Interview: Fontaines D.C. (Ireland) chat A Hero’s Death, life in lockdown, and working with Aidan Gillen

Fontaines D.C.

This week marks the return of Irish rockers Fontaines D.C.. The Dublin-based band are all set to release A Hero’s Death, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut album Dogrel. The album’s success, including a Mercury Prize nomination, saw the band spend a considerable amount of time on the road. A transience that has ultimately influenced the songs that make up A Hero’s Death.

Ahead of the release of their new album we caught up with drummer and percussionist Tom Coll to find out a bit more about what to expect from the new album, what it’s like working with Littlefinger/Mayor Carcetti himself Aidan Gillen, and what three books you should read to get a better understanding of the band and where they’re coming from. 

What was/is the inspiration behind your new album, A Hero’s Death?

To me, A Hero’s Death represents the need to write music when we were all in a bit of a dark place. The eighteen months of touring had very much taken its toll on us as people and we were kind of shells of who we were at certain points of last year. 

The intense touring and travelling and dealing with that, both mentally and physically, did take a lot out of us. And, we were very much starved of a sense of creativity when we were sleeping for three hours a night and spending most of our year in an airport or the back of a van. 

This album was our way of coping with that by spending any down-time we had in the room writing music and feeling alive again.

Was there anything in particular you were watching/reading or experiencing that inspired the writing/recording of the new album?

We were on the road so much at the time of writing this record that a lot of the music we were listening to at the time was in the van going from show to show, which meant that it was a really communal thing. Someone would put a tune on in the van and all of us would kind of simultaneously get really into that artist which was really cool. 

We were listening to a lot of Lee Hazelwood and Rowland S. Howard and The Beach Boys throughout the year. They were definitely the three big musical influences that kind of stuck. I suppose just the experience of being in a very much transient state all the time and travelling so much meant that we were all listening to more subdued music, that was maybe a little bit more introspective so that definitely influenced the writing process.

Often there’s talk of the notorious difficult second album, how did you find the process of writing/recording and producing the album? 

Did you feel pressured to follow up Dogrel with something similar/familiar?

I suppose it was a bit of a necessity for us. We were absolutely worn out from touring last summer and I think we all got to a stage where we felt quite uninspired by the monotony of the festival circuit. So, it was a real conscious decision to go into the room when we were back in Dublin during the summer months and write the album. It was a need to feel creative again and get back to the thing that we love doing which is writing songs. We ended up playing festivals from Thursday to Sunday and then we’d be back in the practice room in Dublin from Monday to Wednesday writing and recording demos which, even though it was a lot of work, definitely saved our heads a bit.

I don’t think we felt pressured to follow up Dogrel with something similar. We’re very lucky in that we try not to let external pressures into the collective conscience of the band. And, the only validation or criticism that matters to me is that of the other four lads in the band.

How was it working with producer Dan Carey again?

It was an absolute dream to be back working with Dan again. He’s such an integral part of this band’s sound and he’s also just a really great friend. There was never any pressure or expectation recording the album and it really brought me back to the feeling we got when we were recording Dogrel. Everyone in the room was working towards the same thing and Dan is amazing at harnessing that shared vision and idea for how a record should sound and making it happen. His gaff in Streatham is a place of real fond memories for myself and the lads.

How did you approach the songwriting on the new album? Did your experiences from Dogrel and the subsequent touring and performing change the way you write?

As I said, the approach to this album was very much born out of a necessity to write while we were on the road. I don’t want to speak on behalf of Grian but I think it’s fair to say that it’s a much more introspective album lyrically and based much less on a sense of place, but a sense of displacement.

The vast majority of the tunes on this record were written in some way or another while on the road and then kind of fleshed out while we were back in Dublin. I remember Grian writing “Sunny” while in the van pre-soundcheck in Rotterdam. Carlos and Curley wrote the guitar parts for “You Said” in a hotel room in Belgium. And we jammed out the first version of “I Was Not Born” at a soundcheck somewhere in Switzerland. All the little ideas and inspirations and sometimes fully formed tunes came from being on the road so when we were back in Dublin we had ideas to work on.

As a band you bonded over a shared love of poetry. What three books would you recommend fans read to get a better understanding of you as musicians/artists? And why?

Dubliners by James Joyce: The epitome of eloquent, but actually very digestible, writing on Dublin, its characters, wit and charm.

Rattlebag: This is a collection of poetry edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. There’s so much in this book to delve into. If you’re going to buy one book of poetry this is the one you should get.

The Night Boat To Tangier by Kevin Barry: This book has been passed down through the whole band over the last month or so. It’s about two lads from Cork, a city in the south of Ireland, who are in a ferry terminal in Algeciras in Spain. The writing style is amazing.

What was it like working with Aidan Gillen on the music video for “A Hero’s Death”?

Aidan was great to work with. We’re very grateful that he actually took the time to be a part of the video and I’m such a fan of his work. It was really surreal actually meeting him in person to be honest and he was such a gentleman. 

The filming of the video involved loads of improvisation on the actors’ part so it was really cool to see that in action and how a scene can instantly evolve and go a completely different direction. We can’t thank Aiden, the director Hugh Mulhern and the whole crew enough for making that happen.

How was the quarantine/lockdown period for you as a band? How did you spend your lockdown?

To be honest, I think the lockdown was great for us as a band. It’s a forced halt to gigs which is a real shame but it has instilled a real gratefulness in us that we get to be in a band. When you take something like touring away, it’s a real shock and it’s quite a blow. But, I personally feel like I’ll never take what I do for granted again. It also meant that the five of us were back in Dublin with not a whole lot to do so we could just do normal things and hang out as mates again which was really nice.

I spent two months back with my mother and brother in the west of Ireland at the start of lockdown, which was great. I rarely get to go home and see them for an extended amount of time. And, I had my own little studio setup for writing and recording which kept me busy.

Your Australian tour, initially scheduled for April, will now hopefully take place in December. Are you anxious about getting back on the road? What can audiences perhaps expect from these shows?

Anxious is the last word I’d use to describe getting back on the road. We’re all chomping at the bit to get back out playing live again. We feel like most of the year has been taken away from us gig wise so we can’t wait to get back out playing shows. We definitely have a renewed sense of appreciation for playing in front of people and I can’t wait to get back out there. It’s going to be our first time in Australia so I’m looking forward to seeing how the crowds react to us. Expect a lot of built up energy from a year of not gigging.

There’s so much uncertainty for the future, but, what’s next for Fontaines D.C.?

I think we’re just going to take it easy for the next few months to be honest. A few of us are moving to different countries for a while and I think we’re going to enjoy a bit of life without gigs. I’m going to settle back into Dublin life and just enjoy that for a few months and then hopefully towards the end of the year we’ll be back playing a few shows. We might even write a few more tunes while we’re at it.

A Hero’s Death is out tomorrow July 31st on through Partisan Recordings/Liberator Music. Pre-order the album HERE.

Fontaines D.C. rescheduled Australian tour kicks off in December. Tickets are still available for the Brisbane leg of the tour, but they’re selling fast.

Tues 8 Dec – Metro Theatre, Sydney  SOLD OUT
Thur 10 Dec – The Triffid, Brisbane  SELLING FAST
Fri 11 Dec – Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne  SOLD OUT
Sun 13 Dec – Corner Hotel, Melbourne  SOLD OUT

For more information and to grab a last minute ticket head HERE.

Header Image: Pooneh Ghana

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.