"I think we always base success off how we feel about the record we’ve just written. It’s always important to ground a view of validation off each other and if we’re proud of what we’re doing."
Interview by Emily Waller
Photos by James George Potter
If there's one thing I've learnt since being at Rough Trade, it's to back what you love. Keen to reunite Fontaines D.C. with our West London store for some time; the opportunity arose to do a new interview when we placed them securely in the high rankings of our Albums of the Year 2022 list. I was quick to email Sean (Rough Trade West) to let him know of their impending visit: "back to the womb" he replied. He's not wrong.
Our Talbot Road store was the first place in the UK to house copies of Liberty Belle, the band's 2018 single, quite purely off the back of Sean's love at first listen and subsequent receipt of a box of 7"s (hand delivered, sale or return). Their first visit since playing the now famed rain-storm-be-damned set out the front on Record Store Day 2019, Curley and Tom of Fontaines D.C. return to 'the womb' on a sunny afternoon towards the tail end of a year that's seen them release Skinty Fia and tour heavily.
Like the leap of the titular deer, the Irishmen’s third album is a big jump forward featuring solid musicianship, expertly crafted lyricism and decorated producer Dan Carey at the helm once more. We remain incredibly excited about it and we're thrilled to be able to stock a special 12" of sessions, on which some of the songs sound even better than on the album. At its peak, Skinty Fia reveals there are only bigger things to come from this band and with so much yet to explore, forge and share, we are certain their musical pilgrimage has really only just begun.
After Dogrel, were Fontaines D.C. destined to realise the enormity of their potential? Some at least, would certainly say so. Regardless, their story is a refreshing reminder that you can stay true to your roots and evolve at the same time. For us at Rough Trade, their journey exists as a constant reminder of the power of record stores and that there's a lot to be said for the simple joy of watching something really fucking great, flourish.
Where I Am Now examines a personal journey, through music, connection and self expression.
We talk about it a lot at Rough Trade, but we’re very proud of the fact Rough Trade West has its own little place in the story of Fontaines D.C. Does it feel comforting coming back here?
Tom: Yeah it does, definitely. The first London show that we ever did, our manager Trev brought us here with a little box of Liberty Belle singles and it was our first time in London ever, very bright lights in the city type thing, so it always feels very special coming back. And of course we did that show outside in the rain, it was a very formative period.
Curley: It's a funny transaction though isn't it, arriving with a box of records and being like "will you sell these?" and Sean being like "yes we'll sell them for this price", spitting on the hand, shaking and walking away kind of thing... it's a very real scenario if you know what I mean? Seeing your records on the shelf, it's very cool.
Tom: I remember buying one myself online because I wanted to have one with the sticker on it. It was such a piece of musical history, it was class.
Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
Around the time we were writing our second album I got really obsessed with this. It took me a while to get behind it, but honestly it is one of my favourite records ever. I think it was really laboured over for years and years and the arrangements are gorgeous. There’s a tune called I’m In Love and it’s one of my favourite tracks, just the way it’s constructed is amazing, it sounds huge. I think Dr. John is featured on it too… it’s very influential.
Growing up in Ireland, studying and during the very early years of the band, how much have record stores played a part in shaping your musical tastes or introducing you to new music?
Tom: Loads I think. We’re all big into buying records, it’s a really nice break from touring to go into a shop and pick out some gems. Dublin is blessed with some really great shops that really informed our musical taste at a very young age.
Curley: I moved in with Tom and he had a record player and that’s how I kind of got into it. All the music that I listen to now… that feels like it was the starting point, it was introduced through buying records. We’d all sit around and listen to a record front to back, even if it was on Spotify. I’d never really digested music like that in my early years, the record thing hadn’t really come along, especially where I was from. It was a really good time and it’s stuck with us until now and they’re lovely ornaments.
If you had to pick one album to soundtrack your friendship as a band in those early days, what would it be?
Curley: I’d say The La’s.
Tom: Yeah that’s a big one for us. There She Goes… good for that kind of 60s sound.
Curley: Also, Prefab Sprout we were real into.
Since 2019, you've played shows outside here at Rough Trade West for Record Store and in-store at East, Bristol and Nottingham. Earlier this year you played a show at Earth in Hackney for Rough Trade. How much do you still cherish the opportunity to play small, intimate gigs?
Tom: Us as a band, I think we thrive more in a venue where you can see the whites in people’s eyes you know? And the Rough Trade shows, they are always really fun and especially the Rough Trade East ones, they were class.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Methodrone
This one is very different. It’s hard to find holes in Anton’s songwriting, he kind of became something and then influenced so many people to become that psych rock thing. But this one came out in the 90s and he was really inspired by shoegaze and Manchester music, so it has those beats but his voice on it. And so it’s a weird mutation of what I perceive to be him. If I ever tried writing drum beats, this is the album I’d be looking towards.
Do you feel like you missed that middle ground with touring? Where most bands would spend years playing smaller cap venues, you jumped from London's Forum, to Brixton Academy, to Alexandra Palace in the space of just over a year.
Curley: I never thought about it as missing out but more as a ‘phew' moment that we got to that point. Not so much the direction we are heading now but certainly with the first two albums, we’re a band designed for those smaller venues… I think we just tricked people into thinking we were bigger.
