Fontaines D.C. go deo, Fontaines D.C. Forever

We caught up with frontman Grian Chatten and guitarist Conor Curley during the band's recent tour with the Arctic Monkeys

Music Features Fontaines D.C.
Fontaines D.C. go deo, Fontaines D.C. Forever

It’s been an intense couple of years for Fontaines D.C.—vocalist Grian Chatten, guitarists Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley, bassist Conor Deegan III and drummer Tom Coll—ever since they put out their debut record, Dogrel, in 2019. BBC Radio 6 Music named it the Album of the Year, it was nominated for a Mercury Prize and, even here at Paste, we named it the 75th greatest debut album of the 21st century. Most bands tend to level up in some capacity across their catalog, but Fontaines D.C. are an expedited track towards sublime stardom. Lately, they’ve been on a tour here in the United States with the Arctic Monkeys, opening for the Sheffield legends.

I catch up with Chatten and Curley before the band takes the stage at Ameris Bank Amphitheater in the Alpharetta suburb of Northern Atlanta. They played back to back gigs in Queens, NY a few days prior, taking on Forest Hills Stadium and, after the second show, hosting an afterparty at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn—but they’re a bit ruffled today, as some flight complications forced them to drive all the way from the Big Apple down to the Peach State. But the tour trudges on; there’s more folks to wow. The group had stopped by Baby’s after opening an IDLES show once prior, but they’ve mainly kept to their spots at Brooklyn Steel and Union Pool. The NYC afterparty, which remained mostly hush-hush across social media, featured Curley and Coll doing an analog DJ set—and, needless to say, it was a massive smash. “It was unreal,” Curley explains. “We’ve brought vinyls we’ve been DJing with in London. We thought it was worthwhile to come over and keep doing the vinyl thing, instead of just doing a USB thing. It was definitely worthwhile, I think people enjoyed the collection we brought with us. And we’ve been picking up records over here.”

Their roster of tunes included everything from 1960s psych-rock to The Cramps to shoegaze, and Curley and Coll have been spinning tracks together for the better part of a year now—amassing 7-inches that compliment each other, while also finishing sets with the Paul Oakenfold remix of Happy Mondays’ “W.F.L.” While Curley and Coll started DJing small Dublin pubs, they were working with CDs and USBs—but the goal was to always build up a collection of wax. Where they really cut their teeth was while performing at the Mascara Bar in East London every now and again, DJing for four hours and honing the craft—inching closer to the folks they looked up to, the folks who had massive vinyl collections and a deep, deep pocket of tricks and grooves they could tap into for every show.

Chatten walks in around this time, and it’s good to hear from him again. My first cover story I ever wrote was on Fontaines D.C., a light refresher in the summer of 2022 focused on the band’s upcoming string of huge festivals—including Glastonbury, Best Kept Secret and Primavera Sound Los Angeles—before embarking on a U.S. tour in support of their masterpiece Skinty Fia. I joked to my partner prior to the interview that I’m never going to interview Fontaines D.C. about their records, that our conversations will revolve around touring for the rest of time—but I’m happy to be in this position at all. Fontaines D.C. are, to put it plainly, one of the most important bands in the world right now, and their live energy is a crucial component in what makes them so damn great.

This set of dates they’re doing with the Arctic Monkeys feels really special—mostly because I don’t know if we’ll ever get a moment like this again. My prediction is that, when the band’s fourth record comes out in the next year or so, they will simply be too big to be relegated to opener status for anyone, except maybe for the Rolling Stones. Them leveling up from the pubs and DIY spaces to 4,000 or 5,000-cap venues doesn’t feel so much like a mythical prophecy fulfilled as it does a destiny these five guys worked endlessly to get to. I ask Chatten if he and the band had ever dreamt up the possibility of making the leap to stadiums after years rattling the floorboards of thumb-sized rooms—to which he barbs back with a swift decree: “Yeah, sure, why not?” he laughs. “We always have faith in ourselves, and we do all right at some points. With each step comes the anticipation of the next step. We’ve grafted for a few years and we haven’t done much else. I guess it didn’t necessarily happen overnight.”

