BELL X1 are one of only a handful of Irish bands to retain a level of artistic integrity, while still reaching a success level that most Irish bands can only dream of.
On their fifth studio album, Bloodless Coup, released in April, they reached both a level of maturity and entered a musical area that they had previously avoided, effortlessly weaving a strong electronic undercurrent into their intelligent rock songs.
Gone mostly are the jokey asides from frontman Paul Noonan, Bell X1 instead crafting ten intelligent and delicately woven songs underpinned by an emotion that is probably down to the trio - Noonan, multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty and bassist Dominic Phillips - all becoming new fathers within six months of each other, just after the release of the excellent Blue Lights on the Runway, the album’s predecessor.
Geraghty, speaking to City Life ahead of the band’s show in the Big Top this Friday, clearly struggles with the notion of his band reaching a level of ‘maturity’.
“I always like to think that when you make albums you don’t really mature or progress, you just kind of step to the side, hopefully to the left,” smiles Geraghty.
“We have always been fans of joyous music, that childlike, immature revelry - it is almost, as you get older, you kind of hang on white knuckled to that excited, youthful feeling, not distracted by ‘is this going to sell’ and just trying to enjoy the music and bring that joy to the listener.
“What’s horrible is to see bands getting older, being fat and boring and still trying to do their thing - you think ‘dude just give it up, you’ve made your money’ - which is not the case with us,” he laughs.
The key was recording as a five piece, Bell X1 adding Rory Doyle on drums and Marc Aubele on keys to their ranks.
“I think Bloodless Coup is more accomplished sounding because of the way we recorded it. It was the first time we worked with a producer who was a funnel and whose sensibilities we were aware of. And it was the first time we were actually a five piece band in a room,” he explains.
“Mark and I acted as sparring opponents as well with keyboard noises and general noodles - that might have spurred stuff on as well, that kind of fun competition thing.”
That classic Bell X1 wit is still present in more subtle ways, their acerbic, biting satire apparent in spades throughout an album that gently measures the country’s economic state.
“Ireland is in a state of flux at the moment and there’s lots of frothy soul searching — who are we and why are we in such a mess?” Noonan says. “We all need to step up and play a part, and within the artistic and wider community there’s an awareness and a desire to do so. I suppose there’s a romantic notion of a bloodless coup to this, as there no is Great Hope in the political landscape to look to.”
This is particularly apparent on Sugar High, the new single - an effusive pop song with a dark underbelly - a “debauched HR Giger vision of the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races” as the boys describe it.
“It is light and fluffy and a little bit screwy, which is kind of at odds with the seriousness of what it is talking about,” nods Geraghty. “There isn’t anything really sombre about it, which is what I like. I think it nicely achieves that satirical look - we all know how serious the situation is, we hear about it all day every day. Hopefully it is rabble rousing as well as being a party tune that people can actually get up and have a say and then afterwards have a dance.”
The band have just returned from their second tour of the year in America, consistently focusing on the States - touring their four times in 2008, refusing to simply sit on their laurels in Ireland.
“I think in the last few years, it is becoming increasingly obvious how small the world is, with the presence and the power of the internet and how much more the music industry relies on it,” says Dave.
“I think it is a long time since bands have been so blinkered to think that they can get by just doing their thing in Ireland and reaching boiling point and just leaving it at that. It is only when you travel and go away and think ‘oh shit we really are on this little rock on the western coast of Europe’! You do need to get out and travel and tour because that is the way it has swung once again for bands to survive.”
Bell X1 play in the Big Top @ the Milk Market this Friday, doors 7pm and a limited number of tickets remain on sale. Jape is special guest.
The Limerick Leader has two pairs of tickets to giveaway to Friday’s concert - email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Bell X1 giveaway’ in the subject line and include contact details and the answer to the following question: By what name were Bell X1 previously known when they first started out? Winners will be informed by return email.