bell20x120pp1_20081218_172845

Something tells me that even the most hardened Steinbeck-loving “indie” music fan would melt for the big Talking Heads moment on Bell X1’s excellent fourth and latest release, Blue Lights on the Runway. “The Great Defector,” as the song is called, finds singer Paul Noonan coming in for a landing, he loves the “color of it all,” but needs to know about those rabbits, George.

Don’t we all, but let’s not chase the cats away just yet.

Alas, since we last caught the Bell X1 train at Joe’s Pub in New York City, the Irish band die-hards lovingly refer to as the “Bellies,” have been romping and stomping and banging a fearsome racket the world over supporting Flock. The bleary-eyed, scattershot existence of touring and the unpredictable roving cast of characters along the road seem to have colored Blue Lights down to its multi-hued DNA. One such memorably tragic individual whom Noonan came across at a New York bar last year provided the back story for the album’s lead track, “Ribs of a Broken Umbrella.”

Like the band themselves — Noonan, Dave Geraghty, and Dominic Phillips — who tirelessly toured America last year in hopes of breaking bad, Blue Lights on the Runway is tense, twitchy, warm, wickedly clever and ever compelling; first single “How Your Heart is Wired” charmingly beckons the listener to join them on the next move: is it the red one? No, the blue one.

The resulting journey and the ambitious layers that are peeled back within, is lush and rewarding, never safe, never boring. Let Bono put his “sexy” boots on and leave the honest soul excavation to these three guys with nothing to lose. Further, let’s see Bono write a tune called “Breastfed” and believably claim, “You’re so pretty and I’m so lame.” Cheers to the Bellies.

This album was recorded in widely disparate locations: the Ballycumber House, an abandoned factory and in Dom’s garage…And in no surprise, features what I like to call a “kitchen sink” approach to instrumentation, extended jams and sonics, as heard notably in “How Your Heart is Wired,” “One Stringed Harp,” and “The Curtains are a Twitchin’,” among others. Intentional, coincidence or merely a logical step for the band?

Noonan: “We’ve always been self conscious about the notion of “jamming,” viewing it as a self indulgent and empty, though sometimes enjoyable, pursuit…oh wait now, that’s masturbation. So yes, it was a conscious decision to cast aside such inhibitions and see what happened. We were also in a big house of toys in the middle of nowhere, sans “producer” as such. Good times.”

What was it about the story the Polish immigrant told you/Paul in a New York bar (that inspired “Ribs of a Broken Umbrella”) that struck a particular nerve?

Noonan: “I’ve always been particularly moved by sad and lonely old men. Not that he was necessarily sad or lonely; it’s partly me projecting a romantic notion of the state of being broken, though brimming with integrity, dignity and pathos. Also, his story was very much like that of a book I had just read, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.”

bluelights

Why was “A Better Band” such a challenge to record?

Noonan: “At the risk of bringing on much scoffing, it’s a work of three movements…and it was hard to flow from one to the other in a way that made sense and felt natural, not some academic exercise in song wankery. We had this sense when we were rehearsing the song that it was going to be a bit of a signature song for the record, ambitious as it was for us.”

“Blow Ins” seems to have been inspired by an existential conversation or perhaps a very stiff drink and some scientific or spiritual exploration?

Noonan: “I remember as a kid watching a TV show that said if all time since the Big Bang was compressed into a single day, we humans would only be around for the last few seconds of that day – there was also a graphic illustration of the timeline and everything. So we’re not all that, and should tone down the frontin’.”

What was the story of “Breastfed”? It seems to have evolved from a tune called “Rockridge”?

Noonan: “Yes, it’s the mongrel of the record, evolving from an old song called “Rockridge,” which had a different chorus. Rockridge being the fake town in Blazing Saddles. The new chorus has us bitching about all the different kinds of milk you can get, with, and I’m winging it here, wider implications about the noise and fog and confusion of too many choices and agendas and fucking PIN codes. And we shouldn’t even be drinking milk as adult mammals!”

“Light Catches Your Face” is absolutely gorgeous, and feels like the true love song on the record. What can you tell me about that one?

Noonan: “It’s for my mammy.”

“The Curtains are Twitchin’” is a lush, beautiful, end-of-night journey – and is perfectly augmented with the New Orleans brass section. How and where did this one come together?

Noonan: “We’re very happy with this one. Someone sent me a link to a YouTube clip of some jazzer’s funeral in New Orleans. I had heard about the music that’s played at these, but had never heard it. I just loved the playful madness of it and at a funeral too.

Knowing only the somber, more traditional funeral, the juxtaposition was startling. So I had the idea for the plaintiff nature of the song to have a similar thing added to it, and went online, looking for the real deal, musicians in New Orleans that we could send the song to, and they could send the brass back. And found some. They recorded the day after the Presidential election, and we talked to them in the studio via Skype. Oh happy day. They must have been tired and maybe hungover, but still buzzing after such a day and night.

We added some drums to their arrangement, as if we too were in the group, but it was hard to make these work, as we ain’t got that swing…they’re quite buried in the mix. Still, it was very satisfying to have such a vision realised.”

http://www.bellx1.com/

–Carrie Alison, Photo Credit: Jan Von Holleben