PHOTO: HARRY BORDEN
Everyone’s always looking for a sure thing, and the music industry is no exception. When an American label looks to sign an overseas act, it’s just good business to make sure that the act in question has something of an established fan base in its home country.
In the case of Bell X1, the band’s new American album Flock has already been a proven hit in Ireland, having racked up quintuple platinum sales and four simultaneous Top 20 singles since its 2006 release. Vocalist/guitarist Paul Noonan notes that Bell X1 has wanted to break into the States with each of their three albums but the timing was never right.
“We didn’t want to do it without some long term plan and sustainability. We didn’t want to do it half-assed,” says Noonan. “I suppose we reached a tipping point with factors like having songs on The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy and having enough people hear the music online and when we found a label willing to put their money where their mouth is.” Since Bell X1’s “Eve, the Apple of My Eye” was the soundtrack to The O.C.’s controversial lesbian kiss in 2005, the band has received a ton of publicity, leading to limited American live dates after a lot of critical exposure nearly three years ago. To remind listeners of that fact, the band has included the track (originally from its sophomore album, Music in Mouth) on the U.S. release of Flock, released last February on Yep Roc Records.
“It was kind of a perverse way to do it, but it was a foot on the first rung of the ladder,” says Noonan with a laugh. “We went to L.A. and New York and San Francisco (on the basis of the song and show). It was a very surreal reason to be there but we were glad nonetheless.”
When Bell X1 decamped after The O.C.
experience to work on Flock, they were already huge in Ireland on the basis of their first two albums and had very clear ideas about what they wanted to achieve with their third release.
“We wanted the songs to come less complete to the band. We really wanted them to originate with the four of us playing in a room and then crowbar songs into that music,” says Noonan. “It happened with a few of them, like ‘Flame,’ our sort of Disco number. If I’m honest, I think our strongest stuff is the moanier, wrenching stuff, but we wanted to get beyond that and do joy, because we’ve never really done joy before, convincingly. For us, it’s really hard and we’re very inspired by bands like The Flaming Lips, who do it so well.”
The members of Bell X1 have actually been together since their teenage years when they were known as Juniper and featured future Folk superstar Damien Rice on vocals. With Rice’s departure, Noonan moved from the drum kit to the front of the stage which completely altered the direction and sound of the band, leading ultimately to their trio of studio albums, a live CD/DVD last year, phenomenal success at home and a number of high profile opening gigs with Snow Patrol, Keane and Starsailor, among others. Noonan notes that the band learned a lot of touring “rules” from those experiences.
“Don’t go to the Rieperbahn in Hamburg would be one,” says Noonan with a laugh. “It’s their horrible red light district where some of the members of the party witnessed what they described as their mothers in negligees. We won’t do that again.
We’ve never been on a tour longer than three weeks and I’d imagine if you do Europe or the States, you could be on a bus for two months at a time. One of things that the Starsailor boys did was shake up the set list most nights, and I suppose it’s important to do that and keep it fresh so it doesn’t become a gig-by-numbers, which I’d imagine it could easily be.” By way of example, Noonan recalls the opening of Dublin’s short-lived Planet Hollywood, which featured an appearance by one of the club’s partners, Sylvester Stallone.
“He must have been on some whistle stop tour of Planet Hollywoods,” says Noonan. “During the opening ceremony, he got up and said, ‘It‘s great to be here in this particular city.’ I don’t think he had any fucking idea where he was.” In a recent issue, The Clare People, one of Ireland’s largest weeklies, cited Bell X1 as “the real creative drivers in Irish music.”
Noonan’s response to that assertion — as he and the band work on their new album with an idea to include some new Electronic influences — speaks to the very concept of defining the country’s musical output.
“I don’t see us in such a lofty role,” says Noonan. “The concept of what an Irish band is is pretty undefined at the moment. For a while it was this singer/songwriter-based, quite lustrous and emotionally over-wrought music, but I don’t think that defines the music coming out of Ireland, which is totally not that. And while we have elements of that, we’re inspired by bands like Talking Heads and Radiohead. It’s probably true to say lyrically we are quite Irish … there is an oral tradition that’s very strong. You don’t necessarily recognize it in your work, you pick it up by osmosis grow ing up here.”
BELL X1 plays the Southgate House Tuesday with Stars.