Going solo on the side
Multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty may be married to his band Bell X1, but it’s far from a monogamous relationship, as his burgeoning solo career proves, writes KEVIN COURTNEY
LOTS OF MUSICIANS leave their bands to pursue a solo career and get out from under the shadow of their limelight-hogging leader. A few brave souls, however, opt to remain in the bosom of their band, grabbing some time to work on their own material in between tour commitments, recording schedules and reality TV appearances.
David Geraghty has taken the second route to solo salvation – he’s still a fully committed member of Bell X1, and doesn’t mind at all if his bandmates Paul Noonan and Dominick Phillips hog centre stage. But when Bell X1 aren’t tearing around the US, guesting on Letterman and Leno, or playing sold-out home dates, Geraghty gets a bunch of mates together, scoots off down the country, and gets to work on the solo album.
Keeping your band gig and solo career going in tandem can lead to a few conflicts, however. It’s all fine and good, as long as the solo work stays in the background and doesn’t interfere with the main business of the band. But what if your own album outsells your band’s record? What if you become more famous than the other guys in the band? And what happens when your album gets nominated for a prize that your band missed out on winning just two years previously? No one was more surprised than Geraghty when his debut solo album, 2007’s Kill Your Darlings, was nominated for both a Choice Music Prize and a Meteor Music Prize. The boys in Bell X1, though, must have been raging.
“No, they were fine about it, ’cos I didn’t win it,” laughs Geraghty. “If I’d won it, that might be a different matter. You never know, next year it could be me and Bell X1, we could both have a record out. It kind of crossed my mind.”
So far, Geraghty’s bandmates needn’t worry about being upstaged by the soft-spoken fella behind the keyboard – Bell X1’s star is most definitely in the ascendant, and it seems that nothing can halt their rise to alt.rock superstardom. Their fourth album, Blue Lights on the Runway, is their most successful yet, and they supported U2 on one of their Croke Park dates last summer. They’re currently touring the US before returning for two sold-out shows in the Olympia at the end of November, and the band will probably do more high-profile US TV appearances that will boost their standing even further. So, Dave, why bother doing solo work? Why not just get the head down and ride the Bell X1 rollercoaster all the way to the top? “It’s purely a creative outlet, really,” is Geraghty’s answer. “From the very start, it was all about the songs, and the songwriting. That’s what it always was about for me, ever since I recorded a four-track demo with a friend.”
Back then, Geraghty was a young lad from Leixlip, looking for a chance to get into a band and show his multi-instrumental talent to the world. He could play piano, guitar, banjo, harmonica, he could sing, and he could write a decent song. All he needed was to meet like-minded lads with similar world-beating ambition, and he found them in nearby Celbridge – a band called Juniper, led by a charismatic chap named Damien Rice.
“The girl I was going out with at the time was doing her Leaving Cert with Damien, so I met him first, and it was two or three months later that I met the other guys from Juniper, ’cos they were all off in America on J-1s, and Damien stayed here and was doing pub gigs. So it was me, and him, and my girlfriend, and he started going out with my girlfriend’s friend, and so we were a foursome going around in this Vauxhall Astra. I joined up with the Juniper lads ’cos they had made a demo. I didn’t like it, mind, but I thought: they can make a demo, they’re serious! And I had been p***ing about with all these other musicians, and it was like, stop wasting my time, I wanna do this.”
JUNIPER ENJOYED THEIR hyped-up moment in the sun before Rice left to carve out his own successful solo path. Drummer Paul Noonan stepped up to the mic, Phil Collins-style, and the band changed their name to Bell X1. Four albums later, they’ve proven their worth to the world, but Geraghty found it hard to stay totally faithful to the band, and was soon having a bit of solo work on the side. As he said himself, “Who says being in a band should be monogamous? I kept writing, but then I found it was becoming more difficult to write, and I couldn’t work out why. I only worked it out after I recorded the first album: it was difficult to write because there was no outlet. I was working on songs, but what for? To what end? If it has somewhere to go, then you can push it through. Hence the reason for me going down to the gaff in west Cork last June to make a start on the second album, because I knew, ‘If I don’t do it now, when will I do it?’ ”
Geraghty gathered a group of musician and production friends together, including his wife, singer Clare Finglass, and they decamped to a converted barn near Clonakilty to record his second album, The Victory Dance.
“It was June, Irish summer, but a beautiful house in the middle of nowhere. You go up this big hill, and down the other side, into this valley with dense trees, and you just look out and go, wow. I felt like we were The Band, Levon and the boys.”
The summer breeze certainly wafts through the tracks on The Victory Dance, particularly Instant Sunshine, Soft Spotand Last Time Around.
Geraghty’s warm, mellow voice has been compared to John Martyn and Jeff Buckley, and there’s a rootsy, Big Pink flavour to the music. One of the standout tracks is Tuesday’s Feet, a song inspired by the events of 9/11. Hearing it brings to mind that old band/solo work dichotomy – might his bandmates in Bell X1 be annoyed that he kept such a good song to himself? “Actually, Tuesday’s Feetwas originally written for [Bell X1’s third album] Flock, but it just didn’t make it. I found that happened a lot with my music. I think it’s evident in the way my stuff is different to Bell X1 and it struggles to fit sometimes. It can be at odds with the rest of the Bell X1 material. It’s an old song, been around for a while, but it’s never tired with me. When it didn’t work for Bell X1, I thought, I’m going to do something with that song, ’cos I know exactly what to do with it.”
The new single, The Emperor’s Hand-Me-Downs, displays Geraghty’s easy lyrical dexterity, and the opening song, Watch Her Win, is dedicated to Geraghty’s wife Clare, who also sings on the album. “She’s not only my life partner, she’s a musical inspiration too.”
IT’S ONE THING juggling your band and your solo career, but when you add an expanding family into the mix, that can spark a serious tug-of-war for your time. Clare has just given birth to the couple’s daughter Jeannie, and Geraghty will now have to make room in his schedule for the new addition. It makes the prospect of touring with Bell X1 and being away from home seem even less attractive.
“We’re heading off for a month to America, and I’m psychologically preparing myself for that. I’m not happy about it at all. It’s freaky. At least the other two guys are in exactly the same boat. Dom has a little girl slightly older; Paul has a little boy slightly younger. I can’t even complain to them about it, because they’ll be missing their kids too.”
Still, it’ll all be worth it when Geraghty and his family are sitting in their big house on Rodeo Drive, and Geraghty is contemplating a trip to Big Sur to record another solo album with his rock-star pals. Would he consider a move to the US if the band really hit the big-time there? “I’d be totally up for it, yeah. We fleetingly visited a couple of American cities that I could see myself living in. New York, great city. Philly has a nice buzz to it. And it would be a nice change, get a bit of sun.
“It’s going well, and we have to keep pushing it out there. We just have to hope that somebody votes for more hours in the day or a longer week.”
The Victory Danceis out on Decal Records. The Emperor’s Hand-Me-Downsis out on Oct 30th. David Geraghty plays the Spiegeltent at Queen’s Festival, Belfast on Oct 20th and the Odessa Club, Dublin on Oct 29th. For more information, see www.davidgeraghty.com