Paste Magazine - Catching Up With Bell X1 - May 5 2011
For their excellent new album, Bloodless Coup, one of Ireland’s finest bands—Bell X1—got together in the studio to craft 10 more spacious epics. They’re a big deal over in their home country, but in the U.S., they’ve worked for their steady climb throughout the years, earning a core audience through relentless gigging, late night TV appearances, and a stream of sitcom spots for their stadium-sized tunes.
On Bloodless Coup, vocalist-songwriter Paul Noonan and company expanded to a five-piece and played around with vintage synths and drum machines. The result is a well-rounded, eclectic batch of songs that morphs from electronic groovers to synth-pop to IMAX-sized rock, touching on subjects ranging from weighty stuff like death and family to the minute details that bind us as humans (like watching kids play drums to “Billie Jean” on Youtube).
Paste had the opportunity to speak with Noonan as his band prepares for a headlining tour. Along the way, we chatted about writing songs, getting older, the wonders of product placement, and the joys of playing in a band.
Paste: First of all, where are you guys right now, and what’s going on?
Paul Noonan: We’re in Dublin. Summer’s come early…or maybe this is all we’re gonna get.
Paste: Sometimes when people finish an album, they’re sick
of the studio versions and just ready to start playing live. Where are your
heads at the moment?
Noonan: We’re chomping at the bit. Straining at the leash. Clawing at the chicken wire… Feeling good about the album, thank you. We’ve done a couple of shows at home already, and it was good to play the new songs again. We hadn’t played them as the full band since we recorded last summer, so had to refresh and go through that slightly weird thing of listening hard to your own music to figure out what you did
Paste: What about your thoughts about your upcoming dates?
How do you plan on handling these tracks in a live setting?
Noonan: My thoughts are mainly focused on breakfast. I’m a big fan of the Great American Breakfast. In rehearsing for touring the album, I suppose with some songs we went for pretty faithful rendering of the recordings. With other songs, we either tried to come up with a journey that made sense given the finite number of limbs and instruments that could be played at any one time, or stripped them back to much simpler arrangements.
Paste: Do you feel you’ve made your “best album yet”? Are
you even able to think objectively about your own music?
Noonan: I don’t know. I can’t be objective about it. It was, for the most part, very enjoyable and satisfying to make. I remember feeling a flush of pride during the mix of “Hey Anna Lena,” thinking we had done good, though I do get plagued by self-doubt when it comes time to put it out.
Paste: Tell me about the album title (and the album’s
loose concept). In the press release, you say it’s “about the idea that
momentous change often happens in subtle or benign or lateral ways.” And you
also mention “stepping up with grace and holding a loved one as they slip away
with dignity. Our own country’s economic implosion and frothy soul searching.”
Do you think this album is more all-encompassing thematically? Also, from where
did these ideas spring? Did they originate from a personal place?
Noonan: I think it comes from now being men of a certain age…we, and a lot of our friends, are having children now. We’ve also watched loved ones lose parents. So the revolving door is very well lit. This sort of taking stock of where one’s at also happens to coincide with upheaval at home here in Ireland, which has raised a lot of questions of identity, as the old absolutes wither.
Paste: On “Velcro,” there’s a lyric that says “Watchin’ a
six-year-old on Youtube play drums to ’Billie Jean; this is the stuff that binds
us.” First, that’s one of the best lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. Also, did
one of you actually watch a six-year-old on Youtube play drums to “Billie Jean”?
Noonan: Yes I did! And I can’t find it now, goddammit…
Paste: I think “Velcro” might be the first love song ever
to use velcro as an analogy. It’s also a really awesome song in general, with
those huge-ass synths and that arena-sized chorus. Could you talk a little bit
about the writing of that song? When you guys finished it, did you immediately
think “This is the single!”?
Noonan: We played the Austin City Limits festival a couple of years ago, on a day when a storm hit that part of Texas and the site was reduced a to a mudbath. Our bus got stuck backstage, and after a while thrashing about in the muck, we had to get two tractors to come and pull us out. We were all out there in the lashing rain, digging under the wheels, filling with rocks. Levon Helm was on stage beside us, and the sky raked with lightening. It was Biblical, dude…So the song is, I suppose, a celebration of that sort of triumph. Stand by Me. Righteous man-love.
