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Bell X1 On "Less Serious" Album 'Arms,' Writing Process & More [Interview]

by Ryan Middleton   Oct 13, 2016 13:21 PM EDT

Bell X1 (Photo : Johnny Savage)

Seminal Irish Band Bell X1 just keep on rolling. With six records and sold out shows in the books over nearly a two-decade career, the band could rest on their laurels. However, the band will release their seventh studio album Arms tomorrow, Oct. 14 and it finds the trio having more fun, writing more "groove-based" music.

Though the LP is only nine songs, they are able to weave together a story with superb songwriting with the skill of veteran musicians.

We had the chance to chat with bassist Dominic Phillips about the LP, the process for writing it, who snores in the band and much more.

Fans can go stream the album on The Irish Times now, or wait until tomorrow where when it drops officially. Pre-order Arms on iTunes here.

RM: What's the biggest different between this record from the others?

Dominic Phillips: This one is less serious I guess. The last one is probably our most stately. Whereas this is bit more groove based and based around music, less singer, songwriter-y. We've had a broad range of records, so I am not sure it is like any of the previous records, but it is particularly different from the last one because we had to do something to keep ourselves interested.

RM: Is that less serious note coming from a place in your lives or that you just wanted to do something different?

DP: I think it is just we wanted to do something different. For instance we spent quite a while making this one, whereas the last one was quick. The change of process was just to do it differently. It just worked out. We had a large batch of songs we were working on so it could have gone a number of different ways like anything ranging from a continuation from the last record to this. I think we just felt once we decided to go this route we started cutting stuff accordingly - cutting some songs.

RM: How many songs did make for the album?

DP: We probably had 30 or 40 songs in some description. Depending on the type of album we were going to make would cut some of those out. Some of them were just ideas that did not take on, some of them were ideas that did take on and became full songs, some of them were even recorded, some to almost completion. In the end we had to make conclusions and a running order. We have songs that are unused that may be used again as B-Sides or that type of thing. Along the process some of my favorite haven't made the cut, but that is the nature of working in a group situation.

RM: Is "Fail Again, Fail Better" somewhat autobiographical?

DP: I guess everything has to be somewhat autobiographical. Like that specifically isn't really a song. It is almost a mash of stuff. When we were doing it, it became the idea to make it as the album opener and to have it as the palate centerer for the record. It would encompass a bunch of elements that the record would contain. It wouldn't necessarily be a song, but a piece that would fade in and fade out. It would kind of set the tone. It just kind of took off as we were recording it - various ideas as they do. It became a fun piece to work on. It ticked a few boxes.

But specifically "Fail Again, Fail Better," I guess yeah it is autobiographical because you are constantly trying to improve or constantly doing what you are doing. It is ok to try stuff and fail.

RM: Do you have a bad show experience?

DP: At the Comedy Factor Paul has fallen over monitors a few times, which is not a good look at pretty big shows. We had a drape in front of the stage - a really big bed sheet if you will - sort of see-through so a light was shining through it at the start of the show. It was an outdoor festival. It was lit from behind so it would look really cool and then we would come on stage and there would be silhouettes of ourselves playing. At a particular predetermined moment there would be a bang and the drape would release from above and drop and it would have this amazing effect. But it got caught at one end so it slowly drifted down like a curtain at home that came off the rails and it fell limply to one side. So we were mainly exposed and then there were lighting guys scrambling to pull this miserable looking thing off the rafters.

RM: Some artists finish their album way ahead of the actual release and others are writing and mixing all the way up to the eleventh hour. What are you guys?

DP: We don't have a formula as such. We just go with whatever we are doing at the time. There is a point where you have to schedule a release in order to do things. With this record it is probably the longest we have worked on one before getting anywhere close to the end. From starting the initial writing was about two years ago. So the end of 2014 we started writing and did some recording in early 2015. We went and did some studio time. Then we reappraised and did some stuff in our own studio. We were working all of the time, not constantly at it, but there wasn't a pressure.

We are lucky in that we are our own record company so we have only ourselves. Which is arguably not a good thing sometimes. When we get to the end of a project we have to set the wheels in motion so we can aim for a release and get everything finished. Then again we can always change that because it is our decision. We have had times with previous records on labels where we had to sync to their schedules. But frankly with the label world, you are the one who is pushing. They have no problem saying "oh yeah we will leave it for six months."

RM: What is something people might not know about you guys?

DP: We do have a few snorers including myself. That can be a bit of an issue if you are traveling around, depending on where you are staying and if you are sharing rooms. It doesn't go down too well. I sleep like a log myself, so it doesn't bother me.

RM: You have the album coming up. Do you have touring or acoustic touring plans for the album?

DP: Yes. We will be touring. We do the acoustic touring on the alternative year like when we are in the middle of writing, we do an acoustic tour to sort of road test, just the three of us, new material for ourselves. There is no substitute for playing in front of people. It allows you to inform the songs. For this record we have done a bunch of festivals this summer already with the new material even though the record is not out. That's kind of funny playing new stuff when no one has heard it. You manage to get a single or two out beforehand, but with the release next month there is touring starting at the end of October running into the end of the year. We will be over to the States in February is the plan.

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