Interview: Snow Patrol
Published on November 1st, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
In December 2009, UK music licensing body PPL announced that Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” [from 2006 album Eyes Open] was the most played song of the decade, and the accolades keep on coming for the single that, as of May this year, had racked up three million sales in the US.
Over the weekend, Gary Lightbody and co were handed the Q Classic Song gong at the magazine’s annual awards ceremony, which this year was held just down the road from Rocksucker HQ at the HMV Forum in Kentish Town.
Quite an honour, especially as a number of other big-selling singles – most notably “Run” [from 2004 album Final Straw] – dictates that Snow Patrol could never be dismissed as a mere one-hit wonder.
For all that the band’s career path to date charts an extraordinary journey from UK indie cult heroes to global phenomenon, it’s time to once again focus on the here and now: after all, their sixth studio album Fallen Empires is set to land in just under two weeks’ time.
To celebrate, Rocksucker enjoyed a brief natter over the blower with highly affable keyboard player Tom Simpson, who graciously attributed initial communication difficulties to years’ worth of monitors blasting his eardrums.
Mankind’s continued inability to master the fickle mistress that is phone signal, more like…
First off, congratulations on your Q Award…
Thank you. It was a total surprise, although I think we were the only ones nominated for it so there wasn’t any competition! (Laughs) But yeah, we’re very proud of it because Q Magazine is a magazine that we’ve all been reading for years. It’s one we all cherish.
Judging by the singles released so far, and indeed the buzz surrounding it, it would seem that Fallen Empires is more synth-based than previous Snow Patrol albums. Does this have a lot to do with your good self?
I was a DJ before I was in the band and Gary used to come to my club, where I’d play a lot of electronic music and stuff, so I think it’s always been there with us, albeit tucked away in the background. This time, we’ve pushed it to the front to be a bit more prominent, but it’s not all the way through the record – it still has its delicate moments and rocky moments. But the electronica is a bit more prominent on this one, which is great. I’m happy about it!
The production sounds great, like on “This Isn’t Everything You Are”, which is ostensibly a rock song but still has quite a bit going on in the mix…
Yeah, there’s still a lot of big, washy synth stuff in it, which is great. That song’s getting played on the radio now and it’s been getting some good response. We were in Argentina recently so we shot the video there, in this beat-up tango club with all these brilliant tango dancers. I visited Boca Juniors’ stadium while I was there, just as a football footnote!
(Rocksucker says: Read about Tom’s love of football in this interview with Football Burp.)
Claudio Caniggia played for my team Dundee a few years ago so I had to go and pay homage!
Do you still do much DJing?
Many moons ago, before I joined the band, I used to run a few dance clubs in Dundee and DJ up and down the country, and that’s how I met Gary: he used to come to my club and the next thing I knew I was doing stuff for the first record [1998’s Songs for Polarbears].
Then he dragged me out on a tour and then – smash, bang, wallop – here I am! (Laughs) And I’ve never looked back. So he kind of prised me away from that scene but by then I was at a point where I needed to make a change anyway, so I’m very thankful for it.
Are there any journalistic clichés or buzzwords that you’re fed up of hearing/reading as a description of Snow Patrol’s music?
Yeah, there is one – and it’s no slight against Coldplay because we know them and they’re a great band – but I kind of hate it when people compare us to Coldplay because I don’t think we sound like them.
They do what they do, which is brilliant – I think they’re great, they’re amazing live and not enough people give them their dues for what they do – but I just don’t like being compared to them because I think we do something different from them.
But this isn’t a slight against Coldplay – you’re not going to start one of these [media war of words], are you? (Laughs)
*Halfway through dialling the NME* Erm…no, of course not.
I’m playing football with a couple of them on Wednesday and I don’t want a high tackle coming in from Will, their drummer. He’s a big lad.
Do you share Gary’s infatuation with Rocksucker darlings Super Furry Animals? He once described them as “our generation’s Beatles”.
You know, he actually got me into Super Furry Animals.
We did a Late Night Tales album and we made sure we had a Super Furry Animals track on it, which was “Download” [from 1997 album Radiator].
We’re all big fans of Super Furry Animals, actually, and we’ve been to see them live quite a few times.
They make great pop music but they make some really challenging music as well, which is unusual. I think they do pop in their own way, which is something to really admire.
Are there any up-and-coming and/or obscure bands that you’d like to recommend or give a shout out to?
(Sighs) You know, it’s Monday morning, I bought a ton of records over the weekend and I can’t remember the names of any of them! (Laughs) For me, this is the problem with buying things on iTunes – I forget the names of things so quickly.
I’ve got a massive vinyl collection at home, and when you’re at home you can read all the information from cover to cover and know everything about the record.
Now, you just download it and you forget you’ve even downloaded it, which is annoying!
I’m DJing tomorrow in Dublin so I bought a load of new music for that and I’ve not digested it yet, so I’ll have to get back to you on this question.
(Rocksucker says: Tom later sent us the following playlist entitled “Tracks to Dance to”…)
Finally, could you name – as of this very moment, off the top of your head – your top three albums of all time?
Primal Scream – Screamadelica, Michael Jackson – Thriller and Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
Tom, thank you.