Gary Lightbody, eternally on tour, has just woken up somewhere in Middle America. I know this because he tells me so, and because the words aren’t coming as easily as the garrulous singer would like, given the earlier hour he’s been asked to rise to discuss Snow Patrol‘s first greatest-hits compilation, Up to Now, and new single “Just Say Yes.” The song, a spry, electro-dance number, has caused quite a stir among fans and critics, leading to speculation of the band’s future direction. Lightbody is wearing a Dr. Seuss shirt as we speak, but how that came up in conversation was more a byproduct of a quote I found and chose to personally share with him about 2008′s A Hundred Million Suns, than prurient interest in his sleeping attire. Settle down, ladies.

In addition to looking back on the Patrol’s 15-year career, Lightbody, a passionate music fan, has two side projects/solo records in the works with frequent collaborator/in-demand producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee, and a new music scouting venture/imprint with Polar Music. He and bandmate Tom Simpson have also just seen the release of Late Night Tales: Snow Patrol, a compilation of personally selected songs by the duo that led to an animated discussion of his favorite records.

I loved what you wrote on about the show in Poland that you had such a reaction to. I saw similar reactions by your fans at the Beacon Theatre shows. Snow Patrol puts on emotional shows as well, wouldn’t you say?
Yeah, I’d like to think so. That’s what we try to make it. We always have fun on stage; we try our best, and hopefully that reflect back onto the crowd because it’s supposed to be a two-way street.

How’d the U2 tour go?
It’s been amazing. It’s been a wild ride. We’ve had to work the crowd, but we’ve learned to work the crowd by watching U2. They’ve actually taught us as we’ve been going along, so it’s an experience that we’ll not soon forget. They make you better as a band. If you pay attention, they make you better. If you take it for granted, then you’re not gonna learn anything. I basically studied them every night. You can’t learn from anybody more apt, if you want to be a big band.

Looking at the tracklisting for Up to Now, I’m pleased with the older selections such as “PPP,” “Set the Fire to the Third Bar” and Reindeer Section material that made the cut, and surprised at others that didn’t, such as “How to Be Dead” or maybe “Make This Go On Forever.” Was it grueling to pick or did you already know straight away what you wanted?
uptonowA song like ‘Make This Go on Forever’ was a hard one to cut, but we’re trying to do an even spread over the albums as much as possible. Obviously there’s not that many from the first two records (Songs for Polar Bears, When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up) because I guess not that many people know them, or maybe they don’t hold up as strongly against the other albums. We just tried to make… (Lightbody pauses for a few beats, before apologizing for being just up out of bed) Sorry…we’re on tour mode, so obviously we’re up until 5:00am and then normally up about 2:00pm, so I’m not up yet, if you know what I mean! [laughs] It’s a comprehensive selection for, say, somebody who’s been with us since the beginning or somebody who this’ll be their first Snow Patrol album. It’s gotta make sense to both of those people. It’s pretty tricky to choose that, but at the same time, it’s gotta be an enjoyable listen. So we can’t have 90 % obscure stuff; it’s still gotta draw people in.

What are your personal favorites on Up to Now that hold the most weight or encompass the band’s best work?
I think our cover of (Beyonce’s) ‘Crazy in Love’ is brilliant. In terms of our own songs, there’s a new song called ‘Give Me Strength,’ which is probably my favorite song that we’ve ever done. The album is obviously a look back over our history, and the song itself is me saying ‘thank you,’ I guess, to the guys, to the people who have helped us. Mainly to the guys. It’s pretty uplifting, so it’s perfect for a record like this. Kind of inspired by the record. Kind of inspired by the last 15 years, and anybody that has been pivotal to… not our success necessarily, because the first 10 years we didn’t have any success. So, just pivotal to our story, and will hopefully know that I’m writing partly about them. There’s moments like ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ with Martha (Wainwright) that I would find very hard to feel better about a song. Her voice is the most incredible thing.

