Chop Chop says it all as Bell X1 get a move on
There was 'No fannying around' for trio's sixth album, says chris wasser
Some things never change. Like the way Bell X1 continue to get excited about a new album, the night before its release.
"A little bit like Christmas Eve," smiles guitarist Dave Geraghty. "I was having a beer and a smoke last night out the back of the house and I was going, 'this is nice – peace and quiet, and the calm before the exciting storm'. Because it's only every couple of years you get to have that feeling ... "
Evidently, this music lark is still a big deal for Dave and chums. Chop Chop marks the Irish trio's sixth album in 13 years. That's quite an achievement. Frontman Paul Noonan talks of "shrinking the palette"; going back to their roots and ditching the electronics for a more guitar-and piano-based sound. With fewer layers and overdubs. "I suppose experience has given us more of an idea of how we wanna approach it," he explains, "and every album we've done, we've done it differently."
They've also become somewhat more interesting as a band. Apparently, Bell X1 wanted to make two albums, back-to-back, for their sixth and seventh offerings. Obviously, by the time it came to descending upon producer Peter Katis' (The National, Interpol) suburban studio in Connecticut, they'd had a change of heart. According to Dave, Peter's gaff is like "something out of The Hotel New Hampshire. Or Psycho". And they finished the record in two weeks. No wonder it's called Chop Chop.
"The title, for the first time, was around before we'd made any music," says Paul. "I think it was sort of a statement of intent, to approach it in a simpler way. Trim away any excess ... no fannying around." Er, nicely put. Dave reckons it's a nod to how people live their lives. Information overload, short attention spans, etc. Funny, as I've always wondered what things would be like for Bell X1 had they emerged in another era.
"Imagine that," replies Dave, "then people would be accusing Talking Heads of ripping off Bell X1!" Ah yes, the Talking Heads comparison. It's unavoidable, Dave, Paul and bassist Dominic Phillips' fondness for a certain David Byrne and Co. Though I wasn't expecting them to mention it first. "We're just beating you to it," they respond.
In all seriousness, this is a band that continues to sell out gigs, both here and in America (to which they'll return in October), carving out a steady and increasingly busy career path with each new recording. On more than one occasion, it's threatened to blow up Stateside. "I'd love it to blow up," laughs Paul. But then, all three are dads now. And in their late 30s. Paul corrects me. "No, we're 26 and single," he jokes.
"If we were a lot more successful, there would be a lot more pressure to be away for much longer and we're sort of at a level now where we don't go away for any more than a month at most," Dominic chips in. "We look forward to going on tour more now. We go on tour for a little holiday," he grins.
I presume, then, having devoted so much of their lives to Bell X1, these three lads who went to school together in Kildare still love each other and look after each other. The word 'love' raises a smile.
"We're brothers from another mother," nods Paul. "We're still a tight three-way," agrees Dominic. "Jaysus. 'Bell X Three-Way'," ponders Dave, as if seriously considering changing the band's name. "It's like a brotherhood, and we all have kids now, so there's even more of a reason to, well, make this work, but also kind of have fun with it and keep it interesting for ourselves. We're long past the point of no return with this."
"I've found recently, it's almost crept up on me how friendly I am with these two guys," adds Dominic. "I've known them since school and I almost have to remind myself ... I don't know how to verbalise it." Dave puts his hand on Dominic's shoulder. It's a lovely moment. But that isn't to say that they don't sometimes need their space on tour.
"You're in each other's pockets," explains Dave, "so you have to just kind of go 'I need to do laundry – I'm gonna do that and have a coffee on my own and then come back a fresher, better man'." How very rock and roll. Paul agrees. "So fresh and so clean ... "
Chop Chop is out now. Bell X1 are live at the Iveagh Gardens, Saturday, July 13