The Fontaines DC lead singer on his life in the spotlight, and his new solo album ‘Chaos For The Fly’
By Jeff McCord
It’s everyone’s dream to be a rock star, right? The fame, the acclaim, the adoration, the bright lights?
Maybe not everyone.
I’m sitting in an Austin park on a hot sunny afternoon, and across the picnic table from me is Grian Chatten. There’s an incongruous nature that goes along with seeing a rock star in daylight, even one like Grian ducking behind a leather beret and shades. Onstage with his band Fontaines DC, Grian is all hulking menace, his six-foot-plus frame stalking the stage. Here he’s just another oddly dressed guy hanging out in the park.
In their near decade as a band, and particularly since their 2019 debut album, Dogrel, Fontaines DC’s rise has been meteoric. Festivals, talk shows, arena tours (they’re currently the US support act for the Arctic Monkeys) – everyone wants a piece of them. Grian loves his band and the music they make together. Yet to him, the rest of it is kind of a mixed bag.
Grian is here to talk with us and film an acoustic version of his song “Salt Throwers Off A Truck”, a lyrical waltz off his recently released solo album Chaos For The Fly. Artists make solo albums for different reasons. I ask him if the aggro nature of Fontaines leaves him feeling somewhat hemmed in.
“I think as a person I feel confined very, very easily,” he confesses.’You know, physical, emotional, every kind of way. I have to sit on the aisle seat on a plane every time or I kind of get a bit freaked out.”
Grian seems to be grasping for moments of peace entirely his own. When he recently lost his phone, he didn’t replace it. “So that’s kind of that added a new dimension of productivity,” he says.
The whirlwind of Fontaines’ last few years has been a lot to handle.
“I find it very difficult to stop. As I was touring, [things] became slightly more cumbersome. I feel like we became kind of twisted out of shape a little bit, as is inevitable. Writing became a kind of a source of comfort on the road. It would regulate my breathing, you know? And at the end of a period of writing, you’ve got some songs to show. And I just wanted to get them out because I didn’t want them to have anything to do with the next Fontaines record.”
Unlike the blunt, driving messages of the Fontaines’ music, the songs on Chaos For The Fly slow down to admire the view and take in the scenery. They’re full of imagery and atmosphere.
“Narrowing the tools down to just myself and the guitar on the road demanded more heavy lifting be done by the lyrics, you know what I mean? I had to write the instrumentation into the words, nearly. I’ve kind of got so many, so many kinds of notes and thoughts I like to keep track of. And I really don’t like having a full caché, especially when we’re on the cusp of writing a new album as we are with Fontaines DC. I really like the idea of beginning kind of with an intention for a record. This album kind of felt a little bit like a clearing of the decks in some regards.”
As busy as the band has been, I marvel that he found the time to record his solo album.
“We had three weeks off in between two tours, and I just went to the studio and did it in ten days. It wasn’t difficult to do quickly because I’m used to having five cooks in the kitchen. This was a lot quicker. Whether it amounts to a better thing, I’m not sure at all.”
The songs on Chaos are rich and varied, worlds away from the fury of the Fontaines. So what do the rest of the band make of his solo album?
“It’s strange. They’re very supportive. I just… I would hate to think that they’re being nice, you know? Basically, it’s a bit of a cobweb of self-psychoanalysis here. It is kind of a thing of like, I don’t want to give my friends the opportunity to look me in the eye and lie to me that they love my work, you know?”
Mapping out the next couple of years in his head, looking beyond the upcoming fourth Fontaines release, Grian hopes to do a second solo record at some point, giving him enough material to undertake a solo tour.
“I played for small acoustic shows in England during the week of Chaos’ release. And as much as I enjoyed it, my body is entirely wired for a more frenetic performance.”
It’s hard to think of a rock band more Irish than Fontaines DC. The DC stands for Dublin City, where Grian lived since he was two months old. Yet he’s recently relocated to London.
“I went there primarily because I met the love of my life, she’s from there. I’m a lot more footloose, in terms of what I do than she is. It doesn’t really matter where I live. But, yeah, it’s been a seismic shift.”
Though it’s almost impossible to believe after sitting through a thrilling Fontaines performance, Grian describes himself as an introvert. After all these years in the spotlight, I wonder, is he starting to enjoy it more?
“I almost never enjoy it, the attention. If I think that somebody has recognized me, my stomach kind of goes into a knot and I turn the other way, and I’ll tap my friend or my girlfriend on the shoulder and say let’s get out of here. That’s usually how I react.”
“To some extent, I feel sort of piously proud of my lack of introversion in the face of everything that’s going on. But it does make it difficult, particularly when I just want to get public transport in London and I look over and I notice that someone’s secretly filming me and I’m on my own and I don’t like that at all, you know?”
“But yeah, I do think I’ve probably come to depend to a certain extent on or anticipate a certain level of attention. Now, if it were completely taken away from me, I probably would probably panic. So there’s the paradox.”
And any unease aside, Grian is very grateful to have found not one but two remarkably creative outlets.
“I really love the story that we’re writing with Fontaines DC and the kind of relationship that we have with our fans. And I like the fact that there’s now this dance of kind of where will we take them next, which we obviously didn’t have before the first record. I like the fact that we’ve built this thing up, but I also like to kind of have a second narrative going. You know, it just puts my mind at ease.”