If you’d told Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody some time over the last few years that good things come to those who wait, he might’ve stared you down with disdain. He was in a dark place then. But now, with the release of the band’s seventh studio album Wildness, the 41-year-old rocker can finally see that proverb is true.
“I’m proudest of it of anything I’ve ever done so I don’t have any nerves about the release,” Lightbody tells EW. “It’s more just relief that it’s finally coming out because it’s been a long time coming and I just want people to hear it.”
If you know the Northern Irish rock band for more than just the use of their music on a bunch of Grey’s Anatomy finales, you’re probably all too aware it’s been a while since they last dropped a record. But after the back-to-back success of multiple platinum-selling albums — including 2003’s Final Straw, 2006’s Eyes Open, 2008’s A Hundred Million Suns, and 2011’s Fallen Empire — the guys needed a break.
“It was always the plan to take some time off after the last tour,” says Lightbody. “At the end of 2012 we were going to take a year or two away from Snow Patrol. We all did our own things — funnily enough all within music — so it wasn’t as if we were running from any kind of love of music, it was just that we wanted to do something a little different. I started writing this album in 2013 and the intention at the time was that it was going to come out in 2014, because why wouldn’t it?”
It didn’t work out for multiple reasons. Lightbody has suffered from depression since his youth, a condition exacerbated by his alcohol use and his father’s dementia, which all contributed to the stalling of his creative process.
“I loathe to say writer’s block because it doesn’t really tell the whole story, but when you’re in the middle of a period of being unproductive for a prolonged amount of time you do sometimes think, ‘I might never write another song,'” says Lightbody. “I never thought that their wouldn’t be another Snow Patrol record. I just thought, ‘How can there be if I can’t write songs anymore?'” His frustration was further fueled by the fact that he was still writing for other artists, and for TV and film, so songs were coming — just not Snow Patrol songs. “There was no thought in anybody’s mind to release the record before it was great,” he says. “I wanted to write about something different and had to figure out what that was. I’m not interested in regret. If you put out something that you don’t believe in then what are you doing?”
Luckily for Lightbody, as he worked to exorcise his demons and struggled to write lyrics, he felt no pressure to rush the process for the rest of the band (Nathan Connolly, Paul Wilson, Jonny Quinn, and Johnny McDaid). “They were amazing,” says Lightbody. “I’m sure that they were thinking at times, ‘When is the effing record going to be ready?’ And they never once put that on me. They never once phoned me and said hurry up. It was more me phoning them going, ‘I’m really sorry I haven’t been able to write and them going, ‘Doesn’t matter, it’s okay, you’ll get there.'”
When he did get there — with the help of therapy and quitting drinking — the result was a deeply personal album that traverses doubt, loss, and the search for clarity and connection, before moving into healing and hope with songs like “Don’t Give In” (in which he may indeed be offering encouragement to himself) and “Heal Me” (which seems to let go of regret and function as a sort of rebirth for the singer).
“When I realized that I had to write about what I was going through, that it was vital to do so, I opened up to it and wasn’t afraid,” says the singer. “The whole process of getting your mind right involves an awful lot of being open and letting go and I wanted to let that be pervasive in everything that I did. On the path to better mental health, the first step is always talking about it. So, in a funny way, talking about the record keeps me vigilant with my own mental health.”
Despite the graveness of some of the source material, Lightbody hopes that darkness isn’t dominant throughout the record. “I think it goes to a place of hope and the feeling that you’re left with after listening is joy,” he explains. “It’s a positive record and I was determined that it would be because I don’t want to wallow. That’s the thing I was doing for decades and not talking to anyone about it. It’s important that there’s positivity in this record or I wouldn’t have brought it out.”
With the album on the brink of release, Lightbody is in a great mood. “It’s been such a strange process that I’ve enjoyed so much, but I remember it being torturous at times,” he says. “Now I feel extraordinarily glad, joyful, and grateful for the record.” That happiness is in part due to being back on stage performing live and bringing this herculean effort to the masses. “Just turning to my left and to my right and seeing the guys grinning at me feels like we’ve somehow got a new lease of life or a rebirth in some way,” he says. “Somehow, through the last seven years, we didn’t wither on the vine or grow a bunch of cobwebs around us. It’s the opposite and everything feels fresh.”
Wildness is out now. Head here to see Snow Patrol tour dates.