The liberal nationalism and fondness that ties Fontaines D.C. together is still a marginalised pride; the music scene in Dublin falters from a lack of homegrown support and inner-validation. Local critics will come pouring to an Irish band, but only after they’ve had recognition from somewhere else. The responsibility sits from within for them; on their most recent tour around Ireland Fontaines brought along Just Mustard, another Irish group (albeit one that’s aligned more to a Mezzanine-era Massive Attack than The Fall-esque camaraderie of Fontaines). Their debut album, Wednesday, then got nominated for RTE Choice Awards’ Album of the Year (an Irish and Northern Irish equivalent to the Mercury Prize).
“Yeah it got nominated. It would’ve only got genuine attention from Irish press and Irish awards though after it got attention in Britain. To be seen as successful in the Irish music industry you have to be successful somewhere else.” There’s not a lot of bitterness in the way Deego speaks of it, but with a fatigue indicative of a scene that’s not supported its own kind. “People don’t think you’re good based on your music; they think you’re good based on what you’ve done. It’s crazy. And they would deny this but we’ve been in bands for a long time over here, we’ve seen how it works.”
“It was the same with us as well,” says Curley, “until we got away. Until we got some attention from outside. No one thought anything of us for a long time. How long were we playing ‘Chequeless Reckless’ and ‘Hurricane Laughter’ and no one gave two shits? People are just very condescending to you. If you’re just lads in a band playing around Dublin, then that’s all people will see you as. They’ll never listen to the songs as being something affecting unless, like, ‘oh, they played in London, this must be music.’”
“I think the crowds are actually changing a bit,” Carlos says, substantiating now there’s a little more international attention on a couple of Irish bands. “I think the crowds are a bit more open, and a bit more willing to go to gigs. There’s this resurgence of people going to gigs, which we didn’t have until we started getting attention from the UK. Now everything’s being taken more seriously, because now anyone could be ‘more than just an Irish band’. Before, no one was going to be ‘more than just an Irish band’.”
“You forget what it’s like at home,” says Curley. “It’s not like we got a break from all that, mind. America had some of the most harrowing sights, especially around some of the venues we played. You see it a bit differently when you come back, though. It breaks your heart a bit more.” He talks through how much more exaggerated the divide has become between rich and poor in Dublin, just in the six months they’ve been away. You can see it in the new venues and bars that have opened up; the creation of new spaces to put on the property market, many of which are literally little more than a small shed at the end of the garden.
“We have this perspective from the outside that America’s fucked,” says Deego. “It’s fucked politically and everyone is obese, you know. There are all these stereotypes that make you wonder why anyone would go to America. And then you’re there and you travel through it and find out things you can only see when you’re there. Some parts are amazing; the difference between New York City and Cleveland is amazing. You see the fucked up parts that you already know are fucked up, and they’re more fucked up than you were told they were. And then you see the parts that are great, that you didn’t hear about at all.”
The sociopolitical edge is a sharp side of Fontaines D.C.: ‘The Lotts’ is about a street no more than 50 meters long where you can’t walk for used syringes and ‘Big’ is a reclamation of nationalism, while ‘Chequeless Reckless’ redefines idiots, sell-outs and dilettantes for the digital era. On the other hand, these are also songs you might have heard bedded behind compilations of John Barnes’s best goals, or the highlights of a nil-nil draw between Crystal Palace and Watford on Match of the Day. They recently made an appearance on Soccer AM, too: Carlos missed the ball when trying to hit a volley and Deego performed ‘Too Real’ in a Mayo GAA jersey. Gaelic football is not far off soccer, after all.
“Yeah, on the other hand it’s just a couple of lads trying to score a penalty,” says Curley.
“To be overly serious is to be completely ridiculous. Like a pretentious idiot.” Deego laughs. “That’s the reason Dogrel as an album name worked so well – we never wanted to be those people to take themselves so seriously. It’s a put down at the same time as trying to put ourselves into the history of Irish poetry. Even in the video for ‘Too Real’ where we have the video with the googly eyes on, that’s because – well, imagine if we didn’t have them on.”
We’ve already talked about the façade of advertising and the principles behind what the band is selling, but a sudden flash of realisation comes across Carlos and Deego that googly eyed merchandise was a real lost opportunity. “We could have made them smell like mint or something and you could hang them up in the car.” Later Deego enthusiastically tells a less-than-interested Grian that they should have bought white beach balls and drawn eyes on them, for the crowd to bounce around their heads as ‘Too Real’ played.
“There have actually been people throwing ping pong balls on stage with the eyes drawn on them,” Curley says. “It’s fucking hilarious. We’ll just be playing and then have a ping pong ball bouncing off your head. The lads that do that in the UK… I love those guys.”
One of the more poignant moments of Fontaines D.C.’s discography comes in the music video for ‘Roy’s Tune’, a heartfelt short film of a young Irish lad balancing the responsibilities of a newborn kid. “That video was just the idea of the guy that made it – Liam Papadachi – he just approached us with this idea and we thought it was really strong. And he did an amazing job on it. I suppose the kind of emotions that he found for the video seem to really work for the track. Most of the videos we have a direct input,” Curley says, “that was just something we wanted to do as a sort of adventure. See what they change, what different angles are brought out of the song. What colours and tones. We were really happy with that. We just didn’t want to go down the route of doing a performance video. It was really nice to work with him.”
“It makes the song stand alone more,” says Deego. “Again, it clarifies what we’re actually selling – we’re not giving away our faces, you know. We’re actually just putting out songs.”
Before Dogrel’s release, seven of its eleven tracks had previous releases as double A Side singles in 2018. Most were re-recorded for the album, faster, rawer, more in line with how the live shows had evolved. It was less power in restraint, more urgency of argument. For all that Grian exudes the occasional air of a prowling Ian Curtis, there’s then the switch of power to desperation, shaking a little, like he’s just come out of a long day’s research.
“It wasn’t trying to take them out of the old space. It was nothing cynical,” Deego assures me. “We wanted to do a live record, and record everything live to tape, and to do that we had to re-record them. The version of ‘Boys In The Better Land’ that we first released was a completely different song to how we started to play it live. It was way more fun to speed it up, we think it sounds better this way. And we did different versions of ‘Chequeless Reckless’ and ‘Hurricane Laughter’ to give them a purpose as well, you know. They already existed in one particular space and had a purpose there, you know, but we wanted to change that purpose.”
“I think it’s difficult to reflect on it,” says Carlos. “I mean in any objective way. I think we’ve just heard too many opinions about it now to be able to reflect about it in our own ways.” Carlos says that in his own way he tries not to analyse Dogrel at all anymore. “We thought about it loads when we were writing it, and loads when we made it, and now everyone else has formed their own opinions, but I think we’re all just thinking about the next record now. And how we can develop that in the same way that we made the first one. So in all that noise we’re getting time to reflect on something that no one else has heard.”