From Bell X1 to Berlin, and a treehouse in Co Wicklow

After almost three decades in the music industry, Brian Crosby has just released his solo debut

Brian Crosby’s  solo debut is called Imbrium.

Brian Crosby’s solo debut is called Imbrium.

 

Once upon a time, Brian Crosby was best known as a founding member of Juniper, the band which became Bell X1 after Damien Rice’s departure. After almost three decades as a musician, his solo debut will undoubtedly surprise many who had preconceptions about his work. “I kind of get that for people who haven’t seen what I’ve done for a while, it’s a bit unexpected to come back with something like this,” he admits, laughing. 

The Dublin-born, Kildare-raised and now Wicklow-based man’s venture into solo instrumental piano music isn’t a huge surprise, if you’re familiar with his recent work. After leaving Bell X1 in 2008, Crosby upped sticks to Berlin, where he rented a “huge factory” in the city’s Kreuzberg district, converted it into nine studios and set about establishing a creative hub, simultaneously working as a composer for TV and film. His credits in recent years have included US comedy series I Love Dick, horror film January and various shorts, documentaries and gallery installations.

He has had the idea to make a solo piano record for a while, he says. “But by that very nature it’s kind of something you need to do on your own,” he explains over Zoom from his Wicklow studio, a space named “the treehouse” because of its elevated position surrounded by forest. “All my years in Berlin, I was in that world of film scoring. But it’s something that I think is really important: to be able to offer something to the world that’s not a commission, that’s just your voice.” 

The fruits of his labour have now resulted in his solo debut, Imbrium. It’s certainly a far cry from his earlier musical life, when he formed Juniper in Celbridge, Co Kildare with schoolmates (and later, college mates) Rice, Paul Noonan and Dominic Phillips (David Geraghty would join later). Their hobby band turned into a serious prospect when they were signed to PolyGram on a six-album deal. Instead of fulfilling their potential and going global, Juniper imploded – something that Crosby still feels remorse about. 

“Looking back now, in retrospect, I do have regrets that we didn’t document it in terms of making a record – because I think there was a good record to be made,” he says. “I didn’t like all of the hype surrounding it, and I think that was mostly because we were signed to a label who didn’t know any other way of promotion; they were used to boy bands. But y’know, never say never. We bump into Damien every so often and it comes up in conversation. We don’t have any plans per se, but I think we’re all open to finishing that chapter at some point.”

Brian Crosby worked for many years in Berlin on film scores, after he left the band Bell X1.
Brian Crosby worked for many years in Berlin on film scores, after he left the band Bell X1.

Crosby later enjoyed huge success with Bell X1 – and as the mastermind behind The Cake Sale, an international music collective who released an album for Oxfam in 2006 – but left that band in 2008, after three albums.

 “It was a really difficult decision. At the core, I knew I wanted something other than life in a band,” he says, shrugging. “I had started to do some film scoring work, and that really caught my imagination. And y’know, the optics of a band are sometimes misleading. People look at a band, and they see the glamour and all of the highs – but in reality, there’s a lot of passive time spent in a band, sitting in buses, waiting for soundchecks, et cetera, et cetera. I’m also a believer in a change being a really good energy. Certainly for me, I was really energised by it, even though it was a brave decision to make – because it was a livelihood that I was walking away from.”

‘Longing for home’

He left Berlin in 2017 after eight years, returning home with his young family because he felt Berlin was changing for the worse and “we also had a bit of a longing for home and countryside”. The songs on Imbrium, however, had been in the works since his time in the German capital.

The fact that the project only gathered momentum last year, when circumstances forced him to slow down, is both notable and appropriate given that Imbrium is a beautiful, meandering collection of songs that demands time and attention of its listener. 

Brian Crosby was a founding member of Juniper, the band which became Bell X1 after Damien Rice’s departure.
Brian Crosby was a founding member of Juniper, the band which became Bell X1 after Damien Rice’s departure.

“We’re subjected to so much noise and information, especially during the pandemic, and with how social media has gripped all of us,” he says. “We’re very lucky in that we live in the countryside, so the pause we have out here really helped with recording; it helped me slow down and just breathe with it. I get upset when I think too much about the amount of noise out there, and when I see our reliance on and our addiction to social media, and the fact that there’s no respect for space anymore. Advertising seems to be filling up all the gaps. I kind of wanted to counter that, in a way, and it felt like a genuine offering to put something out that was exactly the opposite to that noise.” 

When it came to composing, there was one main feature that he wanted to avoid. “It’s very easy, with a piano piece, to get sentimental quite quickly – so any piece that got too sentimental just didn’t make the cut,” he smiles. “I always thought about the imagery of the moon. That’s why it’s called Imbrium – it’s a geological feature found on the moon, so maybe that’s a useful visual representation of what the music stands for. In my head, it’s kind of floating up there, it’s not pinned down. And hopefully that’s how it lands with whoever listens to it.”

Plans for the near future include figuring out a way to use the outdoor performance space at his Treehouse Studio to stage and stream intimate gigs – one of the ideas that he took home with him from Berlin. And Imbrium, he firmly states, is just the beginning of this new chapter in his eclectic musical life. “I would definitely like to put out more material – either solo or collaborative work,” he nods. “Just get back to the old school idea of putting out records. I haven’t done it in a while, and I really missed it.”

Imbrium is released on March 26th 

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