Fontaines D.C.: From Ireland to London to the Rest of the World — Q&A with Bassist Conor Deegan

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Rock Cellar Magazine

These are busy times for Fontaines D.C.

The post-punk outfit, which hails from Dublin, Ireland (hence the D.C. in their name) but currently calls London home, just launched a key headlining tour of North America, the group’s return to the states in support of Skinty Fia, the band’s third full-length which was released back in May.

The tour comes with special anticipation for the group, which is still making up for lost time, having released a Grammy-nominated album, A Hero’s Death, during the pandemic — and, thus, being unable to tour for that record up until now.

It was with this in mind, as well as the stateside run coming up in a few days, that bassist Conor Deegan spoke with Rock Cellar to talk about Fontaines D.C.’s whirlwind of a past few years … and how the band feels about the attention thrown its way as a result of the hype.

Rock Cellar: You guys have a big North American tour starting this weekend with a big string of shows lined up. What are your expectations for that tour?

Conor Deegan: We’re just really excited to be playing these shows, you know, getting to go back to the South, some southern states that we haven’t been to in years that we all love. And some new places we’ve never been to, like Nashville and New Orleans.

Click here to pick up Skinty Fia on CD from our Rock Cellar Store  ON SALE
Click here to pick up Skinty Fia on LP from our Rock Cellar Store  ON SALE

Rock Cellar: I caught one of the shows Fontaines D.C. played in Los Angeles back in May, and it was great. The crowd seemed to really appreciate the experience, the chance to see you play. Is there a marked difference between the smaller shows on a tour like this versus the bigger ones you’ve done, like Reading and Leeds recently?

Conor Deegan: Totally. I think that the new album has done a lot for us, especially with younger people. The way the crowd moves now is very, very different from when we put out our first album, and we never really got to tour the second one. When we were out on the first album, people were kind of moshing, raising their fists, that kind of thing, but on this one they’re dancing more and moving in an interesting way.

The crowd kind of waves and sways back and forth in this very satisfying way. I think we have a bit of a mixed bag in the crowd now, of the people who like the first record, some who like the third, and some people in between, I suppose.

Rock Cellar: That’s what was interesting to me at the LA show, because … I won’t pretend I won’t try to pronounce it, but the the opening track about Margaret Keane —

Conor Deegan: Yeah. “In ár gCroíthe go deo.”

Rock Cellar: I think you played that song first at the show, maybe. It has such a mesmerizing rhythm, a dark energy. And then you have the punkier songs, and as we’ve seen on Skinty Fia some even more stark departures, creatively. Some of these songs feel different, but but at the same time they’re very authentically Fontaines D.C., if that makes sense.

Conor Deegan: Thank you, yeah I think we’re always just searching, searching for this sound and trying to give a song everything that it needs to be true to us. I think we all know how to give as much as we can give, or sit back a bit when it comes to the input of each one of the members, in order to serve the song. I think that that method is the thing that makes it all sound like the same band. As well, I think there’s a very distinct structure, the songs have a very specific approach.

Rock Cellar: “I Love You” is one I noticed gets written about or mentioned a lot. It’s definitely one that hits on what you just described.

Conor Deegan: Yeah, I really love that song, it’s my favorite one off the third album. I really like “Roman Holiday,” as well.

Rock Cellar: That’s the one you played on Corden shortly before the tour started, yeah. Feels like that was a smart call, as to me it sounds like a solid choice for a song someone who might not know about the band stumbles across and goes, “Wait, who’s that?”

Also, it seems like Fontaines D.C. is a good suggestion for one of those acts that catches people’s attention at music festivals — those who didn’t already know about the band.

Conor Deegan: It’s kind of hard to say from my perspective, to be honest, we’re just on stage and I don’t know who’s walking by or whatever, but yeah, it’s been a very good festival season for us in Europe and Britain. Primavera in Barcelona, we played to 50,000 people, which was the biggest crowd we’ve played to so far.

It’s been a really great summer for us.

Rock Cellar: And then this weekend you’re playing Primavera Sound in Los Angeles, and it features a pretty eclectic mix of artists. Any bands/artists you’re interested in checking out while you’re out there?

Conor Deegan: Well, there’s a band we’re taking on tour with us playing, Wunderhorse, from Britain, and they’re great, so I’ll hopefully be able to catch them. And I really want to see Khruangbin,  because I admire the bassist so much, Laura Lee. Also, Nine Inch Nails, who I’ve wanted to see since I was 16, but they went on hiatus for years.

Rock Cellar: Speaking of festivals, Fontaines D.C. has toured with IDLES and Shame, I just saw both of those bands at a festival here in Los Angeles. I’d heard a lot about IDLES and listened to their records but hadn’t seen a show yet, and it’s absolutely insane, in the best way possible.

And with Shame, they mentioned the same thing you did earlier, having released a record in the pandemic and not yet having a chance to tour for it. There was a definite built-in enthusiasm in their performance, because of it.

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Conor Deegan: The Shame tour we did was the first big tour we did. Big in the way that, you know, they played to a 2,000-capacity room in London and essentially 1,000-cap rooms around the rest of Britain. It was like 15 dates, and we hadn’t done a tour of that scale in our lives. We were being exposed to all of the technical stuff of the industry, like guitar techs the different dynamics between touring bands. It was a really novel experience for us at the time, and we became really good friends with them.

As for IDLES, that was our first ever American tour. They taught us a lot, actually, because they’re older. They taught us how to be good to each other as a band and how to maintain your health on the road, lots of stuff like that.

