Grian Chatten of Fontaines D.C. on His Debut Solo Album “Chaos For the Fly” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 27th, 2023  

Photo by Polocho

Grian Chatten of Fontaines D.C. on His Debut Solo Album “Chaos For the Fly”

Striving for Normality on the Road

Aug 31, 2023 Photography by Polocho and Eimear Lynch Web Exclusive
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The title of Grian Chatten’s debut solo album, Chaos For the Fly, borrows from the quote “What is normal to the spider is chaos for the fly,” attributed to Charles Addams, the titular creator of The Addams Family. It refers to the different modalities of reality we all exist in, implying there’s no such thing as a “normal” that suits everyone, in fact, one group’s normal is often another’s disaster. For Chatten, the frontman of Fontaines D.C., the Irish post-punk quintet that has garnered critical acclaim, commercial success and a bevy of celebrity fans including Johnny Depp—the title might suggest the personal chaos that conversely plagued him with his band’s stunning ascendance and the ensuing hype.

Bonding at music college over a love for poetry, The Pogues, and James Joyce, Chatten and his bandmates formed Fontaines D.C. in 2014. Their 2019 Mercury Prize-nominated debut Dogrel shot them to fame, with their follow up A Hero’s Death released a year later garnering them a 2021 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. Their winning streak continued with 2022’s Brit Award winner Skinty Fia. A lengthy tour which took them all over Europe, the U.S., Japan and Australia followed—heightening the debilitating anxiety Chatten was experiencing.

Chatten wrote prolifically throughout the tour as a means to make sense of the chaos. However, instead of bringing these ideas to the rest of the group he decided to travel to California after their last date in Japan, to work on them separately. These songs became Chaos For the Fly. Partly recorded in Los Angeles, Dublin, and London with Fontaines producer, Dan Carey, it is a sonic and psychic break from his work with his main band.

There’s a darkness to Chaos For the Fly that reveals itself fully with closer study, as Carey accordingly leavens the mood with a brightness in tone and lively orchestration. Themes of death, isolation, and childhood memories laced with a sometimes unspoken sadness are also offset with songs of hope and a happy ever after. There is an ever-present play with sonic and thematic contrasts except on “All of the People,” where he doesn’t mince his words about the more unsavory side of fame.

As the album travels from Irish home counties and faded casino towns to New York skyscrapers, the constant is a lover who, despite not being physically close by, is never far from his thoughts. It is then a delight when we actually hear Chatten’s fiancée, Georgie Jenson, sing on a handful of tracks. Her ethereal vocals, which he lovingly describes as “like a color that he doesn’t have in his own palette”—is a further lightness of touch that functions like symphonic chiaroscuro. On the nostalgic “Bob’s Casino,” we know the titular Bob was a man with flaws and the song doesn’t allow us to look back with rose-tinted glasses despite the lush orchestration and Jenson’s pretty chorus. And even death is rarely written in a mopey, self-indulgent way but rather to memorialize people he’s lost.

To take us further into the record, Chatten takes some time off his mini tour to speak to us from London. He is a little late to the Zoom and when he finally pops on screen, he apologizes for waiting for his phone to ring instead of connecting to the video link. “It’s been a little mental,” he offers of the busy press schedule. It’s a blip of a misunderstanding that can happen to the best of us. Still, Chatten taking the time to explain himself bears a little insight to his character. There is a salt of the earth quality about him and it comes through as he discusses the people, sights, and sounds that inspired Chaos For the Fly.

Photo by Polocho
Photo by Polocho

Celine Teo-Blockey (Under the Radar): You’ve been on a small solo tour in the UK, are your sets predominantly acoustic right now?

Grian Chatten: Yeah, it’s an in-store tour, just record stores that have been selling the album really. It’s just to promote the album on the week of release. So it’s just me, and the acoustic guitar, I’m playing six or seven songs. Very, very simple but I’m enjoying it.

With the Fontaines you’ve been performing at ever-growing venues and arenas. Do you get a chance to sort of recalibrate and reconnect with that aspect of the craft that you’ve described as the “cheapest spin to make a dead heart sing?”

[Smiles] It’s nice to have the kind of life of a song completely in one person’s hands, in my hands. I’m used to there being a sort of conveyor belt or a treadmill of music going on behind me, no matter what I do. And it’s nice to know that if I want to make the song collapse, fall apart at any moment, all I have to do is let go of the guitar or stop singing. That level of control it provides a bit of a thrill. But it is lonely. It’s strange doing the album signings without the rest of the guys around me. I feel very close to the sun.

