SCOTT SIMON, host:
Think Talking Heads but with an Irish connection. That's Bell X1.
(Soundbite of song, "The Great Defector")
Mr. BILL NOONAN (Singer, Songwriter, Bell X1): (Singing) I'm the defector and you're the farmer's daughter. You been teasing us farm boys 'til we start talking about those rabbits, George. Oh, won't you tell us about those rabbits, George. I am the defector…
SIMON: That's "The Great Defector," off of Bell X1's fourth and latest studio release, "Blue Lights on the Runway." Bell X1 is known for their artfully constructed songs and offbeat lyrics. They first got widespread attention with their 2005 album, "Flock." Their songs have been featured on the TV shows "The O.C." and "Grey's Anatomy."
Two members of the Dublin bass band join us now from our studios in New York. They're singer and songwriter Paul Noonan. Thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. NOONAN: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: And guitarist Dave Geraghty, thank you very much.
Mr. DAVE GERAGHTY (Guitarist, Bell X1): Thank you, sir.
SIMON: You tired of that Talking Heads comparison?
Mr. NOONAN: Yes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Oh, well, did we say that?
Mr. NOONAN: Out loud, too.
SIMON: First thing up, yes. Okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NOONAN: No, I mean, it's a great band, a great influence on our music. We don't want to bring on the lawsuits just yet.
SIMON: And Bell X1, that's the plane that broke the sound barrier?
Mr. NOONAN: It is, indeed.
Mr. GERAGHTY: There was a history of Irish bands that have named themselves after American aircrafts. We thought we'd kind of follow along in a similar vein.
SIMON: Oh, right. I get it - U2…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GERAGHTY: Those two, indeed.
SIMON: Bell X1. Is there a Piper Cub Irish band?
Mr. NOONAN: I'm sure there is. Strong lineage.
SIMON: I want to ask you about a song you have here called "A Better Band." A lyric in here goes, the world is bearing down on me like a fish-eye lens. When it comes down to it, do I have any real friends? Ooh - is that how you feel sometimes?
Mr. NOONAN: I suppose so. You know, songs sometimes are a photograph of a particular moment. Like, you know, you move away from. So, yeah, there's a certain amount of wallowing that's about - in the song. But I think it comes kind of good in the end.
SIMON: Let's listen to a little of "A Better Band," if we could.
(Soundbite of song, "A Better Band")
Mr. NOONAN: (Singing) Is this room getting smaller or is it just me? I've paced myself, braced myself, trying not to breathe. While these walls are closing in on me like the Death Star bin. Oh, that'll learn me. That'll squeeze out all the sin. This world is bearing down on me like a fish-eye lens. When it comes down to it, do I have any real friends? How long were those monkeys typing to make up Billy's work? I have somewhere to go, yeah, I'll finish this one first. Something's gotta give.
SIMON: I've been tipped off to the fact that you have entered our studio with a couple of instruments.
Mr. GERAGHTY: We have, indeed.
SIMON: I've heard about, and I'd like you to play a song called "The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella." But first, Mr. Noonan, I understand there's a story that goes with it.
Mr. NOONAN: It was one of our many trips to the States last year when I met an elderly Polish man in a bar in New York, who told me the story of how he had left Poland in the '50s or early '60s and come to the States in search of a better life, and had planned to meet up with a girl from his village who he'd plan to make his wife in New York. And they somehow lost contact details, and he never met with her. He showed me a kind of a yellowed, worn photograph of her that he still carried in his wallet and had held a candle for her to that day. He'd never married and was still very much in that same place. So, it was quite an inspiring story.
SIMON: Can we hear a little bit of the song?
Mr. NOONAN: Will do.
(Soundbite of song, "The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella")
Mr. NOONAN: (Singing) She was only just a girl in a picture, but he thought if I could only make her smile, then she'd be mine. He folded it, refolded itso many times, he'd already lost some of her to creases, precious pieces. I wondered how close he'd ever been to her in this ebb and flow, this distance between us. Maybe she'd got the same bus. And he left a trail of string where ever he went, when he was sleeping, he tied it to his toes. If she crossed it, he'd know.
