Skinty Fia

Skinty Fia

In sharply differing ways, thoughts of place and identity run through Fontaines D.C.’s music. Where 2019 debut Dogrel delivered a rich and raw portrait of the band’s home city, Dublin, 2020 follow-up A Hero’s Death was the sound of dislocation, a set of songs drawing on the introspection, exhaustion and yearning of an anchorless life on the road. When the five-piece moved to London midway through the pandemic, the experiences of being outsiders in a new city, often facing xenophobia and prejudice, provided creative fuel for third album Skinty Fia. The music that emerged weaves folk, electronic and melodic indie pop into their post-punk foundations, while contemplating Irishness and how it transforms in a different country. “That’s the lens through which all of the subjects that we explore are seen through anyway,” singer Grian Chatten tells Apple Music’s Matt Wilkinson. “There are definitely themes of jealousy, corruption and stuff like that, but it’s all seen through the eyes of someone who’s at odds with their own identity, culturally speaking.” Recording the album after dark helped breed feelings of discomfort that Chatten says are “necessary to us”, and it continued a nocturnal schedule that had originally countered the claustrophobia of a locked-down city. “We wrote a lot of it at night as well,” says Chatten. “We went into the rehearsal space just as something different to do. When pubs and all that kind of thing were closed, it was a way of us feeling like the world was sort of open.” Here, Chatten and guitarist Carlos O’Connell talk us through a number of Skinty Fia’s key moments. “In ár gCroíthe go deo” Grian Chatten: “An Irish woman who lived in Coventry [Margaret Keane] passed away. Her family wanted the words ‘In ár gCroíthe go deo’, which means ‘in our hearts forever’, on her gravestone as a respectful and beautiful ode to her Irishness, but they weren’t allowed without an English translation. Essentially the Church of England decreed that it would be potentially seen as a political slogan. The Irish language is apparently, according to these people, an inflammatory thing in and of itself, which is a very base level of xenophobia. It’s a basic expression of a culture, is the language. If you’re considering that to be related to terrorism, which is what they’re implying, I think. That sounds like it’s something out of the ’70s, but this is two and a half years ago.” Carlos O’Connell: “About a year ago, it got turned around and [the family] won this case.” GC: “The family were made aware [of the song] and asked if they could listen to it. Apparently they really loved it, and they played it at the gravestone. So, that’s 100,000 Grammys worth of validation.” “Big Shot” CO: “When you’ve got used to living with what you have and then all these dreams happen to you, it’s always going to overshadow what you had before. The only impact that [Fontaines’ success] was having in my life was that it just made anything that I had before quite meaningless for a while, and I felt quite lost in that. That’s that lyric, ‘I travelled to space and found the moon too small’—it’s like, go up there and actually it’s smaller than the Earth.” GC: “We’ve all experienced it very differently and that’s made us grow in different ways. But that song just sounded like a very true expression of Carlos. Perhaps more honest than he always is with himself or other people. All the honesty was balled up into that tune.” “Jackie Down the Line” GC: “It’s an expression of misanthropy. And there’s toxicity there. There’s erosion of each other’s characters. It’s a very un-beneficial, unglamorous relationship that isn’t necessarily about two people. I like the idea of it being about Irishness, fighting to not be eroded as it exists in a different country. The name is Jackie because a Dubliner would be called, in a pejorative sense, a Jackeen by people from other parts of Ireland. That’s probably in reference to the Union Jack as well—it’s like the Pale [an area of Ireland, including Dublin, that was under English governmental control during the late Middle Ages]. So it’s this kind of mutation of Irishness or loss of Irishness as it exists, or fails to exist, in a different environment.” “Roman Holiday” GC: “The whole thing was coloured by my experience in London. I moved to London to be with my fiancée, and as an Irish person living in London, as one of a gang of Irish people, there was that kind of searching energy, there was this excitement, there was a kind of adventure—but also this very, very tight-knit, rigorously upkept group energy. I think that’s what influenced the tune.” “The Couple Across the Way” GC: “I lived on Caledonian Road [in North London] and our gaff backed onto another house. There was a couple that lived there, they were probably mid-seventies, and they had really loud arguments. The kind of arguments where you’d see London on a map getting further, further away and hear the shout resounding. Something like The Simpsons. And the man would come out and take a big breath. He’d stand on his balcony and look left and right and exhale all the drama. And then he’d just turn around and go back in to his gaff to do the same thing the next day. The absurdity of that, of what we put ourselves through, to be in a relationship that causes you such daily pain, to just always turn around and go back in. I couldn’t really help but write about that physical mirror that was there. Am I seeing myself and my girlfriend in these two people, and vice versa? So I tried to tie it in to it being from both perspectives at some point.” “Skinty Fia” GC: “The line ‘There is a track beneath the wheel and it’s there ’til we die’ is about being your dad’s son. There are many ways in which we explore doom on this record. One of them is following in the footsteps of your ancestors, or your predecessors, no matter how immediate or far away they might have been. I’m interested in the inescapability of genetics, the idea that your fate is written. I do, on some level, believe in that. That is doom, even if your faith is leading you to a positive place. Freedom is probably the main pursuit of a lot of our music. I think that that is probably a link that ties all of the stuff that we’ve done together—autonomy.” “I Love You” GC: “It’s most ostensibly a love letter to Ireland, but has in it the corruption and the sadness and the grief with the ever-changing Dublin and Ireland. The reason that I wanted to call it ‘I Love You’ is because I found its cliché very attractive. It meant that there was a lot of work to be done in order to justify such a basic song and not have it be a clichéd tune. It’s a song with two heads, because you’ve got the slow, melodic verses that are a little bit more straightforward and then the lid is lifted off energetically. I think that the friction between those two things encapsulates the double-edged sword that is love.” “Nabokov” GC: “I think there’s a different arc to this album. The first two, I think, achieve a sense of happiness and hope halfway through, and end on a note of hope. I think this one does actually achieve hope halfway through—and then slides back into a hellish, doomy thing with the last track and stuff. I think that was probably one of the more conscious decisions that we made while making this album.”

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