"We were always ambitious," Conor Deegan asserts. It's dark outside, even though it's only just gone six o'clock, and in the basement of Paradiso in Amsterdam, the Fontaines D.C. bassist is taking us on a short stroll down memory lane. "When we had one of our first practices," he begins, "we came out of it and our guitarist at the time said 'we're the best band in the world!!!'" Overactive enthusiasm? Or an early indication of what would follow? "He was being sarcastic, I guess," Conor shrugs, "but he was being genuine as well." He thinks for a moment, shaking his head. "And we were awful then, a terrible band," he laughs. "Now, we're okay."
"Okay" is probably an understatement. In the past twelve months alone, Fontaines D.C. Have toured, released their debut album, toured some more, been shortlisted for the Hyundai Mercury Prize, toured even more, recorded their second album, and are now embarking on a sold-out tour of the U.K. and Ireland. So, yeah, it's probably safe to say that Fontaines D.C. are doing okay. "We've always had that belief inside that we're pretty good," Conor expresses. "I don't know if that's egotistical or whatever, but it gave us a bit of ambition."
This same sense of ambition is what drove the group to create 'Dogrel'. Since they announced the release of their debut record back in February, the band's rise to fame has been practically meteoric. When it was finally released in April, 'Dogrel' introduced the world to a band that seemed destined to take the world by storm. "The music is pretty no-nonsense. It's not putting on any airs of anything else," Conor distils. "We just wrote songs that we wanted to write in the way we wanted to write them, and that's the way they turned out," he shrugs. "People react to that kind of thing."
And what a reaction it's been: top ten chart positions, award nominations, and sold-out shows abound. The best part? Connecting with their audience through something they've created. "I was talking to a woman who got a tattoo of a lyric I wrote for 'Dogrel' yesterday," Conor starts, reflecting on a newer memory. "She was telling me how she felt connected to it." The lyric in question – "we trip along disaster in the whirlwind of the free" from 'Dublin City Sky – presents itself with all the realism and resolution that's now characteristic of Fontaines D.C.
"Her family's from Syria, and she lives in Europe," Conor continues. "She was talking about how life might throw ups and downs at her, but the fact that she has the freedom to do it is so meaningful to her." He pauses, letting the memory sink in. "I was just like '...what the fuck?'" he laughs. "I can't believe that it meant so much," he marvels. Moments like this one show how far the band have come and how well their music has done, but more than that, they show how much the group has grown. "I don't think I would've had the belief in myself to be able to talk so genuinely with someone before," Conor admits.
Whether it's talking about life and books with fans after shows, or going for a run in a foreign city, 'enjoy the little things' isn't just a rule to adhere to in Zombieland. "It's quite difficult to keep up with sometimes," Conor portrays, "the kind of thing you have to constantly remind yourself to be present for because it's so busy that you can kind of lose sight of it," he describes. "You're constantly moving around, you're constantly focused on the gig you've got that day and that kind of thing." It's a work in progress, but hey, Fontaines D.C. never claimed to be perfect (just "the best band in the world!!!").
"We've got better at touring, at getting up and doing the thing every day," Conor asserts. "Because we've gotten more confident as performers and in ourselves as people, we genuinely connect more to the people who come to the shows and talk to them afterwards," he enthuses. "It's an awful lot more rewarding in that way." Playing shows from Monaghan to Melbourne, selling out entire tours before they even start, this is one success story that shows no signs of slowing. In fact, their second album is already on its way.
"It's done. It's all recorded. It's just being mixed now, and it gets mastered after that," Conor reveals. Recorded "literally on Sunset Boulevard, with the Hollywood sign in the background," the release is a little way off yet ("next year some stage"), but with the band describing it as being "more ourselves," there's every reason to get excited. If you're lucky enough to catch the band live on this sold-out run, maybe you'll even get a taste of it.
Readying for these sold-out shows, the energy in the band is at a high. "It feels really great - especially in Ireland: in your home country, where you're from, your home town," Conor expresses. "Selling out Vicar Street, the venue we're playing in Dublin in December, is more gratifying to me than selling out some of the British shows - even if they're bigger." With a headline show at Brixton Academy in London in February already sold out, there's no doubt that – to quote the band themselves – it's "gonna be big."
"The day we signed to Partisan we went to Cigarettes After Sex's gig in Brixton with the head of our label," Conor reminisces. "We were looking down and going 'Jesus, this band are so successful, what the fuck?!'" he laughs. A year and a half on, and it seems that a lot has changed. "We were young lads, and we hadn't done anything at all. It was so high above us," Conor recalls. "I think we had played The Shacklewell Arms, but hadn't sold it out," he describes. "Now I'm standing here, and we've sold that venue out ourselves..." He trails off, the reality of the occasion sinking in. "It's crazy," he adds. "It's fucking mental, actually."
Taken from the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of Upset.
Featuring The Faim, Creeper, Frank Iero, SWMRS, Pup and more.