These Arctic Monkeys shows are the biggest gigs Fontaines D.C. have ever played, aside from the crowds they’ve encountered on the festival circuit. The direction from a song like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” to “Jackie Down the Line” is not so straight of a line, but you can see the stems of ferocity in each tune—and you can begin to see how much the lineup card just makes sense. There’s something deftly cool about imagining folks hearing the devastation of “I Love You” and then, an hour later, kicking up the dust or cutting up the rug to something like “505,” though the response from the audiences varies night to night. “We’ve seen a few fingers in ears,” Chatten says. Prior to the tour, Fontaines D.C. hadn’t interacted much with the Arctic Monkeys, save for a few encounters Chatten has had with guitarist Jamie Cook across various backstages and green rooms. But, given just how tight both bands play off of one another night in and night out, assuming they’ve struck up a good kinship with one another since Dogrel and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino came out within six months of each other is a fair thought to have.

The dynamic of being an opening act has always interested me, especially when it comes to seeing bands take their best stuff out on the road and, quite possibly, have to convince every crowd to buy into the music they’re making. In my head, falling in love with a record like Skinty Fia—perhaps the single best LP of 2022 altogether—shouldn’t take much convincing, but it’s not a guarantee that Arctic Monkeys fans who are affixed to the sounds and moods of a record like The Car, which employs such a strong, poetic bravado of orchestral, lounge singer rock ‘n’ roll, will buy into the gothic musings of post-punk that Fontaines D.C. have perfected as their calling card. “It’s a nice learning experience, playing the tunes in front of larger American audiences,” Chatten adds. “A lot of them won’t understanding a fucking word that I’m saying—especially when I speak quickly—because of the accents.”

After releasing Dogrel and A Hero’s Death in back-to-back years, the buzz around what might follow up Skinty Fia only continues to swell—and it’s becoming more and more clear that that fourth record is on the horizon. Fontaines D.C. already have a bunch of material ready to go for what comes next, but they’re hesitant to stray away from Skinty Fia—and for good reason. “We’re hesitant to put pen to paper too much on this tour, because we’re minus one member,” Chatten mentions. “We don’t want to take too many steps without him.” The member in question is Deegan, who’s been absent at the shows recently—and bassist Chilli Jesson has been filling in for him.

Though crowds across the country are getting intimate access to just how special Fontaines D.C.’s showmanship is, there’s still no place quite like home. Chatten cites a two-night stint at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin last summer as, quite possibly, the most important show moment for the band altogether. “The feeling that was around for those two nights, it wasn’t even comparable, really, to playing shows around the world—because of the intense connection between ourselves and the crowd and [between] the crowd and the music and the words,” he notes. Skinty Fia was—and remains—a record positioned with a pointed focus on the disparities of Ireland. While the message of self-sovereignty and cultural eviction can be felt in any country across the world, there is an immeasurable sense of pride coupled with communal frustration hearing a band from your city speak about the injustices swirling just beyond a venue’s doors into a microphone and ask you to inject your own grievances and anxieties and resentments into the verses. The lilt of the world can be sung by anyone, but what Fontaines D.C. means to Ireland cannot be replicated in Utah or Barcelona or Tokyo or Mexico City.

But I can speak a little bit to the hype around Fontaines D.C. here in the West, and it has been slowly marinating in America—and much of that has to do with Skinty Fia arriving at just the right time. There’s a deep-rooted love for post-punk in this country, so it makes sense that bands like Squid and shame have had their records embraced with warmth from good communities of folks over here. Stemming from the ethos and cosmic otherworldliness of college radio history and the embrace of off the wall tangents of rock ‘n’ roll, like shoegaze and new age, post-punk’s continue affection in the United States is palpable and perfect—and it’s why newer bands like Slow Pulp and Truth Club are catching fire. Fontaines D.C. and their poetic waxings on the bitter dichotomies of debasement, romanticism, violence, masculinity and industrialism are a perfect encapsulation of the universal disappointments and reckonings that plague a world’s worth of people. Of course a record like Skinty Fia was going to hit across the pond—how could it not?

