Despite its rich history within the country, the music of Ireland is more often than not reduced to an emerald novelty of jigs and whistles. This is certainly not helped by songs like Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ going gangbusters on the charts, or the kind of schmaltzy dross that gets wheeled out every St. Patrick’s Day. It should come as no surprise, then, that the pride of Dublin right now is a band that wholly rejects every last cheery, happy-go-lucky stereotype associated with Irish music. They are Fontaines D.C., and you’d best believe that D.C. stands for Dublin City.
With Dogrel, their debut album released in April, the five-piece have quickly become one of the most hyped rock bands on the planet. Theirs is a brand of post-punk that’s abrasive, unrelenting and entirely unique to their own identity. “Is it too real for ya?” asks vocalist Grian Chatten mockingly on the album’s A-side, against the scrape and grind of electric guitars and the rumble of bass and drums. The answer is no – in fact, it’s just the reality check that indie-rock fans needed.
2019 may have seen the band’s profile rise exponentially, but if there’s one thing they want to make clear it’s that they are far from an overnight success. Formed out of Dublin’s burgeoning punk scene a few years back, Fontaines D.C. pieced together Dogrel over the better part of 18 months rather than forcing an LP out within a week.
“It’s half and half,” says Conor Curley – one of the band’s two guitarists – about the album’s creative trajectory. “We wrote ‘Liberty Belle’ in 2017, so that’s the oldest song on the record by some way. Between then and signing to Partisan [Records] in May 2018, we wrote probably half of the record. The rest came to us through the summer of last year.” Curley goes on to describe the liberating feeling he and his bandmates felt after having the opportunity to block out time solely for the purpose of being creative.
“We were finally given the chance to just write music every day,” he says. “Before that, everything we were doing was being dictated by something else – our jobs, other work schedules, all that stuff. For those three months, we were in that room making this album.”
Dogrel, despite its mosaic nature, has all the flow and conceptual craftsmanship of a straight-to-canvas masterpiece. It charges out of the gate with the defiant, urgent ‘Big,’ before turning into the intense and driving ‘Hurricane Laughter’ and ultimately closing out on the sorrowful pub waltz ‘Dublin City Sky,’ as much an ode to The Pogues as it is to their country’s beloved traditional folk. So, how exactly did the band pull together something that made sense as a start-to-finish album? “There was a lot of talk about how to make that possible,” says Curley.
“We looked at albums that we thought were cohesive, but after a while we realised that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to be looking for. To us, it was important that the story we were telling with the record was linear. We wanted this record to reflect on all of the emotions that we were writing about, and all of the influences that made us want to do that in the first place. We could have very intentionally gone in and written every song with its place on a record in mind, but we chose not to. We felt that by doing that, we could make something a lot more honest.”
One of the album’s best-received singles has been ‘Boys in the Better Land,’ a song in which the land in question is never addressed directly by name. In a way, it doesn’t have to – the “better land” could be anywhere, as long as it’s not your hometown. “If you’re a rockstar, pornstar, superstar/Doesn’t matter what you are/Get yourself a good car/Get outta here,” Chatten sings in one of the track’s more memorable lines. Although all five members grew up around various nearby counties and villages, they have remained based in Dublin this entire time.
Despite their criticisms and takedowns of the place they call home – even in ‘Big,’ it’s described as “A pregnant city/With a Catholic mind” – Curley describes Fontaines D.C.’s relationship with… well, D.C… as one of constant growth and change. “I mean, nowhere’s perfect, is it,” reasons Curley. “Dublin, realistically, is no different. There’s issues that face this place every single day. For us, when we see things in Dublin that we find hard to see or hard to accept – anything, really, that we have difficulty understanding – the way that we process it is by writing about it. We’re in love with Dublin – it’s why we’ve stayed – but it’s about learning from it just as it is learning about it.”
Having been compared to bands like IDLES and Shame, both of whom they’ve played with in the past, one of the key discussion points surrounding Fontaines has been Chatten’s authentic Irish accent. There are countless Irish acts, from U2 to The Script, that most would have no idea about their nationality unless they actively sought it out. There’s no such ambiguity here – and, from Curley’s perspective, it all boils down to the kind of band they want to present themselves as.
“When you’re growing up in an English-speaking place that isn’t the UK, all of the music that’s presented to you is from the UK or from America,” he says. “That’s how Grian learned how to sing; that’s how all of us learned how to sing around here. You’re either going to end up singing with either one of those two broad accents. It’s noone’s fault, and we don’t think any less of Dublin artists or bands that don’t sing with their natural accent. In the case of Grian, it was purely a matter of personal preference. He never felt the need to differentiate between the way that he spoke with the way that he sang. That was that, really. People do love to talk about it, and I guess if it makes people more comfortable with the Irish accent then it’s surely a good thing.”
The band are currently on tour in the UK after recently making their way through the US, which saw them perform to a rousing reception on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They just played Glastonbury and are about to take on Roskilde and a slew of other major festivals across Europe for the lion’s share of 2019, as well as plenty of sold-out headlining shows along the way. For many places the band are playing – especially in North America – they are essentially serving as advocates and representatives of their city. It’s not something that has gone unnoticed within the band’s camp, nor is it a responsibility taken lightly by them.
“We’re starting to see more and more of the world now – even as I’m speaking to you, we’re driving through the desert on our way to El Paso, on the border of Mexico and Texas,” says Curley. “No matter where we go, I think the one thing that is going to keep us connected to where we’re from is by being as honest as possible. We could be on the other side of the world, and you couldn’t take that away from us.”
Fontaines D.C.’s new album ‘Dogrel’ is out now