If you've listened to any music critic's thoughts on 2004, you'd be hard-pressed not to recognize the name "Snow Patrol." With the release of their third album, Final Straw, the indie rock foursome based in Glasgow, Scotland has made quite an impression on music lovers and those in the know. The problem? That doesn't exactly sell records.
Rewind to 1994 and meet Gary Lightbody, singer, and Mark McClelland, guitarist. The two Belfast boys were attending Dundee University in Scotland. "Our eyes met across the crowded dance floor," says Lightbody. "I knew he was the one for me. We clicked musically and we liked the same bands, so we thought 'Why not start one of our own?' That was the beginning of Snow Patrol."
Err.. not quite. That was the beginning of Polar Bear, a two-man band that experimented with songwriting and played small clubs on the side. Unfortunately, Eric Avery (Jane's Addiction's old bassist) already had dibs on the name so, after threat of lawsuit, the duo changed their name to Snow Patrol. Moving to Glasgow, they picked up drummer Johnny Quinn and were soon signed to Scotland's Jeepster label (best known for Belle and Sebastian) in 1998. What was that about polar bears? That year saw the group's debut release: Songs For Polar Bears. That's stickin' it to 'em, boys.
Songs for Polar Bears was applauded by critics as energetic, promising, and uniquely pop-sounding for the world of indie. Said Lightbody of the project, "Basically our favourite bands were poured into it and at the time we were under the influence of American rock - the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden--but we were listening to My Bloody Valentine and the first Super Furry Animals album, too." Others, however, heard Belle and Sebastian more than anything, dismissing the album's sound as twee.
Snow Patrol shook it up with 2001's When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, an album that illustrates their evolution to the guitar-driven rock for which they're more commonly recognized. Although both did well in the UK, neither record was released internationally. Third time's a charm.
In 2004, Snow Patrol conned Nathan Connolly into joining on as a second guitarist and went into the studio with techno producer Garret Lee to release Final Straw. The foursome-plus-one again received the acclaim of critics both UK and stateside. The boys were even nominated for the prestigous Mercury Music Prize. While the album is brilliantly done and more than a little infectious, Snow Patrol has yet to receive the success they'd anticipated from such a hefty release. Rumor has it that Jeepster is closing its doors and, in the meantime, did not provide the promotion or legwork needed to publicize an up and coming indie band. Gary Lightbody has publically mentioned his frustration with this and hints that changes in record label (and possibly other changes as well) are forthcoming.
In the meantime, Gary Lightbody's side project, The Reindeer Section, has been causing more than a few delighted whispers. Snow Patrol is also poised to release their Trip album via Universal, a mix CD that highlights underground music and personal favorites. Expect tracks from Rilo Kiley, The Shins, and Bill Withers. They've also leaked the name of their next studio release, One Hundred Things You Should Have Done In Bed. To be continued...
Releases to date:
- Songs for Polar Bears (1998)
- When It's All Over We Still Have To Clear Up (2001)
- Final Straw (2004)
- The Trip (2005)
Quotations and information from jeepster.co.uk, www.allmusic.com, www.universalmusic.ca/snowpatrol/index.php, and www.snowpatrol.net.