Paste: These songs on Bloodless Coup are long. Most
stretch over five minutes in length, and some venture even further. There’s a
whole lot of texture and a lot of instrumental stretches. Were you guys
consciously trying to stretch things out a lot this time?
Noonan: We were actually trying to be snappy…With the last record we were less so, and were into the idea of outros meandering a bit. But with this one, we tried to be conscious of overstaying our welcome, and producer Rob Kirwan was too…with a couple of songs we axed even longer instrumental outros and the like. Though looking at the song lengths, my argument falls to the ground…
Paste: You guys have been playing with electronics for
awhile now, particularly on your last album, Blue Lights on the Runway. But on
Bloodless Coup, you’ve really gone even further down that road. A lot of these
tracks are built on some really excellent, jittery programming (like “Hey Anna
Lena”). What led you guys to further embrace this side of your sound?
Noonan: Both myself and Dave had become more interested and better at the making drum noises from boxes, and when we got together in his apartment for those first sketches, the beats were part of the songs from that very early stage. Often with the idea of replacing them with real drums or better samples down the line, but this didn’t really happen.
Paste: With Blue Lights, you wrote the songs in advance on
the computer before bringing ideas over to the band. Is that the way the songs
worked this time? I’m particularly curious about this since there’s a lot of
electronics and synths happening. Were you guys ever sitting around in a
rehearsal space, jamming with a bunch of laptops?
Noonan: Myself or Dave would have brought songs in various states of undress: first to his apartment, then to a rehearsal room with Dominic who plays bass, and then with Rory Doyle who played drums and Marc Aubele who played keys and guitar. There were laptops involved, but we tried to use old synths and drum machines to mix it up, as often the groove from music software can be kinda generic. There was also the convenience of having a human (Rory) play that funky music white boy. It was the first time we’d recorded with Marc and Rory, though we’ve played live for a couple of years now. I think they both brought new colours to the thing. It was also the first time we’d recorded as five—often in the past when we’d be recording, we’d have to imagine additional parts going on top of what we were hearing, so this time it was great to have it all there.
Paste: You guys have had great success in your home
country, but for many bands, the ultimate goal is still to break through
completely in the U.S. How big of a concern is that for you? Does it enter your
mind at all when you make an album?
Noonan: It’s somewhere we love touring. The idea of going somewhere new, where nobody knows you, and feeling like you’re winning people over is very satisfying. So we’ll keep bringing it. I don’t think it’s something we’re conscious of when making albums, though maybe there’s some subconscious market-specific songwriting going on. We do mention Dairy Queen…
angelfire.com - Interview
How did ye decide to reform as BellX1? Was it a hard decision?
"Emm....throwing myself back to then-it was inevitable within Juniper I suppose-we'd started to kind of work in different groups anyway, and myself and Brian were doing a lot of work, and Dave was doing a lot of his own work and stuff, so when Damien said finally that he was leaving , we said-ok lets continue. Cos we had a record deal and we had good songs, and we had a good album, and hopefully a future.
Did ye find the changeover from one name and sound to another difficult? The Bell X1 sound is more relaxed, apart from the few "heavy" songs.
The album is actually far more relaxed than how we are live. I mean it's essentially some of the same people making the music, so there are similarities. I don't think anything released by Juniper was representative of the band. The b-sides kinda were, but I think we learnt a lot, in terms of sticking to your guns. In some ways we've paid for it as well, because on paper, Juniper were far more successful than we've been. But you know, I think we're much happier now that we're making the music we want to make.
Did ye get the name BellX1 from the aeroplane or where?
We did, from a movie called The Right Stuff featuring Chuck Yeagar in 19something. I forget! It's an oldie-it’s a film about one of the Apollo missions, and a kind of kind of splinter story was about the BellX1-it was dropped out of a B-52 bomber, and then broke the speed of sound.
Where do ye get the inspiration for your songs?
