Fontaines D.C. Think You Should Be Dancing

Across their three albums (2019’s Dogrel, 2020’s A Hero’s Death, and their latest, Skinty Fia), released in very close succession, Fontaines D.C. (Dublin City) have remained compelling, exciting, and impeccable.

As far as fans and critics are concerned, Fontaines are a bit of a wonder band. Apart from Ireland’s political environment that inadvertently bred them, it is important to also note their personal explorations seen throughout their often-critical, often-allegorical catalogue. Issues of identity, compromise, and Irishness are common tropes.

It is easy to make a catchy tune, it is less easy to make a tune that has emotional texture. A listener may never have been to Dublin, but can hear and understand the aspiration and possession of a song like ‘Big’. A listener may never have been in love, but can—for five minutes, at least—feel the unflinching matter-of-factness and devotion on ‘I Love You.’ They are a band that plays good songs and in the process, exchanges energy.

Though they are often confused for one another, there is a difference between quality and ‘hype,’ and it is not our intention to hype Fontaines D.C. That being said, they are a very fucking good band, and we are excited to see them play at Laneway Festival across Australia this January. We had a long convo with Fontaines’ bassist, Conor ‘Deego’ Deegan about that, ruined his day with stress thoughts, and talked about how you ought to be dancing at their shows.

You’ve been touring non-stop for the last year or so, and you’re playing Laneway Festival this January. How are you coping with the mental and physical strain that comes with such extensive travel?
I think it really depends on the moment. Festival season was pretty tough, it was extremely busy. We were playing every day—I think we’ve played 150 shows this year. We are trying to take time to see some sights and stuff like that. We went to Venice one day just for fun, that sort of thing. It gets a bit tricky during festival season, you can get very run down. You’re all crammed into one bus, it starts to smell really bad… you have to take time for yourself and find routines that you can bring with you.

What routines are you bringing?
I have this thing where I set up my cologne and my toothbrush and everything in a very particular way. No matter where I am, that stuff is set up on the side of the sink in a very specific way and it’s something I can ground myself with. I know it sounds a bit silly, but there’s something about the fact that even though the spaces are always changing, this is constant.

Have you guys played in Australia before?
Not yet, no. We were supposed to go over and do it when we were touring Dogrel, but the pandemic interrupted that. These shows were booked three or so years ago. I’m excited to finally get over there.

What is your songwriting dynamic like?
We write a lot together. For the third album, Skinty Fia, we used a whiteboard to write the songs. We had a list on one side of all of the song ideas—maybe 30 or 35 ideas for songs. We whittled them down to maybe 14 songs, and we went and recorded 13, I think. We have a very particular process that we’ve been using since the first album of using this whiteboard, drawing the structure of the song, replacing what isn’t working, and we can visualise it very easily that way. At the end of the day, we’ll go around and measure how ‘done’ we think each song is, like, ‘Oh, this song is 50 per cent done, this one is 80 per cent but needs a little bit more of something,’ and then come back to finish it later.

That seems so formulaic. How did you come to that process?
I’m not really sure, we just kind of started doing it one day. We all went to music college and they taught us to write out these sheets. The thing is, none of us were very good at writing bars or figuring out how long the bars were, so we literally just go, ‘riff by two’ or whatever. Obviously, our skills in that regard have grown over the years, but at the start, that’s how it was. I don’t know how we managed to make our first album, to be honest. We really worked a lot: 10 am to 6 pm practising every day to play those songs well enough to even record them. I listen to them now and I’m like, ‘Jesus, we barely got away with that.’ I can hear all the mistakes. It’s part of the charm, though, with a first album, especially considering the genre we were playing.

It sounds more organic with the mistakes. This much output requires a lot of collaboration and criticism and honesty. How do you maintain a healthy communicative relationship with your bandmates?
I mean, it can be very difficult at times. We’ve known each other for ten years at this point, and been in a band together for most of that time in one form or another. We move in different ways with each other, but we’ve never come close to falling out with each other. We all know that when we are in the room, none of us will ever criticise each other based on something outside of the room. We all know that the music is the higher purpose. I’ll never say, ‘That guitar part should be quieter,’ because of an argument I had with them the previous day, for example. None of us would do that shit, it’s just too important to us.

Why do you think you’re all in a band? Why does it exist?
I think that we, as people, aren’t very comfortable with expressing ourselves, in social situations and in our lives in general. When we found that we could express ourselves in this way without any repercussions or anything, we bonded with each other a lot. We created something really special where we could go into a room with each other and laugh and joke and see eye to eye, and make music out of it. It’s a friendship as much as it is a band. We started a band when we were really young, so most of our adult lives have been spent seeing each other every single day.

