Fontaines D.C. singer Grian Chatten and guitarist Conor Curley were sharing a flat, shirts and the love of poetry while working odd jobs to keep the rent paid in Dublin, Ireland, as they and bandmates Carlos O’Connell, Conor Deegan III, and Tom Coll wrote poetry, music and self-released singles as they could.
“We all kind of experienced Dublin city, as far as the underbelly and all the rest of it goes,” Chatten says of the band’s roots. “We were sharing beds. I was sleeping on couches for about six months because rents in Dublin are really high.”
Chatten and Curley were both working grueling day jobs, but when they had the opportunity to take a meeting with a record company that was courting Fontaines D.C., they each took full days off and made the most of it.
“I remember going to the meeting with the record label for our first meeting and myself and Carlos both taking the day off work. He was working in a hotel down the road from like 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. I was working in a burrito bar and with a hairnet and all the rest of it. And the two of us basically were wearing the same clothes because we’d swap shirts and stuff.
“Then we went for this meeting and we got signed on within two weeks. And that was it. We never looked back,” Chatten says.
Fontaines D.C. are five friends from school who shared a love of poetry and even collectively published two small volumes, pamphlets really – “Vroom” and “Winding” – before trading their poems for songs. They began recording and self-releasing tracks and eventually make the acquaintance of Trevor Dietz, who booked and promoted Dublin’s Garage Bar and managed entertainment at The Workman’s Club. Dietz began booking small gigs for them and is now their manager.
The band signed with Partisan Records and their first album, Dogrel, was released in 2019. The record contained reworked versions of some of their DIY tracks, including “Boys In The Better Land,” quickly earning notice among critics and gaining fans. The band stood out among a class of new rock bands rising from the Emerald Island in 2018-19 and earned Fontaines D.C. a Mercury Prize nomination.
But prior to that, Fontaines D.C. put together a team of agents in Europe that now includes Daan De Bruyne of Toutpartout Agency in Belgium; Mathias Schwarz of Powerline Agency in Germany; and Alex Bruford of ATC Live in the UK.
In addition, Carly James of CAA’s New York City office represents Fontaines D.C. in North and South America.
“I came in ahead of the first album back in 2018,” James says. “That’s where the conversation on my side started. With an international artist, you have to be very careful and very mindful about a lot of things when it comes to plotting together with a team; what makes sense, building out, finding the right size room and so on.
“But when I heard that first album, I was one of those people who heard it and instantly knew it was special. But you never know what a first album is going to do, and what it’s going to mean when it’s live. So we did a very small New York play around South by Southwest.”
Those shows, at Union Pool in Brooklyn, were followed by another North American outing opening for another rock band, Idles, and a clutch of European festival looks including Switzerland’s Paleo Festival.
The experience was “really, really good for us,” drummer Tom Coll says. “I think it was a nice entry point into America. I feel like that really opened up America – even the possibility of America – in our heads. That was a really important time for us.”
By fall, after an appearance at Southern California’s Ohana Festival, a UK club outing of venues followed including O2 Ritz Manchester, O2 Academy Liverpool, and a sold-out SWG3 in Glasgow, Scotland. After a short break, Fontaines D.C. appeared at St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Auckland, New Zealand on Jan. 27, 2020.
But less than three weeks later, everything came to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic began. Before concerts came to a very long pause, Fontaines D.C. recorded A Hero’s Death and, rather than a sophomore slump, the album opened the floodgates for the band, including a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Album – only the second ever for an Irish act. U2 is the only other.
Still, it was the toughest of breaks for a band that had developed a dynamic live show to go along with its acclaimed music. But Fontaines D.C. has returned to the road with a vengeance.
“We have placed a lot of importance on energy and on our shows,” Coll says of Fontaine D.C.’s explosive performances. “Sometimes we feel it a little bit more viscerally than on the records, which I think is a good thing. It’s important to have some disparity between you, your record of sound and your life. We definitely bring a lot of energy. It’s that human thing for those who want to find it; that special thing between a band and audience that you can’t record.”
While the band is often labeled as “punk,” it doesn’t necessarily ascribe to genre labels. Its influences run the gamut from Sinéad O’Connor, Nick Cave, the Pixies, punk and more.
“I like bass & drum and electronic music as well, and it just makes sense to me to marry those two things,” Chattan says. “There’s also a sort of ancient Irishness to our music, with an almost metropolitan sound with breakbeats and the like. Sinéad O’Connor, on her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got has a song called ‘I Am Stretched On Your Grave’ that doesn’t sound like any one thing, other than completely natural and organic. I think that influenced a lot of what we did.”
Skinty Fia, released in April, is the band’s third album in three years and reflects a lot of musical growth for the band even while it was written in lockdown.
The first single, “Jackie Down The Line,” was followed by “Roman Holiday,” a rumination on wanting to get out in the world again.
“On ‘Roman Holiday,’ having written a lot of the record during the pandemic, we were writing windows into our life. You’re stuck in one place and wish you were free and able to go other places,” Chatten says. “I think ‘Roman Holiday’ is a bit of a landscape sound for me, and it sounds to me like freedom and rolling cartwheels and seeing somewhere off in the distance. All the things that I didn’t experience during the pandemic.”
When asked about the energy of their acclaimed live shows during a recent interview at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, Chatten said that he doesn’t “usually remember the gigs” because he’s filled with adrenaline and his “toes are curled for the whole thing and I know I played a gig because my toes are really sore.”
Cheekiness aside, the animated vocalist continued: “I always enjoy playing pretty much every show. There’s a whole variety of things about touring that eat me alive. I struggle with sleep on a bus and that kind of stuff, but it’s all made worth it in those 50-90 minutes when we play.”