I have no idea...they just happen. Some of it's my life, some of it's others. I don't tend to have an eclectic, or interesting life, as to have had all these experiences, so I steal other peoples.
Favourite and least favourite song of your own, and why?
I dunno-it kinda varies. I'd say "Godsong" is something I still enjoy playing, and we don't like doing "Face"-we just don't do it well-I mean it was a really hard song to record and we kinda got something out of it, but it's one of the kinda things we left behind I think, so.
Who did ye listen to when ye were growing up and did this affect your music in anyway?
Yeah I think so. Bruce Springsteen was my first love. I have no older siblings, so I was kind of introduced to music through older siblings of friends, and this one guy's older brother was a huge Sprinsgsteen fan so I really got into him. I wasn't really into it-I was never a goth, I was never a punk, I was never a mod. I think our generation, or certainly my generation, when I was 15 or 16, there wasn't as many factions. I remember there were a few two-tone boys-ska-heads. I'm from classic middle-class suburban Dublin, which is a breeding ground for the stuff. So, it was kinda strange that we kinda missed it, cos I've seen it since, and I've seen it before, but round the time we were there, it was just about fighting other peoples estates.
What's been your best and worst experience at gigs?
I'd say it was the one gig actually, the best and worst gig was-we did a gig the day of Uaneen's funeral in Vicar street, which as I say, was the best and worst of times, in terms of a gig. I really didn't want to do it, but actually doing it, I found really cathartic.
Funniest band member? Would be Dominic Philips...
Laziest? would be me.
Strangest? Brian Crosby- this is good, this is all spontaneous.
Do ye get a lot of feedback from the fans?
Yeah, especially through the webpage. It's great having that-I keep saying we're going to make improvements to it and don't. I have a degree in computer engineering and I can't do anything with the webpages. It’s just a great medium to have- we get all the mails ourselves, myself and Brian do. So you do actually get to communicate with people. It's not like your office is getting loads of postcards, or letters which ye never get.
Are ye aiming for airplay and fame in Britain, or are ye gonna be sticking to Ireland?
Yeah, we're doing a gig in London, so we're recording some new songs when we're finished this tour, and playing outside of Ireland as much as we can, cos all we've ever known is Ireland-we haven't released anything outside of Ireland yet, so try and change that.
Have any of ye changed in any way since the start of the band, or are ye still the same bunch of guys ye were a few years ago?
Yeah, course we have. We're fundamental people, probably....we have the same kind of values and stuff-so much has happened. Damien is making a solo album-it should be out at some stage this year-he's doing everything himself. He's played most things on the album. I mean, I prefer being in a band. He didn't so he left. Simple as that.
Do ye still rehearse before gigs?
No-especially this tour, we've been gigging so often, that...
Ye know it by rote?
What do you guys think of the whole Napster thing going on? Do ye reckon it's a good or a bad thing?
Yeah, they're being shutdown aren't they?
They're trying to introduce a fee, I think.
Emm....I'm all for free exchanging music, but I mean it's about money at the end of the day, and Napster carries advertising and makes money from being a portal site for exchanging music, and I don't like that about it. I don’t mind people exchanging our music over the web and we make nothing from it. As long as no-one else makes anything from it.
Overall your favourite:
Time of Day: Midnight
Piece of clothing: My new shoes
Word association game:
Pub: Themed Irish
Fame: passed me by...
Mobile phone: death of the table quiz
these are some questions suggested by others....
Maybe ask them if they have any early plans for album two yet.
Yeah, we're recording some new songs, when we finish this tour, and then see what happens. We want to release something outside of Ireland and get to tour outside of Ireland. And they're the priorities. I feel we’re getting a bit lazy here, ands you can very easily get complacent about what we do and you can find yourself being dumped kinda, If you don’t keep challenging.
Do you really believe slowset is dead, and is there a true story behind the song?
No I don't. I would imagine at junior disco's there are still slowsets, and at suburban and provincial disco's, there are still slowsets. It's just an era in my life that’s passed but I do remember thinking that the kinda standard format of a disco that everyone went to was the fast sets punctuated by slowsets. The whole club culture was so alien to me that I didn’t really see beyond that. So when I was introduced to club culture, one of the glaring omissions was the slowset!
