The Irish rock equivalent of hell freezing over occurred last year when Bell X1 were joined on stage by their former collaborator Damien Rice. The Kildare band were marking their 20th anniversary with a run of valedictory shows. Rice had been a key part in their origin story as their first lead singer (when they went as Juniper).
He left under dramatic circumstances to became a globally-successful solo artist. At Vicar Street, there was a sense of old wounds finally healing. He was heart-warming evidence that, in rock’n’roll as in life, no bridge is beyond mending and that sometimes the past can just be the past.
Yet for Bell X1 guitarist David Geraghty, the future was already on the horizon. Even as Bell X1 celebrated two decades, he was deep into recording his fourth solo record — his second under the Join Me In the Pines moniker. He was delighted to play alongside Rice. But he had other things on his mind too.
“It was nice to have him come on,” Geraghty says of Rice’s appearance with Bell X1. “We hadn’t been in that situation for quite a while.”
He also puts himself into novel situations on his new LP, Monomania. The record is a manifestation of his wish to broaden the canvass and run with new ideas. It is worlds removed from Bell X1’s indie pop. As was the intention.
“It was my fourth solo record,” explains Geraghty. “It can be a very lonely process. It can be a bit of a drag if you’re at the point where it’s all going slightly cerebral in terms of crossing every t and dotting every i.”
So he shook things up and drew on an entirely different body of influences. It would be slightly simplistic to describe Monomania as his funk album. But it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate.
“Prince was referenced,” he says.
In terms of key sounds, vocal effects, guitar parts. We also came back to Womack and Womack. And to Grace Jones’s ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’. The production in that was something we took a look at.
Given the 1980s shimmer, it was appropriate Join Me in The Pines would open for yacht rock once and future kings Hall and Oates on their recent Irish dates in Cork and Dublin. Two kindred spirits were breathing the same air.
“It was a great one to do,” agrees Geraghty. “We have a song on the album called ‘Small Change’ that is totally taking a leaf from the Hall and Oates book, production-wise.”
Geraghty sits in the creative engine room of Bell X1. Yet by definition the project represents the vision of a number of musicians. With Join Me In The Pines he’s able to follow his own path.
That’s important for his artistic well-being, he explains. He’s more than simply a guitarist, producer and backing vocalist. Join Me In the Pines is a manifestation of this.
“I’m occupying a much bigger role than in whatever Bell X1 is,” he says. “In Bell X1 I’m involved in the music and some of the lyrical ideas. In the solo thing it all falls on my shoulders. There is a lot of worked involved — you can be more bold and venture into uncharted territory.”
He doesn’t want to suggest he is breaking musical boundaries or “reinventing the wheel”. More that he’s pushing his own songwriting in different directions.
“This album was about turning the ship around and pointing it in a more interesting direction,” he says. “It’s really important for me. To fulfil my potential I want to take strides as a singer, a writer and a front person. It’s important that I get to scratch that itch. I really couldn’t move forward without having that platform.”