Three critically-acclaimed albums in four years. You’ve had a sort of meteoric rise. How are you dealing with any pressure that arises from that sort of reception and ascension?
I’m okay with the pressure, to be honest. I play bass and sing some backup vocals, so I’m a bit out of the spotlight. A blessing and a curse, but I like it. Grian, I don’t know. I think it gets to him sometimes, but it’s mostly okay.

Yeah, but you all write the songs. You don’t ever get concerned that the next thing you do will be as good or better than the last thing?
Oh, sure. I mean—I’m not questioning you for saying it—but I think that that’s such a toxic thought. The kind of thing that can really eat away at you, I really don’t think like that. We focus on making the music that we like with each other and go about doing it. Thinking about that stuff would be fucking dark, though.

A lot of other bands I’ve spoken to who have been around for decades say the same thing, where that sort of thinking will be the end of you.
Oh god, why are you saying this to me now?! Fucking god, man. I don’t want to think about this shit.

Well, they say exactly what you said, which is to focus on making the music they love.
Ah, man, yeah. Good to know.

What hobbies or passions do you have outside of music?
I’m not sure. I kind of messed around with different hobbies over the years but nothing stuck very well. The only thing that I actually really like doing is making music. I like going for walks around in cities and the countryside, thinking… those are the only things I really enjoy doing. I read sometimes.

What are you reading?
I’ve been trying to read my friend’s book. His name is Nikolaj Schultz, he’s a Danish sociologist. He worked really closely with this French sociologist called Bruno Latour. The book is a twist on Marxism that includes the environment and all of the things within it, as social classes, as well. Not just a human system, it’s a system of the world and how we as humans relate to these classes of beings. Like, what might be the trees in the rainforest, and how we can exist in multiple places.

What do you mean?
Like, right now, I don’t just exist in this backstage area in Dublin, I’m drinking this bottle of water so I also exist wherever this rain was bottled and wherever the plastic bottle was made, you know? It’s a really interesting book, he’d been working on it for a while with Bruno who very unfortunately passed recently. He’s really famous—especially in France— because of his work on the philosophy of the environment and trying to get people to consider their impact in different ways; his twist on French Existentialism, it’s very interesting stuff.

What’s that book called?
It’s called Mal de Terre. Land Sickness, in English. I’m trying to read the French version which is a real pain in the ass for me because my French isn’t that good. It’s published in English now but I haven’t gotten that copy yet.

Oh, you speak French as well?
Yeah, it’s quite common in secondary-level schooling. I actually lived in Paris for a while and I’ll be moving back there in January.

Why the move?
I moved to London to be with a girl, I followed her over. We lived here together for a year but now that we’ve broken up, I’d like to move back. I’ve got a lot of memories there, I’d like to build my life back there again.

Why Paris?
I don’t know, I kind of moved there on a whim during the pandemic. My friends were leaving Dublin around then, all of them were moving to London and New York and I didn’t really fancy London. I never had that romantic dream in my life of that place as a city, but Paris was one that I always wanted to move to, so on a whim, I sort of said, ‘Fuck it,’ and gave it a shot, and I managed to get by okay.

Totally unrelated: where are you right now? The background looks like you’re in a school gymnasium.
(Laughs) No, I’m not. I’m backstage at a venue in Dublin. We are playing here for three nights. Vicar Street is the name of the venue, it’s a bit famous in Ireland.

Last question: where is your favourite place to play now that you’ve toured all over the world?
Manchester, definitely.

Really? Unexpected answer. Why?
They fucking vibe, hard. Honestly. They get our new album so well, it’s so nice. We wrote the songs ‘Skinty Fia’ and ‘I Love You’ with the idea that people would move like this [stands back from the camera to show the ideal dance, arms outstretched, swaying side to side]. Before they were just doing this shit [fist pumping and pointing] and moshing, but in Manchester, that was the first time we saw a crowd properly moving to those songs in this way. It was amazing.

I feel like a lot of crowds don’t know how to dance at shows. I think the pandemic stunted the crowd because kids who aged old enough to go to shows didn’t get to see other people act the right way at shows, so they’re just lost. People don’t dance.
Yeah, it sucks, man. Do you know where they don’t dance much at all, is Norway.

Is that just because of the metal scene?
I don’t know. The first gig we played in Norway, we got stared down. Between songs, they’d clap, but they were dead still and just staring at us. We played a festival there that was much better but that first time, dead still. We were like, ‘Are they enjoying this?’ We got that in the middle of our tour of America this year, as well. We got very stiff crowds.

My actual last question is what do you look for in a good crowd?
Enthusiasm. We want to see people enjoying themselves. We can feed off that and give back more to them, sort of a conversation of energy, which is the main reason for performing live for us.  We want you to have a good time and to show it so that we can give it back.

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