This is all just to say that few records in recent memory have had a lifespan reach beyond a year after release. Skinty Fia came out in April 2022 and, yet, we’re still talking about it—I’m still writing about it. Folks are still discovering it every day and getting to see the songs fleshed out on stage like they’re not yet worn thin. Even the big, bold, name-spelled-out-in-lights indie rock records of last year—like Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You or A Light for Attracting Attention—have failed to carry an impression so weighty. Skinty Fia is on the same mantle as Blue Rev, as I believe we’ll be thinking about those records for a long, long time. Hell, even Chatten’s own debut solo record, Chaos For the Fly, was released beneath the shadow of Fontaines D.C.’s masterpiece this summer—and that’s not to say Chaos For the Fly is not good; in fact, it’s one of the best debuts of 2023 thus far.

What I mean by that is, there’s a clear inertia always alive and pulling the members of the band forward beyond anything else they’re doing. Solo projects are checkpoints that make the architecture of a Fontaines D.C. record make more sense and feel more vivid. It’s all one ecosystem, one that Chatten is entranced by. “I don’t really like the feeling of being creatively inert, I feel a lot more comfortable when I’m in the midst of creating something,” he explains. “My anxiety, I suppose, was just to get onto the next record, which was Fontaines. I think the solo record, putting it out and everything, put me in a good position to, mentally, move with the next Fontaines record. It made me really hungry for it, as well.”

When Chaos For the Fly came out, Chatten started doing intimate acoustic shows around Europe. Simple concepts, like the realization that he could stop a song by just letting go of his guitar, blew his mind and detoured greatly from the muscle memory that comes with a Fontaines D.C. performance—and there was this idea that, because the songs of Chaos For the Fly were so fresh, they couldn’t transcend in ways that pierce through the same interpersonal kinship that Skinty Fia exudes. “There’s that kind of regime to fall back on, on the safety net of playing with really good musicians who know exactly what they’re playing,” Chatten adds. “To be honest with you, there’s a deep, personal history with a lot of Fontaines D.C. When I’m playing with Fontaines D.C., we’re playing at the Chicago Bulls’ stadium with the Monkeys on this tour, and we’re playing songs that we wrote in a shed in Dublin. There’s a whole other emotional dimension to that.”

An acoustic tour for Fontaines D.C. is, according to Chatten, 100% in the cards and is something the band has been talking about for a long time. “We have that side to us, for sure,” he says. “And the slow pace of Chaos For the Fly made me adequately restless for the next Fontaines record.” What the next Fontaines D.C. record will sound like is a mystery that not even the band is allowed to tease out yet—but it is, according to Curley, “ignorant of the spaces” the band has been playing in recently. “When you’re in a position like ourselves, considering the relationship with our fans that we have through the music, what is a risk for us? I feel like a risk for us would be to release a fucking Foo Fighters record—which we would never do anyway,” Chatten adds. “The music that we’ve made so far, it certainly feels spiritually risky in many ways. I’ve always been really attracted to what might upset a few fans. I think it’s only by upsetting people slightly that you can change their minds and lead them somewhere else.”

Even a year after Skinty Fia’s release, the band’s love for the record hasn’t dwindled even an ounce. When Chatten looks down at the setlist and sees that the next song is “Nabokov” or “I Love You,” he’s always happy. “[With ‘Nabokov’] there’s a nice dialogue with the audience that I lean into, with lyrics like ‘I did you a favor, I bled myself dry.’ If you’re seven weeks into a tour and you’re feeling a bit fucked and you’re still delivering a high-intensity performance, you can channel a resentment towards the entire situation into lyrics like ‘I did you a favor, I bled myself dry’ by looking at the audience. It’s a nice application to it, really.” The band still closes every show with “I Love You,” a song that, for Chatten especially, endures as a grounding finale of hope. “It’s cathartic to the point that, no matter how the show has been going, I always walk off feeling like I’ve exorcised some feelings,” he adds.

