Last night's Fontaines D.C. gig in Nottingham saw Dom Gourlay invited backstage and asked to interview the biggest new band to come out of Ireland in some time - here's what went down...
Dom Gourlay
18:30 17th April 2019

As the seemingly unquenchable thirst for loud, aggressive guitar bands shows no sign of abating, one name on the tip of everybody’s tongue right now is that of Fontaines D.C. The Dublin based five-piece have become one of the hottest properties in music. Currently on a headline tour of the UK which sold out months in advance, their next tour scheduled for late autumn is also well on the way to selling out with further dates being added in January of next year as we speak.

Meanwhile, debut album ‘Dogrel’ sits proudly at number four in the official midweek album charts amidst a string of five star reviews from numerous publications. It represents an incredible twelve months for a band that struggled to fill 250 capacity venues in their native city this time last year. While demonstrating in the process that if you put in the necessary graft, it can pay dividends.

In a couple of hours, the five-piece – Grian Chatten (vocals), Conor Curley (guitars), Conor Deegan III (bass), Carlos O’Connell (guitars) and Tom Coll (drums) – will serve up a short, sharp shock of intoxicating fury to a packed Rescue Rooms in the city of Nottingham. Earlier today, their lunchtime in-store performance at the city’s Rough Trade caused similar levels of pandemonium an with a relentless festival schedule also planned, Fontaines D.C. look set to become a household name by the close of 2019.

In between the two shows, Gigwise sat down with guitarist Carlos O’Connell to discuss their unprecedented rise, the media’s sudden interest in Irish guitar bands and the pitfalls of a life spent predominantly on the road.

Gigwise: How’s the tour been so far?

Carlos O’Connell: Intense. I’ve been sick since the day the tour started. I thought I was getting better but I’m not. I don’t really get much sleep. It’s album release week so we’re playing an in-store every day then a gig in the evening and constantly doing promo stuff the rest of the time. We have no days off. We’re driving to the next city every night.

GW: Is it a concern among the rest of the band and yourself that you might end up burning yourselves out?

CO: It’s definitely a worry. I wouldn’t want to be doing this every week. I get that we’ve just released the album so we have to push it, but at the same time I don’t think it’s a healthy thing to be doing. Our schedule is intense but it’s OK. I’m looking forward to it. But I think nowadays a lot of bands over tour, which says more about the standard of the industry right now than anything else. Over touring has almost become something that you have to do if you want to succeed.

GW: It does appear to be more of an expectation than ever before that bands need to tour and sell merchandise at shows just to make any kind of living from playing music. That must really take its toll?

CO: I think we’re working seventeen-hour days at the moment and we’re playing seven days a week. We rarely get chance to eat and sleep, so it is a worry the band could burn out by touring too much. We’re pretty aware of that, and we know what we want which gives us energy I guess. Our drive is to write, so we’ve booked a lot of the summer shows in a way that will give us time to do that. For example, we’re only playing festivals at weekends, which gives us four days a week to write. It’s what we love doing, sitting in a room for ten hours a day writing. That’s not hard work, it’s the dream. The travelling in between shows is the hardest part. Playing gigs isn’t hard work. Being on stage is not work. Everything around it is, and then writing is just a dream at this stage. That’s the thing we want to do most in the world.

GW: Several of the songs on ‘Dogrel’ date back 2-3 years. Was it always your intention for the album to come out now or did you want to release it earlier?

CO: We always wanted to release an album when we wrote those tunes. We wanted to build it up in small steps, little by little. We had a clear plan from the outset. Physical records are the way to go now, so we decided to print our own. Which we did with our first single ‘Liberty Belle’ in 2017. By the time we released that we’d already written our second single ‘Hurricane Laughter’. Then by the time we released that we’d just finished ‘Boys In The Better Land’, which came out in February 2018. It wasn’t long after that we signed a deal with Partisan Records, probably May 2018. So from then onwards everything was geared towards making the album, which we recorded last September. We’d spent the whole summer writing, so we had the songs we’d already put out before plus the new songs we’d just written.

GW: I first saw Fontaines D.C. at last October’s Ritual Union all-dayer in Oxford, and I seem to recall there was already a buzz around the band back then. Did you anticipate things taking off as quickly as they have?

CO: No, not at all! Things got a bit ridiculous for us towards the end of last year. We did a run of shows in December and all of them sold out. Then we started a European tour in January and most of those dates sold out a couple of days in advance. That took us up to about seventeen sold out shows in a row, which we found hard to believe. I remember wondering what was going on. I really didn’t get it at all! After that it’s been constant, just getting the artwork ready for the album and doing loads of other things besides. So I haven’t really had a chance to have a proper look around and see how it’s building. Also, around the time those shows were selling out this whole tour sold out as well, months in advance. So all that was hard to take in as well.

