Fontaines DC frontman Grian Chatten talks new solo album 'Chaos For The Fly'

Interview Grian Chatten: Flying Solo

Not content with fronting one of the breakthrough bands of the decade, Fontaines DC frontman Grian Chatten is now channelling his prolific creativity into a new solo album, ‘Chaos For The Fly’.

Following the global success of Fontaines DC’s third album ‘Skinty Fia’ just last year, and ahead of the band’s mammoth 30-date US tour this autumn supporting Arctic Monkeys, few could have anticipated the news of a solo record from the band’s talismanic frontman Grian Chatten - or for it quite to sound quite as fragile and exposed.

More Donovan than ‘Dogrel’, ‘The Score’ offers up a strikingly pared-back sound; all acoustic guitars, romantic string arrangements and whimsical melodies. A far cry from the bedevilled yet empowered shaman of Fontaines fame, soothsaying in the heated crucible of rock‘n’roll rage, Grian Chatten the solo artist comes across like some Marty Robbins-type folk troubadour, cast adrift in the barren wastelands of bleak consciousness, chowing down on his hard luck stories.

Venting the exhaustions of heavy workloads and relentless touring schedules, album ‘Chaos For The Fly’ is, in one sense, a cathartic expulsion of all the darker aspects of fronting one of the fastest rising rock bands to emerge in the past five years. “There was an end-of-my-tether kind of feeling on the last American tour,” Grian confesses of the songs’ conceptions. “There were things in my personal life that were finally starting to really disintegrate as a result of not really having a consistent life anywhere, nurturing my relationships with my family or my friends. So there were a lot of dark moments of isolation with nothing but a guitar, and I think I became a bit obsessed with digging into that sense of despair to be honest, in a kind of self-indulgent way. And in order to contextualise the way that I was feeling, in lieu of probably a social life or friends or a therapist, I think the songwriting became really important.”

Much of Grian’s lyricism across the album represents his bleakest to date. Profuse with distrust, doubt and misery, if he’s not justifying his life of loneliness on ‘Faerlies’, or gloomily heralding a ‘Season For Pain’, he’s wrangling with an all-consuming misanthropy, as on world-weary piano ballad ‘All Of The People’; “People are scum / I will say it again / Don’t let anyone tell you that / They wanna be your friend,” goes one choice couplet.

Was there any reluctance in immortalising such pessimistic sentiments on record? “When I was recording and putting the album together, I was thinking to myself, ‘Is anyone going to care about how I feel?’” he answers. “It’s so heavy on the feeling on this record; [the songs] came from a place of real depression. I’m sure there’s going to be some people that are going to be able to relate to it, but at certain points I did feel like, ‘Am I making something that’s oppressive?’ You know what I mean? But it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day because I still feel like it had to be made for myself.”

Fontaines DC frontman Grian Chatten talks new solo album 'Chaos For The Fly'

“It’s so heavy on the feeling on this record; [the songs] came from a place of real depression.”

It’s this fearlessness and drive towards honesty of expression which itself speaks to certain burning ambitions kept slightly more quiet until now. Speaking from his new “gaff” in London, and having been pulled away from a “new tune” he was working on in his already-set-up home studio, Grian describes how the concept for a solo album predates many of the songs within the record itself, which can all be traced back to one moment of inspiration.

“I had the notion of the idea probably towards the end of lockdown, when I was spending a lot of time on my own, by the sea, back in the town [Skerries] I’ve lived in since I was twelve,” he explains. “Being surrounded again by the docks and the bobbing boats and the casinos and the kind of lapse around the town, the drudgery… It was one night when I was walking along to what we call the Stoney Beach. I was seeing the lights reflected off the water and stuff, and I had an idea for the track called ‘Bob’s Casino’ on the record. It kind of came to me relatively fully formed, with all the string arrangements and the horns and everything, and the vocals and stuff. And I just thought, ‘I wanna complete this myself’.”

The song in question also provides the album’s most surprising moment. A chintzy swung rhythm bedecked with horn parts so bright you can see the sunshine glinting off them, ethereal guest vocals from Grian’s partner Georgie Jesson also add another layer of grace. The whole thing sounds not only like an unsettlingly pristine Lynchian fever dream, but also like nothing the musician has ever put his name to thus far.

Undercutting the aforementioned narrative of emotional catharsis is also this sense of escapism and childhood revelry, of Grian returning to his roots. What’s amazing about ‘Chaos For The Fly’ is how unashamedly pretty it can be. There are panoramic excursions into psych-pop and even ‘90s trip-hop here (“It was definitely a joke at first!” he says of the latter); recorded in partnership with longtime Fontaines collaborator Dan Carey, this contrast between the light and dark formed part of the record’s design from the get-go.

“I certainly listen back to the record now and I’m like, ‘Fuck man, it’s so bright like, you know?’” Grian says. “We really wanted it to feel like it was all taking place more or less in a casino. Some songs are kind of inserted into a tape player, like a cartridge, or a simulation. They have this kind of ‘80s, hyper-real compression and brightness to them. That was one of the things that we used conceptually to make the album sound a bit more comprehensive.”

“I don’t think that one vehicle is enough for me - there’s too many songs living and dying inside of me.”

It’s perhaps an unexpected set of inspirations; one filled with leftfield moments that might surprise some of Fontaines’ more die-hard fans. Grian, however, isn’t worried. “Honestly, I think Fontaines fans will probably like it as a sort of spin-off,” he says. “Even though there are big arrangements in the sense of the strings and the horns, I still feel the whole thing is ‘in the pocket’ in a way that it doesn’t try to stand over the Fontaines material too much. I think it still feels compact and secure in its own kind of casing, and its own packaging. I’m by no means shooting for the fucking stars with this record. I’m not even touring it. I’m not trying to get a Number One record or anything like that.

“I do think that, for me as an individual, it’s really important for me to establish a line of work that exists beyond Fontaines DC,” he continues. “Probably for the rest of time, in some form or another. Whether it be Grian Chatten, or another group, or just working for other people. To be honest with you, I think either way, I’m probably going to die with a fucking load of albums under my belt. I don’t think that one vehicle is enough for me in this day and age; there’s too many songs living and dying inside of me. I think I heard Mac DeMarco saying something similar when he released that fucking 199-track album, y’know?”

Ultimately it’s clear that, while Grian is keen to trailblaze a pathway of his own, the ambitions he holds with Fontaines remain very much intact. Channelling these urges into new projects almost feels like a compulsive act of creative preservation - speaking of which, what do the other members of Fontaines DC think of his solo endeavours?

“When it comes to this kind of thing, we’re preposterously Irish about expressing our feelings to each other!” he laughs. “I don’t think they’ve really heard it before, but I haven’t sent the record to anyone. I saw them the other day and they’re like, ‘Man, I’m loving the two tunes you put up!’ They’re getting into it at the same rate as everyone else really.

“They’re very supportive though,” he continues. “I think they know how much I write, and the song turnover is a bit high for one band. It’ll be a good thing for the band I think, in the sense that I don’t think I’ll be trying to hang on to songs that I believe in from two and a half years ago, trying to justify their position on a new Fontaines record. It would help the process be a little bit more fresh - an ‘in one fell swoop’ kind of thing - which I think is probably healthier.”

‘Chaos For The Fly’ is out now via Partisan.

Tags: Fontaines DC, Grian Chatten, Features, Interviews

As featured in the June 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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