How is it that one of the biggest rock groups in Ireland may still be best known in the States as “that band that used to be fronted by folkie Damien Rice?”
Bell X1 deserves better than that. After all, it’s no mistake that the band shares its name with the first airplane to break the speed of sound.
The group, composed of vocalist Paul Noonan, David Geraghty and Brian Crosby on guitar, Dominic Phillips on bass and Tim O’Donovan on drums, has been making plenty of noise for some time at home with its combination of witty lyricism, dreamy pop and indie rock.
Bell X1 has played some of the largest rooms in Ireland, toured with the likes of Snow Patrol, Keane and Starsailor and sold millions of copies of its 2005 release, Flock, in Ireland and the U.K. It’s also had music featured on TV shows including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The O.C.”
But it wasn’t until Intrigue Music Management’s Foye Johnson saw the band in December 2006 at The Point in Dublin, playing to a crowd of more than 7,500, that he realized Flock hadn’t yet dropped in the U.S.
“We were a bit amazed that the record hadn’t been released outside of the U.K. and Ireland and we decided we would make it our mission to try to get that done,” Johnson told Pollstar.
Fast forward to February of this year, and the band hopped on a bus for its first “proper” Stateside club tour in support of the U.S. release of the album.
It’s been a change of pace for Bell X1, Noonan explained.
“The last shows we did in Ireland were 10,000-capacity shows, so to go back and do 500- to 1,000-[capacity] clubs is a very different thing,” he told Pollstar. “I personally wasn’t always comfortable with the 10,000-people venues because I just feel a lot of subtlety is lost.
“We chose not to do certain songs because we thought … they’d get lost in such a grand arena, where gestures really have to be magnified to actually have impact. I think we definitely learned a lot by doing them but I think we’re a lot more comfortable in smaller clubs.”
Not that the band is known for always sticking with what’s comfortable.
When Rice left the group, which was formerly known as Juniper, the other members were thrust into a game of musical chairs, with Geraghty and Noonan sharing songwriting responsibilities, and Noonan, who previously played drums, taking the lead.
Although Noonan admitted he felt “quite naked for a while without my drums and cymbals to hide behind,” the risk paid off in the end.
Steve Ferguson of Paradigm explained that the band has the same attitude when it comes to touring the U.S.
“They put in their dues for quite a long time as musicians,” Ferguson told Pollstar. “Slowly but surely, they built up their little fan base and they’d like to repeat that in each territory. It’s harder when you leave your home country to do that, but it’s rolling up your sleeves and saying we’ll dedicate the time to make that happen.”
And although the material may be a bit dated to the band, Noonan explained performing for American audiences has brought new energy to Bell X1’s performances.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than coming somewhere you’ve never been and finding a room full of people to see you,” he said. “And people ask us all the time, because the record that’s just come out in the States is two years old to us in Ireland, whether we get bored of the songs but … it’s fresh in the States and there’s a sense that it’s kind of a new journey. There’s an optimism about it, and that gives it a freshness for us too.”
After wrapping up a second leg of U.S. dates in June, Bell X1 heads back home to continue working on its next album, which is slated for worldwide release in early 2009.
The band will also head back in the fall for more dates, and Ferguson said he hopes Bell X1 will break the sound barrier on its third trek around the States.
“Irish bands have always taken to this country in many ways like it’s their second home, and hopefully this will be their second home,” he said. “If we can start to make some noise here and some inroads, then that helps with developing the band’s profile and their ability to come back here time after time.”–