Snow Patrol frontman grateful for decade his band spent trying to make it, otherwise he might have succumbed to rock lifestyle
Gary Lightbody is convinced he would be dead if Snow Patrol had landed overnight success.
The 45-year-old star, who has spoken openly about his battle with alcoholism and drug addiction, said spending 10 years struggling to get a hit with the band “whittled” down his ego and stopped him descending into insanity when he finally realised his childhood dream of becoming world famous.
He added: “We wouldn’t have been the band we are if we had commercial success immediately.
“I think I would have been dead, to be honest. I would have just lost my mind, living a kind of fantasy rock star life that I had always imagined as a kid.
“I just think I would have went down a dark path.”
Gary went on about the decade Snow Patrol spent in obscurity before the release of breakthrough track Run. “The first 10 years — 1994 to 2004 when we didn’t have a hit — during that time my ego got whittled down, so it actually helped the longevity of the band and allowed us to make mistakes.”
The Bangor-born songwriter said he also fears Snow Patrol wouldn’t have made it today as their early “shambolic” gigs would have been captured by smartphone-wielding fans.
He added: “Mistakes, and bad gigs — we were allowed to do that in obscurity, and now there isn’t that obscurity, with people videoing all your gigs.
“Like your early gigs — it shouldn’t be allowed. A band should be able to grow and find their audience, and that audience should do them the favour of not videoing their first gigs.
“Because there’s going to be some creases that need ironed out. Our early gigs were shambolic. There’s probably some footage somewhere — it’s not footage I’m going to rush to find.”
Gary has wryly previously described himself as an “American alcoholic” but an “Irish drinker”. But he didn’t totally kick drink until 2016, when he was living a depressive “hermetic” existence and “hating” himself for drinking every day.
He’s now replaced drink with meditation and martial arts training. But he says he is still haunted by anxiety over writer’s block.
Gary revealed in an interview in new Amazon film, Once In A Lifetime Sessions With Snow Patrol, which shows the band performing at the Ulster Hall in Belfast: “I’ve had writer’s block. Everything looks like a blank page, not just the blank page — everything.
“Inside, outside, friends, family, yourself, yourself in the mirror. You feel useless in a very real sense. If you’re a songwriter and you’re not writing songs, you’re less than useless.
“It brings up depression and the anxieties of not delivering on things.
“Therapy, and I’m learning to meditate, have helped me a lot in balancing out my life, and giving up drink… changed everything.
“I started to see clearer… a much more positive mindset.”
Gary said writing was an essential release for him growing up in a Troubles blighted Northern Ireland as a teen.
But he admitted his early efforts at trying to dispel his angst using poetry were woeful.
He said: “I had a teacher in my secondary school (Campbell College) called Mark McKee, who taught English, and he introduced me to Seamus Heaney, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan — three heavyweights, and no mistake.
“I hadn’t never thought of writing anything down before I started to read Seamus Heaney, and I started to write poetry, and I was published within five or six months of starting to write poetry.
“These were really bad poems. They were about the Troubles. I thought I could set the world on fire — as a teenager: ‘I’ll figure this out’. All I wanted was for everyone to get along. I didn’t understand why everyone was fighting. I still don’t.
“As a teenager it upset me thoroughly. As soon as I realised I had no control over it I wanted to go away.
“As soon as I went away my heart grew fonder, and I moved back.
“Northern Ireland was my heart and soul and then as it took over, the love songs took over, and I realised love is a more powerful force than politics will ever be.”
Despite ditching drink, Gary said one of Snow Patrol’s most enduring hits, Chasing Cars, was written in a “blur” of red wine that produced 10 songs that made finished albums.
He said: “It was written in Jacknife’s (Irish music producer Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee) garage at his house when he was living in Kent.
“It was written in a night of three or four bottles of red wine, and 10 songs were written.
“Five of those songs ended up being on Eyes Open — there are 11 songs on that album.
“It was written in, if you want to call it a blur of inspiration — or wine.
“I wasn’t thinking about it and I think that’s where all the best songs come from.
“With Chasing Cars there was this flow, doing it just for fun.
“I think there’s something elemental in it that’s simple. I honestly don’t know.”
Once in a Lifetime Sessions with Snow Patrol is available to rent or buy now on Amazon Prime