Indeed. So let’s talk about “Bob’s Casino,” I understand it’s the first song that kicked off this project. You said you heard the whole song sort of come over to you on the waves and I understand, your fiancée sings on it as well—so when you heard it, did her voice feature in it? And how did you even get her to sing on it because I understand she’s not a singer per se.

We were in Dublin at the time. We were in the Skerries staying with my parents you know, just for a couple of weeks. And I didn’t hear it with her voice specifically. I hope she doesn’t hear this and—I hope it doesn’t break her heart. But I heard a voice, maybe a vague voice, one that features on a Lee Hazelwood album that I’d initially heard before. And then when I got home that night, I started to record it and I asked her to come in the room and just kind of sing, as part of a sort of placeholder. And as soon as she sang it, I knew that was it. And actually the vocal of hers that we used on the demo that evening, ended up being the exact vocal that we used on the record—with that kinda cheap mic in my ma’s garage. It just didn’t really make any sense to kind of re-record it. I remember Dan [Carey] saying, “What’s the point in kind of standing here and asking her to sing something exactly the same way that she sang it before? Like, let’s just use the track”—so we just lifted the track, you know.

That’s amazing. She has got such a lovely voice and when she hits those high notes there’s a quality there that reminds me of Elizabeth Fraser from Cocteau Twins.

Yeah, yeah.

And of course it’s set so beautifully against your voice, which is this deep baritone. I did a review for the album and in it sort of wrote that if ever you guys wanted to do an album together, I’m sure us fans would be up for it.

Well listen, I’ve taken the first step with her anyway. But I’ll work on that one. [Smiles] Yeah, she was so quick at recording as well. It was phenomenal. Honestly, Dan couldn’t believe how good she was, how perfect her pitch was—as soon as she started singing in the room he just kind of stared at me. Everything was amazing.

“Bob’s Casino” has a cinematic feel and is rich with nostalgia. What do you think is this experience of—I want to say an Irish person being away from home that makes you want to write about where you’re from, but you’re not there anymore. Perhaps it’s just human nature to write about a place we no longer live in. But for you was it like a love for the country or a sense of that you’re not there or trying to bottle something?

There’s almost a sort of low key trauma to your experience of the place that you were brought up in, especially if you then leave. If you leave the country or the city that you’re from, returning to it every kind of couple years or so, it’s like checking in with an old friend. Also checking in with yourself and to see what’s happened to the place over the years and more to the point what’s happened to you and your ability to, I suppose, process it—your perspective of the place. It says a lot about you, I think.

And I’ve found my relationship with Ireland, with Dublin, with all of Ireland really to become really knotty and complex and I don’t really understand it. I fear it sometimes, cause in some kind of strange way, it’s upsetting to go back. So I think that writing about it, is a way of allaying those anxieties and those fears, and kind of making temporary sense of the whole situation you know. It’s a crazy thing to have lived your first 22, 23 years of your life in a place, and then after five years of living somewhere else, kind of, almost forget about it a little bit at times, you know? It’s just a strange thing. Hmm, I don’t know if that answers your question.

Photo by Eimear Lynch
Photo by Eimear Lynch

Let’s move along for now to “Salt Throwers off a Truck” because like “Bob’s Casino” it’s one of the songs that broadly speaking, unfolds more like a film. The opening lines “When February came, it came straight for New York/Any colder, they said, we’ll be skating to work.” It’s this beautiful imagery that you’re playing with and it’s got a kind of Pogues “Fairytale of New York” feel to it. Like the song begins in New York. But again, it’s this idea of home. Were you homesick when you wrote that song, because I knew you now live in North London and it’s in a part of town, which was also the stomping ground of The Pogues back in the ’80s, did you feel the ghost of Pogues past?

Um, yeah, I guess so. Yeah. I mean, the first Pogues song I got into was, “The Old Main Drag” and I got into it when I was in New York. Somebody showed it to me when I was really young and I went there for a couple of days. And the first line in that song is, “When I first came to London, I was only 16”— and it’s in the exact same meter and everything, isn’t it?


