Irish Band Channels the Spirit of Punk, and James Joyce

DUBLIN — In one week in July, the Irish rock band Fontaines D.C. went from the Glastonbury Festival to Copenhagen to Barcelona to St. Petersburg to Moscow. At the airport on the method again from that final cease, the frontman, Grian Chatten, wandered off to purchase some headphones whereas the relaxation of the band obtained on the airplane.

Chatten needed to kill the higher half of the subsequent 24 hours, ready for the subsequent flight. He handed the time, he mentioned, by “drinking bad Guinness until it tasted like good Guinness.” In the air, he stored going with loads of free wine. Eventually, Chatten made it again to Dublin and to his mother and father’ home — or “gaff,” as he calls it — the place he lives between touring.

Later that day, in an interview together with his bandmates at a pub close to the studio the place they rehearse, Chatten had a rolled cigarette in his hand and a Flann O’Brien novel in his overcoat pocket. He recalled that he was nonetheless drunk when his dad got here to gather him at Dublin Airport. But the outdated man wasn’t upset at the boozy state of his son, Chatten mentioned: “He joined in when we got home!”

The vagaries of rock band street life might not pair naturally with filial domesticity, however that’s simply the place Fontaines D.C. is at proper now.

The band’s five members, all in their early 20s, met as songwriting students at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute in Dublin, and initially bonded over their shared love of those lions of Irish words. The band grew, naturally, out of their friendship and shared interests.

For a few years starting from 2016, they ambled about playing local gigs and shuffling through sartorial phases, they said: In one, no matter the weather, they wore Echo and the Bunnymen-inspired long coats; in another, it was all women’s crop tops.

They spent as much time rehearsing as they did writing verse, the bassist Conor Deegan recalled. They’d go to pubs and pass a shared notebook around the table; they self-published chapbooks and slipped them into bookstores. They put on readings with other writers, including a soap salesman-poet they met in Sweny’s, the drugstore that features in Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

“We pounded each other down to our bare emotions,” Chatten said, remembering those times. “And that’s why we’re friends for life. And enemies for life.”

That kind of open intensity and proud sensitivity might explain why a traditional white-dude rock band has hit a nerve, when the world seems to need anything but more white-dude rock.

“I certainly don’t think that there’s any element of machismo” to Fontaines D.C., Chatten said.

“We’d just sit and read books and drink pints and think fancifully,” Deegan added.

Mesmerizing early seven-inch singles like “Chequeless Reckless” and “Hurricane Laughter” caught the attention of the American indie label Partisan Records, which signed Fontaines D.C. in November 2018. Then “Dogrel” was released, and the band’s lives were upended. They were living on rice and Tabasco not that long ago, Deegan said; nowadays, he added, the label worked them to the bone with festival dates.

The band’s last chance for a vacation, a few precious days in Mexico City, was stolen by the offer to play “The Tonight Show” in New York. Their next chance for a break, Conor Curley, a guitarist, mumbled, could be taken away “by a [expletive] gig on the moon or something.”

But the hard work was worth it, Chatten said: Fontaines D.C. wants to give the world a view of Ireland that neither accepts antiquated clichés nor rejects the past.

Even so, the band’s love of Joyce and Yeats is unusual; young punk-adjacent bands aren’t supposed to love dusty books you get assigned in high school. A fellow Dubliner, Sally Rooney — perhaps the most famous young novelist in the world right now — has taken shots at her literary forebears. “I hate Yeats!’ she told the Irish Independent newspaper in 2017. “How has he become this sort of emblem of literary Irishness when he was this horrible man?”

But Chatten said Ireland was “sitting on a gold mine of history.”

“For us to pretend it doesn’t exist is for us to become a whitewashed, faceless country, which means we are essentially robots with particular accents,” he added.

His deep interest in Ireland’s history and culture went back to coming from somewhere else, the singer said. He was born in Barrow-in-Furness, England, though he was raised in Ireland from the age of 9 weeks. “I was insecure about my Irishness,” Chatten said. “I wanted to achieve an understanding and a verification.”

Another band Chatten likes that fixates on Irish things is Girl Band, he said, a Dublin trio whose song “Um Bongo” revolves around a mundane local street snack. “For Girl Band to scream the words ‘chicken fillet roll’ over and over again — it’s so poignant,” he said. “Not all romance has to belong to the past. And if we can accept that as a society, I think we might be happier. Or at least more romantic.”

Eventually, the band had to leave the pub. They were meeting with their record label, the drummer Tom Coll said: There was “anxiety-inducing” 2020 business planning to attend to. Before they got up, Chatten took a last gulp of his Guinness, then reached through a forest of empty pint glasses for a takeout menu from a Moscow cafe that was lying on the table. He’d scribbled down some scraps of verse on it during the tour. “I don’t know if you want that,” he said, handing it over.

On the back were scrawled fragments about a “salvaged life to live again” and “heaven through the fog,” “Irish mind” and “Irish eye.” It was a romantic thing to do, to hand over a note covered with half-baked poetry — and perfectly on brand for a band so unafraid of seeming naïve.

“Later Sam,” Chatten said to the bartender as he strolled out.

“Yeah,” the bartender answered. “See you on the TV shows.”

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