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Tired Pony

Tired Pony

While some people have imaginary friends, Gary Lightbody has imaginary bands. He gives them names and song titles. Just occasionally, they become real. Already the singer and guitarist in Snow Patrol, one night at a Lou Barlow show in Glasgow, Gary imagined The Reindeer Section. The next day he refused to let any of the 20-odd people he'd drunkenly approached forget that they'd promised to join. The circumstances of Tired Pony's formation were different, but conceptually it's the same: another of Gary's dreams that happened to come true.It was during idle moments on Snow Patrol's year-long tour cycle for their last album, A Hundred Million Suns, that Gary could be found in dressing rooms or at the back of the tour bus, strumming away at songs he already knew wouldn't fit on a Snow Patrol album. Seven of the songs that we now find on The Place We Ran From were written during this period. Having earlier in the year hinted at his ambition to form a country band, Gary unveiled a Tired Pony song to the wider world when Snow Patrol visited Portland in October 2009, saying he'd written it the previous day and that it was "inspired by Portland". Called I Finally Love This Town, even in solo acoustic form the song had a spectral quality quite distinct from Snow Patrol. And it would be to Portland where Gary returned in January of this year, barely three weeks after the end of Snow Patrol's retrospective Reworked tour, to record an album.The cast of characters who assembled at Portland's Type Foundry studio on January 4, 201o reflected the roots that Gary Lightbody's maintained from musical adolescence in Northern Ireland, through relocating to Scotland, and up to his subsequent mainstream rock success. From the extended Snow Patrol family there was Troy Stewart, a regular touring member whose contributions exemplified the project's keynote features of freedom and surprise. Then Iain Archer, long-time Snow Patrol associate and collaborator, and a singer-songwriter in his own right. Richard Colburn is renowned as the drummer with Belle & Sebastian, but he's known Gary since playing for Polarbear, an embryonic version of Snow Patrol. Richard has been playing percussion and keys live with Snow Patrol ever since whenever he can. Next, Garret ‘Jacknife' Lee, in many ways the pivotal figure in the whole Tired Pony escapade. A close confidant of Gary's since becoming Snow Patrol's producer from the commercial breakthrough of 2003's album Final Straw onwards, it was Garret who brought in the Tired Pony band's final two members: Peter Buck from R.E.M. and Scott McCaughey, the Seattle musical polymath who's been R.E.M.'s full-time auxiliary member since 1994. By the time the collective began work, it was clear Gary's initial hunch that he might make a country record had been superseded by something far less simple and much more mysterious. "I wanted to make a very American record," he says. "It's inspired by my love of Wilco, Calexico, Lambchop, Palace, Smog, these bands that look at the darkness in America. I wanted to write a twisted love-letter to the States. This is the first record I've written that isn't about me and my love-life, primarily. These are all stories, told in the first person I guess, but not necessarily with me in the central role, just me talking through various characters. I don't do that ever. I just wanted to approach this record totally differently. It's certainly different to Snow Patrol that's for sure. It's a very natural record. It was recorded with everybody sitting around a few microphones, all first or second takes, warts and all. There's a kind of haphazard tenderness to the record that I really enjoyed."In practical terms Buck and McCaughey's presence helped dictate the Tired Pony ethos. First up, they found the studio, and tapped their vast reservoir of local contacts for guest contributors: perhaps most notably, M. Ward, whose woozy guitar on Held In The Arms Of Your Words Gary considers his favourite performance of the entire record (Ward's She & Him partner Zooey Deschanel duets with Gary on Get On The Road); there's pedal steel guitar player Paul Brainard and stand-up bassist Fred Chalenor (with whom Buck had played alongside Robert Fripp); and by no means least, the She Bee Gees, a local female Bee Gees covers band. Then there's the simple fact that it's easier to do an album of loose, near-improvised live recordings when two of the musicians are of such calibre. Peter Buck believes the circumstances of the album's creation greatly contributed to its awestruck, widescreen quality. "The Type Foundry is one big loft, it used to be a printing firm, and it's really long and really spacious. So we all just set up in the room, didn't worry much about separation, did a lot of ambient miking, and then performed it all live. And the songs were so new to Gary and totally new to us, that there's that kind of feel of not really directing, it's playing and the song is occurring as you play and you're not really knowing what you're doing. Essentially, Gary would go, ‘This is the verse and this is the chorus,' and then we'd go, OK let's go. Structurally they're not super-complicated, it's really just a matter of us feeling what the songs needed. I don't think we ever did three takes. We did a whole lot of them in one."In the context of Gary Lightbody's previous work, everything about this beguiling, beautifully low-key, yet still quite intense album validates the opening line of the opening song Northwestern Skies: "It's not like it was before". Were this a mere rock star vanity project, The Place We Ran From would have shaped up far differently. For a start, arguably its best song was actually written and sung by someone else: Iain Archer's I Am A Landslide. Then there's The Good Book, which although a Gary Lightbody song, was sung by Tom Smith of Editors, who's a perfect fit for the narrative's gothic weave of guilt and redemption. By the very nature of the beast, all Tired Pony's members have other things to do. But there are plans to take to the road this summer as and when their schedules permit. Peter Buck would be the first to admit he's played in a lot of one-off projects which have made records in a week or less, and not all of them have ended up this good. "It felt really powerful and emotional, and also real free," he says. "I don't know if Gary went into it planning it to be something that was to last longer than the week of recording, but it certainly felt at the end of the week like it was a band, and that this was a good place to start. It would be crazy not to pursue this."It's a record that begins quietly, and ends with a four-minute feedback storm. There are any number of peak moments within. Anyone who thinks they know what the singer from Snow Patrol's extra-curricular activity will sound like is going to be surprised. Not least because Gary Lightbody himself is surprised too."We were just a bunch of guys making a record for fun. There was nothing really to shoot for except what we want to do. Nobody's looking over our shoulder. We were making a record in our own little bubble. And it was so much fun."


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