Snow Patrol: 'People need to miss you a bit ...'
Gary Lightbody tells Maureen Coleman why Snow Patrol are looking forward to their big return to Belfast for Tennent's Vital ... and why he's feeling a little broody.
The sun beats down on the roof garden of the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast, where Gary Lightbody is posing patiently for photographs in the sweltering heat.
It's a fitting venue to meet the local press ahead of Snow Patrol's headlining concert at Tennent's Vital next month. Not only is the Bangor-born frontman honorary president of the centre, the band also donated its fee from last year's Bushmills Live gig to fund the opening of the new rooftop performance space in the heart of the city.
"When I left LA the weather was nowhere near as good as this," he tells me as we settle in the shade for a chat. "So we're having better weather in Belfast than LA. Well, how about that!"
Lightbody has been in the Californian city for several months, working with music producer and long-time collaborator Garret 'Jacknife' Lee on Snow Patrol's new album. And he's also been busy putting the finishing touches to Ghost of the Mountain, the second album from Lightbody's super-group side project, Tired Pony.
With the follow-up to Snow Patrol's Fallen Empires not due for release until 2014, the Ulster/Scots hybrid band has taken time out from touring. The headline slot at Vital on August 15 is its only European date of the summer. Jason Mraz, Dublin band Kodaline and Northern Ireland's Foy Vance join the bill.
"We weren't going to do any shows this year, then they offered us Vital and we bit their hands off," he explains."Basically, we've no record out, we're making it at the moment. And it's good to take time away, you know, like a fallow field, an old farming technique. You've got to let people miss you before they want you back. And hopefully, the fans will want us back."
Lightbody has a point. Homecoming shows are fairly regular occurrences for Snow Patrol, whether to record-breaking crowds at Ward Park or more intimate shows at the Waterfront Hall. The band will never be accused of neglecting their faithful following at home or forgetting their roots.
"We love playing at home," he says. "The fans are amazing, always have been...very time we play at home, it's extraordinary. As I said, because I've been concentrating on the new album, we weren't going to do any shows, but the chance to play Belfast was too tempting, so that will be us, literally leaving the studio for a few days to come to Belfast."
It's the third time Snow Patrol have played Tennent's Vital. The first was in 2002, shortly after the release of their second album and before the mainstream success of Final Straw. Then in 2006, they returned to headline. Much had changed in those interim four years, not least the band's worldwide profile. But Lightbody has a confession.
"To be honest I can't remember the 2002 show and I feel really bad about that," he laughs. "But what can I say? I have a terrible memory. The 2006 show was great craic, though."
The new Snow Patrol album is still at the writing stage, with Lightbody and Lee working together in LA on new material. Lead guitarist Nathan Connolly has popped over a few times and the band's newest addition, Londonderry's Johnny McDaid, has also been involved in the songwriting process.
"Johnny's working with Ed Sheeran on his new record but we've done some stuff together," says Gary. "Mostly though, it's myself and Garret and quite a few of the songs are sounding really exciting, actually.
"I'm not sure about the direction of the album at the moment. The only things we care about are the songs. We have no other agenda. Whatever 10 songs are the best, whether they're electronica, rock, ballads, whatever the hell they are, they'll make the record by being great. When we've got the songs together, then it'll be the usual process. We'll all get together, it's very collaborative."
The new Tired Pony album is due for release around the same time as Vital. The super-group, which allows the 37-year-old to feed his country music obsession, is made up of a number of musicians, including Jacknife Lee, Scott McCaughey, Richard Colburn of Belle and Sebastian, local man Iain Archer and Peter Buck (right) of REM fame. The debut album, The Place We Ran From, was released in 2010 and was originally intended as a country music album.
"That never materialised and it ended up being an Americana thing," Lightbody says. "With Tired Pony, there's that theme of Americana running through it. The new album is a follow on from the first one, an American tragic love story. The songs are sometimes tragic and sad, lyrically, but the music is really uplifting and joyful. It's country meets soul meets a bit of post punk and a weird kinda glitchy electronica thing going on as well."
Relationship breakdowns, heartache and lost love are all recurring themes in Lightbody's writing. He still hasn't found a 'good woman' to put up with him, he says, and admits feeling broodier than ever since becoming godfather to baby Thor, son of Snow Patrol drummer Jonny Quinn and his wife Marianne.
"God, I've been broody for about a decade," he laughs. "Thor is just a bundle of delight, a real happy, smiley baby and they're amazing parents. Just beautiful."
Another role he's recently relished was that of an extra in his favourite TV show Game of Thrones. A self-confessed superfan, Lightbody befriended show creator Dan Weiss at the MTV EMAs rehearsal night and landed himself a 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' cameo spot as a Bolton soldier in the episode Walk of Punishment. His distinctive voice is heard singing the rather ribald song The Bear and The Maiden Fair.
He also acted as executive producer and made a cameo appearance in his friend Paul Kennedy's movie Made in Belfast – speaking a couple of lines this time.
And he was one of the executive producers on the Terri Hooley biopic Good Vibrations.
"That was certainly the best reviewed thing I've ever been involved in," he quips. "Five stars everywhere! It's almost like an underground phenomenon now.
"We've started to bring it to the States, we've had a few screenings out there. I was worried it mightn't translate well, the accents, not the story, because it's universal. But the American audiences really seem to have taken to it. I think Good Vibrations will become a cult classic."
Lightbody also admits he's been approached by other filmmakers to appear in some projects, but says he can't see himself going down that path. His creative aspirations lie in other areas, he says.
"Yeah, I've been asked to be in a few things, so maybe, who knows? I don't know if I'm any good at acting. It's not much of an acting career so far.
"But what I'd really love to do is write or direct. I'm actually writing my own screenplay at the moment. I've a few ideas. It's not set in Northern Ireland, but if it comes to anything, I'll certainly film it here. I'd really like to direct at some point as well."
Despite his jet-setting lifestyle, Lightbody maintains he has no plans to relocate.
"My place in Crawfordsburn will always be my home," he says. "I love it here, love getting back. And I can't wait to do Vital. It'll be good fun, a right old knees-up.
"As the man said, 'Shut up and play the hits'. That's the type of night it's going to be."
THREE DAYS OF SUMMER FESTIVAL MAGIC ...
This year's Tennents Vital festival promises to be one of the biggest yet, with three nights of gigs running from August 14-16.
Headliners on the opening night will be the Kings of Leon (right), returning to the stage after a two-year hiatus, supported by indie hipsters The Vaccines.
There will be a definite local flavour on August 15, when Snow Patrol take to the stage, this time with fellow Bangor musician Foy Vance as warm-up, alongside Kodaline and Jason Mraz.
And the third and final night of the event has a dance-flavoured line-up, which will see Swedish dance megastar Avicii performing, along with chart-topping stars Tinie Tempah and Rudimental.
For booking details, visit the Tennents Vital website.