Lord knows, I tried. And for the most part I like to think I succeeded. But then, midway through my interview with Paul Noonan from Bell X1, the unthinkable happened.
I started slipping into an Irish accent. I tried to reign it back – keep it together, man, you’re a professional! – but it had suddenly become St. Patrick’s Day in my mouth, and in the end it was the best I could do not to invite the poor guy over for a Guinness and potato pie. Turns out that wouldn’t have been a ridiculous notion, given that pies are one of Noonan’s most enduring memories of his first experience in Australia.
“I’d been over there before about 15 years ago,” he recalls on an early overcast morning in Ireland. “Our first record was produced by Nick Seymour of Crowded House. We went to visit him shortly after we wrote that record, so he was sort of our introduction to all things Australia. I remember that man made a mean meat pie. He used to brag about how important the white pepper content was.”
Of crucial importance, I assure him. Still, 15 years is a long time between visits, especially when Bell X1 have developed into one of the most successful Irish bands around. In the last four years alone they have toured North America 11 times, and at home their success is only surpassed by a little group you may have heard of called U2. Yet they have held off on touring Australia, electing to wait until the timing was right.
“I think we just reached a tipping point where we felt our records had percolated through enough,” says Noonan. “The last couple of releases had been well received, and I think with the amount of Irish people down there now it means you have an audience who knows you from back home, who will help spread the word … [But] we wanted to reach beyond the Irish community who already know us.”
It will be an exciting, albeit brief opportunity for Australian audiences to catch a band renowned for its live performance. The entire national tour will last just a week, which hardly seems like an ideal opportunity for the guys to get a sense of local colour or character. But frantic tour schedules are something Bell X1 have long grown accustomed to.
“We’ve been together so long we’ve become a family, and so we hold each other in the familiar contempt that you hold your family in,” Noonan laughs. “So you’re comfortable sitting in a van grunting at each other occasionally to pass a magazine or whatever. Making music together can be a very intimate and vulnerable thing, especially the songwriter, where you’re revealing things that you wouldn’t ordinarily say. So you tap into quite a deep place with who you make music with. We’ve often gone through the process of writing a song together that’s pretty heavy, and don’t actually talk about it until we find ourselves doing interviews. Having played together for so long we don’t generally have to pause and explain everything as we go; we can communicate through the music more than anything else. There’s a great intuition there.
“The thing about touring is – and it’s changed over the years – when we first started playing we were in our teens, and there’s an incredible wide-eyed wonder about it. The act of getting in the van and going somewhere, playing a show in front of people you don’t actually know, all of that is incredibly exciting. To be honest, we still get that, especially with places we’ve never been. We feel like we’re starting from the ground up; we’re starting back in small clubs, being able to look people in the eye. Being a musician, there’s something very primal about that, and there’s no substitute for it.”
Bell X1 will play at The Hi-Fi with support from The Phoncurves on Saturday July 5. Their album Chop Chop is out now through BellyUp Records.