To say Bell X1 are a busy and committed bunch of lads would be like saying bears like to deposit excrement in wooded areas. Ireland's favourite homegrown band have been on the music scene for well over a decade now, entertaining their flock of fans with their energetic and experimental live performances. As well as touring extensively the world over, the band have spent their twenties laying down tracks in the studio (they have five studio albums under their belts to date), making countless TV appearances, both at home and abroad, and raising an abundance of dough for charitable organisations. This year they met the co-creator and President of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, when they performed live from the roof of the Facebook building in Dublin, and are notably famous in the US for having their track, 'Eve, the Apple of my Eye', played over a scene from hit teen drama, The O.C., where two hot young ones locked lips. Not bad for a bunch of lads from Kildare, eh?
2011 saw Bell X1 release their fifth studio album, Bloodless Coup, a collection of great songs which showed the band experimenting with a more electronically infused, atmospheric sound. Regarded by many as their best work to date, the album is brimming with infectious rythyms, buzzing synths, lush balladry and a generous helping of the same irresistible toe-tapping quality we have come to love from the boys.
Despite being completely tied up in their recent US tour, Paul Noonan et al were kind enough to answer a few questions for me in honour of Birthday Week on Rarities. Well, in fairness, they are rumoured to be awfully nice guys; they once bought my friend Laina's Mam a cup of coffee after one of their gigs. True story. Anyway, here's what the lovely and talented lads had to say for themselves.
Elaine: Obviously there has been a shift in the band - with Brian leaving just over three years ago and the addition of Marc and Rory – but there’s definitely a more electronic feel to the last two albums you have released. Is there was a particular influence that's taking your music the way it's gone lately?
BellX1: Marc and Rory had been playing in the band for a few years and it became obvious from early on that the spirit and invention that they brought to the table live would be an exciting thing all around for what would become BC [Bloodless Coup]. With the change of direction, to be honest, we've never really been a band to consciously manipulate a song, or album into a preconceived shape. We try to serve the song and let the music that we've been listening to, trickle into and influence our music. The degrees of change from album to album is somewhat blurred when you're in the middle of the process.
Elaine: Bloodless Coup was recorded differently in that all five of you guys went into the studio and played through the songs once the red button was pushed. Was everything pretty much locked down before you went into the studio with no time for arsing about?
Bell X1: We had made every album up until BC with some degree of the 'patchwork quilt' approach. When we were doing takes on these early records, there were always parts that we had to imagine when recording. We'd realise those parts afterwards. With BC, we were a five piece band that spent more time in pre-production. Working out keys of songs, arrangements, tempos etc. We wanted to capture the 'band live in a room' energy. We tried to make as many decisions as possible before the hitting the studio. In saying that, some songs such as 'Nightwatchmen' actually changed considerably from pre-production once under the microscope of the studio. One never really can be sure.
Bell X1: Considering he's a Man U fan, he is actually quite the dude. Rob came on board from pre-production. It was shocking to us procrastinators just how quickly we were getting through the basic backing tracks with Rob. Rob didn't feel the necessity to force his stamp on any song. He allowed the band to breathe and would get what he wanted from you. A Gent.
Elaine: There’s a distinctive voice in your songs. There's always a very Irish voice and a touch of really dry humour, while some songs, like ‘Sugar High’ and ‘Reacharound’ are quite political. Is that something that comes through naturally or is it a mission of the band to capture the “Irishness” or speak out about our brown envelope culture, for example?
Bell X1: Is it the new rebel song? Political commentary with a hint of 'Irishness'. Relayed in the same blunt manner in which our leaders screwed us. Perhaps it's because us Irish have a certain 'way with words'. There is also the long standing tradition of Irish songs being musical stories. Perhaps this has been absorbed by osmosis.
Elaine: During some of your live performances you’ve lashed a bit of ‘Hey Ya’ into ‘I'll See Your Heart’, and you guys have regularly sung bits of the Beatles, Talking Heads, Johnny Cash, Flaming Lips (to name a few), in the middle of your own songs. And there's often some little tribute to someone in the bits of songs you do. Is it a conscious decision to do this or is it just that you randomly hear songs that fit really well within your beats and think, “Yeah, let’s throw that in there”?
Bell X1: It's fun to cro-bar a tune that's rocked your world into your own songs. It can breathe new life into a song and bring it to funky town. It's great watching peoples reaction when we segway into an interpretation of a cover.
Elaine: On December 17th you guys are doing a charity gig for the Capuchin Day Centre. You’ve done work for Oxfam before (The Cake Sale album) and for various other causes (the Bam orphanage for example). Do you feel a responsibility to do that kind of thing?
Bell X1: I think it's more important than ever nowadays for everyone to do what they can.
Elaine: How do you choose what to commit to?
Bell X1: The midnight at the Olympia gig is for Capuchin Day Centre on Bow street in Dublin. It's where Rocky (of 'Rocky took a Lover') for many years received food, shelter and support. These guys at the Capuchin Day Centre are really on the front line with helping people in similar situations to Rocky.
Elaine: You guys have been doing this for 12 years now (apologies for hinting at your age!). Does it all still feel as exciting now as it did back then? Are you still having as much fun?
Bell X1: Yes, we're still having a ball. Living the dream baby! It's work too though. It's still really inspiring touring in new and exciting cities and all the time playing to a growing audience. There is always new unchartered territory.
Catch Bell X1 live at The Big Top in Limerick on Friday 2nd December and at the Olympia, Dublin for a special midnight show on Saturday 17th December. For a full list of upcoming Irish tour dates, get yourself over to www.bellx1.com.
A massive thank you to my friend, Bell X1 Superfan Laina O'Neill, for her help with this interview. If the band were ever to award a fan the title of Gig Frequenter/Stalker, Laina would win hands down.