Interview: Paul Noonan of Bell X1 (Part 2)

By on Wednesday, 1st May 2013 at 11:00 am

If you haven’t caught up yet and read the first half of Carrie’s wonderful interview with Paul Noonan of Bell X1, go here. Then dive right in to part 2 below…

I read through the liner notes for the album, and they’re sort of non-specific about who does what, who plays what, who wrote what. Is that deliberate, are you trying to create sort of a band effect there?
Yeah, we’ve never really gotten into who played triangle in the third verse and stuff like that. And we’ve always walked instruments a lot as well, like Dave Geraghty plays a lot of drums, most of the drums on this record. You know we’ve, he and I would have traded a lot of the piano and guitar work. Thomas played a lot of piano, I played some drums. Dominic, the rock, still played bass and bass only, so he’s, I suppose, the fulcrum about which it all swings.
(laughing) He does what he’s good at doing. But I did see in the liner notes that you have a singer, a background singer, called Hannah Cohen.
That’s right, yes. Yeah, we loved her first record, and she came down for a few days, she’s a friend of Peter’s, a friend of Thomas’s. We played through some songs and just loved how her voice sat in there, so had her sing.
That was kind of a nice effect.
Good, yeah, especially in sort of crowd vocals, I’ve often found that no matter how much the three of us would layer stuff up, it wouldn’t sound like a proper crowd unless you had other voices and specifically female voices in there as well, that just add more of a, more empathy, I think, certainly in say, the end, uh, the end of ‘The End Is Nigh’, when that line, ‘Hold me, it’s coming,’ her voice in there really adds a yearning to that that’s such a heartbreak for me that just wasn’t there without it. She really made that song, I think.

She also sang on ‘Drive-By Summer’, am I right?
That’s right, yeah.
That song, when I first listened to it, I couldn’t figure out what it reminded me of. It reminded me a little bit of the cover you did of ‘I Fought the Law’, that guitar riff is kind of the same.
Yeah, I guess that could have been in there by osmosis.
I wondered about that. I mean, I know you do a lot of covers and some of them have been really interesting. Do you take something from those into your own writing?
Yeah, I would, and a lot of the writing on piano this time round…I don’t, I can’t really play piano, I’ve never, sort of, had lessons, or I didn’t grow up playing piano, so I’ve sort of, I’ve come to it late in life, so that has sort of a naïve, sort of feeling my way around the notes. But I would often, like, instead of sort of staring at a blank canvas, I would play, work out how to play a song. Like, I don’t know, Prince’s ‘Never Take the Place of Your Man’ or…uh…(laughing)
(laughing) Which probably sounded lovely on the piano.
Yeah it is, a lot of his stuff does, I mean it’s the mark of great writing, I think, when you can take big, bombastic numbers or you know even sort of the way Depeche Mode’s writing, I’ve always loved, in that their songs are very sort of you know electro-driven, but at their core, they’re really great, sort of moving, some of them are great, moving songs that you can play quite easily on the piano or acoustic guitar. So yeah, other people’s work’s definitely always been…(laughing) yeah…we have our place in some sort of lineage of stuff and where it’s come from, where it’s going. I wouldn’t deny my, or our, influences in that way.

So, talking about bigger, bombastic numbers, maybe we can talk a little bit about ‘Starlings Over Brighton Pier’. That has a lot of layers to it, but it must have started out with something fairly simple?
Yeah, that sort of cascading piano motif and seeing starlings, or seeing murmurations. I remember seeing it first as a kid, starlings doing that, and being totally sort of enamoured by it. I think as humans, we sort of, we like to sort of read significance into, you know, such sort of natural phenomena that possibly aren’t there, or we see it as this great, um, this great sort of act of solidarity or a sense of the greater good and something sort of being greater than the sum of its component parts, you know in that very sort of lofty way (laughing), and the song, it sort of takes off on that sort of tip. But, you know, they’re probably, I did a little reading on it, and they’re just, they’re protecting, I think they take turns sort of, being on the outside and often it’s so they’re protecting themselves from birds of prey by making those sort of grand gestures and motions.

The song itself turned into kind of a grand gesture. It got kind of big, and I was thinking back to ‘Hey Anna Lena’, and ‘Amelia’, and ‘Bad Skin Day’, those were kind of big songs, so you seem like maybe you’re comfortable writing that way.
Yeah, I think I’ve probably, every record has had a song that filled that slot. Uh, the ones you mentioned, I suppose, and ‘How Your Heart is Wired’, I think, on ‘Blue Lights on the Runway’, would probably fill that slot. And it’s sort of unusual for this record, I suppose. It’s one of the longer songs, and has that sort of ‘start tiny, build, and get sort of big and grandiose’. Whereas with others, you know we were definitely kind of, we steered away from sort of getting too big or multi-layered. I think with this, it just, it felt, with especially what the brass did, it sort of needed to sort of soar in that sense. A lot of it was from the little piano motif and the way the drums sort of spiral around, a lot of the elements were sort of made to convey the sense of birds in murmuration.
But it is, it’s very different from the rest of the songs on the album.
Yeah. Well, the palette is pretty similar, I suppose it’s the only one with a loop. We’ve been trying to sort of get our heads around doing these songs live.

