"We'd half convinced ourselves that the first album was a fluke and we were never going to experience anything like it again..." - Fontaines D.C. talk new LP A Hero's Death
Raucous Dubliners Fontaines D.C. drew a cascade of praise last year for their raw, bold and enrapturing post-punk of their debut album, Dogrel.
Despite a year of hard touring, they promised fans that a follow-up would not be a long wait and so they have delivered, with new album A Hero's Death arriving just 15 months after their debut.
What's even more impressive is the fact that the Irish fivesome initially headed to Los Angeles to work with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds/Silverchair producer Nick Launay, only to abandon those sessions completely.
Instead, they returned to London to work with Dan Carey, who'd overseen Dogrel, and it is he who is credited as the album's producer.
With an aborted set of recordings, the band had to work quickly to get the album done, but the result isn't the least bit diminished.
The 11-track effort showcases the band's ability to mix raw power and elegance for a sound that's all their own and will most likely end up on a lot of 2020's 'Best Of' lists.
As the album hits shelves, we spoke to bassist Conor Deegan about why they wanted to work so quickly, how they realised they had to ditch the sessions with Launay and why he's off to Paris for the second half of the year...
By current standards, this is a very quick follow-up from a debut album, was it always the plan to do that?
"We started to write this album before the first album was even out, we were just continuously writing songs. It's not an accident that we've got the album out now."
Did you have a lot of songs to pick through?
"The way we work is we write all the names of all the songs and all the ideas for songs on this big whiteboard in our practice space. We went in last summer with 30 ideas. Some of them were as silly and as vague as saying '6/8 riff', but we went through them from one down to the middle 20s. That's all we had time for. We didn't even get to number 30. From that, we cribbed about 13 songs and that got narrowed down to 11 for the album."
Did everyone in the band agree on which songs to pursue? Was it difficult to choose?
"It was harder than you might think. We had a certain idea for the album. So, with the process of going to LA and recording the album and then having to re-record it, we had 12 songs from that session. We came home with those with the idea that we'd re-record all of them, but we ended up cutting off two of them. When we left LA and we knew that the album wasn't right, we just put it down to the recording."
"That was the case for 10 of the songs, but the other two just weren't up to standard. The last one was this song 'No', which was really special to me. We didn't get around to it in LA, but me and Grian (Chatten, singer) worked on it loads and we got it ready for the second session."
For the aborted Los Angeles sessions, did you know while you were doing it that it wasn't working? Or did you have to get home and get some distance before you made that decision?
"We're still so new to this. We don't know what feels bad or good. It's hard not to feel good when you're in LA, with all the sunshine and you're in a great studio with this great producer. He's a nice guy with such a great track record. But he had such a different vision for the album. When we got the results back, we weren't happy with them. It was that simple. It did feel different to the first record, which we did with Dan Carey, but we put that down to going from a small studio to a big studio and just changing a way of working."
"The way Nick likes to work, it didn't gel with us. He likes to do loads and loads of takes of a song and really get each part perfect. Lots of serious producers are like that. Dan understood that we're quite impatient and we don't like doing things like that. If one take has the spirit, even if it's got a few mistakes, that's it. Three of the songs on the second recording are the first and only takes. There is only one take of 'Televised Mind', 'A Lucid Dream' and 'You Said'. My bass is a little loose in 'Televised Mind', but it's got the spirit."
There's an army of people involved with any album release. Managers, agents, label people and lots more. Did everyone agree that you had to re-record the album? Or was there a few weeks of back and forth?
"We had such a tragic feeling. We all felt like we were breaking up with our girlfriends when we broke the news to our management. We told our friend Trev first and his first response was 'Is it really that bad?'. It didn't capture what we wanted. It's hard to justify it, because the way the songs should sound only existed in our minds. We played him the songs and he thought we sounded great. They sounded professional, but we knew what they could be."
Did you talk to Nick about changing a few things?
