Interview date: 10/16/2008
Run date: 10/29/2008
We had a chance to talk to Snow Patrol drummer Jonny Quinn, as the band’s fifth album, A Hundred Million Suns, hits streets on Oct. 28. This is a band that has paid its dues, and has recently enjoyed a ton of success stemming from its previous two albums, including the hit single, “Chasing Cars.” Quinn, ever humble, talked about how the band has not landed on the cover of any big magazines, and that he’s okay with that. With that, here is our conversation.
BE: This is Mike Farley with Bullz-Eye. How are you doing?
JQ: I’m doing fine.
BE: Good. So your new album is awesome. I’ve been listening to it the last couple of days.
JQ: Oh great. Thank you. That’s good.
BE: With the new album, I’ve read that you guys feel also that it is your best album yet. Can you tell me what’s different about this one?
JQ: I’ve never read an interview where anyone in a band didn’t say it was their best yet. Of course you have to say that. I think in time, just personally, we’ve created more of the Snow Patrol sound than ever before. We sort of really didn’t know what that was. And the first three albums were a bit confused. I just think we didn’t know what direction we were going into. And without really being conscious about it, we’ve created our own sound on this album. I think people that have heard it have said it’s very much our own thing now that we’ve created. And this time we also, that’s different from before, we’ve got no ballad in the sense of we don’t have a “Chasing Cars,” and that was a conscious decision. I think if we did, we would just be crucified for treading the certain path of guaranteed sales.
BE: Right, so kind of being a sell-out? You didn’t want that to happen?
JQ: Yeah. Well we get that anyway. We’ve didn’t want to use strings this time and used brass instead. We’ve just tried to use a lot of different sounds, like one of the songs we used orchestral drums and one of the songs I was even on my knees on the floor and breaking branches for percussion. Just thinking about it a little differently than the old guitar bit and drums and keyboard thing. So yeah, it was daunting coming into this album again with a lot of sales behind us. We hadn’t been playing any new songs for a long time. We had been touring so much, which was great. But getting back to studio again was an odd thing. But once we got in there and sort of got a couple of tracks down we were all feeling more positive about the outcome.
BE: What was it like working with Garrett Jackknife Lee and how do you feel he enhanced the album?
JQ: Well he’s really good at editing us. Taking out the parts, cutting out the fat almost, which as a producer that really is his job to do that and it sort of uses your strengths and takes away the weaknesses. That’s what he’s really good at…maybe saying we could double that chorus up there, we could not have such long intro, we could have a longer intro, whatever’s required. This is our third album with him, so when we go in, we really know him, what he’s going to do and what we’re going to do. He’s worked with REM. I think he just gets better because he’s had a lot of album experience now, so he’s got a little bit more tricks up his sleeve. You know, how to record stuff and get the sounds and explain to us what’s in his head.
BE: Was it Garrett that had the idea to use the horn sounds? Or was it you guys?
JQ: No, I think we all decided before we went down that we didn’t want to go down the strings route. We didn’t necessarily think that brass would be it, but we thought, yeah, we’ve got to try and just take it out and see what else we can fill it with, whatever it would be.
BE: And you guys have had enormous success both in the UK and here in the States. With radio playlists kind of shrinking, it’s a tribute to the quality of your music that you’ve been able to generate so much attention. How do you feel that you’re gaining the most fans right now?
JQ: Right now I think radio is an odd one. I think they try to get safer and safer. I think Gary (Lightbody) can be pretty honest (lyrically) and I think people really tune into that. I think that’s what really works in radio and people hear works that can be quite universal but also very much written from his own personal point of view. The tricky bit is to not be contrived about it and write a song that is obviously universal and to make that work. And I think that’s why people are really into Snow Patrol. That, and great melodies.
BE: Definitely. I agree with all of that. What is radio like in the UK? Is it as bad as it is over here?
JQ: No, it’s better. But we still have a lot of stations that play the same music for two years and don’t take many requests. XFM is a great station, where they’ll play new music and a lot of bands that will never be mainstream. Radio One is still pretty great and I think it’s because it doesn’t rely on advertising revenue. So on daytime radio you can hear a lot of pop rubbish, but you’ll hear a lot of bands and they get kind of big exposure. And a lot of great American bands come over and break through Radio One. Without it I think it would be a lot less pretty.
