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December 2020 / January 2021
Feature

Fontaines D.C.: "If you liked who we were on our first album, if you were hanging on to it - that hero is dead"

A post-punk band going Top 10, then getting a Mercury Prize nod? With their debut album, Fontaines D.C. broke out in a way no one expected. Now it’s time for round two.
Published: 8:52 pm, July 30, 2020Words: Jessica Goodman. Photos: Ellius Grace.
Fontaines D.C.: "If you liked who we were on our first album, if you were hanging on to it - that hero is dead"

"There's a really innocent beauty in no one caring about the name of your band, or no one knowing the name of your band," guitarist Conor Curley reflects. "We were the only five people kind of propping that up." A lot has changed for Fontaines D.C. in the three-and-a-bit years since they started releasing music together. Hell, a lot has changed for them in the one-and-a-bit year since they released their first record. Top 10 charting, Mercury Prize-nominated, and album of the year lauded, it's hard to imagine a time when no one knew the group's name. "Whenever we'd meet people, we'd talk about us being in a band," he recalls. "I suppose we don't really have to do that anymore."

"There's a feeling of conspiracy, like Curley was saying, when you're starting off with a band," frontman Grian Chatten agrees. "Nobody knows you, and you have that belief that you're amazing." It's been a turbulent few years for the Dublin City outfit, but this belief in their own creativity is something the band – completed by Conor Deegan III, Carlos O'Connell, and Tom Coll – have never lost. "It's just you, and you're driving around in a van, and you feel like you've got a secret that no one else knows about," Grian fondly reminisces. "That's something that you have. That's a particular magic that's exclusive to the beginning, to the formative years of a band."

Driving around in a van to play shows around the world, across the continent, even across the country is something of a distant dream right now (Fontaines D.C. currently have tour dates scheduled for next year), but the magic they felt when they did it the first time is, wonderfully, in no short supply – interestingly enough that's at least in part because of the fact they haven't been able to tour. "We have that [magic] again with the fact that we've been sitting with this new album," Grian enthuses. "There's that element again of the five of us being charged with this knowledge that no one else knows."

"Compliments are the most terrifying things"
Grian Chatten

Writing for their new record started more or less as soon as their first album was finished. In fact, the writing process never really stopped. "I think it's more satisfying for us as writers to try and develop very quickly," Curley mulls, "instead of sort of letting ['Dogrel'] be what people know of our writing for longer than a year. It just didn't seem like that's how we wanted to be perceived as a band." Which isn't to say the group have any regrets – quite the opposite.

"The first album for anyone is a really special thing," the guitarist explains. "Even with all the time that we've had off, it's still something that I find hard to digest, the past year." Having played in 50 cities throughout Ireland, Europe, and America in 2019 alone, it's a lot for anyone to take in. "Just dealing with people's reaction to your music – whether it be really good or really bad, it doesn't really matter – it's kind of hard to adjust to people having opinions on things that you create."

Spending so much of last year on the road, other peoples' opinions were something the group saw and heard a lot of. It's something they're quick to express their gratitude for, while admitting that, at the time, experiencing it was rather surreal. "When you're on tour you're sort of confronted with a conveyor belt of other people's opinions," Grian agrees. "It's challenging to kind of respect them, but at the same time, not listen to them, you know?" he expresses. "Particularly compliments. I think compliments are the most terrifying things."

Wanting to make the most of every opportunity, the group had set out to play as many shows as possible – something they started to realise was taking a toll on them day-by-day. This sense of discomfort, coupled with the displacement of not recognising the city out their window was what sparked the inspiration for 'A Hero's Death'. "We slowly learned that if you burn yourself out, you end up kind of hating what you're doing to a certain degree," Curley reveals. "It's definitely not the route we ever wanted to go down. It was a real steep learning curve."

Finding themselves out of their comfort zone, the group started to forge their escape through new inspirations. One such inspiration was found in the music of The Beach Boys. "Whenever we were in the van, we didn't have guitars," Curley recalls. "We started trying to emulate their vocal harmonies - which would take up lots of journeys: some lads singing something flat or it not really coming together..." he chuckles. "It just became a part of our writing."

Escaping into the worlds of Brian Wilson and co, Fontaines D.C. decided that's exactly what they wanted their second album to be – their own world. "We, all of us, walk around every day with an eternal kind of refuge, you know?" Grian expresses. "It's a place within ourselves that is very particular to us. To be able to actually bring something that whole and that complete out of you, and turn it into a piece of music, that other people can then actually understand, therefore they can understand what's inside of you..." He trails off, reverence overtaking his enthusiasm for what he's portraying. "I think that that's kind of the height of creative achievement."

"We had to write the second album to remind ourselves who we were, and of the fact that we were mates with each other," he continues, reflecting of the mood in the back of their van. "We had to write a second album because we needed a refuge. We needed a place to rest our heads." In dire want of an escape from their surroundings, that's exactly what the five-piece set about creating. "That's what this album is, I think," Grian portrays. "To me, it's more escapist and a little bit more fantasy than the first album. It's a place that we invented to run to."

"The first album was a list of comments; I feel like this is a list of confessions"
Grian Chatten

After singing so fervently of life in Ireland's capital city on 'Dogrel', with 'A Hero's Death' the group wanted to do things differently. "It was important to reflect our environment," Grian contemplates. "Our environment was in constant flux, in every sense. We had no environment. Or, at least, we rejected the environment that we were given." It might've been a difficult thing for them to navigate at the time, but giving them the inspiration they drew from to make their second record, the group look back on it with a distanced fondness.

"You almost develop trust issues with countries or with the idea that you're in a different country, you know?" the frontman conveys. "If somebody says, 'wake up man, you're in Germany', you kind of feel like saying, 'prove it'," he laughs. "All you actually see is petrol stations, coffee, and you know, slightly different cigarette marketing." Written, at least in its most basic form, on the road, 'A Hero's Death' carries itself with a captivating momentum, a rallying cry of defiance, of self-belief, and hope in an uncertain – or even unrecognisable – world.

"The first album was a list of comments about something," Grian describes. "I feel like this is a list of confessions." Confessions of love – feeling trapped by it and reaching out for it – of loneliness, of escapism, determination, of hope: these are the songs that make up 'A Hero's Death'. "I think that there's something to be gleaned from the album," Grian begins, "in the sense that it might encourage..." he trails off and pauses, before shaking his head. "Yeah, to be honest, I'm just talking rubbish," he laughs. "I was onto something there, but I lost it."

"There's the whole idea of the second album being difficult," he tries again. "Essentially, if you liked who we were on our first album, if you were kind of hanging on to it, that hero is dead." Hence the album title. "It's tongue in cheek, really, you know?" Taken from a play by Irish playwright Brendan Behan, the album title signifies exactly what Fontaines D.C. wanted the record to be: an ending to the chapter that was their debut, and the start of something different and thrillingly new. 

Taken from the August issue of Upset. Fontaines D.C.'s album 'A Hero's Death' is out 31st July.

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