Noise Annoys: Snow Patrol's Nathan Connolly on solo LP The Strange Order of Things

Nathan Connolly. Picture by Bradley Quinn
Nathan Connolly. Picture by Bradley Quinn Nathan Connolly. Picture by Bradley Quinn

SNOW PATROL guitarist Nathan Connolly may have unnerved some fans with his side project Little Matador, whose 2014 self-titled debut album was chock full of scuzzy, Queens of The Stone Age-informed riffage a world apart from the Patrol's stadium-ready 'phones in the air' indie balladeering.

Almost a decade later, the Belfast-born musician has once again broken ranks to bring us The Strange Order of Things (TSOOT), his debut solo album: however, this time around there's less emphasis on cranked amps, its songs offering an eclectic yet engaging sonic smorgasbord spanning shoegaze, synthpop, electro-folk, guitar pop, indie rock, moody trumpet-enhanced lamentation and abstract synthscapes.

The Strange Order of Things is released today
The Strange Order of Things is released today The Strange Order of Things is released today

The common thread uniting 90 per cent of the tracks on TSOOT is Connolly's keen ear for melodic hooks and catchy choruses, instincts which will have been honed during his now 20-year-long tenure with Snow Patrol.

"There wasn't really any decision about what the record was going to sound like - I just started going in and writing," he explains of how TSOOT ended up benefiting from such an enjoyably broad selection of sounds.

"I was just trying to let influences come through as honestly and naturally as possible, and so long as they did what I wanted them to do in that moment, then it was 'do it'. There was no 'oh, maybe we should make the record more 'rock', or more ambient', it was just trying to let everything be as honest as possible.

"It's certainly still a guitar record, but it has a wider range of influences for sure".

Fans got their first taste of TSOOT with Fires, the recently released single which combines swirling guitars with an anthemic vocal duet courtesy of Connolly and his mate Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro.

While the pair had known each other for years prior to collaborating on the song, it seems Connolly is as surprised as anyone at how well their voices - and indeed their contrasting accents - meshed on the track.

"Who knew?", he laughs.

"It's not something I'd actually considered beforehand and there's definitely a few interesting moments on it where the Scottish and Northern Irish intertwine."

Having started life as a riff written by Connolly's longtime musical collaborator, ex-LaFaro guitarist Dave Magee (who also played alongside him in Little Matador and pre-Patrol outfit FUEL) it seems that the idea to get Neil involved in Fires was born out of frustration.

"Dave had this riff where I was immediately like 'what's that - and can we use it?'," reveals the Snow Patrol man, who began working on the new record at Belfast studio Start Together with producer Rocky O'Reilly back in 2017, and finally got to finish it in 2021 once Covid restrictions had eased.

Nathan Connolly
Nathan Connolly Nathan Connolly

"I was in the studio at the time and we had other songs we were working on, but I was just drawn to it.

"We worked it up, but honestly, anything I was throwing at it I just didn't like. Quite frankly, a lot of it was s***. So I decided to maybe see if anybody else had something to add - and Simon popped into my head, because we'd always talked about maybe doing something together at some point.

"I didn't send him any melodies or anything, because I just wanted him to do his thing. Thankfully, he completely connected with it. He really, really loved the music and just totally turned the song around with the way he came at it."

Indeed, Neil's contribution is not the only collaboration which saved the day for Connolly on TSOOT: as he explains, Dublin indie-folkster Ailbhe Reddy's expressive vocal for the album's arresting opening track Ghost completely transformed one of the first songs written for his solo debut - a record which also features the talents of former Little Matador/Idlewild/Turn bassist Gavin Fox, synth-wrangler Herb 'Arvo Party' Magee (brother of Dave, also ex-LaFaro, Little Matador) and drummer-extraordinaire Stephen Leacock (General Fiasco) across its 10 tunes.

Nathan Connolly. Picture by Bradley Quinn
Nathan Connolly. Picture by Bradley Quinn Nathan Connolly. Picture by Bradley Quinn

"It was a song that I was struggling with," Connolly explains of Ghost, "maybe because it was sort of written a few years before everything else. I just really enjoyed the riff, but it took a while to figure out what the rest of the song was around that riff.

"One of the big factors which finally sealed it for me was having Ailbhe on there. Even though the song was pretty much finished, I just kind of always heard it as a duet in my head and I had a few ideas about voices I'd like to maybe hear or ask - but then I heard Ailbhe's song Between Your Teeth and I was like, 'that's what I'm hearing in my head'.

"With both Ailbhe and Simon, there was no going back and forth - they got everything straight away, and it was just magnificent that they did."

The end result means Ghost is surely a strong candidate for a future single, alongside uber-catchy Ash-esque guitar-pop nugget Heart of Stone, the vibraphone-enhanced big riffs of This Life's Light and the infectious Love Like Wildfire's folksy quiet/loud electro-rock.

Combined with other album highlights like moody centerpiece This Is All That I Don't Feel, an atmospheric, haunting affair lifted by some deftly deployed Linley Hamilton trumpet, Pixies-esque banger The Last Time and mesmerizing synthgaze moment Waves, you can very much file The Strange Order of Things under 'auspicious solo debuts'.

Good thing Connolly didn't waver about putting his own name on the cover, then.

"Towards the end, I kind of actually did think of maybe using another moniker or putting it out under another name," admits the singer and guitarist, somewhat sheepishly.

"But I'd been talking about doing a solo record for such a long time, almost to the point where it was starting to become one of those things that you just say."

"Although there's a lot of collaboration on there, it's still very much a solo project. And releasing this record under my name means that it's a little trickier to hide behind a collective or a gang. I think there's added pressure too when you've pretty much written everything, and especially when it comes to the lyrical side of stuff, which isn't something that I do often.

"It means showing a lot more of yourself [to listeners]".

Happily, thus far the reaction has been largely positive and enthusiastic, and with a new Snow Patrol record apparently nearing completion for release for next year, Connolly is ready to enjoy the rest of 2023 under his own steam - with a little help from his friends, when it comes to his just announced live shows, naturally.

"Everyone who played on the record is in the live band," enthuses Connolly of his upcoming summer dates.

"We did a week's rehearsal back in October/November to try and get ahead of things, because obviously this record was made in the studio. It wasn't like we rehearsed the songs and then went in, so there was a bit of figuring out to do - but it was a lot of fun."

Insert your own joke about 'the strange order of things' here.

:: The Strange Order of Things is released today via Third Bar. Nathan Connolly will play Whelan's in Dublin on June 17 and The Limelight 2 in Belfast on June 18, tickets on sale via Ticketmaster.ie.