"Allright Fiens !!How many rullia songs are you pikin onto the next mosh and do you rullia fiens gonna write a mosh about the rullia gammen language Hopper uses?"
And the answer to that...no….because I found out that it’s not actually his language, it's Gammen-it's a travellers language-I've lost all respect. We've met the Hopper-well, I haven't , Brian has. I don't want to meet him-he should retain a sense of mystery.
Where do you's go from here? Tour extensively or record another album? Use Nick again or someone else?
Don't know. We're not going to be touring anymore really. I mean you cant really do a more extensive tour than what we've done in Ireland and we'll definitely make more music with Nick yeah.
When have you 'made it'? What's the ultimate goal?
Oh I don’t know. I don’t think it’s even when we're happy cos you can be happy for a million other reasons. We haven't properly entered the cycle yet of writing, recording and touring, writing, recording and touring, cos we've only done it here. When we finally properly do that, then I'll be happy.
Hot Press - The X-Factors
How a house in Wexford, a major deal, an Austin Clarke poem and a Bertie Ahern pamphlet helped Bell X1 make their most rewarding music to date.
Clarke's fantastic poetic metaphor for female beauty lends itself wonderfully to the title of the second Bell X1 album. It's a record charged my magic and loss, confusion and celebration and ultimately, a potent case of music in mouth nourishing the heart and soul.
While perhaps not quite as immediate as its predecessor it is a far more realised and satisfying record than their Neither Am I debut.
"The huge difference between this record and the last is that this is far more collaborative," singer Paul Noonan believes. "We spent three weeks in a house in Wexford just down the road from the Ten Speed Racer boys who we shared a dartboard in the local with."
"When we released the first album we were very much in the hangover of Juniper and fumbling as a band to try and get some kind of cohesive sound," Dave Geraghty maintains. "On Neither Am I myself and Paul would bring bits of ideas together, but this way was very much a joint effort. When we were making this one, we'd go to bed at night still buzzing from songs that would come out from the most unusual circumstances. That house in Wexford had a huge part to play. There might be a plaque outside it someday!"
Music In Mouth developed into a far more diverse animal than the initial gameplan.
"When we started this record I wanted to make something like Television, early Talking Heads or Blondie," Paul reveals. " A really spiky, skinny white boy record. It rang hollow and we had a lot of songs in that form, but I needed to write about certain things that couldn't be expressed in such a a form which is why the record is as all over the shop as it is."
Or as a great line in 'Next To You' puts it, "I'm a little bit all over the shop / Like those souvenirs in Knock that come all the way from China." Music In Mouth is full of lovely pen pictures - a world of tomato coated spaghetti, white water noise and games full of snakes bereft of any ladders.
"I keep a Dictaphone with me all the time and I type stuff in to my phone all the time," Paul offers by the way of explaining some of the more unusual lyrics. "I tend to record these things when they come to me. A lot of the lyrics for 'Snakes & Snakes' were written on the back of a Bertie Ahern pamphlet that came through the letterbox. I write stuff on anything I can find, put them together and attempt to crowbar them into song form."
By coincidence, songs conceived on propaganda leaflets from our Beloved Leader are being rapturously received in the UK, from whence the Bellies have just returned.
The reception now afforded to Irish artists in Britain now seems to have radically changed from the days when our favourite sons and daughters were regularly left out to dry by the inkies. This summer alone, The Thrills have gone straight to number three with So Much For The City, Bell X1's former Juniper colleague Damien Rice has rocketed through the roof, while The Frames have sold out London's Union Chapel and performed a veritable corker at Glastonbury, now reaching audiences beyond the Paddy Diaspora that normally throng their away fixture list.
"We were doing an interview with BBC 6 Music with a guy who's whole programme is based on what he calls the Irish boom," Dave states. "The whole U2 hangover of the eighties has finally cleared so it's really exciting to be involved now. The Dublin sound was a bad word for a while but now it's really turned itself inside out."