That was going to be one of my next questions, because I understand you are planning to do that.
Yes. Yeah, we’re doing a show here at the National Concert Hall to launch the record, I suppose, and we’re going to do the whole record straight through, and then take an interval (laughing), and then do, uh, the hits. Yeah, it’ll be pretty under the microscope there. We’re going to play with some brass players and we’re going to uh, rehearse (laughing).
(laughing) Yeah, you’ve got some time to do that. But you are planning on doing the full arrangements?
Well, they’ll be live takes on the song, but we want to play with some brass, and we want to sort of, to have that element throughout the whole, or you know, wherever we can for the whole record touring cycle.

Which brings me to my next question…after that, are you planning to tour the album, is that in the works?
Yes, absolutely, yeah. We get to the States, it’ll be October, I believe. So yeah, we’re working on a pretty extensive tour there for this. We’ll be, I suppose, in Ireland and Europe over the summer and then we’ll kick it to doing sort of club shows until the autumn. It won’t be sort of, uh, an easy record to play live, I mean none of them have been, we’ve always had this sort of transition to make from making the record to presenting it live, but we generally don’t try to just replicate the records, I think they’re very different animals and need to be sort of treated as such.

I did notice that, you played a couple of the songs last fall on your acoustic tour, a couple of songs from this album, and they’ve changed a little bit in the album versions.
Yeah, they were the pretty, sort of, bare bones versions on the acoustic tour, so they would have been embellished a little bit, I suppose. We did ‘Careful What You Wish For’ quite a bit, and we did a song called ‘Motorcades’.
That was one of my favorite songs on the acoustic tour, so I’m happy to hear that it made it onto the album, I really liked it.
Good. I mean our problem with that was, because it’s the same chords all the way through, keeping it interesting.
I think you did that in the arrangement, with the brass and the backing vocals.
Good yeah, I mean that was sort of tricky, we had lots of sort of options as to who would play the riff and sort of what point the backing vocals would come in.
Then you have lots of options for when you play it live, too.
Yes, exactly, yeah. Because it works as the three of us with the piano, bass, and drums as well, I think.

It did. I’ll be interested to hear how it evolves a little further, then. I just have one more little question for you. I’ve seen the album artwork for this album, and it was interesting, so I thought maybe you’d want to tell me a little bit about that.
Yeah, um, I have a little boy who’s three, and he loves the work of a guy called Alexis Deacon, particularly a book called Croc and Bird, and I kind of grew to love his stuff as well. We sort of talked about the artwork for this record being a little different and being more, um, less like it came out of a computer, more like something that somebody would make, and being a little more ragged and sort of handmade. And his work just sort of resonated with the period of putting this music together, and so I contacted him. And he was really open to listening to the demos, at that point, and coming up with sort of sketches and having sort of immediate visual responses to the music. And he did, and we met him in London, and sort of traded, it was while we were recording really, he was sort of sending us stuff and we had it in the studio as we were making the music and had it sort of on computers around the room and sort of traded e-mails, and went back and forth, and sort of settled on, he said it reminded him of, the music sort of collectively reminded him of a sort of vague recollection of a trip to a carnival when one was small when, you know, when one was a child, and it being sort of populated by these sort of half-people, half-animal sort of carny characters that have a little, were a little sinister but sort of, um, not in that sort of dystopian sense necessarily, but that had, were sort of more eccentric, kind of man-dog and he needed a snake lady as well. It was all pretty, sort of, trippy. But I’ve often wondered where this sort of resonance comes from, is this something that sort of happens to sort of make sense because they’re sort of thrown together, or whether it actually has true resonance.

I can sort of see it. There are a lot of different things going on in the album, and when I first listened to it, I didn’t quite know what to make of all of them. It really took me a few listens to put them together and make sense of it. So I can sort of see where he might have had that impression. It makes some sense now that I’ve heard you talk about it a little bit.
Right. Yeah, I mean our artwork is something we’ve always thought of as an extension of the music and should have some sort of resonance with it. And we’ve had great luck in sort of contacting people cold, on the internet, and having them sort of come to be friends and collaborate, you know, be it video or art or photography, so it’s a brave new world in that sense, you can go global with these things and not, you know, necessarily look to people you know or have sort of grown up with.
I think that’s kind of how this interview came about. (laughing)
That’s true.
Thank you for taking your time, I’ll let you get back to your evening.
Yes, I’m going to go watch last night’s Game of Thrones. Nice to talk to you, Carrie.
Yes, you too. Good-bye.

Many thanks to Paul for his time, and Kip and Foye for sorting this interview out for us.

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2 Responses

1:31 pm
1st May 2013

RT @tgtf: Carrie’s chat with the frontman of Bell X1 continues here: Interview: Paul Noonan of Bell X1 @BellX1 (Part 2):…

2:51 pm
1st May 2013

RT @tgtf: Carrie’s chat with the frontman of Bell X1 continues here: Interview: Paul Noonan of Bell X1 @BellX1 (Part 2):…

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