“When I first came to London, I was only 16 with a fiver in my pocket and on my own dancing bag.” Hmm, I think both songs have this kind of sense of wide-eyed hopeful— “walking through tall buildings that dwarf them”—all the potential of a big city. But the song “Salt Throwers off a Truck,” I don’t think I was in New York when I wrote it. I think I was attracted to the kind of idea of living there, of living anywhere, I suppose. And there’s the line as well about “the proud couples that are running the leaves into kites”— all of those things, like being in a relationship with somebody, going for a run with them, and being a kind of young professional because that’s not the life that I live, maybe I just found it kind of attractive to want to write about it. And then the last verse of the song is actually about my granddad, who passed away in Barrow-in-Furness last year. I wanted to bring it from New York, down to this tiny little town in the northwest of England.

It’s lovely because you travel through so many different places in the song. There’s that quality with “East Coast Bed” too but I didn’t quite understand it, what is an “East Coast Bed?” When I first heard the song, I was attracted immediately to the melody. There’s the line, “There’s always got to be the baseline, every time I look around,” and I was like, “Oh, this is about a relationship.” But when I went back and listened to it with the lyric sheet, I was like, “Oh no, maybe it’s not?” Because you talk about being a kid. And I wondered if it was your mom or someone who works as a social worker of some kind. Who is this about?

I don’t know if you know what the game hurling is? It’s one of the biggest sports in Ireland. So it’s a sport that I would’ve grown up playing. And there was the coach of the hurling team, a woman called Ronnie Faye. And she was friends with my mother. I was friends with her kids. When my parents were working a lot, she used to pick me up from school and stuff. She was like a second mother to me. I used to stay over in their spare room in, cause as I said, her kids were really good mates of mine. And she would make me dinner and stuff like that, look after me. And she passed away last year as well. And I felt like I hadn’t [pauses]—I kind of got old enough to appreciate all the care that she’d given me. I spent the years of appreciating what she’d done for me, away from her, in a different country. So I never really said it to her. And then when she passed away, I felt like I needed to do something. And “East Coast Bed” is both the place of refuge that she kind of offered me when I was growing up and it’s also, you know, where we laid her to rest. So it’s not about a relationship in that sense at all. It’s just about a really important figure in my life passing away, you know?

I often hear artists say they can’t write on tour. The rigidity of the tour quotidian and getting to cities, venues and then coming down from the high of a gig…but it seems to me that you’re just writing all the time. What was the experience of writing this album on the road—being with the band but not writing with them?

It was fine. Like I do a lot of the writing without the band anyway for Fontaines, you know? Writing, I want to say—it was easy because there was no task anyway. It made things easier to write. And writing’s just kind of, at this period in my life, it’s gonna come up no matter what. It’s what I do when I’m not feeling good. It’s what I do when I am feeling good. You know, it’s like, how to understand what’s going on around me in any sense—so it was very organic. A lot of the songs I’d write, get them to a good place, then look at them and decide if they’re a Grian Chatten song a Fontaines D.C. song. That’s just how it worked. It was nice to have a project. It’s nice to plant seeds and watch them grow into something. And when you’re on tour, you don’t really get to do that. So that’s kind of what the songs are—just ideas that you write and then you try and make sense of it later.

What tells you that something is a Fontaine’s song or a Grian Chatten solo?

Well, there’s a couple of things on this album—there’s the songs that I felt are so kind of maybe personal, but maybe also—indulgent is the word that I want to use, like the song “All of the People.” I feel like that song, the spotlight is kind of very heavily on me as a kind of orator. It suits the solo endeavor. And then also songs like “Bob’s Casino,” which as I said, kind of came to me fully realized, and there was no room for collaboration on a song like that. And I wouldn’t want to, just out of respect to the rest of the lads, I don’t really want to bring a 15-piece song to them and not give them any wiggle room for their own creativity, you know?

Photo by Eimear Lynch
Photo by Eimear Lynch

“All of the People,” together with “Last Time Every Time Forever” are my favorites off the album. It’s really easy to like the whole album because you have something to say and the melodies are beautiful, the vocal play between you and Georgie and all that.

Thank you.

But when I walk away, those two songs stay with me. This weekend we went away and I put the album on in the car driving out to the Southern Highlands. And as soon as it came on my husband and I didn’t speak for just about the duration of it. We were both drawn in, listening to all the stories. “Last Time Every Time Forever” is the second track and not long after, I heard my husband humming the tune—


So there is something about a good melody. But “All of the People” stands out I think because it’s so kind of raw and real. It’s plain spoken. Unlike “Bob’s Casino” you’re not painting a scene, you’re speaking to us in a very direct way. You’re telling us things that maybe we suspect or maybe we want to know, but it’s almost too honest.


