“We found a sound we really like and we know where we’re going to go with the next one now as well”
Dublin post-punks Fontaines D.C. are one of the most talented acts in independent music to have come out in the past five years. Their 2019 debut Dogrel put the quintet of vocalist Grian Chatten, guitarists Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curley, bassist Conor Deegan III, and drummer Tom Coll on the musical map with an outstanding energy that found major acclaim.
Their followup, A Hero’s Death, came out in 2020 and put more of a psychedelic spin on their sound. It garnered a nomination for Best Rock Album at last year’s Grammys, and this week they hit a sonic apex with their third release, Skinty Fia.
In support of the brand spankin’ new record, Fontaines D.C. will perform at the Paradise Rock Club on April 25 with fellow Irish rockers Just Mustard opening up.
Deegan III and I spoke ahead of the album’s release and the upcoming show about discovering an identifiable sound, learning lessons from their previous records, how the band started through a common love for poetry, and what he hopes people take from Skinty Fia after giving it a listen.
When it comes to the third album, it often represents a culmination and climax of the band’s adopted approach while leaving the door open for incorporating new ideas in future installments. With that being said, what in your opinion does Skinty Fia represent for Fontaines D.C.?
I think it represents us finding our sound, to use the ultimate classic cliche. We had our first record, which was kind of defined by our limitations as instrumentalists as well as financially while not being able to afford good guitars, pedals, and those kinds of things. Then for our second album we got a bit of money from our label, we bought some pedals and we were about to make some different kinds of sounds. With this one we brought all those sounds together from the experiments of the second one and made an album that I think is pretty consistent and cohesive. We found a sound we really like and we know where we’re going to go with the next one now as well—it feels really, really good to be honest. We’re all really happy with this record.
Did you guys aim to do anything differently with this album that you didn’t get to do while making your previous albums? I know you had better equipment this time around, but was there anything different artistically or in terms of approach, aesthetic or vision?
We learned some lessons from our previous albums, with the second record we wanted to show that we were a bit more diverse. We’ve always written different kinds of songs but we pushed one particular kind of thing on the first record, so with the second one we wanted to show that we could do different things. It made that album kind of disparate with lots of ballads, we wanted to make a record that was kind of like Dogrel in a sense that it was more groovy and vibey in a way that you could dance to it in away that’s not too much of a drag, although it’s a drag in it’s own way I guess. I think it takes the best of both the first two, really. We also wanted to make a record that was a bit more full sounding.
Personally, as a bass player, we changed the way we recorded some things because we’ve gotten more knowledge of recording since COVID-19 while making home demos and stuff. We went into the studio with a little more of an understanding of how things work and we changed some things with how we record the bass and guitars. We just wanted to make a sound that was a bit more bigger and fuller.
What inspired the theme of the Irish diaspora and loss of cultural identity within the album along with a photo of the extinct Irish elk in between a flight of stairs and light shining through a door on the album cover?
It’s one of those things when you’re making an album that we don’t like to force the idea of what the album is too early. We don’t go in with the thought of making an album about the Irish diaspora or Irishness in London, we just write songs about what’s happening to us. After you get to around five songs you have an idea of what the album is going to be about. You kind of reflect on it after all the songs are written to figure out what ties them all together, what’s going on and what we felt during the writing process. When it comes to the album artwork, it’s a thing of reflection as well, for us anyway.
It was definitely a matter of all of us moving to London. Well, actually we were all living in different places beforehand. [Conor] Curley went to New York, I went to Paris, Grian went to London, and Carlos stayed in Ireland, then we all moved to London together. It was a thing of leaving Ireland and leaving it for different reasons, mostly to do with our careers and to be with the people we love but that does change your view of Irishness as well because you become part of the diaspora. Especially in places like New York and obviously Boston, but in London Irishness means something very particular in the context of that particular city. It’s something that you have to grow and adjust yourself to, because Irishness means something very different when you’re just living in Ireland.
Fontaines D.C. started in 2017 through bonding over a common love of poetry while you guys attended the British & Irish Modern Music Institute in Dublin. Since you first started writing songs together, how much has poetry had a presence in the thematic and lyrical structure of the music? Has it grown to have an even bigger presence than at the beginning of the band or has it maintained a steady presence?
We peaked in our love of poetry around the time we made Dogrel. We were a bit burnt out while making our second record, we didn’t really have much energy to do anything really to be honest. We were doing so much touring and things like that so we had a bit of a mental burnout but we all got back into reading during the pandemic and got into some very nice things. We all still have a love for it, for sure.
While I was in Paris, I started reading some French writers and French poets. It’s really important for a sense of romance, when you go down to a cafe and you read a bit of poetry it changes the way you view the humdrum things of life. I think poetry really affected us for our first record in the way that we fundamentally know how to write songs. That’s still continuing on because I think we learned a lot from writing poems about rhythm, flow and repetition, the power of repetition at the end of a verse. That’s where we learned to structure ourselves for our first record.
I can see how that translates, especially with the rhythm and flow. What do you hope people take from Skinty Fia while listening to it after it comes out?
I just hope they really enjoy it. I hope they stick it on and they feel good, it gives them a vibe and they can walk around at a good pace while listening to the tunes so it gives them a bit of escapism or something to ponder on about their own lives. I hope it gives them a little bit of happiness.
Fontaines D.C. at the Paradise. Mon, 4.25 @ 7pm. Tickets at livenation.com
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.