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November 2019
Feature

Fontaines D.C. are on the up and up: "It might actually be okay in the end, y'know?"

Following months of hype, fast-rising Dublin newcomers Fontaines D.C. have nailed their debut.
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Published: 5:07 pm, April 18, 2019Words: Jamie MacMillan.
Fontaines D.C. are on the up and up: "It might actually be okay in the end, y'know?"

The noise that hype makes is deafening. That cumulative build-up of magazines and mates repeatedly talking about that next big band, all saying the same thing: you're going to love this band. Scenes pop up. Like-minded artists get thrown in together, genres and eras defined and named in a brief but heady explosion of style and hype. It's a story as old as music itself, tribes gathering as punks or Britpoppers.

It's on the outskirts of any scene that the most interesting things usually happen, and so it is with Fontaines D.C.. While their early singles seemed to signal the Dublin band as obvious counterparts to the likes of Shame and IDLES, their debut album ‘Dogrel' marks them as something else completely. As evocative as you would imagine from a band who came together over a shared love of poetry, it is the work of a group who are as much aficionados of Yeats and Joyce as they are Ramone and Reed.

Fontaines D.C. are their own scene, and there ain't a box big enough to put them in. With a huge tour confirmed for the end of the year even before their debut album ‘Dogrel' was announced, the noise surrounding the band has become so all-encompassing that you could hear it from the moon.

Chatting to Dork as the band wind their way the French countryside following the end of yet another whirlwind tour, guitarist Carlos O'Connell has had time to reflect on the madness - though it hasn't really sunk in yet. Life on the road has kept the band separated from the boom of anticipation back home.

"The album was a dream to write and record. I was expecting that announcing it would be this big thing, but it's kinda hard to feel anything because you're just so far from it," Carlos starts. "Anything you get is just this load of social media likes and comments, maybe some messages, and it's hard to get anything from that."

It was only when talking to their promoter that the band realised just how big the reaction to the tour and album announcement had been.

"It gave us a bit of confidence that it might actually be okay in the end, y'know?"

“We get put in that post-punk box all the time, and I don't really agree with it”
Carlos O'Connell

‘Dogrel' exists entirely in its own time and place, yet equally could be based in any big city at any time. Dripping with Dublin life, it shows a city far removed from Temple Bar pub crawls, and it is only frontman Grian's heavily-accented vocals that give the game away at points. Still entirely relatable with its depictions of needle-strewn areas (‘The Lotts'), a city pregnant with possibility (current single ‘Big'), as well as inner-city violence (‘Liberty Belle'), it brings a specificity that makes it stand out from the current crop.

"If you live in a city like Dublin, you either reject it or you accept it. You have to try and understand how it affects you," explains Carlos. "When we were writing, we were all in a very similar state of mind towards the city."

Being born into a city renowned the world over for its musical heritage brought its own ups and down.

"In its own way, Ireland really embraces music and the culture of music even though there's not an industry for it. There was just more going on in London, more independent companies doing what they do because they love music."

Being largely self-sufficient at home, putting on and promoting their own shows, the band even struggled to find suitable support bands in their earliest days - getting a local poet to open for their ‘Liberty Belle' single launch. Times may have changed over the last few years, but by then Fontaines D.C. were making their own noise on this side of the water.

While early singles ‘Liberty Belle' and ‘Hurricane Laughter' seemed to signpost that this was very much an angry post-punk band, Carlos sees it very differently.

"The whole post-punk thing that's going on now, people are excited about it, but I don't think that sound is going to last much longer. In a couple of years, people are going to be sick of it."

It's a theme that he warms to, and one that is carried through by the diversity of ‘Dogrel'.

"We hadn't really heard of bands like Shame and IDLES when we wrote those songs, we were in Dublin and not part of any ‘scene'. We just kept writing in all the different ways that we do, and it just happened that it came out like that!"

With a free-flowing stylistic manner that takes in straight-up punk and ominous post-punk basslines, there is just as much room for traditional rock and roll licks, and even a hint of The Pogues on the magnetic closing ‘Dublin City Sky'. This is a band that could go anywhere.

"We get put in that post-punk box all the time, and I dunno, I don't really agree with it. I don't think we really sound like that, apart from maybe a couple of songs," Carlos states, adding: "I hope that this album breaks us out of that box that we get put in. It's gonna end so soon, this whole thing, and everyone's gonna be sick of it!"

That freedom to move in any stylistic direction appeals to him and the band.

"We wanna write as many albums as possible, write as many songs that resonate with us as possible, and we don't wanna be trapped in any sound. Our second album could be full of traditional Irish tunes, y'know? And I don't think anyone will reject us because we've already given that to them."

Suitably for an act that's impossible to pin down, a host of influences have been poured into the group.

"We started with The Strokes and The Libertines, bands that were the original ones, ones who did things their way and not just to climb a ladder. From there we moved through the decades."

The Beach Boys may seem an unlikely influence, though the layers of noise can't quite disguise that same ability to craft unforgettable melodies and hooks. Fifties rock and roll bands, seminal punk bands like The Stooges and The Ramones have all been fed into the Fontaines D.C. world. One key touchstone is The Velvet Underground.

"We all love that sound they created, or y'know, the many sounds they created over many albums. They are the base point of modern music."

Again, nodding towards an exciting future of unknown destinations, Carlos even hints at dabbling in electronica and techno.

"I don't know how that will feed into the next album, we won't drop our guitars, but it's interesting?" Of the current crop, Girl Band get a big thumbs up. "They're a great band. Their music is so not mainstream or commercial but they've still managed to break through, they really broke the mould."

If there's one aspect of the band that breaks the mould themselves, it is frontman Grian Chatten's lyrics. Able to hone in on the smallest detail, it is the poetry within the songs that helps to make the group stand out.

"He is an amazing lyricist, he has an ability to notice the small things that happen around someone and tap into that world, making something that will last forever," praises Carlos, pointing out some of the vivid details in his personal album highlight ‘The Lotts' that came from Grian's walk home from the rehearsal studios.

Set over a brooding bass guitar, it is a testament to producer Dan Carey's ability to craft an unsettling atmosphere that the band could let loose in - giving the album a dark heartbeat at its centre that is easily the match of anything that the legendary Martin Hannett achieved.

With the band fully in the middle of a whirlwind, Carlos recognises that they may lose touch with home.

"It's difficult because they are completely separate worlds, but with recording, and the Shame tour and then our own, we were barely at home between September and December."

Being honest with each other has never been more important.

"A lot of the time you don't wanna talk about it because you don't want to put it in the way of the tour, but I think now we all recognise that having an open conversation about missing home can bring the worlds closer together, y'know?"

That time away from home is about to increase with another headline tour in the spring, followed by a huge US tour with IDLES themselves - plus of course, the band have now got that monster tour at the end of 2019 to look forward to.

The thing with hype is, of course, you've eventually got to live up to it. With the confidence of a band that knows it's nailed their debut, Fontaines D.C. have got a spring in their step going into it all. There's only one thing for sure. It's gonna be big.

Taken from the May issue of Dork. Fontaines D.C.'s debut album 'Dogrel' is out now.

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