I don’t often refer to a television show’s season finale when discussing a band’s sound, but in the case of the song “Chasing Cars” off Snow Patrol’s new album, Eyes Open, I’m making an exception. For Greys Anatomy fans, I don’t need to remind you how heartbreaking the closing scene was. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s just say you finally, finally found someone who “got” you and were all ready to start your life with them, when they’re suddenly gone…forever. The words sang endearingly along with the scene as the surgical intern is found lying with her lost love, not wanting to accept that it’s just his body that lie gray in the hospital bed. “We’ll do it all, everything, on our own / We don’t need anything or anyone / If I lay here, if I just lay here / Would you lie with me and just forget the world? / I don’t quite know how to say how I feel / Those three words are said too much, but not enough.”
It was as if Snow Patrol had been commissioned to write the perfect song of overwhelming emotion, as if it was just meant to be. It’s that uncanny ability to connect to the heart that’s made the band’s music such an intimate experience.
That synchronicity has followed Snow Patrol, as if a guiding light has brought them our way to inspire, bring joy and spark a connection to our soul – from the simplicity of how a friend mistakenly called them Snow Patrol instead of Polar Bear, right at the time they wanted to change their name, to how Martha Wainright just happened to be in the same country at the time they wanted her to sing a song they wrote just for her – it’s all fallen into place.
This didn’t happen overnight. Snow Patrol has been together for 10 years and it took them a number of years to make their name known in the U.S., but when it did with Final Straw in 2004, many Yanks were singing along to “Chocolate,” “Run,” and “Spitting Games.”
Two years after their 2004 SXSW appearance, Snow Patrol returned to Austin once again, but to perform songs from their new release, Eyes Open, and again they were welcomed with open arms.
In the U.K., the album’s first single “Beginning To Get To Me” is in the top five on the charts and it’s only a matter of time before it will be embraced here, along with the soaring crescendo in “Open Your Eyes,” the pleading, Tim Finn (lead singer for Crowded House) vocal melody of “Make This Go On Forever,” to the gritty, bouncing ride of “Hands Open.”
Before the band left the U.K. to start their U.S. tour in Denver, I got a chance to talk to guitarist Nathan Connelly on a Sunday afternoon and after he’s removed himself from London traffic.
Kaffeine Buzz: I got a chance to see your SXSW showcase at Stubbs and your gig the next day at the Filter party where you played an acoustic set with Gary [Lightbody, singer/guitarist]. Those performances were pretty electric and it was great to hear songs from the new album. Having played SXSW two years ago, how have things progressed for you since you were still pretty new to the band at that time?
Nathan Connolly: Well, we’re better first off. (laughing) It’s been a mad couple of years really. We spent about two and half years touring for Final Straw. Then we make a record, obviously, and then went straight back on tour. SXSW, at that point this year it was the first month we were on tour. I think we were still trying to get the songs together live and see how they were working.
KB: Well, I got to see the reactions from the crowd, from the title track [“Eyes Open”] to “Beginning To Get To Me,” and they were diggin’ it. Now, you worked with Jacknife [Garret Lee] before on the Final Straw. Didn’t you work with him again on this new album?
NC: Yes, we worked with Garret, or Jacknife really. He’s an amazing person really; someone we trust implicitly. He’s a friend. He’s family. He’s just as much a part of this band as the rest of us. He can work with us as a band and individually. He cares about us and never lets us leave that room without fulfilling our potential as musicians and as people, ya know? I think he’s a big part of what we’re doing, obviously with Final Straw and now with Eyes Open.
KB: I had talked to another band that had worked with him called VAUX, and they said that more than any of the other producers they had worked with, he really dives in and do what you just said, and really pushes you into areas of musical progression that you may not have even known existed.
NC: Exactly. Every time I work with him…myself, personally and as a band, I can’t imagine working with anyone else. We’ve known him for four years now. I know that he’ll be doing the next Snow Patrol record.
KB: On Final Straw, you were kind of noodling around with a guitar line, which ended up being the hook for “Spitting Games,” which became pretty popular with fans. Did you have any similar experiences or accidents with this album, where you were just kind of playing around with something?