Rock Cellar: That’s something people like us on the outside can take for granted, or don’t take into consideration, the mental toll touring and being in a band can take on you. Like with your band, you’re from Ireland, you move to London, you’re touring around the world, going to the United States. It must get to be a lot sometimes.

Conor Deegan: I think it’s one of these strange things where you have to try and keep that balance between maintaining your sensitivity. And also not taking things too heavily, because you can get caught up in things when you’re trying to keep your sensitivity open. It can be quite shocking, that, but you also don’t want to close it off because it’s really necessary for you to make good music, you know?

Rock Cellar: A lot is written about your music and how there’s a yearning, a searching for identity. When it’s discussed it usually refers to how you moved from Ireland to London but still make an effort to embrace those roots and your experience. Having visited Ireland on a trip back in college, even only there for a few weeks it was easy to recognize there’s a very unique identity to the country — at least through the tourist-y places we visited among our trips to Killarney, Galway, the Giant’s Causeway and Dublin.

Conor Deegan: We largely since our first album have written about our environment, looking at the world. And then you kind of see yourself through what you talk about around you. With Dogrel, it was very much on the street level of Dublin. And our latest one, it’s really about in a lot of ways the idea of Irishness in London. Irishness as being a given as the thing that makes you different from other people. You have your own little subsection of society when you’re in London or Britain or wherever.

Rock Cellar: Even knowing part of that from listening to the music, that’s what struck me about the Margaret Keane story that I read about in the BBC, the one that inspired the opening song on Skinty Fia. [Related: Margaret Keane: Fontaines DC meet family at grave that inspired song].

Conor Deegan: I mean, I don’t think there’s any justification to why that was an issue. To say that the language is inherently political is to force a perspective on an entire race of people. It’s a really, really cheap way to alienate someone, to say that their entire identity is political, to undermine them in ever having a say that is legitimate.

An Irish person wanting to put “In our hearts forever” on the gravestone of someone close to them who died. But they’re not allowed to put it in their native language because it might upset the English people around them who associate Irish language with terrorism or something like that, is a really, really terrible thing. If you can change the countries and the subsections of society to ones you might relate to in America, you’d probably see how crazy it is and how ridiculous it is.

I don’t think Americans would ever put up with that.

Rock Cellar: Cynically, I could see someone want to try to do something like that, but there’d be a ton of pushback. But I understand what you’re saying, yeah.

Conor Deegan: I don’t think there’d ever be a situation where the town council of Cincinnati would stop a Jewish person putting on their gravestone something in Yiddish.

Irish people are a big part of British society in a very similar way to Jewish people being a big part of American society.

Rock Cellar: Being here in America, you grasp bits and pieces about the relationship between Ireland and England as you grow older, you understand there’s a Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Kenneth Branagh released that Belfast movie last year that illustrated some of his life experiences being caught up in it too. I don’t really have a question here, I’m just riffing on that since it’s such a massive concept with so much history.

And when I was in Ireland, we were supposed to go to Belfast to a factory on our tour or something. We didn’t end up going, but they’d prepped with, like, “Oh, you can’t use the Euro there, they accept the British Pound.” It was a lot to take in without really fully knowing what the situation was.

Conor Deegan: It can feel that way, but I think it boils down to something very simple. Telling someone that who they are is wrong and isn’t allowed is a really hurtful thing to do, and to deny a culture’s legitimacy and try to whitewash it out of existence is a crime. And I think that’s something that a lot of countries in this world are responsible for in their history, but I think it’s something that should be in the history books now. It still exists, and it’s monstrously out of proportion for the social progress we’ve made in the past 100 years or so.

Rock Cellar: What can fans and anybody else going to your shows on this tour expect setlist-wise? A mix of all your records so far?

Conor Deegan: Yeah, I think it’s gonna be a nice amount of Dogrel and A Hero’s Death and then a good bit of the new album.

Rock Cellar: Are you finding time for any writing or new music with all this activity and touring?

Conor Deegan: We do a bit of both, we’re always writing together, we can’t really help it. We’re going to try and write our fourth album next year, at the end of next year we have some time set aside for that.

Rock Cellar: Do you and your band mates have any “bucket list” artists or bands you’d love to record with or tour?

Conor Deegan: A lot of the people we really love are gone, unfortunately. Lou Reed is someone I would have loved to work with. I don’t really know, though. To be honest, the only people I really want to work with are the guys in my band. I just love working with them so much.

What we do is really special, and if we can keep making music together for the rest of our lives, I’d be I’d be perfectly happy with that.

Fontaines D.C.’s North American headlining tour:

Sat-Sep-17               Los Angeles, CA @ Primavera Sound Festival
Tues-Sep-20            Tucson, AZ @ 191 Toole
Thur-Sep-22            San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
Fri-Sep-23                Dallas, TX @ The Studio at The Factory
Sat-Sep-24               Austin, TX @ Scoot Inn *SOLD OUT*
Mon-Sep-26             New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
Tues-Sep-27            Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
Thur-Sep-29            Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel


Sat-Oct-1                  Nashville, TN @ Brooklyn Bowl
Mon-Oct-3                Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live
Tues-Oct-4               Pittsburgh, PA @ Spirit Pittsburgh
Wed-Oct-5               Asbury Park, NJ @ Stone Pony [rescheduled show, tickets remain valid]
Thur-Oct-6                Boston, MA @ House of Blues [rescheduled show, tickets remain valid]

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