Gary Lightbody still remembers the first songs he ever wrote.
“They sucked big style,” he grins.
“I was 15 maybe. There’s a little room down underneath the kitchen in our house, like a little dungeon. I would go down there and turn my amp up and my parents would be in the kitchen going: ‘God, what have we done? What child of Satan have we spawned?’
“They were rudimentary to be honest – not that I ever advanced past rudimentary in my song writing,” says the man who’s penned the likes of ‘Chasing Cars’, ‘Run’ and ‘Take Back The City’ now collected on Snow Patrol’s retrospective collection ‘Up To Now’.
But the introspective singer is one for sincerity, not false modesty.
“Simple is the most effective, certainly the most reliable position to start from when you’re trying to write an honest song,” he reasons.
“Overcomplicating it tends to affect the message. And I think we’ve always tried to keep it as simple and pure as possible.”
So, I ask him, is it safe to say that Snow Patrol’s songs are written with his heart rather than his head?
“Very much so,” Lightbody agrees. “It comes from my upbringing as a guitar player as well – I had a few guitar lessons but pretty much, once I learned the basics I didn’t advance from there. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to learn my instrument inside out so that I was paying using some formula or something, that I would just pick up my guitar and put my fingers in places I’ve never put them before and I see what happens.
“I figure if you ever get to the stage where you don’t need your instrument to write a song, it’s not honest.”
But how honest can he really be in songs written for the masses?
“Well, everything I’ve ever written about has happened,” he replies.
“Somehow it’s happened that I’ve been able to write songs that connect with a lot of people but the songs are what have ended up being famous, not the people.”
And that faceless anonymity is something Lightbody clearly cherishes.
“I guess if you asked any band that was sensible, that would be the way they’d do it – with a barrier between you as a person and you as a musician or your public persona.
“I think we’ve always had that barrier which has been great because we don’t get hounded by anybody, we can live our lives the way we want to live them. All it would take would be a bit of stupidity on my part and then suddenly the head goes above the parapet, but if you try to be as under the radar as you possibly can, nobody’s going to chase you down the street with a camera.”
But the relative anonymity also has a downside – three years after it took over the world, the group are still best known as the guys who did ‘Chasing Cars’.
The laidback singer doesn’t care.
“You just have to see us live to understand that there’s a lot more to us than that band that writes the ballads – so it’s really up to people to find that out for themselves. We’re not going to force it down peoples’ throats because life’s too short to get pissed off about people thinking they have a handle on you.
“What I’d rather have happen is people are surprised whenever they find out there is more to us. People who slag us off for ‘Chasing Cars’ only accidentally need to walk into one of our shows and they’ll see that’s not even half of it.”
As such their career-spanning compilation runs the gamut from those ballads to the electronic synthpop sound of new single ‘Just Say Yes’ – with detours into the eclecticism of their first two, largely unknown, albums.
“‘Songs For Polar Bears’ and ‘When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up’ are extremely sporadic and extremely difficult to categorise. I think just the folly of youth really, trying to do too many things at once.
“The songs were still written from personal experience, but I just think I wasn’t a great communicator at that stage – so even though these were things that had happened, it was harder for me to explain. And musically we were just trying lots and lots of things out,” he says of their pre-breakthrough work.
Not that the sense of experimentation has left them – when the band’s future comes up, Lightbody tantalisingly offers: “I see us doing a whole host of other projects and taking a lot of people by surprise with them.”
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.