BE: Absolutely. So how does the songwriting process work for you guys, and how many songs do you typically write for an album?
JQ: Well, Gary writes all the lyrics and Paul (Wilson) and Nathan (Connolly) will write a lot of songs too. They’ll write a lot of melodies and everyone will bring their demos along when we get back to writing again. We just sort through it and will come up with different chorus parts and verse parts, and Gary will have ideas on an acoustic guitar. It’s amazing how it can change as well because he writes a lot of slow tempo stuff that turn into quite up-tempo rock numbers. And it works really well. I think anyone could write a song lyrically for the band, but I think he’s just so much better than the rest of us that no one is willing to put their lyrics forward quite yet. We’re all a bit scared. (Laughs)
BE: I hear you. Who are some artists that you grew up listening to that shaped your style as a musician?
JQ: Well, I’d say, a lot of stuff. Stuff that would have shaped would have been like the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth and Nirvana and Teenage Fanclub. Alternative American bands, Mud Honey, a lot of the grunge era where I would say that was the sort of music that we were all into and as a band sort of started to try to emulate and then sort of realized that that wasn’t really us.
BE: Yeah, I definitely hear that ‘90s era modern rock style in your music, but not completely. It sounds like you took that influence and used it to your advantage.
JQ: Yeah. We still like Quiet Riot. (Laughs)
BE: Okay. (Laughs) That’s awesome. How about you as a drummer? Who are some drummers that influenced you over your career?
JQ: It started off with the Police’s Stewart Copeland. That was one of the first bands I really got into as a kid. Yeah, Stewart Copeland, and obviously every drummer says John Bonham from Zeppelin. And Ringo as well, I love the Beatles. Ringo definitely [had the beat from] “Tomorrow Never Knows” for instance, so many people have sampled that, from Chemical Brothers to all kinds of bands. He’s simple but I think he has his own thing going on and I think that’s admirable, if you have your own style it doesn’t have to be complicated.
BE: Absolutely. What is your favorite country and/or city to tour through and why?
JQ: Favorite country? Japan. I think that’s because it’s just like arriving on another planet. It’s just so bizarre to anything we know. The culture shock is amazing. As well, we’re quite a tall band, so we really found out there that when you walk along the street with thousands of Japanese people, you can really feel people are looking at you going, “Whoa. Who are these guys?” And the fans are just amazing. They’re so dedicated. They really stick with you as well. They’re not sort of fashion-led in anyway. That’s why bands can be big in Japan forever. They don’t seem to care if you’re in vogue or not. That’s quite great isn’t it? If you’re in a band it’s a good thing.
BE: One of my questions was going to be, do you get recognized on the street? I assume you guys do in the UK. So you do in Japan as well?
JQ: Yeah, what you get in Japan…the fans are at the airport and waiting in the hotel lobby for hours. They know when you’re coming and where you are. I don’t know how they find out. But I think in the UK, it’s weird. Gary will get recognized a lot but the rest of us don’t. We’ve never really been on front covers of magazines, like Franz Ferdinand or Razorlight or someone like that where they’re pretty recognizable. I don’t know if we have the right haircuts. Maybe if we get the right haircuts we’ll get on the magazine front covers.
BE: You know, some of those bands that are on magazine covers are just terrible.
JQ: Well this is true. (Laughs) We’ll sacrifice that.
BE: The music is good, I think that’s more important. So if you were not a rock musician for a living, what would you be doing?
JQ: I think I would be doing something in the music industry because I actually met Snow Patrol by putting them on at a gig. They used to put on gigs for some local bands when I lived in Belfast, some bands they would bring over from the UK. And I just sort of always wanted a job doing something in music. I was lucky enough to get to play.
BE: Cool. What is something about you guys personally that fans may be surprised to hear?
JQ: That we don’t all own Rolls-Royces. (Laughs) I think, people say we’re quite diverse but I think really if they really knew us, they really wouldn’t think that. I think with a lot of bands as well, the persona that the press builds up may be something that’s part of the game, and you have this otherworldliness about you that really isn’t. I think we’re really normal for where we’re at. I don’t think we kind of realize the size of the band we are.
BE: You’re all just very humble.
JQ: …very normal people.
BE: Very cool. Do you have anything else you would like to add?
JQ: Nope. That’s all good questions.
BE: Well great. Good luck to you Jonny. Good luck with the tour and the album.
JQ: Great. Thanks very much.