Irish rockers Fontaines D.C. have created a space in rock music that is entirely their own and they’re bringing Ireland along with them - we chat about their latest album, popularising Irish culture and what it means to go mainstream. .
Fontaines D.C. have far surpassed the labels that they were given at the start of their career. Originally pigeonholed with other post-punk groups who quickly started to bloom in the mid-to-late 2010s, no other band in that bracket have gone on to mimic the same adoration or relentless innovation that Fontaines D.C. has achieved.
Now they are set to release their third album ‘Skinty Fia’ (an anglicized Irish expression that roughly translates to ‘the damnation of the deer’), which sees the band reflect on various reverberations of Irishness. Since their debut album ‘Dogrel’, Fontaines D.C. have centred Ireland as a linchpin of their prose.
In order to tear at the fabric of a place you call home, you really have to love it, and this is the case for Dublin. “My relationship with Dublin has caused me a lot of pain”, begins frontman Grian Chatten. “But it will always be to me the most aesthetic, beautiful, romantic, tragic and hopeful city that I’ve ever experienced”.
This sense of perspective was captured perfectly on their debut, which was filled with all kinds of characters, chancers, hypocrites and the like. Yet there is still beauty within the bleakness. Fontaines have always been so successful at shining a light at their subject matter from a wide range of angles. In recent years, the members have all made their way over to London and that found them reflecting on their roots in a whole new way.
“There’s a distinct chapter in each album, I think. The first time, we had a lot to say, the second one, we were in the throe of a tour, and the new one was written with this new chapter of reflection, consistency and seeing Irishness from a new perspective”, Grian explains. That new perspective shines through on “I Love You”, which serves as both a love letter to their home and a projection of guilt for leaving Ireland behind.
The band are trying to hold onto a sense of Irishness in a country where people seem to have a perceived, stereotypical image of what Irish identity actually looks like. “It wasn’t that long ago that there were cartoons of Irish people in English papers where they were drawn up to look like uncivilised monkeys with huge beards and tankards of beer and we learnt about that in school. I think the effects of things like that have had on the perception of Irish people in England still lingers”, Grian says.
‘Skinty Fia’ examines the band getting to grips with Irishness in London, the sentimentality of drinking until the early hours in an Irish pub but also the bleakness of having home hang over their heads. In spite of the cultural naivety they may regularly face, London has been good for the band. “We’ve established our own lives away from each other, we’re not so much living in each other’s pockets”, Grian explains.
“We still hang out all the time, but it’s more like we elect to do so, it doesn’t feel like we’re trapped in a bus”. Being trapped in a bus together was, in fact, the genesis of ‘A Hero’s Death’, the band’s second album that was written out of a need to re-engage with themselves after a gruelling tour took its mental toll. Now Fontaines D.C. have found that moving away and the break afforded by the pandemic was needed for a healthier balance.
“We’re really honest about when we don’t feel close to each other. We recognise the fact that the health of our creativity depends in large part on our relationships with each other. There’s a sense of order to my life and there’s a healthy curtain between us”. This has led to a growing sense of maturity throughout ‘Skinty Fia’, an album that still feels like a progression even when the band have hit such heights already. Chatten sounds as poetic as ever and in doing so has explored new avenues such as on the track, “Jackie Down The Line”.
“So come on down to Sally’s boneyard, see her spirit in decline, see the handsome mourners cry”, we hear as Chatten embodies a perspective not yet seen on a Fontaines record. “It feels more vulnerable and exciting for me to portray a character that doesn’t necessarily have one foot in the good and the bad but is actually just bad”, Grian says.
“To be able to do that and then portray the character as somewhat relatable I think can teach people a bit more about themselves – not that I’m trying to teach anyone but I do think that it’s interesting”, he continues. ‘Skinty Fia’ represents a pushing of the bands own boundaries, both lyrically and musically, the title track translating a dance-influenced groove into a sense of disturbing yet intriguing paranoia.
For Grian, the album represents a sense of personal and artistic growth. “This album feels a lot more like I’ve found my voice as a lyricist, I feel like I’m carving out a space for me to occupy. The bonds between myself and my creativity has been something that’s sacred to me since I first picked up a guitar or pen when I was 8 or 9. I think the struggle for me is to preserve that relationship and not let it mutate and be twisted for other people’s ends”.
That determination to stay grounded to himself and linear in thought has led to Grian becoming one of the most accomplished songwriters in modern rock. He won’t be drawn on thoughts about their legacy, they are single-minded in keeping their heads down and continuing to take from all of the experiences that life throws at them.
“I’m still writing in a way that is greatly influenced by Dublin. On some level I think I have a responsibility to fight for what I believe in, in a country that I draw inspiration from”. With three albums that have little, if any, variation in quality, Fontaines D.C. are taking Irishness to the world and showing every facet of their culture and its impact on all aspects of their lives.
‘Skinty Fia’ is set for release tomorrow, 22nd April 2022.