On the day that Fontaines DC chat to Review - via Zoom - it is four-odd months since live concerts were rendered null and void. Mid-March feels like a long time ago for anyone who makes gig-going an essential part of their lives, and it has felt an eternity for a young Irish band already celebrated for their incendiary on-stage performances.
Both frontman Grian Chatten and bassist Conor Deegan say they are pining for the opportunity to play in front of packed audiences especially as last weekend they were due to headline Dublin's Iveagh Gardens. It would have been an opportunity to showcase songs from their eagerly anticipated new album.
But Chatten - whose first name is pronounced 'Gree-an' - says he has made his peace with being forced off the road. Rather than obsess over what might have been, he says he is making the most out of this Covid-shaped world and making the time to recharge the batteries.
"Last year was so full on, we barely got to stop," he says. "We definitely needed something to put the brakes on. I don't know if we could have continued at that sort of pace." He says he was close to burn-out on occasion and in the early days of lockdown, he was simply relieved to have to take it easy.
He cuts a contented figure today and his demeanour is in stark contrast to when Review met him last year. It was on the eve of the release of their ecstatically received debut, Dogrel, and he seemed a bit edgy and ragged after a long night. Even before the album came out, Fontaines DC were being garlanded with a frenzied level of hype that only a small group of Irish acts have ever been subjected to. Remarkably, Dogrel matched expectations - and the band were feted on both sides of the Irish Sea.
"Everything happened so fast," Deegan - 'Deego' to his mates - says. "It was exciting but you can barely stop and take it all in."
When the pair are asked what their favourite memory from 2019 is, they don't mention the big outdoor festivals, like Glastonbury, or the appearance on Jimmy Fallon's US prime-time TV show or being nominated for the Choice and Mercury albums of the year. Instead, it's the early days on the road in Europe where they didn't have a tour manager and the five friends had to find their way from one venue to the next.
"We were going to one show in Denmark," Deegan recalls, "and we thought we were on the right road until we discovered that we had to get a boat to cross a lake. We had to ring the promoter to tell them we were going to be late."
They wasted little time in following up Dogrel. The new album, A Hero's Death, arrives just 15 months after their debut - and could have been with us sooner had they had not scrapped the album they had been working on in Los Angeles.
In a period of frenzied activity, they relocated there for the month of October and got the bones of an album made with Nick Launay, whose production credits include Nick Cave and Fontaines' Partisan labelmates Idles' forthcoming album.
In interviews, the band started talking about a new direction, inspired by the Beach Boys. But as 2019 drew to a close, they started to have growing doubts about the album they had made - and they made the difficult decision to start over.
"Maybe as a young band we weren't very good at explaining what we wanted," Deegan says. "If you were to hear that LA album you'd go, 'Oh, I see what he meant - how he [Launay] interpreted that Beach Boys influence, whereas Dan Carey [who had produced Dogrel] really got what we meant by being inspired by the Beach Boys and how it could work for our music."
"It was LA-sounding," Chatten adds, "but not the LA that we had anticipated. We wanted something that captured the underbelly of LA but ended up with sounding a bit more Hollywood, I suppose. It was a bit too polished."
In January, they went to London and teamed up with the aforementioned Carey and remoulded that would become A Hero's Death. It was, Deegan says, the right decision not least because it captures the sort of darkness that they had been aspiring to. "Dan just gets us," he adds. "We've got this little cult thing going on about what's right and wrong in music and what balances need to be struck."
The album may not mark the sort of departure they had originally talked about, but it does mark a subtle evolution. It also happens to be a fantastic album, one every bit as thrilling as their much-loved debut. Its latest single, 'Televised Mind', is a glorious slice of post-punk - a two-finger salute to anyone who might think great guitar bands have had their day.
Chatten says he didn't feel pressure when it came to album number two. "I'd rather be writing songs than not writing them," he says, matter-of-factly. "We're still the same band, working the same way. And we wanted to release another album as soon as we could. Why wait?"
While Dogrel was soaked in Dublin-life - with references to James Joyce and Carroll's cigarettes - A Hero's Death takes a more widescreen world-view although the title is taken from a line in Brendan Behan's play, The Hostage, and the album artwork features Oliver Sheppard's sculpture of Cú Chulainn in the GPO.
The band met as students in Dublin's 'rock school', BIMM, and called themselves the Fontaines after a minor character in The Godfather. When they discovered that a Californian band had the same name they added DC - Dublin City - to theirs.
Although they are hailed as a quintessentially Dublin band, only Chatten is a native Dubliner - and it was the coastal village of Skerries that he grew up in. (The homemade video for A Hero's Death second single, 'I Don't Belong' was filmed there.)
Deegan and drummer Tom Coll hail from Castlebar, Co Mayo, and it's become something of a trademark for Deegan to sport a Mayo GAA jersey during concerts. He is wearing another Mayo top during this Zoom chat. Guitarist Conor Curley hails from Co Monaghan and fellow six-string exponent Carlos O'Connell was born in Madrid and spent the early part of his life there.
They say there is a close friendship between them although that was tested during the relentless touring for Dogrel. Now, they're itching to be on the road again - "to play songs and see people's faces," as Chatten puts it.
"It feels strange to be releasing an album at this time," he says. "Rather than being out and about playing the songs, you're at home watching Netflix."
Days before both members of the band chat to Review, a new government is finally formed - 140 days after the General Election. Neither is pleased that Micheál Martin is the new Taoiseach. "He was part of a government that absolutely wrecked this country, that fucked it up," Deegan says. "Many of the problems that we have today are a direct result of that government and he was part of it.
"I'm pretty pissed off that we have a government like this one," he continues. "We voted as a country for a big change - and that just hasn't happened. Whether or not Sinn Féin should have got in is a different question - but people clearly voted for change. And instead of heeding that call, they did their utmost to keep the status quo in check.
Chatten agrees. "I felt that people really wanted a completely different government, but we're ending up with more of the same. It's the undemocratic nature with which they wrangled themselves a future - Micheál first and then Varadkar, and they're happier sharing their fucking policies and eating their words and yet neither of them were voted there."
That frustration may yet make it on to a third album but, for now, Fontaines DC will concentrate on meeting in a Dublin rehearsal room to hone their live show for the odd virtual concert and for a moment - in the hopefully none-too-distant future - where music venues reopen and the crowds can start pouring in again.
'A Hero's Death' is released on July 31. Fontaines DC play a live virtual show from Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, on July 14. It's part of Other Voices' new live stream series, 'Courage'
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