For Snow Patrol, Things Are Heating Up

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2006

Historically, a surprising number of bands "Big in the U.K." have had a hard time breaking through in America.

Snow Patrol, however, had a hard time getting to America, at least this year.

Case in point: Snow Patrol's fourth album, "Eyes Open," released overseas May 1, went straight to the top of the album charts in the United Kingdom, giving the epic indie-rock band its first No. 1 record. It was released here May 9, and a week later, its leadoff single, "Chasing Cars," was featured prominently in the season finale of the hit television series "Grey's Anatomy." The song's yearning refrain -- "All that I am, all that I ever was / Is here in your perfect eyes," sung against the backdrop of one major character dying and another reviving, as well as a romantic relationship imploding -- sounded almost customized. Alexandra Patsavas, the show's music supervisor, called it "a beautiful and complex song [that] served as the perfect soundtrack to a series of very complex moments."

By the next day, "Chasing Cars" was the No. 1 downloaded tune on iTunes, and it was quickly embraced by radio and MTV, particularly after the band re-edited the video with footage from the show. A week later, Snow Patrol's "Open Your Eyes" provided end music for the season finale of "ER."

So a concurrent American tour supporting "Eyes Open" would have been a major boon for Snow Patrol. Except that three dates in, the band -- three Irishmen and two Scots based in Glasgow -- had to postpone the tour after lead singer and songwriter Gary Lightbody, beset by chronic laryngitis and barely able to hit notes, was ordered by doctors not to sing until the end of July because of polyps on his vocal cords.

"I lost my voice," Lightbody says clearly now, " not a good thing for a lead singer in a band that relies heavily on vocals."

Then dates rescheduled to August fell victim to airport security crackdowns after a terrorist plot to down flights between the United Kingdom and the United States was exposed. Only two of the band's five members arrived here for a series of West Coast shows. The others, including Lightbody, were grounded at London's Heathrow Airport after flying in from Norway and missing their connecting flights.

"It's pretty chaotic trying to travel from the U.K. to America at the moment," Lightbody said recently from Edinburgh, Scotland. In Edinburgh, Snow Patrol was about to play to a stadium crowd of 20,000, and, Lightbody said, his voice was feeling fine. "We're back to full-fighting fitness," he says, "and definitely ready to tackle the next American tour, which is pretty much the rescheduled dates from the last time." (Snow Patrol will perform its twice-delayed show at the 9:30 club Sunday.)

Fortunately, there are new exposure opportunities in the wake of the delays. Tuesday brings the release of both the season two DVD and soundtrack for "Grey's Anatomy." The latter includes a new acoustic version of "Chasing Cars" recorded specifically for the soundtrack. And Sept. 15 marks the opening of "Scrubs" star Zach Braff's new movie, "The Last Kiss," featuring an older Snow Patrol song, "Chocolate."

The TV boosts "took us by surprise," Lightbody says. "We get offered adverts a lot and we always say no, but I guess the record companies have deals to supply the television shows with music, and you don't really know about it till it happens sometimes. I don't think we would have said no anyways -- they're shows that we watch." In any event, "it's extraordinary how much of an effect that had," he says. "I've heard figures between 20 and 25 million [viewers] watched [the season finales], and even if you go to the lower end of that, it's staggering."

"I'm pretty sure if we had been able to do those shows [when the album came out] we would have moved up to the next level this time around. Unfortunately, it's a minute step back in some ways, but these shows will be amazing, and people have had those tickets for a while now. Hopefully they will be excited to see us. We'll be excited to see them !"

Which sounds appropriate for a band committed to building a fan base by touring, touring and then touring some more.

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