The Light fantastic
Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody tells Chris Wasser how boozing nearly ruined his career and why he now drinks only for fun
It's shortly before 3pm when a tall and rather gangly Gary Lightbody suggests that we conduct our interview in "the hall". Clearly not a fan of the backstage dressing room we've been granted, he begins making his way towards what I assume is just another corridor. "Where do you want to sit?" he asks, as I step out on to a stage full of all kinds of instruments. He didn't mean the corridor. This is London's Royal Albert Hall -- he meant 'the hall'. And, with more than 5,000 empty seats to choose from, we're spoilt for choice, too.
It's more than 11 years since Northern Irish/Scottish rock group Snow Patrol released their first album, Songs for Polarbears. It was a time when Lightbody -- the band's enigmatic front man -- had yet to stumble across all those clever melodies and lyrics in his head, you know, about chasing cars and whatnot. Sure, they were a likeable, rough around the edges, you'll-find-a-decent-tune-if-you-listen-close-enough indie outfit, but that was before Lightbody discovered his ability to pen a tune so infectious you'd soon grow to hate it.
2006's Eyes Open changed all of that. Indeed, the success that Snow Patrol have since experienced -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- is far beyond what Lightbody, or any of the other four members of the band, could have ever predicted. As Gary explains, it came at the right time, too. After all, he wasn't always the affable and mannerly frontman who sits before me this afternoon.
"It took me 10 years to become the kind of person that I am today," he says. "I was irrational, erratic, neurotic -- I probably didn't know what I really wanted out of life. Nobody does, but, I mean, I was just really lost. If we'd have had the success, I think I would have just turned to drink and drugs and -- not that I haven't done -- but, got lost in there, you know, rather than done those things recreationally," he continues.
Recreational drinking is one thing, but Lightbody's alcohol-fuelled behaviour was, at one point, at risk of ruining everything for the band. I ask the 33-year-old how bad it actually got.
"I was drinking a lot before we went on stage. I was swearing at the audience, breaking stuff -- equipment -- going through a lot of guitars that I couldn't afford.
"In the end, I was just buying sh***y guitars, because by the end of the show I'd have broken it, you know? I was just a real ass," he explains, adding that a lack of album sales had left him frustrated.
It was his band mates who eventually pulled him out of this mess -- something that he sounds eternally grateful for. Seeing as he still enjoys a beer or two, I wonder how he manages to balance work with pleasure these days.
"Drinking's always fun to me now. I never drink on my own -- anymore," he chuckles. "Or when I'm angry, or to get over anger or to get over depression -- it's only ever fun. We laugh so much these days -- these past five years. Well, I mean, much of the first 10 years was laughter as well, apart from the two years where I was inside a bottle."
Despite fronting a million-album selling rock band, Lightbody has thus far managed to keep his personal life away from the cameras and people like myself. That's good going.
"I've always cultivated the idea that we're boring, because it throws people off the scent. They go, 'oh well, they're dull, we don't need to know anything about them'.
"We don't have a support band on this tour, but I can stand and watch the support band without ever getting any hassle at our own shows."
Interview time is running out and Graham-O -- the band's drum technician -- is keen to start the sound check.
In four hours, the group will once again entertain a packed house with a complete re-working of some of the finer moments from their back catalogue. It really is a special show -- one which should sound superb on Thursday night in the intimate surroundings of the Olympia.
Up To Now is out now. Snow Patrol play The Olympia on Thursday night