A Thing About Teapots?
Mike Fitzpatrick Interviews Bell X1’s Paul Noonan
Bell X1 seems to have a thing about teapots. So much so, that were one to type the band’s name, followed by the word ‘teapot’ into a Google search, approximately 400 responses would appear on screen. Not, of course, that I checked. Some guy told me.
Fortunately, New York City seems to be developing a thing of its own about this Irish four-piece, one which hails from the neighboring towns of Celbridge and Lucan (Counties Kildare and Dublin respectively).
Returning to the US once more, following a successful series of dates in the summer of ’05, Bell X1 will play a sold-out show at the legendary downtown music venue, Joe’s Pub, on Wednesday, January 16th, followed by a trip to Philadelphia, for an unplugged appearance, presented by WXPN, at the World Café Live, on the 17th. And all this, after playing live on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
The band formed as the twentieth century was taking its final curtain calls, and a popular five-piece act known as Juniper morphed into a foursome, when lead singer Damien Rice left to pursue a solo career.
Changing its name to Bell X1, the band, comprised of Paul Noonan, Brian Crosby, Dominic Phillips and Dave Geraghty, proceeded to regroup and push forward as a quartet, with Noonan moving from behind his drumkit to take over vocals.
Retaining Juniper’s fanbase, while developing a newer sound, the band was invited to support acts as diverse as the late, lamented Elliott Smith, and some guys from New Jersey called Bon Jovi.
2003 witnessed the release of the group’s second album (after 1999’s ‘Neither Am I’), ‘Music In Mouth’, which was critically well-received, and in between moaning about no teapots in recording studios, playing hurling badly before residents of County Kilkenny (which is akin to sacrilege in that part of the country) and touring with Keane, Starsailor, The Frames, Aqualung and Snow Patrol, the album went double platinum in Ireland, and produced four top forty singles.
With the band’s third album, ‘Flock’, hitting number one in Ireland, more touring was required, culminating in a sensational night at Malahide Castle before thousands of fans, on practically the only dry night of a disastrously damp Irish summer.
With 2008 still in its infancy, things are already looking decidedly bright for Bell X1. The band has been nominated for two Mercury Awards (the Irish Grammies, as it were), for Best Irish Live Performance and Best Irish Pop Act, while multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty is up for two as a solo performer (Best Irish Male and Best Irish Album).
The guys have also experienced something of a surge of renewed interest from a curious American audience, following the appearance of ‘Eve, The Apple of My Eye’ (a track from ‘Flock’) on popular television show, ‘The O.C’ not so long ago.
The Irish Examiner caught up with Paul Noonan last week, where the affable frontman was more than pleased to chat to us, prior to the band’s excursion to New York.
MF: You’ve come a long way from your Sunday night residency at the Kildrought Lounge, in Celbridge, County Kildare. Can you tell me about some of the highs you’ve experienced along the way?
PN: That was a long time ago! We did a tour of the Eastern European states a few years ago, and played in Poland, The Czech Republic and Slovakia as ambassadors for Ireland. Ireland held the presidency of the EU at the time. It was our first time in cities such as Prague, and we were playing in places where they’d rarely get bands. We were looked after incredibly well. There was absolutely none of the jaded industry cynicism evident. Another highlight, was playing at Malahide Castle last summer. In front of over 20,000 people, on the one dry night of the summer. It was such a great sense of occasion, it crowned the ‘Flock’ era, and was a perfect end to that period.
MF: You’ve toured or performed with acts such as The Frames, Elliott Smith, Keane and even Bon Jovi in the past, do you feel the band benefited greatly from such experiences?
PN: Yes, definitely. A few years back, we toured in Europe a lot with Keane and Starsailor, and that was a major challenge. There was no sense of winning people over, as we were already established in Ireland, but as a support act, people would be getting their pints in (during our performance), so it could be pretty rowdy at times.
MF: Are there any acts out there today, with whom you’d enjoy working alongside?
PN: We welcome all-comers, especially in the States. Though we have to balance (performing) with meeting our heroes. Collectively speaking, Radiohead would be our favorite band. I saw this thing they did, ‘Meeting People Is Easy’ (the 1998 Grammy-nominated documentary Radiohead produced detailing their practical burnout while relentlessly touring in the late 1990s). It completely painted their lives on the road as being really miserable, and it really shouldn’t be like that.
MF: How healthy do you feel is the current Irish music scene?
PN: It’s great, There’s always been great things happening here. Things are emerging onto bigger world stages, but not always necessarily out of merit. Lots of acts are making great things though. There’s one girl, called Cathy Davey, she’s just released a fantastic record (‘Tales of Silversleeve’), in the UK and Europe, so hopefully it’ll happen for her. In the past, there was a certain ‘Irishness’ about artists, but that seems to have gone.
MF: So, three albums down the line, what’s next for Bell X1?
PN: Well, we’re always writing, and we’ve a gig at the Bowery Ballroom, and a show in Boston on Saint Patrick’s Day. I’m a big fan of (HBO show) ‘The Wire’, but every time a cop dies, there’s a wake at an Irish bar, and the cop is lying on a pool table. It’s not like that really, is it?
MF: I should hope not. It must have been satisfying to hear that the Joe’s Pub gig had sold out so quickly, so much so, that an additional gig at The Bowery Ballroom, just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, had to be added?
PN: It was amazing. The power of the Internet is responsible for that. We’ve (great memories of the US). We’ve played the Mercury Lounge in New York, and the Viper Room in Los Angeles before. Also, Sin-E in the East Village, where people knew the songs.
MF: We read of so many young acts who tell us that they first picked up an instrument, after hearing Bowie, or Lennon, or Springsteen for the first time, was there a moment in your youth when you thought, hang on, I could do this?
PN: As a youngster, I was infatuated with David Byrne. Even when I was just eight or nine, I remember seeing the video for ‘Once in a Lifetime’, where he was running in an odd-mannered fashion. I’ve only recently gone back to the Talking Heads records, but (as a child) I was drawn to the wacky nature of their imagery.
MF: So, what are you listening to at the moment?
PN: I’ve come late to it, but I’m listening to The Shins and Modest Mouse.