"There is a great sense of camaraderie in Dublin right now," Noonan agrees. "I'd love to see someone do a Reindeer Section here. I think there is a lot of similarities between here and Glasgow in that there are so many brilliant records coming out here that people have put out themselves and built a fanbase really organically. I think Graham Hopkins would be the man to orchestrate it. He has got the blagger's tongue!"
Another development of recent times is that the those three worlds "major record deal" don't seem to be a dirty as they were even a year ago, as your local record shop right now is racked up with The Thrills (Virgin), Snow Patrol (Polydor), Hailte (Warners) and Bell X1 (Island).
"Sometimes I do feel paranoid about it because most of my friends who are making music are doing it independently," Noonan admits. "I know it's a paranoia, but there is a perceived lack of integrity in getting in bed with a corporation whose mother company does French water treatment, that company being Universal. But there has been no benefiting from their point of view. The deal that Island pitched at us was that Island wanted to re-establish itself as the label in the Universal group that allows bands to make three to four records before they start making money in the tradition of their great back catalogue artists like Bob Marley."
Having jumped through hoops of hype with Juniper, the Bell X1 boys are more than a little wiser.
"We are fearful of the bombastic marketing ploys that were used in the Juniper days," Dave says. "It was a bit full on. We'd prefer people to make their own decisions and at the end of the day the best promotion is word of mouth. Word of mouth for music in mouth!"
"I don't necessarily regret Juniper, but I do regret not making an album," Noonan adds. "I think the perception of the band would have been a lot better had we the substance to back up all the bombast. It pissed people off at the time but we learnt hugely."
Not only have they learnt to let the music breathe, but Bell X1 have evolved into a very interesting entity, blurring the traditional boundaries between major label and underground. Paul has been known to perform Justin Timberlake songs with the Warlords Of Pez while Tim O'Donovan of Neosupervital and Settler was recently recruited as sticksman. Few would have thought that early Bell X1 would ever become such an interesting and unpredictable forcefield of activity. Future developments are bound to be interesting to say the very, very least. Bon appetite.
UCD - The Observer Interview
An interview with Bell X1
"I know you!" said guitarist Dave Geraghty, rather unexpectedly, furrowing his brow. "You're Hannah Hamilton. You gave me a copy of your fanzine when we played in that pub in Kilkenny a year or two ago. I found your phone number in my little black book last week. "Yeah?" came my monosyllabic and somewhat moronic reply (I immediately kicked myself for not having said something witty and given the guy a better reason to remember me).
Clearly, this was not my first encounter with indie-electronica noiseniks Bell X 1. Crammed into their icicle-ridden seven-seater 'tour bus' in one of UCD's myriad car parks (with only a dicta-phone and flickering interior light for comfort), I set about re-aquainting myself with a band whose debut long player Neither Am I, released way back in 2000, placed them firmly in the foreground of progressive Irish indie-rock. Having toured the length of the country and back again, January 2002 proved the watershed for a push abroad with the band signing to London based Island records (where PJ Harvey is a co-signee) and commencing work on the much anticipated album number two.
Huddled away in a Tudor mansion in the English countryside, Bell X 1 are currently earning themselves a respectable studio tan; doubtlessly knee deep in a veritable Spaghetti Junction of leads and power supplies, servicing countless electronic bleeping devices and keyboards. "We like our toys" admits Paul Noonan, vocals. "We find ourselves very inspired by the alternative sounds we bring in. We've got an old battered nylon string guitar that most of the songs are written around.
This record isn't going to take itself as seriously as the last - there's going to be more stupid music I think. More fun!"
Formerly of the band Juniper (collectively Bell X 1 and previous Earwig star Damien Rice on vocals), Noonan cites his old schoolmate as the main push behind Juniper's ascent to the stage. "Actually, if the truth be told I think that Damien had a big hand in inspiring us to perform" he muses. "We went to school together and that's where Juniper started. He had played music all his life really, and he was the motivating force behind Juniper in those days, although I'm sure we would have found our way there somehow."