GW: Tonight’s show was originally scheduled for the Bodega, which is a much smaller venue than the Rescue Rooms. It was upgraded to here around Christmas time then promptly sold out as well.>

CO: I know, it’s ridiculous. All the chart placings that are coming in for the album right now. We’re number four at the minute, which I don’t understand. All the in-stores as well, the amount of people that have taken time off work to queue and get the album signed. It’s really difficult to comprehend. I’m aware of everything. The label keeps telling me about all the good things that are happening, but it’s really difficult to connect that with your own life. All of this stuff that’s going on around here is actually happening to us.

GW: You performed a live session for Steve Lamacq’s show on 6Music last week. How was that? It sounded like a lot of fun.

CO: It was great. I love Steve Lamacq. He was one of the first champions of our band. Over the last year we got to see him a lot, and he came to see us at South By Southwest. He does have a lot of influence. People listen to him. He’s a passionate guy who really believes in the music he loves.

GW: We’ve already touched briefly on the band signing with Partisan last May. How did that come about?

CO: It came about because of the guy that’s promoting this show and most of the tour. Dan Roberts who works for DHP. I’ve no idea how he heard of us. He came to one of our first London shows then the next time he saw us brought along a guy from Partisan Records. The next morning we got an email then within a week, Jeff (Bell) from the label came over to Dublin. We’d only just heard about Idles being on the label a few months before that but we saw they were doing alright and Eagulls were another band on Partisan that we loved. Cigarettes After Sex as well. They have a lot of great acts on the label to be honest, and after we chatted to them it felt like Partisan would be right for us. We knew they believed in what we were doing so would put a lot of work into our band. They seemed to really respect us, which is important to have so we signed. They’ve been amazing so far. They make us work hard but it’s paying off.

GW: Do you worry about the weight of expectation surrounding the band going forwards? Particularly after the success you’ve had so far this year?

CO: Up to this point it’s been a case of, 'OK, what comes after?' We’re announcing a January show at (Nottingham) Rock City tomorrow morning, which is five times bigger than the venue we’re playing tonight, and my immediate thought was that’s way too big. Anything that’s happening after the tour in November and December of this year I can’t honestly imagine. I don’t know where we go afterwards. How do you get bigger than that?

GW: Arenas?

CO: That’s a world I just don’t know at all. We’re lucky to have people working the shows who are very, very good at what they’re doing. People like Dan. He’s good, he’s clever and he’s passionate. So I trust him. Dan just presented the Rock City show to us today. He’s convinced it will work and whatever he says I’m happy with. I completely trust him. It’s a great room. We saw The Horrors there when we played at Dot To Dot last summer.

GW: It seems to be a really exciting time for Irish guitar bands at the minute with people like yourselves, The Murder Capital, Just Mustard and The Claque all receiving a lot of media attention right now. Why do you think that is?

CO: Girl Band opened a lot of doors and a lot of minds. So why are people only paying attention to Irish bands now? I think it’s mainly because they’re being told to pay attention to Ireland by the press. The history of Ireland is amazing, particularly in literature. Walk into any bookstore and Irish names jump out at you, especially in the poetry section of the shop. I think it’s the same with music. There’s a lot of really intelligent music in Irish history. Lots of incredible musicians come from Ireland. Some of the most original and passionate musicians I know. The current focus comes from the press just saying look at what’s going on in Ireland as if that wasn’t always the case. They haven’t looked at it in years so in a way I’m glad they’re paying attention now, because there’s so much good stuff coming out of Ireland right now. If you turn the stone you’ll always find something, which is great because if no one’s listening, people will stop writing because you get desperate. You get frustrated. Now people are listening its encouraging artists to write more and more because they now have a chance to be heard. So it is exciting to see that, but I don’t think anything is happening in particular that wasn’t happening two years ago. We only see more coming out of Ireland now because we’re looking more.

GW: I read a recent comment from your singer Grian Chatten about being reluctant to be seen as part of a movement, yet there does seem to be a kind of solidarity between what’s fast becoming an ever growing family of international guitar bands. Does it feel as if you’re part of a specific counterculture or scene?

CO: In a very distant way. It feels like they’re all second cousins in a way. We’re aware of them without really knowing any of them. We’re all aware of each other, all the bands are. We’ve all listened to each other’s music, but it’s not like we all hang out together or anything. We sometimes bump into other bands at special occasions or festivals and end up hanging out for a few hours, but that might be it for months on end. That’s why it’s difficult to feel like there is a movement that you’re a part of with anyone else. Everyone’s working away individually and even though most of the bands know each other through one person or another, and I don’t think there’s any point in not being supportive. Everyone comes from the same place. Sometimes you might not like a band so the best thing to do in my opinion is just not talk about them.

GW: Why do you think loud, angry and aggressive guitar bands have suddenly captured people’s attentions right now? Obviously the political and social climates will have an influence, but then austerity is heading into its second decade over here while the gap between the rich and impoverished continues to grow ever wider.

