In The Middle with FONTAINES D.C.

Our online editor Neive McCarthy sat down with Conor Deegan from the incredible FONTAINES D.C. to discuss one of the craziest rises to fame yet.

“I feel like we were playing around the same venues in Dublin, then all of a sudden we were never home.” Conor Deegan, the bassist for the incredible FONTAINES D.C., muses to an empty Stylus. Just a few hours later, the band’s sold out show will see the venue before us descend into chaos as a whirl of people thrash around to their distinctive sounds. But for now, it is quiet and empty as Deegan reflects on what has been an immensely successful year for the Irish band. Having released their debut album Dogrel in April, FONTAINES D.C. found themselves catapulted into renown, suddenly the name on everyone’s lips. Riotous yet profound, it is an album largely tipped as one of the best of 2019, and rightly so. “It feels like our whole lives really,” Deegan remarks, which maybe it is – having started the band just four years ago, it has dominated a large chunk of their lives thus far, and transformed them. “We all got to quit our jobs – we all worked as waiters and all kind of shit jobs like that. So it was great to do music full time.”

Dogrel has consistently been revered for sounding as energetic and commanding as the band’s live performances, and that’s no coincidence. Recorded to tape in blocks of three or four songs continuously, the intensely raw sound is far from constructed, rather a side effect of how the album was recorded with the need to get it right the first time at the forefront of the band’s minds. “It added a real sense of urgency to us – we were really on the edge of ‘we really can’t make a mistake’,” Deegan explains. “I think that really comes through on ‘Boys in The Better Land’ and ‘Too Real’. I feel like I can hear our being on the edge of ‘we really can’t fuck this up’.” This passion and determination to create an album that truly exemplifies the band permeates each track –the consideration and fervent energy that was channelled into the making of Dogrel is palpable throughout.

“I think the album is kind of a snapshot of where we were live at the time of recording it.” Having been playing these songs live for a while now, the band has of course grown significantly since their initial releases: “We’ve been adding in different things and trying to push the songs in different directions to keep them interesting for ourselves as much as the audience. We’ve gotten better at playing our instruments and getting across our ideas that we would’ve been trying to get across with other means before. Like ‘Too Real’, we really do different stuff in some of the sections now, but I really like it.” This experimental aspect of their live shows is by no means unwelcome, as Deegan adds that “the response has been really good, it’s been really fun,” so far on their tour.

Often, the band find themselves compared with other punk-infused bands like IDLES and Shame, but the way in which their music intertwines with politics is vastly different. Where IDLES and Shame laud quite bold statements about the state of the world, FONTAINES D.C. bring a fresh perspective. “We’re really influenced by Irish writers, and they kind of look at the world around them and try and find themselves in it. If you listen to Patrick Kavanagh and talk about the clay, and how the clay of the world reflects the people of the place where he’s from. We try and do that with Dublin – we were at home for a week there, and the people shouting and the stuff they say in the street is ridiculous, so you can’t help but be inspired by it.”

“That would’ve been a big influence on our perspective as trying to relate ourselves to the world around us, and I guess that’s political in itself in a way, but we wouldn’t really consider ourselves that way. I think it’s just existing in society, and then if you’re writing honestly about what’s happening in your life, and you’re engaged in the real world, then other people are going to relate to it because they’re living as well.”

“If you’re writing honestly about what’s happening in your life, and you’re engaged with the real world, then other people are going to relate to it because they’re living as well.”

This is undoubtedly where FONTAINES D.C. shine: there is a subtle nuance to their observations about the world around them that is perhaps hidden in their raucousness. There’s a notable disparity between the thoughtful, introspective nature of their lyrics and the heedless chaos of their sound. Interestingly, their influences are heavily embedded in their literary heritage, and this is illuminated in their lyricism – tying poetry and music together, many of their songs become intricately woven tales with animated characters. The city of Dublin itself is immortalised on the album into a character of sorts. “It all kind of clicked together when we were writing ‘Liberty Belle’: we basically named it after a pub in the area where we lived in Liberties, and something clicked into place with that song, where Grian’s singing in his own accent, and we have songs about Dublin so we’ll become more focused on what’s around us. That’s what made us special in our eyes to other bands that are around.”

Frontman Grian Chatten’s heavily accented vocals undoubtedly help in crafting this journey through Dublin, but it is their engagement with literature that Deegan attests to refining these songs so much further. “Learning about different weird structures in poems and books helped us with structures in songs and how they work. I don’t know if we would have done ‘Too Real’ if we hadn’t read The Wasteland.” Fontaines D.C.’s grounding in poetry is unlike any other band at the moment – incredibly innovative, it stands to testify why they are so deserving of the praise showered on them so generously.

Barely six months on from their debut, there is already a clamour for new sounds from the band. Thankfully, the promise of a second album heavily influenced by The Beach Boys is on the horizon. Recorded in LA at Sunset Sounds with Nick Launey, the album is set to see them pursue an “obsession with the idea of dark surfers”. Deegan explores how “even a beautiful, ideal life, if it’s repetitive enough could be really terrifying because there’s the sense of being trapped and paralysed there. There’s so much of that to us to be explored – of the juxtaposing of those two things – that we wanted to try and record in LA.”

Home of The Beach Boys, LA seemed to benefit the creation of this album immensely: “We thought that being in that environment all the time whilst we’re recording would really help with the ambience of it, in the same way that being in Dublin when we were writing Dogrel helped. And it really did, it’s really a city of two halves: it’s really sunshiney and beautiful, people smiling during the day, then there’s these strange vampire goths that come out at night and all kind of mad things happen.” Though this concept seems to see them stray somewhat from Dogrel, the band seem to be set on perfecting it in the same way as their debut.

By the sounds of it, FONTAINES D.C. have big ambitions for where they move forward from here. “We’re trying to get better at writing songs and playing our instruments and writing lyrics, pushing further down the path of emotions and things we want to explore, and sounds,” Deegan tells. The pursuit of bettering themselves seems to be central to the band – they appear to be on a mission to be the best version of FONTAINES D.C. they possibly can be. If the last year is anything to go by, they’re well on their way there.

Header Image from NME.