Did you ever sort of second guess whether you wanted to even put that song out?

You know, it was initially going to just be myself, and the guitar, maybe some strings. We tried it a few different ways in the studio and I felt like it was kind of losing its shape—and at that point I probably wouldn’t have put it out. But then when my manager came in to listen to how we were getting on so far, I had an idea for him to just sit in the middle of the room. Dan Carey played guitar and I could hold the mic in my hand and just kind of sing it to him. And that ended up being the take that we used. And the rawness of it revealed the kind of, I suppose, what was there already in the song. And yeah, it’s my favorite moment on the album I think as well. But I think, um, what’s funny about it is when people kind of repeat the lyrics back to me, as they have done in some interviews, the lyrics sounds terrible! You know, out of context, like “people are scum,” there’s nothing… [Pauses] For me to write that entirely dependent on the context of music and the rest of the song, knowing that standalone, they weren’t inherently poetic or anything like that, was actually quite challenging. You know, to let that go.

For your Fontaines albums, I know Dan Carey in the past have gotten you guys to play whole songs in one take, if you make a mistake, start again. But here, as you said he was happy to just lift Georgie’s voice and just lay in on the track. What was the dynamic like in the studio compared to previously?

I think it was probably the most studio album that I’ve ever done, in the sense that it wasn’t a band playing live with a bunch of mics set up, which is how it usually is with us. I had done a fair bit of work on the demos. I think a lot of the songs were so kind of fully arranged, that all we had to do was play them again into these new mics for songs like “Bob’s Casino.” The parts are all more or less exactly the same. But we only had 10 days to do the whole album in between two Fontaines tour, so we didn’t really have that much time to experiment with the styles of recording or production here. We just got to the work because we wanted the panic or the anxiety to be spread out so that we could kind of enjoy it. And I think we did a pretty good job of it. And there’s a really nice thing that Dan brought to it as well. The whole album is really, really bright and I think that was a brilliant idea I wasn’t even necessarily aware of at the time, but that’s what makes the album really move towards that idea of a fantasy. There’s a kind of like popping a cartridge into an old ’80s slot machine or jukebox, and then this simulation of reality comes on with its vignettes.

That’s a nice image. And I’m going to go back to when I was in my 20s and living in London. I did this theater course to Ireland and it was like in an old Catholic school in the summer. It was the first time that I had been so immersed in Irish culture. During the day we would do Ibsen and Chekhov and like 80% of the people on the course were Irish, so in the evenings everybody would drink and sing into the wee hours of the morning. Amazingly, everyone would turn up for breakfast two hours later. And I think this went on for the week. What I took away from all this merriment is that everyone in Ireland, it seemed to me, had a wonderful voice or could sing. Is that the kind of household you grew up in, this sort of capacity for art, music and merriment? And also at what point did you decide, “Hey, I want to make a career out of this?”

Yeah, my dad has three brothers and one sister. And anytime that we got together, they’d all kind of do that. They’d break out the guitar and they’d have a few cans, or glass of wine or whatever. And the general volume of the household would just go up and up until it reached this kind of fever pitch, and it would remain there for a long time, you know? That’s what I grew up with and I think as a sort of introverted child, I found it kind of difficult to crack into those kinds of things. I felt like there was a language there that I, especially in the kind of humor and outwardness and maybe cause they were drinking as well, they were more like that—but I felt very shy. I found out I had to get in there and so I started learning the guitar. And I remember one day I picked up the guitar kind of quietly in the corner of the room and started playing “Love Cats” by The Cure. And I felt they looked at me for the first time, you know? So that was kind of my way of accessing my own family. And I think that’s kind of where it all started for me. That’s when I realized the use of it or something like that—and from then on, I fell in love with it.

So, I don’t suppose you’ll be touring Australia or the U.S. for the solo album?

No, I’m not, I’m not gonna be touring it at all. Not for the next while anyway. I’m going back on tour with the Fontaines and Arctic Monkeys in like a month and a half. And this is my time to get all of my holiday into one little stint, you know. So I’m just gonna holiday really hard somewhere.

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