Irish rockers Bell X1 commanded the sold-out crowd at New York's High Line Ballroom three nights before St. Patrick's day as they powered through favorites from "Flock" and new album "Blue Lights on the Runway" alike, and frontman Paul Noonan broke out the angular dance moves, cowbell, and jokes about U2 shoveling snow for David Letterman, for whom Bell X1 themselves will perform tonight (March 17), in his mild brogue. Shortly before the release of the lush, dark edged "Blue Lights On The Runway," which holds cold, wonderous Radiohead-esque moments within a warmer sound all their own, Noonan and guitarist Dave Geraghty sat down in an Irish Pub in Soho to talk about delayed attention on this side of the pond, the new album, and the hallucinogenic buzz of constant travel.
You spent 2008 in America and elsewhere supporting "Flock," a record many times platinum at home in Ireland but that had been made a long time ago. What was it like to be promoting material that familiar to a fresh audience?
Paul Noonan: I think had we still been touring in Ireland with this three years down the line, we would have been bored with it, it would have felt wrong. But because it was so new here I think that kind of gave it a newnesss for us as well.
Dave Geraghty: We were buzzing off the people's reaction and the freeness of being in different places as well. Being able to tour in America is something you dream of. See, we were with Universal Records before and that was something that, rather than being kind of helpful was actually restrictive. Being with a massive company that has a huge metaphorical umbrella was the one thing that prevented us from traveling because they weren't being proactive in getting us to other territories. When we parted ways, we started setting up an apparatus so we could start to tour and release records abroad.
Noonan: It was really nice to start to play small rooms again. I think we prefer that, to be able to look everybody in the room in the eye.
Geraghty: Before we came out here we played our biggest show ever at a theater called The Point Depot, which is a real institution in Dublin and fits about 10,000 people. We grew up going to shows there. It was pretty freaky.
You recorded "Blue Lights On The Runway" before "Flock" came out in America, is that right?
Geraghty: We started it before, which was cool as well because it kind of gave us a certain distance from the music. We would sit down with the album, then go off and tour, and then come back and have a certain freshness.
Noonan: It's kind of backwards the way the whole music thing works here. You write an album, you record it, and then you go to America to play it. But it should be that you write the songs, play them, and then you go and record them to a certain extent, before you get jaded and your three year window expires.
Were you playing any of the new stuff live last year?
Noonan: We tried a couple of songs during summer festival season in Europe and then before we mixed the songs, we did a couple of shows in Dublin where we played pretty much all new material just to see how it sat before we put it to bed. We'd never had that luxury before. It was pretty much recorded, but [the shows] did kind of influence how we approached the formative stages: the mixing, the song choices, and what connected most.
What was the effect of the departure of guitarist Brian Crosby in October on the band?
Noonan: In the time since "Flock" came out in Ireland, the band was going to become a hub from with lots of side-projects sprung. For a few years now, Brian has been involved in production and scoring for TV and film. When the time came to make this record he said, "I'm not going on. I'm going to concentrate on production for awhile." He didn't feel he could continue to juggle [it all] given the prospect that we'd have another two years like the last two years. It's part of the journey.