Tom: Each one feels like a bit of a step up mentally. I think we played The Garage before we did The Forum and that felt fucking massive at the time. Each time you do something like that it’s a reset in your brain with what’s normal.
Your growth in popularity has certainly been pretty rapid. Looking back, has the rise of the band felt fairly steady or is there a moment each of you could point at and say that’s when everything changed?
Curley: I definitely remember a moment when things changed. When we got an agent me and Grian were in the west of Ireland somewhere and when I look back at everything that happened after that point, incrementally it all just fell into place and gathered speed and slipped into ‘ok this is your job now’. Before that moment... in the back of my head it was still up in the air, we really wanted it to happen but there was a lot of uncertainty.
Tom: We were all working part-time jobs at that time and then after we got an agent and got signed, we all quit our jobs. We weren’t making any money whatsoever but it was that mental thing of 'this is what we do now full time'.
Curley: I think we had like £200 a month. I dunno how we survived.
Mazzy Star - So Tonight That I Might See
This is the same as what Tom was saying about the Spiritualized record. I was listening to Mazzy Star a lot when we were recording A Hero's Death and Hope Sandoval's voice is just incredible. When we were doing more ballady stuff on Oh What A Spring and stuff like that, we were imaging that those songs would end up as dreamy and blissful as the songs on this. Five String Serenade is probably my favourite song on the album.
You’ve all moved away from Ireland these last years, to London. When you go home, how has that experience changed between the release of Dogrel and the release of Skinty Fia?
Tom: I feel like moving away was a really important thing for us at the time. It felt like the right thing to do. I haven’t been home an awful lot since and every time I’ve been back in Dublin it’s been a really lovely wholesome thing.
Curley: Every time I go back I get insanely romantic about the place all over again and I think it makes moving away make even more sense. We were so romantic about it when we lived there, but that would have fallen off… we almost isolate it as a moment in time and now when we go back we just kind of relive that time. It’s a really nice thing. But every time we go home we feel like we want to move back there.
You’re supporting Arctic Monkeys on their North American tour in 2023. That’s a huge slot and deservedly representative of your ever-growing fan base. Is it strange to visit a country as huge as America and have so many audiences be familiar with the music?
Tom: When we put out Skinty Fia, we were in Philadelphia on the day it was released and it was this really surreal experience of playing a show and witnessing people singing it back to us. It was just this really weird thing. We’re a bigger band here than we are in the US so we really have to work at it over there.
Have you met Arctic Monkeys before?
Tom: Yeah we’ve played at a few festivals with them and they seem really nice, it’s really exciting.
Curley: They seem really true to where they came from which is always a very cool thing to see and obviously how we see ourselves as well. They’re an incredible band and it’s an absolute honour to even see our name on one of their posters. I looked up one of the venues we’ll be playing on that tour and it scared the bejesus out of me, it’s like a basketball stadium. I don’t know why I looked it up… I saw it and then locked my phone. Save it til next year.
Sorry - Anywhere But Here
We did a tour with Sorry in 2018 - it was us, Sorry and Shame - and I just think they are such an amazing band, really forward thinking and they have such a great vision. The track Baltimore is my favourite so far, but that might change. 925 is amazing as well. We’re all fans of Sorry.
Being in a band of 5 people, how much limitation or compromise is there on your individual artistic self-expression? 3 albums in, are either of you looking to explore musical interests or collaborations outside of Fontaines D.C.?
Tom: I think we all put everything we have into the writing process for sure. This album has been a little bit more collaborative which has been a really good experience. We were writing 5 days a week until 6pm, so it really felt like a job. I feel like people in the band are definitely gonna go do their little solo things, it’s good to take your own path when you have time away from the band.
Curley: There’s a good few artists we’d like to do things with as a band. I don’t think it's out yet but we did a cover recently and had another artist produce it and that was an eye-opening experience. I’d love to do a song with Richard Hawley, like a hymn or ballad type song with our flavouring. That'd be really cool.
Success has so many different interpretations. What does success mean to you as a band?
Tom: I think we always base success off how we feel about the record we’ve just written. It’s always important to ground a view of validation off each other and if we’re proud of what we’re doing. Basing success on awards or big rooms that you’re playing is kind of a fickle way of measuring yourself. That can get fairly detrimental I would say.
Finally - if you were stranded on a desert island and you could only take one artists' catalogue with you, who would you choose?
Tom: That’s a hard one… but I’m gonna go with The Velvet Underground.
Curley: I am gonna say, because of the sheer amount of it, The Brian Jonestown Massacre… so many records!
Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
Probably inspired me for Skinty Fia, inspired all of us really. I remember when me and Tom were writing in Dublin and we were listening to Kill All Hippies in the car and I was like... man that hi hat thing! And I kept listening to it and I felt I wanted for us to have that energy and now, we have the ability to do that energy and own it, to try and see it through the lens of this album. So, thank you Primal Scream.
Fontaines D.C. - Skinty Fia
Available on red/black marble vinyl with alternative sleeve.
Fontaines D.C. - Skinty Fia Sessions
Albums of the Year 2022 Exclusive 12".