Fontaines D.C. are relatively early in their career, but they’ve been on quite the hot streak. The Irish post-punk quintet have soared to dizzying heights over the past three years with a critically acclaimed trio of albums first with their rollicking 2019 debut Dogrel, then 2020’s hazier A Hero’s Death, and most recently with third LP Skinty Fia, the band’s first #1 album in their homeland which also earned them international accolades and spots performing on major European festivals like Glastonbury and Primavera Sound.
In the middle of their current tour, bassist Connor Deegan connects with RANGE via Zoom from his hotel room in Portland. Deegan calls the band’s recent surge “pretty amazing,” and has noticed a change in the way crowds react to their newer material. “I’m very interested in the way people move their bodies to the songs, as opposed to the way they’d move to the old ones,” he says. “We all really want to pursue that kind of effect on people, because they don’t move in the same way [they used to]. They move their body in this very nice, groovy sway.”
Musically, Fontaines have undergone a transition from the raw punk energy of their early career to more lush and diverse offerings. Having written the demos for A Hero’s Death during a gruelling touring cycle, Skinty Fia’s demos were largely written during lockdown. As pandemic life started sinking in more with each passing month, the band found themselves with more time to sharpen their production skills. “The quality of our home demos that we made ourselves before we even got to work with Dan Carey, our producer, was much, much higher,” Deegan adds. “It led to us having a more definite vision of what we wanted our individual instruments and songs to sound like. We got to try some fairly weird stuff in a practical way, just from having the time to experiment.”
The band’s new penchant for experimentation has come hand in hand with their improved production knowledge. For example, Skinty Fia’s title track was based on a jam they later chopped up into separate sections (chorus, verses, etc.) to cut and paste and then figure out how to play afterward. Deegan considers this a “novel approach” for the band, as they used these production techniques as a writing tool.
Another track clearly borne of the band’s new mindset is “Roman Holiday,” which features Deegan whistling alongside a high piano note during the bridge—a motif inspired by Elis Regina’s cover of “Águas de março”, a classic Bossa nova tune by Antônio Carlos Jobim. Another one of the song’s musical guideposts? Post Malone’s “White Iverson.”
The song is also part of a contingent of newer tunes that carry a strong Britpop influence at times, the echoey, reverb-heavy psychedelia becoming somewhat symbolic of the band’s recent move from Ireland to Britain. “It’s kind of our last hurrah with Dublin,” he says. “We’d all gone off and done our individual lockdown isolations at the start of 2020. I’d gone to a cottage in the west of Ireland… Around May to July, we all returned to our apartments in Dublin. We were living in a city that was opening up again just a little bit. It was a time of hope. The weather was very nice in Dublin, surprisingly. It was quite peaceful, and there was a sense of relief and joy in the city. I felt much younger than my age, because I had this sense of freedom, roaming around the city and getting to go out again… The fact that we could go down to the beach in the summertime and be together was very affecting and sentimental.”
The band’s lyrical examinations of their big move have also drawn influence also from literature, specifically John Williams’ Stoner and Albert Camus’ The Plague. Has the move benefitted them in ways that staying in Dublin wouldn’t have? Yes—at least, as far as the business side of music is concerned. “It’s a lot easier to organize different things to do with the business: photoshoots, interviews, meetings with different creative people who do artwork or film music videos,” he says. “You can do it all from London pretty easily. A lot of creative people live in London, and a lot of the music industry in Europe is based there.”
Going into recording sessions with a more definite idea beforehand of how instruments should sound, Fontaines D.C. now record their albums in a bigger room, an upgrade from their producer’s home studio. With the larger space also equating to a bigger sound, Deegan uses a microphone and a bass amp, rather than direct input, to make his own parts sound fuller. “Things like that make it seem a little bit more polished [with different tricks] but aren’t, actually,” he adds.
Not even a quarantine order could keep the band’s newfound creative spirit down. While the quintet were apart from one another, they’d each been working separately on different songs. Serendipitously, Deegan and Chatten had been writing two songs that happened to have the same chord progression. Putting their similar-sounding tunes together led to the creation of the song “I Love You,” a song which became an emotional centrepiece in the band’s discography and contains a Pixies-inspired bassline that Deegan is visibly proud of. “Eventually, we settled on trying to do something very circular,” Deegan continues, referencing the change in dynamic with Chatten’s vocals and the instrumentation. “The parts have a very direct relation to each other, with some through line of one of the elements… I think the most important thing about that bassline is that it actually starts above the root note. That lets it be much more circular than it should be allowed to be.
“I’m really fascinated by circularity in music, where it doesn’t let you feel like it’s going back up and down,” he continues. “It tries to make it feel like it’s endlessly falling… Something we tried to do with ‘I Love You’—or the bassline, anyway—is try and make it feel like it’s never really resolved, and never gets down to the bottom or back to the top.”
When asked what he hopes listeners get out of their work once they’ve had a chance to listen to the new album front to back, he hopes that it makes them feel “less alone” in their personal trials and tribulations. “Whatever struggles with identity you might have in your life, or if you belong where you are, just remember that you make it for yourself to enjoy your life as best you can.”