"We were compiling notes to send back to him. These emails we were sending, they all had a lot of notes from all of us. That was an indication of how wrong it was. We were all hearing so many niggles. It was the day of our show at the London Forum and Idles were playing at Alexandra Palace the night after. The head of our label came over for the shows."
"We sat down with him and told him what we thought and he made this funny analogy about going to get a burrito and discovering it was full of water. Strange, strange thing to say. But he got it. And we decided we'd take the record back to Dan and re-record it. We took the long way round, but we got the record we wanted. You never know. We'd half convinced ourselves that the first album was a fluke and we were never going to experience anything like it again. That feeling of just f***ing nailing it. But we got it. We know we can do it."
Was Dan open to the idea straight away? There's always hurt pride and ego with these decisions...
"He was really great about it. I was concerned about that. We became friends during the making of the first album and it would have been weird to hear that the band you enjoyed working with so much had gone off to another producer. But he understood that we were young guys and we got the opportunity to go to LA and work in a great studio."
"It wasn't a decision about him, it was working in the studio where The Beach Boys had recorded and The Rolling Stones had recorded and the room where Led Zeppelin made 'Immigrant Song' and where Prince made 'Purple Rain'. He understood why we'd done it and he was very happy that we came back to him. We just click. It was very special to be able to find that again."
Was it a quick process? We suppose if you're doing one-take tracks it must have been...
"It was. We'd got a lot of practice in. We'd recorded them already so there wasn't much need to f**k about. We had a couple of days of getting into the swing, getting the right equipment and then we just played through it. We did the whole thing in two days, apart from 'Sunny' and 'No', those took a day. 'Sunny' was very tricky to record because we like to do things as live as possible and that one really pushes the boat out."
Was it always called A Hero's Death? Or did you settle on that after making the album?
"We came up with that idea in LA. The album felt very abstract for a long time. Whenever we played 'The Lotts' from the first record live, we always had blue lights on. It gave this weird feeling that fascinated us. It was this introverted state in the middle of all this chaos. We were obsessed with how thoughtful blue light made everything seem. I wanted to call it Into Blue for a long time, which is why the artwork is blue. A lot of the songs are really fueled by this mindset."
"The new title came at dinner. We were rehearsing before we went in to record and Grian said 'I love Into Blue and it fits really well with the album, but I just think A Hero's Death is a f***ing great album title'. It's catchy and strong and says a lot in different ways. I couldn't argue with him."
Do you get the sense the album has a lyrical theme? Or is it more scattergun?
"It's more scattered than the first one. It's a lot less sure of itself and a lot more mature in that way. It's easy to tell stories about Dublin and be bold and just say what you think the way things are. Once you get older and you get to know people a bit more, you obviously understand humanity a bit more complex and understand that things are fuzzier. That leads to more confusion. It's a much more introverted record."
You'd like to be out on the road now, but obviously you can't be. Are you doing any planning for live dates?
"We're trying our best. We're looking to get out in September and October in Europe. But you can't say too much right now."
Have you kept writing in lockdown?
"We've all been writings in our own lockdown. It was great. Before we got really busy with the band and we lived separately and we'd just send each other demos, you'd really hear everyone's individual voices as songwriters. That's been back. It's also weird seeing how similar the way we write songs is now. Me and Curley (Conor Curley, guitar) and Grian. It's weird. The same chords, the same beats. Since we've been back in the room in Dublin, we've been writing again, we're all on the same page."
Is there a possibility you might record anything?
"It'd be great if we could, but we're using the time to do things that we were going to do in our year off. We'd agreed we'd go hell for leather in 2020, touring, promoting, all of it. Then we'd have six months off. The pandemic has forced us to flip it. We're going to have the next few months to do what we want and then once that's done it's going to be full-on for about two years. Curley is moving to New York, Grian is moving to London, Carlos (O'Connell, guitars) is going back to his parents in Madrid and I'm moving to Paris. It's pretty cool actually. I've always wanted to do it."