Shrugging off talk of burnout during months of extensive touring in Europe and North America, the post-punk five-piece, who met while studying at music college in Dublin, rattled through recording between February and April – and A Hero’s Death is out on Friday.
Bass player Conor Deegan says the band felt compelled to move forwards creatively. “We always feel that way,” he says. “When we were reaching the end of touring the first album we were looking for a new kind of buzz. We’re always constantly writing new songs.”
The mood in A Hero’s Death is more claustrophobic than its predecessor, a reflection, Deegan agrees, of 12 intense months spent inside a touring ‘bubble’.
The album’s title is drawn from a quote in Brendan Behan’s 1958 play The Hostage – one of many literary allusions in the band’s work. It also relates to a certain trepidation within the camp over how it might be received.
“It has a tongue in cheek quality to it, you know,” Deegan says. “The idea of what you build up with your first album; often second albums ruin a band’s reputation.
“But also we’re kind of acknowledging the fact that we’re doing something a little bit different with this album than we did with the first album. It could destroy the myth of us, of what people think you are. We wanted to show another side of ourselves..”
Although Fontaines DC have made often clear they are a band who distrust artifice, the new record shows they are not averse to allowing more ambiguity into their song writing. “They deal with the fact that along the way last year we felt confused and we weren’t really sure about how we felt about things. While we were doing what we always wanted to do, playing all these gigs, we were facing reality, this isn’t a job like others. That’s not to say we take it for granted or anything, but when you’ve worked up enough adrenalin I think you become a lot more emotional. We made a kind of confused, emotional record because of that.”
Deegan chuckles at the idea that band’s increasing use of harmony throughout many songs in A Hero’s Death might have been influenced by a stint in the California sunshine where they started the record with Nick Launay, a producer who had previously worked with the likes of Public Image Ltd, Killing Joke and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
The group might have later ditched what they recorded in Los Angeles, and started again from scratch with Dan Carey, who produced Dogrel, but the multi-part vocals remain a notable feature.
“Oh yeah. definitely,” Deegan agrees. “We always liked the Beach Boys and always had a big ambition of being the kind of band that could all harmonise with each other. Even on our first record, songs like Liberty Belle and Chequeless Reckless had harmonies on them. We’re just fans of them, it’s something we did on our first record too, but we just developed a bit more with this one. I’m really enjoying it, I must say. I’m the one who gets to sing more, that’s fun for me.”
Where Dogrel was rooted in depictions of Dublin, the band’s adopted home city, its successor paints from a broader palette. Deegan accepts that was inevitable, having spent so much time on the road. “Obviously when we wrote the songs they weren’t about Dublin; it would’ve felt phony too because we hadn’t been there properly for so long,” he says.
“But we’ve been back there for a few months because of the pandemic and I feel a bit more connected to it again, for sure. We all do. The longer we spend back at home we feel more Irish again.”
Steve Lamacq, a long-time champion of Fontaines DC, recently said he thought their first album had drawn in a lot of people who felt in some way ostracised from society. From his own contact with fans, Deegan thinks their fans are more of a mixed bunch. “I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to engage because it really came in waves,” he says.
“We would’ve played our first London shows when there was absolutely no one there apart from our friends and family. Then when we got played on BBC 6 Music there would be older punks come to investigate us.
“We supported Liam Gallagher at the Eden Sessions [in Cornwall] then we started getting lads with Liam Gallagher haircuts, in the Parka jackets, then it actually started getting a lot rowdier, but that was good fun, it needed a bit of a shake-up. Now, since we’ve been played on Radio 1, we’ve started to get fans who are younger, we’re actually getting 20-year-olds too.”
While their audience might have changed over time, the band remains as lyrical as ever. Aptly Deegan and fellow bandmates Grian Chatten, Carlos O’Connell, Conor Curley and Tom Coll first bonded over a love of literature. “We all met at music college and you’d think what bonded us would be music but obviously everyone is there to study music so it doesn’t bond anyone to anyone else any more than any of the other people there,” he says. “What made us stand out to each other though was the fact that – and I remember this clearly – was seeing Carlos with a book in his pocket, and it was something that I always did as well. I went over to him and said, ‘what is it?’ We were all carrying books in our pockets so we all started talking to each other. It was a really nice time of our lives.”
With shows now pushed back to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the enforced break from touring has given them time to recharge their batteries. Deegan says: “I think the best thing it did was give me and lads a lot of perspective on what we’ve been doing. Since we’ve got a bit of time away from the stresses of the road and the frustrations of the job, as it were, we have a lot of appreciation for what we were doing and how successful we were. We’ll definitely go back out on the road a lot more gracious.”
He believes we will emerge into a changed world following this moment of crisis. “Hopefully it will go away quickly but I was watching TV last night, it was a bar scene and there was these people meeting each other and a guy just putting his hand on a girl’s arm to say hello, they were all just so casually touching each other and I was, like, ‘this is so freaky, why are they doing that?’ Then I thought, ‘Obviously there was no pandemic then’. But it’s got into my psyche so much, I’m sure it has so many other people. It’s going to affect the way we interact with each other I think for a while. I think a lot of people’s social skills are going to be affected.”
By the time the band are play the UK next year, they could even have Album No3 in the bag. “We probably will have, to be honest,” Deegan laughs. “We’re doing a bit of writing at the moment, it’s just what we enjoy to do.”
A Hero’s Death is out on Friday July 31. Fontaines DC play at O2 Academy Leeds on May 11 and O2 Academy Sheffield on May 18. www.fontainesdc.com