The electronic stance that Bell X 1 take against traditional acoustic equation sets them apart from the crowd, though they insist that it still dominates the crux of their song writing process.
"I think that there is an element of the acoustic guitar and an eight track in what we do. Essentially, most of the songs are written in that sort of bedroom style, but we were always quite determined to take an angle on it and use electronic instruments. I don't think we've ever really considered ourselves as an Irish band in that classic singer songwriter mode. We were never into that kind of music really. The important thing is that it is a band sound, and everyone has input. It colours the music from the bare sketch of just vocal and acoustic guitar. I think that's how we set ourselves apart from the 'I'm a singer songwriter and play along with me' kind of approach."
However cushy a position Bell X 1 may be in, they certainly have their feet on the ground when it comes to the business, having been up and down the industry hype roller coaster more times than Bugs Bunny on E.
"We really admire people like Radiohead and PJ Harvey, how they've stuck to their guns and directed their work. It's a difficult thing to do when you're a product. It scares the shit out of some people but you just have to play ball and handle it."
The Lobby, Cork Interview
Venue: The Lobby
Mark McAvoy talks to Bell X1 (named after the first aircraft to break the sound barrier) lead singer and front man Paul Noonan.
Q1. You used to be known as Juniper and now you have become Bell X1. Why
the name change?
Ans. The original lead singer (Dodi) left the band and we wanted to make very different music. We all wanted to get away from the way Juniper was presented.
Q2. Did Juniper’s lead singer (Dodi) leave of his own free will or was
Ans. He just left, as he didn’t want to be in a band any more, it was as simple as that. He was a very single-minded individual. I was friends with him since I was twelve and he has always had this self-destruct, as I see it, streak in him. He still makes wonderful music but he was just not geared towards compromising and getting on with other people.
Q3. What is the main difference as you see it between Bell X1 and
Ans. I think the singles that were released as Juniper were not particularly representative of the band. At the time we were just kind of star-struck at the notion of signing a record deal. We signed a record deal with Polygram Ireland and they were not willing to make an album. They wanted to release a couple of singles first, [ incidentally Juniper only ever released two singles during their short career] with the result that the singles were hyped out of the water and we never had an album to back up any of the bullshit that was being spun about us. It all happened too fast. We learned a lot from that.
Q4. Did you feel under pressure from the record company?
Ans. Not pressure, I just think we didn’t really know where we were or what we wanted to do at the time. Now we just want a departure from that kind of attitude and we want to go away and make an album and start touring and building up things really slowly. We don’t want a huge campaign about the band.
Q5. What genre of music would you consider Bell X1 belongs to?
Ans. I have no idea. Rock 'n' Roll music but not as we knew it.
Q6. What would you say your ( Bell X1's) influences are?
Ans. Essentially I suppose what was known as folk music a long time ago, like Bruce Springsteen. Also Thin Lizzy.
Q7. What is your favourite record of all time?
Ans. Well the first record I ever bought was 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' by Tight Fit, so that kind of wore off after a time. I would say PJ Harvey 'To Bring You My Love.'
Q8. What is the biggest gig to date that Bell X1 have played?
Ans. Supporting Bon Jovi in the RDS last summer. A close second would be the Witness festival last summer.
Q9. How do you feel about the current state of Irish music?
Ans. I’m very excited at the moment, as there are a lot of really good things happening. I’ve heard David Kitt has a really good record coming out soon. Also the Frames have a really good record coming out. There is a nice vibe in a couple of studios in Dublin at the moment.
Q10. What, at the end of the day, would you be happy achieving musically?
Ans. I would just want to continue the cycle of making records, touring them and then writing new ones. We have only made one record and it has been hard to maintain the kind of momentum required to make records.
Q11. Finally your debut album 'Neither Am I': how would you describe it?
Ans. Camp-fire disco.
Date of Event: March 23rd 2001
cluas.com - August 1 2003
Interview with Paul Noonan after the HMV In-store gig, Dublin on August 1 by Shane Mc Dermott.
Shane Mc Dermott: The album’s name is taken from an Austin Clarke poem, The Planter’s Daughter. Why did you choose it?
