Gary Lightbody has a host of pressing issues that keep him up at night, and one of them affects his millions of fans more than the others: his tireless work ethic. The rest of the issues are layers of bollocks on chart-topping bollocks of heartache and regret generally reserved for his day job’s output. Not content to take time off and make like Bono and Jay-Z and cruise the South of France, delighting in his well-earned bounty with Snow Patrol, Lightbody flew to Portland, Oregon in January 2010 with a “doodle” in his noodle: a project that would mine his love for the split personalities of America and its music.

Armed with his musical soul mate and in-demand producer (understatement) Garret “Jacknife” Lee, the Tired Pony team took shape quickly with longtime associates such as Snow Patrol guitar technician Troy Stewart, award-winning songwriter Iain Archer, Belle & Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn, and two very important and extra special cohorts: R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey. Guest vocalists Zooey Deschanel (“Get On the Road,” “Point Me at Lost Islands”) and Editors frontman Tom Smith (“The Good Book”), as well as M. Ward (“Held in the Arms of Your Words”) would soon join the week-long sessions at Type Foundry Studio.

Revolving around “two central characters,” fractured bonds and resentments run deep through the stories presented in the group’s auspicious and magnificently sublime debut effort, The Place We Ran From. A turbulent love affair gone sour, though not exactly new territory for Lightbody, takes the back roads home, with presumably plenty of alcohol-fueled pit stops along the way to ruin for the flawed and introspective protagonist. There are no happy endings here (aside from elemental glimmers of hope), just darkness on the edge of town during the unforgiving Northwestern winters, leaving one more heartbroken drifter in the snow, cowering for shelter from the storm. The famously confessional Lightbody, who has mined his own personal foibles and turmoil to great effect with Snow Patrol, elected to write from a completely fictional perspective with Tired Pony, letting his conscience and ex-paramours off the hook, thereby freeing up his creativity and storytelling instincts to give voice to the cinematic plot and visions in his head. The album’s lone revelation, however, wasn’t penned by Lightbody at all, but by Archer who contributed his own lyrics with “I Am a Landslide,” which is destined to garner lots of attention with its irresistible blend of hobo blues and small town ruefulness. No word yet if Tired Pony is headed for sustainable Dead Weather territory, but if it is to be a one-off, and given the busy schedules all of all involved it likely will be, this delicate labor of love deserves to find an attentive audience and keep going.

The last time we talked, which was in November 2009, you told me “I don’t leave the house without Garret Lee!” Now that you’ve formed a band with him, what’s your opinion now?

Now? Now I hate him. Goddamn prick being awesome all the time. How very dare he!

You went into the studio in Oregon just three weeks after Snow Patrol’s Reworked tour. Don’t you want time off, or were the songs determined to get out of your head immediately?

I don’t do well with time off. If left to my own devices I will end up fashioning Elizabethan costumes out of old curtains and vinyl flooring and putting on Christopher Marlowe plays in my shed. No one wants that. No one!

The band name – Tired Pony – what’s the story behind it? The Tired Pony moniker reminds me for some reason of the band America and the “A Horse with no Name” hit they had. The album title is equally as evocative of a journey.

Perhaps a journey that you don’t relish making or the thought of the journey itself terrifies you so much that you end up staying put. Just like a lot of people in the small towns they end up resenting. I’m from a small town, which I recently moved back to. If I never left it in the first place though I’d resent the hell out of it now. As for Tired Pony the name came in a doodle, and I liked the image of a horse and cowboy as weary as one another moving across the horizon.

As this is the first record you wrote from a point of view different from your own, how did this free you up and inspire you as a lyricist and singer?

Immensely. I was unfettered by my own past and mistakes and free to write whatever my mind wandered towards. I didn’t have to keep editing myself because ‘this isn’t from real life’ like I do with Snow Patrol. With Tired Pony it only had to sound like it could be real. So I set it in America and gave it two central characters (that touch every song) and let my mind do the rest. I was writing some songs in minutes. Liberating beyond measure.

I understand that you approached the record with the intent of writing a “twisted love letter to the States” and its dark side. Bono loves talking about the idea of America, and what the country, its history and its musical output means to him. How has travelling it ship to stern affected you?