NC: Yea, those are the things that make the record special I think. The song “Spitting Games” was sort of, already down at the time I came in. There were certain songs where the song might be there already, the actual hook or the melody part, and when we’re listening back on it, someone comes up with something. Yea, it happens. “Set The Fire To The Third Bar,” some of the guitar lines in that were just kind of accidents where you play something and someone goes, ‘Whoa. Whoa. What was that?” (laughs) And you’re like, ‘Shit. I don’t know what I just played.’ (laughs) When you do things like that, that level of honesty comes across. It’s not preconceived, you know?
KB: Absolutely. Well, obviously, there’s been a lot of honestly, introspection, and observation in Gary’s lyrics in the past, and it’s continued and is very prevalent in this album. This is more a question for Gary, but I couldn’t help but notice this kind of “eyes” theme going on with different songs, “Shut Your Eyes,” “Open Your Eyes,” or even “Headlights.” I don’t know if that was intentional, was it?
NC: I don’t know that it was there intentionally. Looking back now, as you said, it’s very apparent that there is a theme there. I think while Gary was writing the lyrics, he was deep in it and these things just came about. I don’t think it was anything preconceived. I may not even know what they’re about, but it doesn’t really matter. Lyrics are…you take from them what you will if they mean something to you. I think another reason why the lyrics connect to people a lot of the time is because of that level of honesty that comes with the lyrics, the relationships, the heartbreak and the everyday things that people go through.
KB: I believe Tom Simpson is the most recent member to join the band, playing keyboards. But you also used Ken Stringfellow from the Posies on the album as well. What songs did each of them play on, and how did you come to work with Ken?
NC: Tom has been a touring member, or whatever you want to call it, for several years now and we just made him permanent. Tom, first of all, was incredible on this record. Before it was just kind of samples and noises that he did, but this time he went for piano lessons and basically learned to play the piano. So on “Make This Go On Forever,” that’s actually Tom. He was very disciplined. That work ethic was there and was [going] around with everyone on this record. Ken, I think, played on track 11…oh God, you put me on the spot now…I can’t remember. We met Ken when we were in Seattle and Gary let them know that we were fans of the Posies and sent a message. It just went from there. He plays for R.E.M. live and we supported them for the Isle Of Wight Festival. Gary asked Ken if he would like to come down and play a few songs. Yea, it’s amazing how many people have got on it and are willing to be a part of it. It’s just incredible.
KB: When I saw that he was a part if it, it seemed so perfect. He’s so talented and has been doing music for quite a while. What about that intro to “You Could Be Happy?” Was that done with keyboards?
NC: No, that’s actually Garret. He actually got a music box. Yea, again, that song kind of started with Gary on his guitar and Garret decided to do something different with it. And it worked! (laughing)
KB: And the way that Martha Wainright was in the country at the same time that Gary had thought of her for the song “Set Fire To The Third Bar.” It’s just funny sometimes to see those kind of synchronistic moment in life where things just fall into place.
NC: God yeah. That’s amazing when you can get that. To be honest, we didn’t even know if she knew who we were. We’re such fans of hers and we were listening to her records the whole way through the album and all of last year. Garret had the idea to have her sing on a song. Gary wasn’t really happy to have her sing on a song that was already done. So Gary wrote that song specifically for her to sing. That whole song came together in the very last week of recording. To me, it’s one of my favorite songs on the record. It was all kind of serendipitous how it happened like that.
KB: And you said you guys put a lot of work into the album, which is obviousl. But something like that would be really motivating and would be so exciting when things fall into place like that.
NC: Yeah, and sometimes they don’t fall into place. Again, those little moments are what make a record special. Not even for the actual record and songs, but for the time of making the album, you know? It’s very important to have something to remember about it, ‘cause it’s very easy to just go about making the record and get so caught up in it that you don’t remember anything about it. I remember the day when we called her. It’s the simple things like that.
Snow Patrol’s Eyes Open was released on May 9 on A&M/Interscope/Polydor Records. They play at Paramount Theatre Tuesday, May 23, the first stop on their nationwide tour.