Snow Patrol crashed and burned following the release of its last album, 2011’s “Fallen Empires.” Struggling with depression, writer’s block and a dependency on alcohol, frontman Gary Lightbody moved to Los Angeles to sort out his head and co-write with Taylor Swift, One Direction and Ed Sheeran.
But with its new release, “Wildness,” the band returns to the sweeping guitar rock sound that lifted it out of the club circuit and into stadiums.
While the group’s widescreen anthems such as “Chasing Cars” and “Eyes Open” kept it in the public consciousness, it returns once again an underdog. The group is the opener on Sheeran’s current stadium tour.
Lightbody, 41, spoke to The Chronicle from rehearsals in Los Angeles.
Q: How does it feel to disappear for seven years and come back to play stadiums in America?
A: It’s a good feeling. They’re not our shows, of course, but it is going to be a lot of fun to be able to tour with a good friend of ours. We played a lot of shows over the summer to get us nice and prepared to play bigger shows. It’s been really good getting various parts of the machine back up and running.
Q: Is this Ed Sheeran’s way of paying you back for letting him open some dates for Snow Patrol in 2012?
A: In all fairness, he didn’t really need our help at the time. He was already making waves in the States. He was brilliant on that tour.
Q: I imagine a lot of the people at these stadium shows are quite young. Does it feel like you’re starting over for a new audience?
A: In some ways. It’s not a completely new start. We never went away in terms of bands that break up and never talk to each other. We were always in contact. We were always trying to make this album. So it doesn’t feel like a new start in terms of interactions with each other. But I realize in modern terms, six or seven years feels like a generation. People tend to move on from band to band at a fairly rapid rate, and there’s been a lot of change in the industry since we’ve been away. We weren’t living in a bubble.
Q: Do you worry that by jumping back into it in such a huge way, your struggles with alcohol and depression could spiral again?
A: Well, not really. Not so far. I haven’t had any regression problems so far. Maybe before we started I was worried or concerned about it. I know I’m going to be around a lot of drinking — there’s going to be a lot of movement in my life. There hasn’t been a lot of movement in the last five years. I’ve been fairly stable as far as being in L.A. or Belfast.
But since we’ve been back on tour, I’ve really enjoyed it. I haven’t felt discombobulated about it at all. Certainly, the drinking isn’t a problem. I’m not getting any contact highs or contact desire or anything like that. I felt like I got a good two years of sobriety in before everything started up again. If I was trying to give up drinking at the same time as touring and drinking, it would have been difficult.
I approached sobriety differently this time. Every drinker will attest that at some point they say, “I’m never drinking again!” This time around, I never said that. I feel like that’s a good way to set yourself up for failure. I say, “I’m not drinking today.”
Q: Was part of the problem the idea that you had to live up to certain expectations as a frontman of a successful rock band?
A: There has to be some projection happening. It can’t all be internal. Yeah, there is. I did used to drink before I went onstage. From about 2007, when I lost my voice on our American tour and we had to postpone our shows, there was a lot of shame attached to it. I had to go and get it checked out, and it turned out I had polyps. The doctor said, “How much warming up do you do?” I made a face like he was trying to teach a dog physics. He goes, “That’s your problem. How much alcohol do you drink before a show?”
So I went to a vocal coach and stopped drinking before gigs. Whether or not it was a projection or not, it was just me unaided by any chemical influence for a long time.
Q: You have spoken about being uncomfortable on the stage. How did you break through that?
A: Touring with U2 helped an awful lot. We had come from playing very small places with not many people — sometimes single digits, especially in the first 10 years of our career. We famously played to one person in Leeds. We had been playing to an average of 50 people a night until 2004. By the end of the year, we were playing theaters, and we went straight into playing stadiums around Europe with U2.
It’s a steep learning curve. I watched them every night, from beginning to end. Every gig was an education. Watching Bono onstage taught me a lot about being a frontman. He’s able to make a stadium fit into his hand. It’s an extraordinary gift. I’m not trying to say I have that gift, but elements of it are learnable by watching it. That helped me immeasurably to make that leap.
Q: On the new album, are songs like “Don’t Give In” and “Heal Me” messages to yourself?
A: It’s funny. “Heal Me” was written about someone specifically, in regards to them helping me survive and thrive. But with “Don’t Give In” I started writing it about somebody else, then I realized, “S—, I might be writing about myself!”
That song was like the beacon of the record in that it stood alone for a long time. It was the first song I wrote for this album. It came along, and it happened really quickly in the space of half an hour to an hour. It just felt like all the songs I’ve written in the past — or 90 percent of them are written that way.
That’s the leap of inspiration rather than the longer grind of editing and editing. It showed me that I can still write a song from start to finish in short order. Not just the song, but the subject matter was perfect to show me, “You can still write a song.”
Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop music critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MusicSF
Read the interview at SFChronicle.com.