CO: To be honest, I think a lot of it is to do with a general feeling of disengagement. There’s nothing to engage with. When I look at our audiences there’s a big split between middle aged people – which I think is brilliant – and teenage kids who are probably experiencing live music for the first time. A lot of the older people probably had certain bands they were super passionate about when they were younger, then suddenly those bands disappeared. So I think it’s great that a band like ours is bringing something back that was there before but has been missing from people’s lives for a while. Ultimately it’s about how live music engages with people. It doesn’t have to be extremely political. It can be really personal or just suit individual moods. If our audience were exclusively young people I’d feel like this was just a quick, passing trend. Because that’s what happens. But because there’s people that have lived and experienced a lot of different types of music. A generation who’ve gone through all these different musical movements and had all that stuff before, to me that justifies what we’re doing. Other than that, I don’t know why this music is coming through now. I think I just missed this generation by a couple of years but anyone younger than me growing up in this era of social media, their brains have become distracted. Distraction is almost like a vice. We all need it and want it because it’s very comfortable. You don’t get anything out of it but it feels really comfortable. Nowadays, people in their early twenties and younger are distracted 100% of the time. All day, every day becomes a distraction. If you’re uncomfortable in a social situation it’s easy to just get your phone out so you’re no longer connected to that social situation. That happens all the time so you’re not engaging with anything at all. It’s all so quick and fast and digital, so it doesn’t really exist. There’s no engagement with anything. When I’m faced with anxiety I turn to that so as I don’t have to engage with the anxiety either. It’s a very quick and easy fix but then what happens is I feel like I’m not engaging with anything at all. I feel quite numb, and I think other people are walking around feeling numb too. So music like ours for some teenagers is like a bucket of cold ice in the face! Here it is, this is what being alive feels like. For that hour when you’re listening to the album or watching a show, there is that feeling of being blown away. Maybe this is the music what does that for them? For some it might make them feel trapped. I don’t know.

GW: You mentioned earlier about taking time off in the summer to write new material. Are there any new songs emerging now, and if so, will any appear in the set for this tour?

CO: We’ve started playing one new song that’s not on the album. We debuted it in America then played it again in Glasgow, so we might play it tonight. We’re not sure yet. The only problem with playing new songs now is everyone films them, and before you know it they appear online before they’ve been recorded properly. On the other hand, I also love playing new songs. So there is a new song that’s doing the rounds on You Tube right now. It’s called ‘Televised Mind’ and its pretty much ready for the next album. Our plan is to record the second album in October then hopefully; it will come out around this time next year. Provided we get enough time to finish it! I’d say we have about seven new songs floating around at the minute, although by the time it comes to record the album we’ll probably have ditched five of them. Whenever we get the time to write we’ll do it, and I really want to put out another album a year from now. It will get very frustrating if we can’t.

GW: What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?

CO: The biggest piece of advice I would give is not to write music based on the kind of music that’s popular right now. A lot of the bands who are around right now weren’t aware of those other bands when they first started, but there are some that were doing something completely different, then saw the success some bands were having so started playing a similar kind of music. I just hate that. It’s very transparent and you can see through it. It works if you want instant success, but there’s no longevity in it. The most beautiful thing about playing music is feeling like it’s your own. Whereas I feel people who only make music to be successful aren’t writing for themselves. They’re writing for somebody else. Be clever and have a plan. A one-year plan. What do I want from this year? How am I going to space my releases? It’s about really planning ahead. Plan a whole year then see what happens. Of course the most important thing is none of this matters if the music is no good! For music to be good, it has to be original. It has to be authentic. Also, always pretend you’re bigger than you actually are. Our first headline show in Dublin was in a 250 capacity venue and we sold around 100 tickets, 125 at a push. For us it was a great success. We had an amazing night so the second time we headlined in Dublin we booked a 500 capacity venue. We could have booked that same venue and sold it out but we didn’t. We booked this bigger one instead and it grabbed people’s attentions. We only ended up selling half the tickets but the next time we booked that venue it nearly sold out. Then the next time we sold it out in a day. Now, our next two Dublin shows are at Vicar Street, which is a 1500 capacity venue. So that’s 3000 tickets which is a lot more than the 500 we sold for our last Dublin show. Don’t be dicks about it either but as a way of establishing yourself, pretending you’re bigger than you actually are can make a difference.

GW: Are there any other new bands you’d recommend Gigwise and its readers should check out?

CO: Partisan have just signed a few really good bands. There’s an Australian band called Body Type. It’s lo-fi indie with an element of dream pop. I love them. There’s an amazing quality to them. Then there’s a band from Canada who’ve just signed to Partisan called Pottery. We’re taking them on tour in America at the end of September. They’re a bit like Devo, The Modern Lovers, Television. They’re also the tightest band I’ve ever seen. Their live show is mind-blowing. There’s another Australian artist who’s just signed to the label called Spike Fuck. That’s probably my favourite discovery this year. She put out an EP last year called ‘Smackwave’ which Partisan are re-releasing. To me, it sounds a bit like Psychic TV and Rowland S Howard. The EP is about wanting to come off heroin addiction. It hits so hard but sounds so beautiful.

Photo: Shaun Gordon