Now he’s out on his own with a solo album that has spanned around six years with him front and center as the “mothership” idles.
The guitarist was Gary Lightbody’s tailwind for two years alongside bandmates Johnny McDaid, Jonny Quinn and Paul Wilson, but now feels he’s got the air miles and the life experience to put on his disc The Strange Order of Things, which goes on sale next week.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph: “Initially it started at the end of 2017, when I first decided that I was going to commit to doing a solo record.
“I talked about it for a long, long time, but it was starting to become one of those things where people say, ‘What are you doing?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to work on a solo record.’
“And then it was just like, I’ve been saying this for 10 years, everyone’s just gonna think I’m talking shit!”
“So I felt like doing it and I felt like it was the right time, and then I started working on it in between things with Patrol.
“I had started thinking about things to write about and things I felt I needed to write about.
“It’s an old cliché but it’s a form of demon casting or it’s therapy, whatever you want to call it.
“There were things I needed to write and I had a lot of ideas musically, which always come to me more easily than words.”
Even without a pandemic or lockdown, a lot has happened to Nathan in the past six years alone, including reuniting a fiancé with whom he has a son, all of which have influenced his writing.
And as he splits his time between London and his hometown of Belfast, he said it was important for him to come “home” to make his debut album here, with producer Rocky O’Reilly.
He explained: “I started going into Oh Yeah studios with Rocky and started with a handful of ideas, some had songs that were a bit more formed, but I just went there to see what I could do.
“Initially I was going to try to do my best, try to play everything, but it turns out that I’m not a drummer!
“So I started bringing in people, people I’ve worked with and trusted, and I went from there.
“As for the themes of the writing, it was all about emotional costs, carrying things around, regrets, past mistakes all this time.
“It’s not a muscle I usually exercise for myself, so I wanted to take some time to really focus and be honest about what I was saying.
“In the meantime, I’ve become a dad and there’s a couple of songs about that or at least that reference that or point to that. Not necessarily just about being a dad, but about mortality and all that things I was already writing about or questioning and made clearer.
“You can release a lot of things with the clarity that being a dad brings. So there are massive, massive shifts throughout the writing of this record.
“There are old relationships that may not be recent, but over the years, like I said, becoming a dad and thinking about things, you get a weird perspective. Plus, there’s a bit of fear!About being protective and being around.
“But yeah, I think once that happened a lot of things came to the surface and that’s great when you’re trying to write lyrics for an album.”
Nathan (42) also told us he has the band’s support and blessings as he takes this hiatus on his own, his second side project after 2013’s Little Matador.
He said: “I’m pretty glad I had the time to go back and forth on the record rather than traditionally going for three months and just banging it.
“Certainly lyrically for me, I’m used to my day job where it’s Gary and I just focus on guitar and music.
“So you have time to talk about it and I think it was towards the end of 2018 to 2019 that I didn’t get close to the album because I was on tour with Snow Patrol.
“So there were break periods and then I would come back to it and maybe things would change and things might not be as relevant to me, you know, that was for sure, that’ was maybe before, so there was definitely a longer process for sure, but it gave me space and time to come back to it with new ears.
“When it comes to a project like this, it’s not like I have a side career. I’ve done Little Matador in the past, but pretty much everything I do is in Snow Patrol downtime.
“Mostly and honestly, it’s just because, logistically, it’s like that. Call it the parent, the mothership that is always sort of a priority.
“So having the time to do that can get a bit tricky at times, but when it comes to support, everyone is amazing about it.
“You know, we’re all with each other: do what you do. We’re all doing different things, you know, but I think when Snow Patrol comes calling…I mean, it’s always in our mind, no matter what we do.
“There will be a time when we will come back to it and we will come back to it, but I think sometimes it is healthy to do other projects and work with other people.
“So it’s different and maybe there’s a little more pressure and I think it comes from the lyrics because it becomes your narrative and you know, you’re putting yourself out there a lot more than just playing guitar, which can be an amazing shield and a I’ve been glad I’ve had it for a long time!
“So it’s different but it’s exciting and without it sounding too mystical it was something I had to do and I’m glad I had time to be at least as happy as you can be. being, there’s always something you can come back to, but you have to let them go at some point.”