Paul Noonan: To me the album is a celebration of beauty, and I’ve always loved how beauty is described in that poem… “And they say that her beauty was music in mouth”. Hmm…we haven’t actually contacted the estate of Austin Clarke about the use of the line, maybe we should. I would hope that he’d like it.
Shane: How would you define the sound of the album?
Paul: This record, to me, is one of love songs in drag. They’re songs of love and loss presented in a celebratory, joyous way. It sounds a bit contradictory but I think we knew when we were making it that it’s a bit all over the shop. Some time in the future I’d love to make a very definite record with a definite sound, like a hip-hop record does, or a folk record. But I think we’d need to go off separately and do side projects for that sort of purity to appear.
Shane: How do you think it’s different from your first album, Neither Am I, and how do you think the band has matured since then?
Paul: I think we’re a lot less self conscious about things and we’re just being more soulful and honest about it. We lived for three weeks as a band in a house in Wexford and wrote this album then. For me, that was the most enjoyable part of the whole process, because we were communicating to each other without actually having to say anything. We fell upon some sort of chemistry. We didn’t have a lot of self-confidence when we were making Neither Am I.
Shane: One review said that had Music in Mouth been a debut it would have been one of this year’s best. Do you wish it was your debut?
Paul: No, not at all. You go through a process when you make a record, like a sort of purging. You make it and put yourself into it and it leaves its mark. In England it is our debut, but I hope that Neither Am I will come out there at some stage. We’re still very proud of it.
Shane: There have been a lot of comparisons to bands like Coldplay and even Radiohead. What do you think of this?
Paul: I think it’s lazy. There’s a quote from one review that says we’re Radiohead as Radiohead should sound now, and that’s just wank. I mean, who’s to say what Radiohead should or should not sound like?
Shane: It’s ironic that critics are saying things like Bell X1 have finally found their sound, when three of the songs on the album are years old. Why do Eve, the Apple of my Eye, fan-favourite Alphabet Soup and current single Tongue appear now and not on Neither Am I?
Paul: Well, we’d never recorded Alphabet Soup, and I don’t think we had done the other two justice in previous versions.
Shane: What about some of the newer material that fans thought would be on Music in Mouth, such as Real Palm Trees, 10 Paces and Rockridge? Will they make it onto a future record?
Paul: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. The chorus of Rockridge has always bothered me. I think I’ve learned to be more honest when something is weak. If parts of it are beautiful or great and do something for you but there’s just something…weak, then it’s no longer good enough.
Shane: And do you know what the next single will be?
Paul: Yeah, it’ll probably be Snakes and Snakes. I don’t really know what works or what doesn’t as a single, I don’t know what its purpose is. Those classic three minute pop singles – I don’t really write those sorts of songs; I can’t think in that way. Trying to break the mould of what will get played on radio is very difficult. I think there should be an agreement between artists that nobody should try to play ball and please the powers that be or the advertisers or whatever, and instead try to make songs that are just a bit more interesting.
Shane: So does that mean you were annoyed with having to edit Tongue for radio play?
Paul: No, because that’s not a song that I’m particularly precious about, to be honest. I think I’d be a lot more precious about other songs. I much prefer the live version and the album version, but I didn’t mind so much as long as the edit didn’t castrate the song, which I don’t think it did.
Shane: What are your plans after the tour? Is a third album already on the horizon?
Paul: Well there’s a lot of songs, but we’re going to be touring for a year. I don’t want to make another record yet, I don’t think we’re ready to do that. We’re just hungry to get out and play, and sort of soak up the places that it brings us to. It’s really exciting having the record out in places that we’ve never really been before. It’s coming out in France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark, so we’re going to be over there.
Shane: Are you conscious of trying to avoid ‘The Frames syndrome’, where they seem to have reached a certain level and stayed there, more or less, for the past 10 years?
