As the guitarist with Snow Patrol and Little Matador, Nathan Connolly has toured the world and headlined festivals. His first solo album The Strange Order of Things finds him in a much more reflective place, looking at regrets and the change of priorities brought about by fatherhood.
The thing that really struck me is the duality of the album, the themes of it are quite intimate. It seems quite introspective, but musically it’s huge. It’s big anthemic stuff.
There wasn’t any conscious effort to lean into making it more or less rock or more anthemic. I had done this in the past with Little Matador, it was a conscious choice to make a rock record. But with this, I didn’t have any sort of preconception of what it would be. I just kind of followed my gut, my heart on it and if it was making me feel good and making me feel something then – not to sound too mystical about it – I followed the song. I had a rough idea, sonically, of course, but I just kind of allowed things to happen and followed my instinct.
Did you always know it was going to be a solo record?
That was the intention, and I wanted to stick with that. I wanted to see where that would take me and what that would become. Although it’s very much a collaboration on quite a lot of stuff. I tried to play as much as I could myself and lean into that, but I think being in a band for 20-odd years there’s a certain amount of musical DNA that’s in there which is about collaboration and ideas bouncing off. So when I needed that, or I felt I needed that, I was more than comfortable reaching out. I wasn’t going to be stubborn about making sure I had to do everything and as it turns out, I’m definitely not a drummer so that was an absolute necessity! I think, because it was so personal, I think it felt right to just make it a solo record.
It’s obviously very close to you. You recorded this all during lockdown, is that right?
I started [working on it] at the very end of 2017, over various downtimes from touring with Snow Patrol. I mean, there was a whole year in 2019 where I was on tour where I didn’t even touch the record, which in a weird way allowed me some perspective on it. None of it’s about lockdown, but certainly it was afforded the physical time and space to reflect on regrets or any shit that we carry and the emotional cost of that. I think it had an influence or allowed me to focus on that, for sure.
Do you feel that 2020 changed you? I’ve found a lot of artists to talk about in very ‘before and after’ terms.
Yeah, absolutely it did. Not just because the world was changing for everybody, but just even personally with my partner getting pregnant. I was very lucky to have that positive news in what was a very tense time for very many people. So there was a lot of reflection and generally, I try to look forward, but can also sort of miss out on the present in those moments too. All of those things seem to be sort of coexistent at the same time, and I’m sure many, many people were experiencing that. And as I say, none of that is about lockdown in any way.
But of course, it afforded me the time to properly sit back. We just finished touring three months before that, we’d just been around the world for 18 months, and then that forced stop is something we’ve never really had. So it had an impact, for sure. I’d already made this record. The content never actually changed, it just felt more clear and stronger. Like, call it serendipity, or just experience or life. It helped me focus on what I wanted to say.
Simon Neil from Biffy provides the guitar on ‘Fires’. Gavin Fox from Idlewild plays on the record; I think those bands and Snow Patrol had a common experience of being really hard-working gigging bands that almost very suddenly reached a bigger audience. Is that experience of being a seven nights a week on the road touring band important to you in a collaborator?
Both those bands are bands that I’ve always loved and then got to know from my early days living in Glasgow and Scotland. It wouldn’t stop me from working with anyone else, but I guess there’s a level of understanding and experience and more so understanding than where we’ve come from, and what we’ve achieved. It seemed like it was overnight at times, but certainly wasn’t in terms of work beforehand. I think there’s an appreciation that it didn’t come straight away. I know over the years it’s been said many times that if we got it quickly, we’d probably be bigger arseholes than we are! I think that maybe it’s just a mutual respect thing when someone’s in the same ballpark or coming from the same place.
A common language almost.
Yeah. I was struggling with the vocals of ‘Fires’. I just didn’t like what I was doing and I didn’t feel like it was very good. I wasn’t connecting with it. It felt like I was just doing it because it needed done. And to me, it sounded that way. So I reached out to Simon and he connected with it, and what he sent back came out of the song from somewhere I couldn’t even see. And you know, massively enhanced it.
How did the collaboration with Ailbhe Reddy come about?
I’d always envisioned it as a duet and I had a few voices in mind and was like, oh, maybe I’ll reach out to these people. But I happened to be listening to Ailbhe’s first record which is great, but there was this song called ‘Between Your Teeth’. Sometimes you have an imaginary voice in your head and I was like, that’s it. I reached out to her and said, look, I’m a big fan of your record and would you like to sing on the song? Thankfully, she said yes. And again, that song didn’t really feel finished to me until she sang on it. It was the thing that was missing and I didn’t even know that for a while.
This is purely for my own curiosity; the trumpet on ‘This Is All That I Don’t Feel’ is brilliant. Is that you?
I wish it was! It’s an incredible trumpet player who’s been part of the music scene in Belfast and Ireland for a very long time called Linley Hamilton. He is just a virtuoso and plays amazing jazz, he’s probably on lots of music from here that people have been hearing without realising. I’ve a video of that day when he did like, four takes and it was just amazing. You’re the first person to ask and I really wish the answer was yes. I feel like I should stick it on track and mime along to it live or something.
It feels like an album that you want to be singing along with the crowd on. Are there plans for gigs?
Absolutely, yeah. Hopefully announcing them very soon, we’ll start off with a handful of shows in UK and Ireland and I can’t wait. I can’t imagine finishing an album and just letting it go out there without playing it.
The Strange Order of Things is released on 21st April. The first single ‘Fires’ featuring Simon Neil is out now.