Words by:
Photography: Holly Mccandless-Desmond
Art direction: Michelle Helena Janssen
Styling: Jordan Dean Schneider
Makeup: Theresa Davies
Hair: Mike O’Gorman
Movement Director: Liam John Hill
1st Photography Assistant: Ian Blackburn
2nd Photography Assistant: Joe Hunt
Photography Intern: Imogen Taylor

On their fourth album Romance, Fontaines D.C. are shedding their image as literary post-punks in favour of fantasy, love and extremity that defies over-analysis

“He was reading Ulysses to his baby, just for the craic, know what I mean?”

Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten is sitting in the living room of the flat he’s recently moved into, discussing a song from the band’s upcoming fourth album, Romance. The track in question is a swirling ballad draped in wistful strings and acoustic guitar called Horseness Is the Whatness, and it takes its name from a line in the James Joyce masterpiece.

Chatten is Fontaines’ primary lyricist, but the words for the song were penned by Carlos O’Connell, the band’s instantly recognisable pink-haired guitarist. O’Connell became enamoured with Joyce’s phrase while on holiday last summer with his baby daughter. He decided that whenever he read a book, he’d read it aloud with her. It’s a habit he’s curtailed since (she’s fond of ripping out pages) but for a couple of weeks on the French island of Île de Ré, she was calm. When we chat over the phone, O’Connell explains: “There’s this passage where [the novel’s protagonist] Leopold Bloom goes to the library and there are all these intellectuals discussing Plato and Shakespeare and whatever. Bloom says something like, ‘Unsheathe your dagger definitions. Horseness is the whatness of allhorse.’” O’Connell laughs with delight at the words’ brilliance. “It’s the first break you have from all this intellectual overcompensation [from the other characters in the scene], and I just fell in love with the simplicity of it. What makes a horse a horse? Its horseness, and that’s it.”


Grian wears: Jumper: MAISON MIHARA YASUHIRO, Trousers: SOLID HOMME, Boots: ARTIST’S OWN, Tom wears: Jacket: JORDANLUCA, Vest: AV VATTEV, Bottoms: ADIDAS X SONG FOR THE MUTE, Shoes: ADIDAS, Curley wears: Jumper: KENZO, Trousers: AV VETTEV, Boots: MAISON MIHARA YASUHIRO


Back in Chatten’s living room, the singer is reflecting on O’Connell’s choice of reading matter – and reading partner. It feels symbolic, almost. “It’s reading an old book which we’ve referenced or bandied around before,” he says. (A lyric on 2018 single Boys In the Better Land, for instance, describes a character having “a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel”.) “Ulysses is very much from this writer who comes from a stock that we associate with an old Dublin. It has the feeling of a relic now, in the context of reading it to a baby. There’s something there that fits with the theme of the [new] album for me.”

The band have long been heralded as scions of that old Dublin – Dublin City is, after all, what the D.C. in the band’s name stands for. Announcing their arrival onto the post-punk scene with the 2019 album Dogrel – a record named after doggerel, a type of poetic verse – the five-piece made up of Chatten on vocals, O’Connell and Conor Curley on guitars, Conor Deegan III (or Deego) on bass, and Tom Coll on drums formed in the city’s BIMM college and were rapidly defined, and sometimes caricatured, as young punk poets. Inspired by the work of figures such as Patrick Kavanagh and Shane MacGowan, Chatten’s lyrics burrow under the skin of the city with a mixture of abstract symbolism and keen observations. The first lyric on Dogrel’s opening track Big served as a statement of intent. Over synchronised downstroke guitar chords and a clattering four-four drum beat, he declared: “Dublin in the rain is mine/ A pregnant city with a Catholic mind.” All three albums to date have been defined in relation to Ireland: either as descriptions of it, or meditations on moving away.

When I speak to Chatten on a mild Tuesday in April, the sky is a translucent grey. The wet grass of the nearby park stands neon against the colourless London afternoon. Inside his flat, he’s tired after a bad night’s sleep, dressed down in adidas trainers, shorts and a black jumper – a toned down twist on the 90s skate-punk aesthetic he’s been flaunting in recent photoshoots – and surrounded by the bric-a-brac of a life that’s ready to be sorted into order. He only moved into the north London flat – unfurnished – with his partner a week before, which, as with many things Fontaines D.C., feels like a neat act of symbolism. We are standing in the middle of a fresh start. 