Paul: I don’t think that they have. It’s really hard being self-sufficient, you know, making a record, going touring, and putting the record out in the States yourself – it costs a shit load of money. I find the whole Frames story very inspiring. It’s truly a case of their fans…they’re like crusaders in a way, you know? They’re true patrons, they’ve funded the Frames’ explorations and helped bring their music elsewhere, and that’s just brilliant. I think Ireland is a place where people are acutely aware of that, and know how much of a part they play in the music. And Damien (Rice, former band-mate), who’s done very well for himself, has experienced the same kind of thing.
Shane: Speaking of Damien, what do you think of his album, O?
Paul: I really like it. It was weird in a way, very emotional listening to it. He went through a lot and he felt like shit when he left the band, and left the country for a while. To come back and do what he’s done is fantastic.
Shane: There are a few songs from your days together that you’ve both now done different versions of. Have there ever been any problems, legal or otherwise, concerning those songs and the rights to them?
Paul: No, it’s a bit weird with all the different versions out there, listening to all the debates – which version people prefer and why, who wrote this, who has the rights to that. But there have never been any problems. We’ve always tried to keep it human. We’ve all been friends since we were thirteen, so while there were times when we never thought we’d go through the things that we did, like Damien leaving the band, we’ve kept it friendly and I would hope that we’ve never hardened towards each other. It is like any relationship break-up, and hurt and anger can manifest themselves in lashing out, and yeah I’m sure we’ve gone through a bit of that. We’re in a position now though where everything is fine…but I’ll be glad when the day comes when he isn’t brought up in an interview. (Paul laughs suggestively)
Shane: Right. Moving along then…in Neither Am I there were, arguably, a lot of lyrics which are possessed of a certain sexual innuendo (example – from the track Slowset, “What do you say/ when she’s in your arms and you’re going around in those circles/ yeah what do you say/ when both of you know you’ve risen to the occasion”) while in Music in Mouth half of the songs have biblical references. Have Bell X1 found religion?
Paul: No, I don’t think we’ve found religion. But I don’t think we’ve lost it either. My next-door neighbour was a Methodist minister, and when I was really young he bought me a big Bible Stories for Children book, and I’ve always loved them. I’ve always loved the whole idea of the Garden of Eden and that beautifully simplistic world view it had. And the fact that people actually take it literally I find hilarious.
Shane: Have you ever felt the album was going somewhere you didn’t want because of pressure from the record label?
Paul: Not at all. We recorded and mixed a lot of it in their studios. All the suits were upstairs but they never actually showed their faces. They wanted to reinvent Island Records as the label within the Universal group that would let bands make the record they wanted. That’s great because at the time of Neither Am I, I don’t think we had the strength of character to do that. My flatmate Scott (Burnett) has done all the artwork for Music in Mouth and its singles, and they were great about that. There was never this idea of forcing some London design agency onto us.
Shane: And Scott Burnett was responsible for the major overhaul of your website recently. What sort of feeling are you trying to convey with the new look?
Paul: Somewhere that’s homely and inviting, where you can take off your shoes and sit back and relax with a really nice cup of tea. I think the other website was very cold. I want to bring more interactive elements to it as well, like the Kazoosical Bull competition (winner decided at the end of the Irish tour). I’d love to put in a games room or something, where people can go and play pong against each other.
Shane: With two albums under your belts and the band’s fan base growing rapidly across Europe, do you think the success and fame has gone to anyone’s head or are you all still fairly grounded?
Paul: One of the things that worry us sometimes is that we’re not in the classic rock ’n roll mode as people; we don’t seem to conform to whatever that is. That’s worrying because in this fickle world it seems the more outrageous you are the more records you sell. When we tour in England we live in a proper working farmhouse just outside Oxford, and people find that really strange. They say things like, “Why aren’t you in London throwing TVs out hotel windows?” We may give a TV a gentle nudge some day.
Shane: You have a degree from Trinity College. Do you have any back-up plans in the event that everything goes pear-shaped?
Paul: I have a degree in computer engineering and I still can’t keep the fucking website ticking over, so no, I don’t think there’s a future for me in that!
Shane: Finally, what’s your favourite biscuit? (You’d be amazed at what gets discussed on Bell X1’s website message board)
Paul: Hmm…I think I’d have to say chocolate hobnobs.