“Fallen Empires,” the sixth studio album from Northern Ireland’s Snow Patrol, drops today (Jan. 10) after more than three years of radio silence from the band. Despite the lull, lead vocalist Gary Lightbody explains that the six months they took to the make the record in the Malibu sunshine heavily inspired them, allowing a more creative process and dramatically affecting the tone of the album.
“Fallen Empires,” which the band will be supporting with a massive U.S. tour that runs from March 29 through May 18, is rife with Lightbody’s childhood nostalgia, the intricacies of love, life and, more than anything, his personal interactions with strangers and close friends alike. He tells Billboard.com of the writing process, “Sometimes it’s hard to just reach out, it’s hard to ask for help. It’s a recurring theme on the record.”
Since releasing debut album “Songs For Polar Bears” in 1998, Lightbody and co. have received a ton of critical acclaim — including a Grammy nomination — and plenty of synch love from ABC hit show, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ for their 2006 single, “Chasing Cars.” The new full-length, which follows 2008’s “A Hundred Million Suns,” aims for further acclaim with a host of notable guests, including collaborations with Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age on guitar, lush orchestral arrangements from Owen Pallett, and six background vocal cameos from Lissie.
The frontman recently stopped by Billboard.com’s New York studio to break down each of the 14 songs on “Fallen Empires.” Watch what he had to say about each track in the player above and read about each below.
1. “I’ll Never Let Go”
“The album is bookended by two stories of two people that I met, homeless people that I met in Santa Monica. I’d meet him pretty much every day at some point and he would always not remember who I was… [One day] I said I said “take care of yourself, you know, man.” And [as] I was walking way, he shouted after me, “I’ll never let go, don’t worry about me. I’ll never let go.” And okay, can I make that into a song, I flat out asked him and he was like “Yeah man, you do that.”
2. “Called Out In The Dark”
“It started as this little almost kinda Folk Implosion-y (2:43) [but] as far as electronically, we wanted to push this record a little more towards that because I mean we’ve always had electronic influences. I’ve DJ’d for years, dancing my ass off in clubs for years. . . but we’ve never really pushed it to the front of our music before until this record. So that was kinda the first foray into doing that this time.”
3. “The Weight of Love”
The song, “was meant to sound like AC/DC in a way and that’s the sort of riff at the start. But it ended up sounding way more Motown or soulful than that. I don’t know where we got lost on that particular journey down the road of AC/DC rock ‘n’ roll, but it was a good path to find ourselves down.”
4. “This Isn’t Everything You Are”
“There’re three different people in my life that were going though something pretty awful and I wrote a song to try to protect them, to show them that there were people there for them whenever they needed. Sometimes it’s hard to reach out, it’s hard to ask for help. It’s a recurring theme on the record.”
5. “The Garden Rules”
It’s “my favorite song on the record. It’s a song about first love and it’s a song about the part of that love, even if it’s not reciprocated, it changes you forever cause it opens your eyes to something that you hadn’t been able to see before. As a piece of music, I think it is our most beautiful by quite some distance. [Lissie] does a breathtaking performance on this song.”
6. “Fallen Empires”
“It’s fucking insane really. It’s like Irish folk techno. I really don’t know what it is. It’s kinda become a live favorite already, just watching people react to it. . . jaws are just open the whole way like, ‘Oh my God.'”
“We were there for a month. I wrote that sketch of what Berlin would become, it didn’t have a name cause it was instrumental. We would just call it after where it was conceived just like David Beckham does with his kids. It’s almost like a palate cleanser after “Fallen Empires” cause it is so intense.
“Another great moment I think in terms of lyrics, even if I do say so myself. It kinda boils down what is important in my life and I think it’s relatable in that the essence of what truly is important. Family, friends, football and music for me. Trying to remove yourself from what doesn’t matter.”
9. “New York”
“Myself and Johnny McDaid, our new piano player, wrote it together in his studio in London. Again a brilliant arrangement by Owen Palette that set it on fire at the end. We were having so much trouble with it trying to get the arrangement but he came in and saved our asses.”
10. “In the End”
“This song is about kind of realizing what the truth is; realizing, kinda like “Life-ning,” all that matters is having love in your life, be it family, friends, a girlfriend or boyfriend and that everything can be boiled down to that and maybe that is the meaning of life.”
11. “Those Distant Bells”
Lissie “really brought the song to life like she did on all the songs. She came in for the day and she’s on 5 songs that made the album. . . We wanted to get a female presence on the record. I had the idea from Neil Young’s “Harvest,” Linda Ronstadt, that kinda recurs on the album so she came in and did a days work with us and what a day’s worth it was.”
12. “The Symphony”
“That is a crazy, kinda electro-ish song which seems to kind of remix itself at the end. It’s kind of a pop song that has a verse and a chorus, a verse and a chorus, then goes into this mad end section which took us forever to do.”
13. “The President”
“Again [it] is about a story about a homeless guy in Santa Monica. In the end we just took it down to a piano and it sounded amazing cause it’s so heartbreaking with just a voice and a piano. And then Owen heard it and he loved it and he said can I do an arrangement for it.”
14. “Broken Bottles from a Star (Prelude)”
“‘Broken Bottles from a Star’ is a prelude, as it says on the album. . . it’s gonna be the first song on the next album. We recorded two when we were there and there’s another 10 songs that we recorded at Eagle’s Watch. It’s like a companion piece to “Fallen Empires.” You’ll be able to draw a line into that session cause there’s a lot of great stuff in that.