But he knew it all was irrelevant, and he was bare, stripped of his skin. Like the ribs of a broken umbrella, sticking out of a bin. He pulled his collar up against the wind, against those who said the trying was the first thing to fail him. Oh, he was railing. That filled a newfound purpose and pride. He'd make something of this heady glow, now where would she go?
What do I know? 'Cause all has unraveled him. And he was bare, he was stripped of his skin. Like the ribs of a broken umbrella, sticking out of a bin. She was only a girl in a picture. She was only a girl in a picture. She was only a girl in a picture. A girl in a picture sticking out of a bin.
SIMON: Gentlemen, thank so you much. That was wonderful.
Mr. GERAGHTY: Thank you.
Mr. NOONAN: Thank you, sir.
SIMON: Are the Irish bars in places like New York, Chicago and Boston authentic, or are they like a Disneyland version of an Irish bar?
Mr. GERAGHTY: I suppose they are, yeah. I mean, when we travel, we generally try to stay away from Irish bars. Because it's full of the kind of leprechaun, shillelagh, Erin Go Bragh factor, which is a bit cringy. So, we generally don't go to Irish bars. And we try and soak up a bit of the culture wherever it is we are by drinking local beers and kissing local women and, you know.
SIMON: Tell me where "Blue Lights on the Runway" was recorded.
Mr. GERAGHTY: Yeah, we took a house - big, old, drafty, spooky house that was a castle once upon a time. That was, like, a lot of fun because there was the whole discovering how to dress the songs and putting finishing touches on that, you know.
SIMON: Did you say discovering how to dress the songs?
Mr. GERAGHTY: Yeah. I mean, a song might exist in its basic form on guitar or piano and then, you know, you just start trying different grooves or different instrumentations, different arrangements and…
Mr. NOONAN: Like fun Barbie, disco Barbie and barbecue Barbie.
Mr. GERAGHTY: Musical Barbie, yeah.
Mr. NOONAN: I think with this record is - what we wanted to kind of change it up a bit and then kind of, we wanted to explore a bit more of the kind of electronic side of the instrumentation. And I know it's, you know, hardly reinventing the wheel and we're not the first to do it, but it was definitely a departure for us. And it's very rewarding when you kind of get into territory that you've never been, and for it to kind of feel like it's worked.
SIMON: And how do you work up a song?
Mr. GERAGHTY: Eye of Newt.
Mr. NOONAN: Yeah. Toe of frog.
Mr. GERAGHTY: Toe of frog.
Mr. NOONAN: You know, often you find if you've landed on a formula that works, on an approach that's worked with a song, and you kind of go, well, that worked; I'll try that again. It never does. I mean, that's the magic of it, I suppose, is that there is no formula to get there. But some songs would kind of come to the band pretty much completed by myself or Dave on the acoustic guitar or the piano.
And then other songs are just fragments of ideas that are just culled together by all four of us in the room.
Mr. GERAGHTY: I think with every record, we try to challenge the idea of what we've become or what we're kind of known for, and just change it up a bit, keep us interested.
SIMON: So that know-nothings like us don't keep comparing you to the Talking Heads?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GERAGHTY: Well, they're good footsteps to follow, if that's what we're doing.
SIMON: There's a tune that you're going to play us out on, I gather. Can you tell us about it?
Mr. NOONAN: Yeah. It's probably the purest example of taking a song that was written quite organically and dressing it in beats and blops from machines. This is a song called "How Your Heart is Wired."
SIMON: Gentlemen, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. NOONAN: Well, thanks for having us.
SIMON: Paul Noonan and Dave Geraghty of the band Bell X1. Their new CD: "Blue Lights on the Runway."
(Soundbite of song, "How Your Heart is Wired")
Mr. NOONAN: (Singing) My tongue is scaling the north face of your neck. Am I glaring like warriors? But I have a feeling you won't look at me that way in the morning…
SIMON: You can hear audio cuts from the new CD by Bell X1 at our Web site, NPRmusic.org.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
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