

Whilst the five-piece are reinventing some of their oldest hits, Reworked also sees three new tracks offered to fans, and Wilson asserts that the creativity and momentum are flowing better than ever. ‘[The new songs] kind of happened whilst doing versions of the other songs’, says Wilson. ‘We just started jamming. We didn’t intend to do that but some of them just came out. Time Won’t Go Slowly I think Gary wrote a while ago for a film or something. We took a lot of time off and for three years we were chipping away at [seventh LP] Wildness, but the album feels like that to me, it was recorded over such a period of time. I think the next album is really going to be more of a new beginning because a lot of the songs on Wildness were older songs as well as some newer ones’.

He continues, ‘The next one, after the Reworked album in November, I’m really excited to do that because obviously it can almost be done really quickly. We haven’t written anything yet and we don’t really have a plan at all when we write. We record in an environment where we’re in a house and we bring in equipment and see what happens. Most of the songs will start off on a piano or on an acoustic guitar and it can end up being anything! You don’t really know until you start messing about with ideas. It’ll definitely be different as well because the older you get, the more your taste and influences change and the more things you’re exposed to. It’s been a long period of time from when we started Wildness, which was about eight years ago. There’s been a long period for people to come up with something different’.

Whilst time has allowed the five-piece to experiment and develop their tastes and influences, Snow Patrol now find themselves in an era dominated by streaming. For a band profusely successful in terms of record sales, the new generation of music consumption is something Wilson says took some time to understand. ‘When we stopped doing stuff, in the six years we had that break, there wasn’t any of these things, like followers for example’, he laughs. ‘We were like “what the fuck is Instagram, how do you do this?”. The streaming stuff as well is different; in physical sales, we used to sell three million records in Britain. Nowadays for an album to sell 20,000 it would be pretty amazing. It’s a big difference. I actually have got to really like Spotify. I think it’s really good for young bands, to help them, but it might not be as good for us!’.

Looking back at the success of the band, Wilson declares that the longevity of the project is more important to him than the sales and award nominations the band have racked up throughout their career. ‘It’s been pretty crazy, but the thing is, it’s always kind of slowly building which is kind of nice’, he says warmly. ‘There’s a longevity in the band. I think if bands have overnight success, the careers don’t last as long. It’s nice to have something that gradually progresses and by the time we got to Eyes Open, we were at the height of our success. After that it just kind of plateaued and we’ve had really cool things that keep on happening that we’re like: “how the hell did that happen?”. We did a show in Northern Ireland and Bono came and sung with us in front of 40,000 people. There’s a lot of cool things that are still happening. I’m not really that bothered about the Grammys, that sort of stuff. I think an Ivor Novello was quite cool as that’s nominated by your peers, but in terms of achievement, having a band for twenty-five years and keeping it going, keeping the freshness; that’s something to be more proud of than awards nominations. It’s all obviously pretty cool but I don’t really worry about that’.

'Looking back at the success of the band, Wilson declares that the longevity of the project is more important to him than the sales and award nominations the band have racked up throughout their career'.

The desire to keep the band dynamic fresh has been bolstered by the members’ divergent music tastes. ‘Everyone has very different styles of music that they’re into. There’s always somebody when we’re on tour offering suggestions of new music to check out, we like swapping music and I think the band are all into finding new stuff which kind of keeps us excited about new stuff. In some ways, I think music is the worst it’s ever been in general, but there is some of the most amazing stuff there at the moment under the radar. It’s kind of an odd situation. Pop music right now isn’t very good! We’re in the electronic age. People’s attention spans are much shorter and record companies also don’t want to invest in a band as it’s too expensive. If they have an artist who has written a song on their laptop at home, and then they go on tour with two other guys, they can probably fit in a car. Band’s need tour buses and more equipment. They’re not interested in developing artists – they’re interested in finding music they know will work because it sounds exactly the same as all the rest of it, and then they put new songs out every week that sound the same and people listen to them on Spotify because they’re advertised so much on the platform’.

Whilst Wilson’s faith in the current music industry is clearly wavering, he states that the band still have faith in their organic songwriting process. ‘We write sometimes in our producer’s garden, sometimes we rent a house on the beach there, but it’s always been like that since Eyes Open’, he explains. ‘We’ll always hire a nice studio to do the drums. We do it in a house usually because it’s more spacious. There’s never really any windows in a studio; it’s not a very conformable environment’.

' "Pop music right now isn't very good! We're in the electronic age. People's attention spans are much shorter and record companies also don't want to invest in a band as it's too expensive." '

Aside from recording the Reworked record, the band kept themselves busy this summer by putting on Ward Park 3 Festival, a celebration of Irish culture and music, which saw a surprise appearance from U2 legend Bono. Speaking of the festival, Wilson says, ‘I’m the only Scottish member of the band now – there used to be three, but it was more of a celebration of Irish culture and music. All the bands were predominantly Irish, and we wanted to show how good the music scene is there, because there never really used to be one. There’s a place in Derry called The Nerve Centre and there’s been some amazing bands coming out of there. It’s nice to get to showcase that because some people in Northern Ireland don’t really know about them. Music isn’t very well endorsed over there. With Bono, we were just thinking about who we could have on stage for that show and we were talking with him and realised that he was going to be in Northern Ireland for something on that day and he was really up for it. We’d done a couple of tours with U2 anyway so were familiar with the guys, but it was kind of unreal because we covered a U2 song with Bono and it sounded almost exactly like the original. It was quite weird because it felt like I was in U2 for a second! We only learnt it that day as well – we’d flown in from America and were incredibly jetlagged!’.

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Now gearing up to tour the Reworked album across the UK, Wilson is in high spirits about what the future holds. ‘It’s going to be cool, it’s nice to mix it up. Doing arena shows all the time and then getting to do these cool theatres is a different experience, so it’s nice to get the chance to do that. It’s more of a celebration of the songs from the last twenty-five years, and Gary talks a lot anyway so hopefully it’ll be more laid-back, like you’re sitting in a front room’.

Whether igniting arenas, festival main stages or compact theatres around the country, Snow Patrol have been one of the most important entities in pop music over the last twenty-five years. With Chasing Cars passing half a billion streams in its own right, the five-piece might not be on the same pedestal as they were in the Eyes Open era, but by reinventing some of their most beloved singles, they’ve offered the chance for hardcore fans and new listeners to enjoy the back catalogue together in a new environment.