Carlos wears: Sunglasses: GENTLE MONSTER, Necklace: CHOPOVA LOWENA,  Shirt: SIMONE ROCHA, Trousers: SIMONE ROCHA, Shoes: SOLID HOMME, Grian wears Sunglasses: GENTLE MONSTER, T-shirt: ICAN HAREM, Trousers: JORDANLUCA, Shoes: CHARLES JEFFREY LOVERBOY

“I haven’t really put my stamp on the place,” he says. There are the usual accoutrements of everyday living – plants on the windowsill, Burford Brown eggs, pesto in the fridge, redbush tea bags. But there are also fragments of his artistic interests. There’s a Rothko-esque painting named after W.B. Yeats’ poem, Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, resting on the floorboards until it finds a home on the wall; a box set of Harry Potter audiobooks he listened to on a CD Walkman when his mind was racing on tour (a phone would only make it race faster); a metal cabinet filled with quaint crockery. “I had this idea of making the gaff look like a religious gothic granny’s house and getting, like, some church pews type stuff,” he says wryly, looking around at the pink walls. “I like the idea of somebody living here who just has a cross on the wall and fuck all else, know what I mean?”

It’s one creative vision that won’t actually materialise. (“I get really excited about things for a couple of days and then… yeah,” he smiles.) But the band are not wanting for creative vision at the moment. Romance is their most dazzling, expansive record yet. Drummer Tom Coll refers to it as their “first studio record” – a bigger, richer, more multi-layered sound than they’ve ever dabbled with before. If Big set out the band’s stall at the start, the opening title track here performs a similar role. The stage is set by an evil descending mellotron motif that recalls Korn, before it’s swallowed up by a grandiose, cinematic soundscape, and what guitarist Conor Curley calls big “Christopher Nolan movie” braaams. Cradled within it, Chatten’s voice is delicate. His guard is down, his usual defiance replaced by a pleading vulnerability. “I pray for your kindness/ Your heart on a spit,” he begs, surrendering to the devastating power his lover has over him. We only get a blurry look at whatever has set the scene (an argument perhaps, or some more subtle internal strife), but the song bottles the highs and lows of love’s delirium, beginning with feelings of being cast out (“into the darkness again, in with the pigs in the pen”), before veering dizzily into hopefulness. “It has a sort of lunacy about it,” in Curley’s words.

After three albums that dealt with place in a physical sense, Romance deals with the places we can create in the imaginary realm – through fantasy, delusion, love. “Maybe romance is a place,” Chatten sings on that opening track. Reality on the album feels malleable, fantasies permeate everything (dreams are mentioned in five out of the album’s 11 tracks). Some songs are explicitly nocturnal. Sundowner, which is spearheaded by Curley on lead vocals in a Fontaines D.C. first, cloaks the chorus’ refrain, “In my dreams,” in languorous reverb, creating a woozy, liminal state. Others, like album highlight Death Kink, are more narrative-based. The song tells the story of a protagonist looking back at a toxic relationship, reflecting on the experience of being manipulated into self-doubt and self-destruction (“You took that shine to me/ at what cost?”). Its rhythm runs into itself with a “timing trick” Curley likens to the work of Pixies’ Black Francis – the skipped beat evoking a jumbled mind hurriedly trying to gather itself together.


“I think art can be a floating neverland between people. Everybody can reach out and touch it” – Grian Chatten


As a songwriting mode, it’s imaginative, rather than confessional. “I’m reluctant to talk about my songs as being about myself, because I’m still a work in progress and I don’t really know who I am half the time,” Chatten says. “I don’t really like when I see albums marketed as ‘the most personal album yet’ or whatever – I don’t think art has to be like that. I think art can be a floating neverland between people. Everybody can reach out and touch it.” For Curley, this artistic shift was essential. “We wanted to take it away from being a diary of where we are, writing songs like ‘and this was over there’, and trying to make people connect to it that way,” he explains. “It’s trying to come up with a different setting, completely of its own. Let the ideas create the place.”

