THE INTERVIEW: Paul Noonan of Bell X1

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A Better Band

It was pretty dreary outside, and while my radiator knocked and groaned loudly, it was still bitterly cold inside my apartment. I waited by the telephone, coughing and sneezing waiting for it to ring. It was certainly an inopportune time to be sick. I hoped Paul Noonan would forgive my hoarse voice. Bell X1’s latest album, Blue Lights on the Runway, released today on their label, BellyUp Records, is one stellar body of work.

What would you say is the biggest difference between this record and your last, Flock?

Umm, I don’t know, I think it was made by different people? I really think that’s the biggest difference.

What theme’s if any, did you cover? Lyrically, It’s brilliant.

It’s kind of hard to sum it up in a sound bite. I think for us there’s no coherent theme to the record as a whole, I think the identity of it is more of a process of how it was made and the journey we were going through as a band at that time.

A lot of changes occurred.

It was a period of great change, the line up changed through the making of the record. We kinda began to assert of our own independence, as this is the first record that we owned ourselves, that we made ourselves. I suppose that we were quite empowered by that, it’s a new dawn for us in that sense. We feel a lot more included in the control of our destiny and I think that for us is the identity of the record rather than any thematic strands running through the songs.

There’s a distinct synth pop/new wave sound, was that a cowbell I heard on the track, “A better band”? It really gets stuck in your head.

Oh yes, that was a cowbell. A cowbell is like the cockroach of instruments, no matter how low its buried in the mix, you can always hear it.

I think more bands should make use of the cowbell.

Yeah, it’s very much part of the defining character of the song. It’s well up there anyway.

Do you have a favorite track on the album?

It’s hard to tell really, I think that sort of crystallizes when we get out and start playing the songs live. As far as studio moments go, there were a couple of times where we felt this kind of rush of this is why we do this! During the making of the record, these moments that you live for as a musician and as a band when you kinda land somewhere that just feels very satisfying. At one point, I would have shied away from that in the past, in the sense of feeling that, that was self indulgent. But I think this time we’ve allowed ourselves a lot more freedom and kinda explored the idea of taking a song and bringing it in a different direction. A song like, “How Your Heart’s Wired,” or “Amelia” or “A Better Band” are journey’s we always felt self conscious about taking in the past, but I think that was part our rebirth and I suppose confidence. So it was very satisfying that we made that leap creatively.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, that our politics have gone through sort of a seismic shift, and I was wondering if political or social issues influence your music?

Yeah, I think we’ve been really lucky to have been here this past week for the inauguration and Martin Luther King day before it. It had such resonance and such global resonance that it’s something that will stay with us for our lifetime and being here for the inauguration is something to tell the grandkids about. I think its part of psyche, part of our make up to be aware of the consequences of what we do and I supposed we dabbled our commentary on such things on this record more so than the last. I think the last one was more explicitly commenting on Ireland, specifically the changes that have come about over the last 15 years.

I read somewhere in an interview you did where you said, “I have this romantic notion of traveling coast to coast on a bus in the States and stopping in Wyoming for pancakes. I want to see the square states — the Dakotas, Idaho. I want to touch and feel these exotic places. I’m sure any romantic notions will be shattered once I get there.” So having since toured here, was your romantic notions shattered?

We never got to do that! We flew to the west coast and pretty much the furthest we got in was Chicago, and we traveled down the south quite a bit but we never got to the square states.

I hope you do this time!

I really hope we do this time! We plan to do later on in the summer, more of an extensive tour in that part of the world, so I look forward to that.

If for some bizarre reason, you couldn’t make music anymore, would you be satisfied with the music you have out there already?

No. I think we’ve got more to say and we definitely haven’t had our day yet.

My last question is, what do you listen to when you’re sad?

When I’m sad! I don’t know, it kinda changes I supposed. It depends on what kind of sad. Actually, there’s one song I like to wallow too, it’s on the Allison Krauss/ Robert Plant album. It’s the last song, it’s called, “Your Long Journey.” It’s an old folk song…about death I suppose, it’s incredibly beautiful and moving, to have a good cry to sometimes.

We all need that once in a while.

(laughing) Yes.

Dezzy Ramdeen

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