Deeply. I love America. It makes me mad, too, but then the things we love tend to be able to do that better than anyone or thing else. Its darkness is more fascinating than its light (I guess that’s why this album resides there for the most part) but its light is resoundingly life affirming. I love that the places you get the best welcome and hospitality are also the places with DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS bumper stickers on the outside of the pickup truck and an arsenal of weapons on the inside. We always have the most fun in the southern states of the USA but our politics are at complete odds with the majority of folk there. That’s why I hate people judging the States from the UK and Europe when they’ve never been as it is far from cut and dried. It is a big place with a big heart. It can however scare the shit out of you at times. It is paradox piled upon paradox and it is infinitely surprising.

Your love of country and folk music is not surprising, given how much soul and emotion you sing with and the lyrics you write. Who are your favorites?

Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Willy Nelson, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash… oh too many to mention really. I love country’s brutal honesty and the tenderness of folk. They play well together because what one can take from you the other can often replace.

Regarding contemporary American indie rock, specifically Wilco, I imagine “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” (and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) did just that! Many of the Tired Pony songs, especially the devastating “Northwestern Skies,” and “The Good Book” with Tom Smith, link right up with that same emotional and honesty level.

That documentary (IATTBYH) is one of my favorite films of all time about music. Anybody that has or ever wants to make music should watch it. Part lesson in perfection, part cautionary tale. It’s a beautiful film that keeps the promise of the title. If I make anything as remarkable as that in my life I’ll die happy. Am delighted you mentioned songs I wrote in the same sentence as Wilco although I doubt they warrant such illustrious company.

“I am a Landslide” with Iain Archer is very American, very striking. How did this one develop?

Garret and I went to Iain halfway through making the album (Day 4, ha) to see if he had anything he’d written recently he’d like to record. He played me “Landslide” and I just about shit myself with excitement. Just about. Not actually, just to be clear. We had recorded it about an hour later. Not an unusual event with this album as we had limited time so we were all pretty fired up. The ending was a giant fuck up on the first take but we all loved it so much we never did a second take.

Was using the first and second takes of each song on the finished product the intended approach to capture the band in its most organic form? It’s amazing the record sounds and feels as cohesive as it does!

It’s a surprise to me too. I’ve never made a record like this. Even the first Snow Patrol album that we recorded in three weeks we were doing ten, twelve takes a song. Maybe more. Peter Buck does not like to do many takes and I (ask SP) hate rehearsing. Hate it! I guess both these factors went a long way to speeding up the process. There are four songs on the record that are the first take. The rest are the second. Some of them we didn’t even play the whole way through before recording. There’d often be a point when Peter would just say, “Okay, got it. Everyone else okay?” And that would be that. Whether it was just because half of us where still buzzing about Peter and Scott from REM being there and we didn’t want to look like pussies who really cares. It worked.

Having Peter Buck come aboard as a member of the band is a real coup. How did Garret make that happen?

Three words: Jedi Mind Trick. He’d been working with R.E.M. on Accelerate (and is currently finishing off their next album with them) so he’d become good friends with Peter and Scott and knew they were always up for playing on lots of different things (Minus 5, The Decemberists, Robyn Hitchcock, Eels and much more besides) so he asked and they said yes. Scared the hell out of me as I thought, “Well there’s no room to fuck up now!” but in the end it was a blast and they were a delight. In fact Peter and Scott drove the whole record. It was a good thing too as half the time I’m just making it all up as I go along.

Given how many ace musicians from different bands are on the record, including special guests like Zooey Deschanel, how will you approach the Tired Pony live shows?

We have a rule that the seven of us (Iain, Peter, Scott, Garret, Troy, Richard and myself) have to be free or we don’t do the show. As for the guests: we first ask Zooey (Deschanel), Tom and Matt (Ward) and if they aren’t free we’ll ask others to fill their spots. They get the first call though. Busy, busy people so it’ll be rare enough that the whole album cast will be available. In fact it won’t happen this year. Others will come though and the songs they will be sung. –Carrie Alison

 
  1. [...] Read the interview at sentimentalistmag.com. [...]

  2. brill

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  3. fantastic interview! LOL! i heart Gary! :-)

    [Reply]