Chatten is reticent to discuss the influence of any specific books of poetry on his lyrics this time out. If you must know, he’s been reading some Dylan Thomas, but this feels less relevant than it might have in the past. After four albums, including his plaintive 2023 solo record Chaos for the Fly, which wrapped his voice in a blanket of acoustic guitars, drum machines and sweeping strings, Chatten has grown weary of his creativity being pigeonholed by a predictable process. It’s not a rebuttal to writers they’ve always adored, but a change in their approach to creating art. “You’re asked a lot about what you’re reading and what inspired the record, and you do your best to answer and think about those things, [but] it stops feeling like yours, you know what I mean?” he explains. “It starts to feel like ‘Album time, I better get into a new poet.’ I think I cleared the cache of those inspirations a bit for this and I started to think about the whole thing from a slightly different perspective.”

Intriguingly, the influences that are legible have come from the world of cinema, with Sunset Boulevard being a particularly pertinent example. There’s a strange inverted symmetry in Chatten – a 28-year-old in his career prime, finding inspiration in the story of Norma Desmond, an actor in the twilight of hers. But the clearest echo is the sheer scale of it: a grand, complex, doomed romance in an era where an on-screen kiss would be accompanied by an orchestral swell of strings. It’s not only films from the golden age that have left their mark on the band. Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is a more recent inspiration. “The size of that film, the scale of it, the grandeur of the emotion, the existential questions, the colours, and the romance. That really affected me,” Chatten says.




“Pretty much all of us have been getting really obsessed with different movies,” Curley says. “Honestly, my favourite place to watch anything is in the bunk of a tour bus. It’s like a sensory deprivation tank. You watch something and it becomes incredibly profound because you have Bluetooth headphones in and you’re just zeroed in on what this art is, and what these amazing film-makers or anime artists have created.” The band namecheck influences from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire to animes like the neo-noir space western Cowboy Bebop and the cyberpunk epic Akira. In the Modern World, which Chatten says is probably his current favourite on the record, is defined by the latter’s depiction of apocalyptic emotion. “It’s a love tune but I feel like I can hear the buildings collapsing,” he says.

Romance may be an album about love and fantasy, but like their cinematic inspirations, it’s far from schmaltzy. The tone oscillates between darkness and light. Plenty of the imagery has a twisted, nu-metal melodrama (“When you said ‘I taste like sleep’/ I was dead”, Chatten sings on Death Kink), but other tracks have more spring in their step, like Bug (“they threw me out like I was a wedding bouquet”) or the hook-laden closer Favourite. It’s not a straightforward divide, though. Chatten points out that the menacing opening track contains at least one note of hope in the lyrics, while the sonic brightness of Favourite is illusory – the lyrics are about hopelessness, focalised through a character escaping through booze. “Hope is heavy, and collapsing into delusion is impossibly light,” he tells me with a casual intensity.

Grand in scope, it’s an album that deliberately marks a moment of departure. They’ve now signed to XL Recordings and have even switched up their look. Gone are the oversized shirts with open cuffs and collars, replaced by sports jerseys, heavy boots, hair clips, hairbands and wraparound Oakleys. Both sonically and aesthetically, they’ve stepped away from the modern-day post-punk wave they helped set off, and towards a more extreme version of themselves that represents a desire for action, for doing something bigger and, also, lest we forget, enjoying themselves. “It’s just a bit of fucking fun really,” Chatten says.


“We wanted to take the album away from being a diary of where we are, and trying to make people connect to it that way… Let the ideas create the place” – Conor Curley


Their earlier work was built around a philosophy of ‘if we can’t play it live, let’s not do it’ – an approach that was shaped under the auspices of producer Dan Carey. It was a perfect fit, but it’s time for a change. “It’s something we want to step away from, to try to not be a typical two guitars and a bass band,” Coll says. For Romance they linked up with James Ford, formerly of Simian Mobile Disco, who’s previously worked with Blur and Arctic Monkeys. His introduction of a more elaborate production style coincided with the band’s personal tastes spilling out across genres. From Coll indulging his love of “doomy, sludgy shoegaze”, like that purveyed by Texan band True Widow, to others getting into 90s stalwarts like Smashing Pumpkins and Deftones, the band’s inspirations bled directly into the techniques used to record the album. Increasingly influenced by electronic palettes, Coll attempted to replicate drum machine sounds, while Deego was interested in the way layering was used on Nirvana’s Nevermind to produce guitar and bass tones that were “really, really thick and huge”. “I layered-up multiple basses at the same time to produce a particular sound,” he says. Together with the string quartet, the effect is a more enveloping, sumptuous sound than they’ve worked with before.

