Last week, Irish rockers Bell X1 released their seventh studio album, Arms, a collection of feel-good songs made by grownups for grownups. Which is not to say Millennials won’t appreciate the catchy melodies and the odd Star Wars lyrical reference, but there’s something more to it. As you listen to simple but impassioned harmonies laid over clean rhythms and echoing guitar chords, all the background noise, the Trump-isms and the chaos start to fade away and you’re left with the feeling of warmth.
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The band didn’t set out with a thematic vision of any sort. But, as guitarist Dave Geraghty remembers, eventually a certain mood seemed to take over. “I suppose we are men of a certain age, with young families now,” Geraghty says. “There’s this kind of real concern about the world that our children are going to grow up in and holding our loved ones close and wanting to be part of that embrace, and extending that embrace to our fans. Maybe it’s a new age, you know, love and peace.”
There’s no political grandstanding here. Geraghty, along with bandmates Paul Noonan and Dominic Phillips, prefers to cede the stage to other artists more inclined to political activism. Instead, they take a subtle approach. “It’s more of a personal take on how as writers in the band we each view the world or see the future of the world,” Geraghty says. “It’s bracing yourself for the unknown, running to the familiar embrace of loved ones.”
“We were very much inspired by PJ Harvey, her last couple of albums where she’s singing about very heavy stuff,” he adds. “She’s putting it across in a way that almost seems light-hearted. Maybe it’s a sneaky way of drawing the listener into the message.” For instance, on “Sons and Daughters,” one of the more direct songs on the album, “there’s a message about ‘God, what world are we leaving for our children?’ But there’s still a sense of bounce and fun, and it’s inviting and inclusive.
“We’re all very much distracted by our busy lives that we have to live nowadays,” he continues. “Both parents having to work to pay for an expensive way of life, mortgages and child care and colleges. But you have to find time to regroup as a family because everyone is stuck into their own little world via technology. And then, of course, the damage to Mother Earth with a six-pack snagged on a dolphin’s nose and images like that. It’s a heavy commentary about the world we live in.”
Ultimately, he says, “the question is, ‘is this really what we are leaving for our children?’”
Compared to their 2013 release Chop Chop, which was recorded in 13 days, this album took the better part of two years to make. The process started in Geraghty’s Dublin garage studio, three guys just “working up the ideas and jamming at songs,” and in January 2015, the band headed to a larger studio to record. They ended up with enough to fill three separate albums, each with its own particular feel. One felt like a continuation of Chop Chop, the next was all raw guitars, but the third was the one that caught their attention. Eventually Glen Keating joined the band on keys. “He overdubbed some of his sonic wizardry over seven of the nine songs,” says Geraghty. At this point, they’d been working on the album for a year and a half, and the songs were just beginning to take their final forms. But, as Geraghty says, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Bell X1 will finish the year playing shows in Ireland, the UK and Australia. And they’re planning to announce some U.S. dates for early 2017. Geraghty says the band looks forward to playing the States. “We’ve always felt so much more at home in America,” he says. Unlike their hometown fans, he says, Americans are more open-minded about bands exploring new sounds, new directions. The guys love meeting the fans, and enjoy “that sense of adventure and sense of new.” America, he says, “feels like a lot of really interesting countries stuck together.”
But, perhaps more than all that, they love a good American diner breakfast. “Nowhere in the world does breakfast like America. Even if it’s just bacon and pancakes. The coffee, the eggs, the home fries, you call it? There’s something about the way it’s all done on the hot griddle and all the flavors.” But, Geraghty jokes, “maybe we’ll wait a few days into the tour because we’re not getting any younger or thinner.”
— Stephanie Wargin