Nathan “grew up in church” singing in a gospel choir as a child before picking up the guitar at 12 and knowing music would be his life.
After a previous stint with a band called FUEL, fronted at the time by TV and radio presenter Colin Murray, he has been an official member of Snow Patrol since 2002 when the band first took off.
He said: “I can’t say there was ever an urge to be a leader. It’s just kind of a ‘you can’t not do it’ project! And, you know, I I’ve always loved writing songs and I think there’s obviously something where I’m compelled to do it that way.
“But yeah, I don’t think he would have had the confidence 20 years ago – even 10 – to face.
“When I did the Little Matador album, again, I felt like I had things to write about, and obviously I have the luxury of being able to take the time to find those moments, where I I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do it’ rather than being pressured to do it, certainly individually, you know?
“So there’s obviously the drive, something that clicks inside or whatever you have to do. There’s a want and a need to do it, but I think, for me, it’s when I feel like it’s something I can honestly write about.
“When it comes to Patrol, it always comes from Gary 90% of the time. It’s more about Gary bringing songs to the table. I mean, I’ve written one or two over the years that have made a record or a song here and there, but Gary usually brings us the song and then we’ll work on it.
“Sometimes they’re more trained. Final Straw is 20 this year. There’s some 20th anniversary demos we’ve put out there and you can hear Run hasn’t changed much, while others songs are completely different.
“So sometimes they’re a lot more formed or even certain songs appear as they are, and I’ll definitely add some guitar.
“With that, Bar Fires and a song called Love Like Wildfire, both featuring Dave [Magee from Little Matador] and one with Simon [Neil from Biffy Clyro], the rest I wrote. Essentially, it was about taking that control, if you will.
“I didn’t make a conscious decision to do a certain style of record, but I just went with what felt good to me at the time and was like, ‘This feels good to me, so let’s- THE. Rather than trying to take it apart too much.
“The band heard it towards the end. I absolutely sent it to them, and they were all great. I mean, at different points along the way, if one of the guys was on point or if I happened to be with them, I would let them listen to what I was working on. They were incredibly supportive of me.
“And Dave and Rocky were brilliant. In the sense of working with a producer, I find it important because sometimes you can lose sight of what you’re trying to do and sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, but he was incredibly patient and supportive.
“The only thing I consciously wanted was to do a solo album. And I think initially it was just to see if I could, to see if it was something that I would be willing to release. !
“So I guess I find out because I’ve been in a band for a long time and it’s easy to feel comfortable too. You know, I’m definitely not going far from Snow Patrol, but I think it’s is healthy as I said earlier to do these things. Or at least to try.
Nathan paid tribute to their Northern Irish fans who have always supported them, adding “we are incredibly lucky in this way” and hopes his own record will enjoy similar support.
He added: “It’s not my home, but I felt pretty sure I wanted to do it here. I know this city. I know it incredibly well.
“I played in bands here growing up, felt safe I guess. And it allowed me to focus and not worry about where else in the world.
“I made records in Los Angeles, in Berlin, but never at home and I don’t really know why, but it was quite important for me to do it here and I did everything here. Which now that I can put it like that. I’m quite proud of it. We always talk about what home means to us.”
Nathan’s new album The Strange Order of Things goes on sale April 21
On Monday there will be an announcement of gigs across the UK and Ireland and he confirmed there will be ‘100 per cent’ a show in Belfast and quipped: ‘There’s no doubt there- on it, even if I have to stay on the street and do it!”
There will also be an imminent 20th anniversary release of Snow Patrol’s Final Straw on limited edition vinyl with never-before-seen demos and live tracks – with Nathan telling the Belfast Telegraph the band are set to return next year.
He said: “We don’t think about it much, but this record changed all of our lives. I know we kept having songs like Chasing cars, but we wouldn’t have got there if we hadn’t had Run in the first place and this album. So it certainly changed my life and all of our lives and we are eternally grateful for that.
“We’ve been working on new material and there’s some great stuff. We’re just taking our time to make sure it’s good. We were originally for this year but I think next year will be more realistic. with schedules and things like that, but yes, there will absolutely be another record.”