It’s 7:30 pm in Dublin when Carlos O’Connell, one of two guitarists in the universally buzzed about Dublin post-punk band, Fontaines D.C., answers the phone from the aptly named Garage Bar in the city’s east end. It’s a familiar spot for the band, one that they would meet at frequently when their early poetry chapbooks were in the genesis stage, and now has become a familiar reprieve.
“We found all our music tastes in here,” O’Connell says over the clink of a pint in the background.
It’s far from a surprise that the band would select this location to chat with writers the world over. When it comes to memorializing the reality of life in contemporary Dublin, few bands have become such ardent archivists of time and place like Fontaines D.C. Since rising to attention in 2017 with their single “Liberty Bell,” they’ve been in direct opposition to the failure to launch myth that’s populated contemporary rock.
Now with a late night performance on Jimmy Fallon under their belt and a nomination for the esteemed Mercury Award in tow, Fontaines D.C. are part of the newest group of artists, alongside bands like London’s Shame and Bristol’s Idles, tasked with revitalizing the newest era of rock erupting out of the United Kingdom.
“… We want to be the biggest band in the world. I think that’s the thing that we still want to be.”
”One of the things we said from the start is that we want to be the biggest band in the world. I think that’s the thing that we still want to be,” he says. When asked why, O’Connell’s answer is an even mix of depreciation and ambition. “Probably we’re just deluded, to be honest,” he laughs. “But I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think I’ll probably hate it. But I want to know if I will.”
Ambitions of grandeur aside, what makes Fontaines D.C. stand out is their devotion to a sonic approach that yields to clarity. Through cutting their teeth on a blend of asphyxiating social commentary with a smart ear for sprawling, scrappy melodies — perhaps unintentionally — there’s a ragtag elegance to their seismic debut Dogrel.
Album opener “Big” is a turbulent and unnervingly catchy declaration of ownership that demands rapt attention. “Too Real” toys with galactic, off-kilter synths before a precise, metallic bass line serves as a necessary form of ground control. “Checkless Reckless” adds its spin on a parched and swampy kind of grindhouse , and “Dublin City Sky” is a cerebral ballad that resolutely pins the city’s heart to to the arch of the band’s sleeve.
At nearly every corner, they debunk the reductive description that they’re a post-punk band. Task delegation and discipline is something the band think about often. Their ability to prevent their flair for experimentation from careening off a cliff is a calculated effort. “It’s important for us that every element, even if it’s a very simple element, is all necessary. The most important thing is to take yourself out, and to serve the song and not serve the musician,” he continues.
While much of their music has been described as a clear-headed portrait of a specific moment in Dublin’s cultural history, Fontaines D.C. consider their method far less rigid. By relying on the mechanics of poetry to examine themes of frustration and disillusionment, gusto and joy — rather than crafting a love letter to their city — they’re more invested in writing an unedited state of the union signed off by those at the bottom.
“We didn’t want to ignore any aspect of the place we lived in, and just tried to see the honesty in the place. A lot of the times those feelings weren’t necessarily unpleasant, but we didn’t want to brush it off. We wanted to understand them.”
To illustrate this point, O’Connell recites the following line from Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” from memory: “And thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes / I thought it was there for good so I never tried.”
“Those lyrics just speak to the value of ambiguity. The listener can place whoever they want in the role of the subject,” he says. “I think speaking of lyrics too much can be damaging to the song. The most important thing we have is our own interpretation of things.”
In an era of cultural hyperspecificity, perhaps offering listeners the agency to define the contents of a song is more than a rejection of ego; it provides an opportunity to dismantle the long-held assumptions of who gets to be the protagonist in rock’s most legendary stories. In an interview with The Guardian, lead singer Grian Chatteren explained that one reading of “Boys in the Better Land” could be from the perspective of an ambiguous, multicultural taxi driver asserting his Irishness.
“Most places more or less have the same broad, political backbone. It has its flaws, and there’s good things,” he finishes. “I suppose that’s part of the reason why it resonates with people: because even though they’re not from the same place that we got all that inspiration from, there’s a mirror image in all these different cities.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 print edition of BeatRoute.