Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody and REM guitarist Peter Buck have joined forces to create another supergroup, and Andy Welch and Polly Weeks discover this is one Tired Pony which still has a kick.

THERE are certain terms in music which instill fear in fans. When a band returns with a “new, mature sound”, it normally spells trouble – but top of the cautionary list is “super-group”; a band featuring already-famous musicians making the music they’re not normally allowed to make in their day job.

Naturally there are outfits that buck that depressing trend – Blind Faith, Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young and, more recently, the likes of Them Crooked Vultures and any number of Jack White side-projects to name a few – but on the whole, super-groups amount to nothing more than indulgent vanity projects for their members.

Newest kids on the super-group block are Tired Pony, a band whose central core comprises Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and REM’s Peter Buck.

Thankfully, they’ve steered clear of the latter category and have delivered a delightful, worthwhile album.

“Peter and I had met before this,”

begins Snow Patrol mainman Gary Lightbody. “Just through the personal ads...” he adds, jokingly. “We talked about music on our first date and it went from there.”

“Yes,” nods REM guitarist Peter Buck. “But he’s not really my type.”

The project was dreamt up while Gary was on a long US tour with Snow Patrol. Channelling his love of country bands such as Wilco, Calexico, Lambchop and Smog – “bands that look at the darkness in America” – he felt the songs he was writing on the band’s tourbus weren’t suitable for Snow Patrol.

Just like his other side-project The Reindeer Section, Gary hastily put together a plan of action with Snow Patrol producer Garret “Jacknife”

Lee and drew up a list of who they’d like to get involved in their freeflowing idea for an album. Tired Pony was born.

“The name? I’d love to say there was a story behind it, but it’s just doodling in the jotter,” says Lightbody. “It’s just a name. If the name is the best thing about your band, you need to rehearse more!”

“That’s where I came in,” says Peter. “Garret and Gary asked if I wanted to be involved, and as I semi live in Portland, Oregon, suggested we record it there.

“I said I knew a great, funky, cool little studio, so helped the guys find places to stay while they came over.

“Portland’s a great place for music, it’s the kind of place that if you want an oboe player at 3am, I can probably find you one.”

From there, the album came together quickly, with various musicians dropping by to lend a hand when needed, and a string of guest vocalists also offering their talents.

Aside from Gary’s voice, The Place We Ran From also features She & Him’s M Ward and Zooey Deschanel, Tom Smith, of Editors, alongside Belle & Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn, long-time Snow Patrol associates Iain Archer and Troy Stewart, and Peter’s sometime REM bandmate Scott McCaughey.

“We rented a room and people would show up and do things,” says Peter. “I had this idea that it’d be little underground thing, and it’d be great if we had surprises on the record,” he continues. “One day we’d say, ‘Let’s get a stand-up bass player in on Wednesday’ or ‘Let’s have some girl singers in on Tuesday’, that kind of thing. It actually meant there was never a day that was like another day.”

WHILE Peter and Gary may be nearly 20 years apart in age and from very different backgrounds – Peter hails from the liberal Berkeley region of California, while Gary was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and is old enough to have lived through the Troubles – they both seem to suffer from the same issues of anxiety and stress.

While most of us go to other countries to escape those conditions, or the boredom of everyday life, these two make music.

“When I’m playing guitar, whether in the studio or live, it’s the only time in my life when I’m not anxietystricken or worrying about the future, or the past, or stupid things I said in junior high school English class,” says Peter.

“When you walk into a room like we did here with nothing, and there’s a tension and fear and exhilaration, and something comes out of it, that’s how I want to live my entire life.

“Exactly,” adds Gary. “Music is one of the only times I don’t feel stressed.

I am terrified of life, in general, and spend a lot of the time stressed and nervous, awkward in social situations, but when I’m writing and playing music, and especially when we did Tired Pony, it’s when I’m at my most free.

“Daily life gets in the way of making music, and it shouldn’t be like that, but it kind of is.”

As you might expect from two people who, by their own admission, keep busy to escape the real world, as soon as they’re done with this Tired Pony album – there will be another when they can fit it in, they promise – they’re both going back to their day jobs very soon.

“We have an REM album to finish and get out in March,” says Peter, while Gary will, by the time you read this, will be a couple of weeks into sessions for a new Snow Patrol album.

“The greatest thing about Tired Pony is that apart from the pressure we put on ourselves, we don’t have to worry about the record,” says Peter.

“I write songs and record them, and I do work I love. I fear for new bands coming through now, as it’s probably the hardest time ever to be starting out; but then if there’s no money in music, the people doing it will be the driven, talented ones, not the ones who think they’ll get rich.

That can only be good for creativity.”