“Just Say Yes” has such a different, dancey, groovier pop sound than anything Snow Patrol has done. A sign of a new direction?
That’s part of the reason why we did this. We realized we were making music that we really never made before…that we listen to an awful lot, electronic music. ‘Just Say Yes’ is basically electronic music. There’s a few guitars on it, but aside from that it’s…you know. But it doesn’t sound like a remix or anything like that. It still sounds like us. I think it was one of those things that we were bound to get talked into at some point, because we listen to so much of it. When we DJ, we DJ electro and hip-hop and house and funk and soul. The music that I listen to when I’m just relaxing or whatever isn’t always guitar music, so I think it was bound to happen at some point. It’s always in the background lurking, but you have to listen very hard for it, I guess. We figured that anything can happen in the future, and we may never make another song like ‘Just Say Yes.’ I would say that that’s probably unlikely. We probably will, and make songs that sound stranger and further from what people imagine of Snow Patrol, but it gives us a platform to do whatever the hell we want to from there. It was something that we’ve wanted for awhile now, because we’ve been pigeonholed by certain elements and that’s just not… as much as ‘Chasing Cars’ and ‘Run’ are our flag-bearers…

Right, exactly. You’re not that band. Is it an indication of where Snow Patrol is headed?
Experimentation will always be tempered by melody. It’ll always be extremely melodic. Radiohead made not only one of the most incredibly experimental and challenging records, but also one of the most commercially successful records when they came back with Kid A, and it was #1 in the US, it was #1 in the UK. Experimentation doesn’t have to be anathema to success. We want to find a balance between the two, because we want to be a big band. We want to play in big venues, we want to do big shows, and we’ll never compromise our sound to do that, but, melody will always be the driving force behind us and it’s up to us to delve deeper into ourselves to find different ways to display that.


Has there been any update on your rumored solo albums?
We’re recording both. Tired Pony, we’re doing that in Portland, Oregon, in the first week of January of next year, and we’re recording Listen…Tanks! in L.A. straight after that. Garret Lee is involved with both of those. He’s producing and playing in Tired Pony and actually it’s just me and him in Listen…Tanks! So, yeah, I don’t leave the house without Garret Lee. Naomi Campbell famously said she doesn’t get out of bed in the morning for less than $10,000, so I don’t get out of bed in the morning without Garret Lee! I know that’s gonna sound weird!

You’ve also just launched Polar Music. How do you usually find out about new artists?
From friends that I respect the opinion of, from just happening across bands on MySpace and reading far too many music magazines. Probably less, though, these days because I don’t really like happening across anything about us. I never read anything about us, and sometimes when I read a music magazine and we’re in it, I can’t help myself and it always depresses me, even if it’s good. So I read less and less music magazines but, less and less for me is still an awful lot, probably. I tend to gravitate to things that get 1 out of 5 than 5 out of 5, because I don’t trust the scoring system. So I figured I should give a lot of those bands a chance, and a lot of times you find little gems and people have got it just completely wrong. I’m actually just looking at an email that Garret’s just sent me, with this in capital letters: THIS IS GOING TO BE YOUR NEW FAVORITE THING. But I haven’t had a listen to it yet, so I’m not gonna tell you who it is!

The Late Night Tales compilation sounds really cool. What albums do you keep coming back to in life, do you find?
Radiator by the Super Furry Animals, Grand Prix by Teenage Fanclub, Talking Book by Stevie Wonder, Harvest by Neil Young,…these are pretty obvious ones. Well, Joni Mitchell would be an obvious one, and obviously Blue, but my Joni Mitchell record is Court and Spark. I can’t help but come back to it. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago is still on my iPod, and it still thrills my ears pretty regularly. Yeah, I mean, loads and loads of others! Miracle Fortress, Five Roses, still! I keep going on and on about that record but nobody seems to be listening to me! It’s an astonishing album that needs to be found and discovered and cherished by people. Now it’s been since 2007 since it’s been out, and I just don’t hear enough people talking about it. –Carrie Alison, Photos by Carrie Alison

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