RIDING HIGH The members of Fontaines DC, from left: Conor Curley, Grian Chatten, Carlos O’Connell, Conor Deegan and Tom Coll. Pic: Ste Murray
Bass player, Castlebar native Conor Deegan on losing his pants, changing pace and living the dream
IN May 2019 you may have watched Irish post-punk band Fontaines DC perform on the popular American chat show host Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.
What you may not have noticed is that one of the band members, Conor Deegan, was wearing an official Mayo GAA tracksuit as he performed live to millions of TV viewers from the Rockefeller Centre in New York City.
The bass player hails from The Oaks in Castlebar, while the band’s drummer, Tom Coll, also comes from the county town in Mayo. And with the Mayo senior team also in town for the opening round of the Connacht Championship against New York, the timing was perfect.
“I had to fly the flag for Mayo,” he laughed as he spoke to The Mayo News last week. “The boys were playing a few days earlier in the city so I thought it was a pretty apt time to wear them.”
The pants got plenty more outings on sold-out stages across the US and Europe as the band toured 50 cities and supported groups like Idles. They were later stolen when the band’s van got robbed on a leg of their European tour last November, but that’s another story.
This one is about a young Irish five-person punk group who met at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) in Dublin and bonded over poetry, before bursting onto the music scene in 2017 and taking the world by storm.
Their critically acclaimed debut album, ‘Dogrel’, reached the top ten in Ireland, the UK and Scotland, and they received rave reviews for their captivating and original lyrics capturing the feeling of living in modern-day Dublin.
Life was moving so fast for Fontaines DC, they didn’t even have time to worry about having their van being robbed whilst on tour. Only recently, while in isolation back home in Mayo, has Deegan had time to reflect on the last three years.
“It was very hard to take ownership when it [The Tonight Show] was happening because we were so caught up and so busy,” the 27 year old said. “By the time we were doing something, it was over, which was crazy.
“Now that I have a bit more time to take stock of what we’ve done, it feels a bit surreal, like it was a dream or something. Like literally the next day after being on with Jimmy Fallon, we were back on tour and had people recognising us in the airport from the night before.
“Looking back on it, I feel like I was more of a teenager than in my 20s because of how much we’ve learned. We didn’t understand the mechanics and all the things of touring, we were riding a wave of endorphins and when you’re getting bigger and bigger and and the rooms are selling out, you’re on such a high for those two years,” he continued.
“So it’s strange being in pandemic times now. It was nice at first, sleeping in the same bed every night, having regular showers, cleaning my clothes regularly and seeing my friends, but now, I’m just like ‘What am I doing with my life?’!”
DEEGAN and his bandmate Tom Coll have come a long way to the point where they’re selling out venues across the world.
Only a decade ago they were performing in The Ruby Room in the TF Royal Theatre, Castlebar for Band Night, which took place every Friday night. Having moved down from Dublin with his parents when he was in primary school, Deegan found the switch to living in the west of Ireland difficult initially. Through his music he discovered that sense of belonging to the west.
“I was in metal bands when I was younger, just shredding Metallica in The Ruby Rooms,” he laughed. “But that was my first exposure to performing, and it was amazing.
“It was my first exposure to the camaraderie that you get when you’re in a band, that sense of belonging to something, which was really great, because my parents moved down from Dublin when I was quite young.
“And when I first went to primary school, people would have called me a ‘Jackeen’, believe it or not. So I would have lacked a sense of place, until I got into a band and you get that sense of acceptance.
“It’s pretty cool to look back on that now.”
Finding their direction
Although Deegan wasn’t close friends with Coll during their time in St Gerald’s College, their paths would cross in their later years. “I was two years ahead of him in school but we knew each other,” he added. “He was the guy with pink hair and a beard and I was the guy with long hair and a beard!”
After a stint studying physics in Trinity College Dublin, Deegan moved across the city to follow his passion and that was when Fontaines DC first formed.
Lead singer Grian Chatten is half English but grew up in Skerries in Dublin, guitarist Conor Curley hails from Monaghan, while Carlos O’Connel grew up in Madrid.
After experimenting with their sound in the early years, they meting their manager, Trevor Dietz, which Deegan hails as a ‘big moment’ for the band. Dietz, who runs venues like The Workmans Club and The Garage Bar, exposed them to bands like Happy Mondays and The Fall, and through their own studies of music through the generations they found the direction they wanted to go.
In 2018, music website Stereogum described their sounds as ‘a synthesis between post-punk, garage rock, and a kind of gritty, urbane sense of rhythm and narrative’. British newspaper The Times later wrote about their debut album: “Shouty post-punk bands are making a surprise comeback in 2019, with this brutal but articulate Irish bunch emerging as one of the most captivating.”
DEEGAN and Fontaines DC are quite literally living the dream.
“Playing festivals on big stages, it’s exactly like I thought it would be – it’s amazing,” he said of the lifestyle. “The tour buses are pretty much exactly what I thought they would be like, although the biggest difference is that I thought we would have partied a bit more.
“The partying is not as sustainable as you think. We tried to do it on our first American tour and we did it ok, but ended up looking like zombies, so we’re now taking a more chilled approach.
“Especially after touring with the Idles, they’re more mature and we learned a lot from them on how to be sustainable.”
Covid-19 has of course had a huge impact. They were due to play in Glastonbury along with a whole host of other festivals this summer but that has been shelved.
Deegan and the band did stay proactive during the lockdown and he even managed to make his full directing debut for their single, ‘I Don’t Belong’, which is taken from their forthcoming album, ‘A Hero’s Death’. Alongside producer Hugh Mulhern, Deegan directed the video remotely, through his mobile phone and Zoom, and he’s quite proud of the end product.
Over the next number of weeks the band will be busy on the press circuit as they work to promote their second album, which will be released on July 31.
“It’s going to be different in a lot of ways to the first album,” he said. “But in itself is continuing on from the train of thought of the first one.
“It has a more diverse sound… it’s got more reverb… but the first three songs are all first takes and recorded straight through.”
You can also expect to see Fontaines DC back on a European tour next May, and they’re also hoping to slot in a few regional venues on that trip.
So looks like another hectic 24 months for the group.