Before their stretch of the Arctic Monkeys tour kicked off earlier this summer, Chatten deliberated on whether or not he and the band should—or could—lean further into being a volcanic, eruptive stage presence. With so many people who don’t have a reference for what to expect from Fontaines D.C. every night, there’s a lot of potential there—but the band ended up letting their own world unfold however the stage needed it to, letting the songs guide the performances. What Arctic Monkeys fans might have liked went out the window, and it became a source of relief for Chatten and the guys—especially after having taken a few months off from playing Skinty Fia live.

“Over the last few shows, I’ve been enjoying just making eye contact with the crowds and, in that way, forcing them to listen to the lyrics,” Chatten adds. “When we were playing tunes around the release of [Dogrel], I think I really just wanted people to look at me and listen to what I was saying. And then, as the touring went on, my body kicked into gear and the performance became more physical. There’s a new thrill and a new rush to putting some of the power back in the lyrics. It makes you feel particularly awake and present. It’s a bit of a warm blanket, to just let your body jump and do all the talking. There’s a bit of vulnerability, too, to just standing there and openly facing the crowd, looking at people in the eyes and saying the words to them—especially when you know that they’re probably just all there for the Arctic Monkeys.”

In 2021, Fontaines D.C. got nominated for Best Rock Album for A Hero’s Death, and NME christened them as the “Best Band in the World.” When I ask Chatten if it’s getting easier to let the accolades and the excitement cook these days, he gets pretty cheeky with it. “I’m allowing my head to get a bit bigger, for sure,” he says. The lifespan of Skinty Fia’s brightness has not yet found an expiration date—a truth prolonged by the recent release of Skinty Fia go deo, an expanded edition of the album, fit with live recordings, acoustic demos and remixes. Skinty Fia go deo translates to Skinty Fia Forever—an apt measure of immortality for a record more than worth the designation. The release is an opportunity to, as a final chapter in the album’s cycle, give Fontaines D.C. fans a look into everything the band did around their masterpiece.

“It’s nice to wrap [Skinty Fia] up with a bow and be like, ‘This was from this time to this time,’” Curley says. “The Orbital Remix [of “In ár gCroíthe go deo”], I think it’s an unbelievable reworking of that song. Skinty Fia was definitely the most enjoyable creative process, even if it was just trying to rework ‘Twinkle’ by Whipping Boy and trying to put yourself in Whipping Boy’s emotional shoes, as it is. It seems like a good culmination of a really good period in our careers.”

While listening to the acoustic renditions of “Jackie Down the Line,” “Roman Holiday” and “The Couple Across the Way” on Skinty Fia go deo, it’s clear just how beautiful and one-in-a-million Skinty Fia was and remains. For being a 45-minute record made by five Dublin punks, it’s hard to equate just how meteoric this set of tunes has really become. It’s an immaculate and daming and brutal and beautiful portrait of Eastern Ireland that has, miraculously, become anthemic for folks all over the world. Not many albums can claim that truth, nor have that many bands embraced such a destiny. “It’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone,” Chatten rings out at the end of “In ár gCroíthe go deo.” I can’t speak to what Fontaines D.C. were aiming to say goodbye to in that coda, but it most certainly wasn’t Skinty Fia. As this chapter closes for Chatten, Curley, O’Connell, Deegan and Coll, an incantation is released into the cosmos: Fontaines D.C. go deo, Fontaines D.C. forever.

Matt Mitchell reports as Paste‘s music editor from their home in Columbus, Ohio.

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