Some of Chatten’s more contemporary listening habits helped hone the aesthetic direction of the project, with its intermingling of the analogue and the digital – the pink, crying heart on the album cover feels metallic and AI-generated, but it’s painted. He’d become interested in the work of Shygirl and Sega Bodega, whose music has a “sort of half-human, half-machine feeling to it, but still a beating heart,” he says. “I think that thrilled me and kind of scared me at the same time.” It’s a feeling he gets from another influence that looms large over the record: Korn. “They’re so ostensibly angry, industrial and mechanic, and sometimes very produced, but they still have this vulnerability,” he explains. “I like the extremities of both of those ends of the spectrum.”

Extremity and confidence go hand in hand on Romance. “I’m conscious of liking my own voice more,” Chatten reflects, when asked about the shift in his vocal delivery. He’s singing more, in the sense of using his voice more melodically, exploring its range. “I don’t think about what I want to sing, necessarily. The song leads the way for me in that way. But I truly at times feel like I love my voice on this album.” Performance has always come naturally for Chatten – but it hasn’t always conferred confidence. He’s been characterised as an introverted frontman. “I have these things in me, I have since I was a kid,” he says, “this kind of performative nature which I’m often shy to get into, but I need to do it at the same time. I’ve always been like that.” Releasing four albums, and doing the press that comes with that, meant seeing a version of himself reflected back that he’s grown frustrated by: self-effacing, cautious, downbeat. It felt partial, like a fragment of him.


Deego wears: Top: ICAN HAREM, Bottoms: ICAN HAREM, Shoes: GROUNDS, Carlos wears: Suit: S.S DALEY, Hat: S.S DALEY, Shoes: SIMONE ROCHA


The warm reception given to Chaos for the Fly was a moment to celebrate. It showed the world was ready for a softer, more reflective iteration of his songwriting, but it also gave him pause. “There’s an extra density to the interviews and articles that were coming around that held a mirror to the person I had been in the public eye,” he says. He spoke in interviews about his struggles with mental health on tour and how gruelling that can be, but describing this sense of inertia couldn’t break him free from it. “I’m just incredibly bored of reading about myself being self-effacing and cautious about what I say,” he says. “I’m still doing that right now. It’s a knee-jerk thing, but I’m bored of seeing that.”

It was these feelings of frustration and immobility eventually culminated in a panic attack in St Pancras station, which forms the central theme of lead single Starburster. Such attacks used to strike Chatten frequently, before he received a diagnosis for ADHD and started taking medication for it. That day in St Pancras was before he’d received his diagnosis. He’d been on his way to record lyrics he wasn’t happy with, and rewrote the song as a way of breaking out of his stasis. “It was very much what I’m talking about in terms of mobilising yourself. The confinement of the panic attack – the inertia of that experience, when you feel overwhelmed,” he says. “I just wanted something to fucking happen and I think that’s why most of the lines start with the words ‘I wanna’, ‘I wanna do something.’ It’s a desire for action in general. Not even just action, but extremity. Extremity in many forms is the thing I pursue when I’m feeling sort of numb or overwhelmed.”

This explains, in part, his more playful persona now. “I’ve just been being myself, I suppose,” he says, “but I’m recognising that the self is something that you can play with as well. The bigger we get, it’s becoming an instrument of its own.”

Fontaines D.C. carved themselves a space by being smart, but not stuffy – literary, but also frenetic. Now they can afford to try being neither, or both, as they please. Their new chapter, in short, defies over-analysis. The kaleidoscopic sprawl of ideas on this record aren’t meant to sit neatly, or cohere, and yet somehow, when “funnelled through the cheese cloth that is this band” – Curley’s words – they do make a strange kind of sense. And this strange kind of sense is all that matters: to connect with a listener in a way that evades precise definition is what makes their poetry beautiful.

Which brings us back to horses, of course. As O’Connell puts it, as the light of a blue sky floods in on a bright Saturday morning: “You can spend your whole life studying ways to argue a point, but at the end of the day, horseness is the whatness of allhorse. You know?”

Romance is out 23 August via XL Recordings