Fontaines DC’s Grian Chatten: ‘I’m in an emotional flux’

Sold For Parts documentary about the Dublin band addresses the downsides of even modest success

Sold for Parts: the documentary follows Dublin band Fontaines DC around the recording of their debut album

Sold for Parts: the documentary follows Dublin band Fontaines DC around the recording of their debut album

 

Rock documentaries seldom have much use for brevity. Peter Bogdanovich’s 2007 Tom Petty hagiography, Runnin’ Down A Dream, clocked in at over four hours. Martin Scorsese’s recent Netflix meditation on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue somehow managed to fill 142 minutes.

It’s unlikely anyone would wish to sit through a four-hour documentary about Dublin post-punk band Fontaines DC – not even Fountains DC themselves. What a relief, then, that Sold For Parts, which chronicles of the life and times of the group around the recording of their debut album, Dogrel, last year, gets the job done in 24 lean and mean minutes.

This a short, sharp affair, made by Collective films has all the bulldozing energy of one of Fontaines’ guitar crescendos (the caterwauling opening 89 seconds of Too Real, for instance). But if infused with the spirit of punk, it also contains some of the shaggy heartfelt qualities for which the Fontaines have become beloved in Ireland and beyond (though this is also starting to prompt a degree of eye-rolling, especially whenever they start banging on about their debt to Yeats and Joyce).

And it honestly addresses the downsides of even modest success. They talk about feeling overwhelmed on a day off in Prague,when they should be exulting in how far they’ve come.

“You have to catch yourself and be mindful that you can misinterpret the things that happen to you because of stress,” says bassist Conor Deegan, reflecting on the toll of a 29-date European tour undertaken in 32 days. “You can just go like, ‘I really wish I wasn’t so stressed out . . . This is getting to me.’ It’s a really good lesson in mindfulness, rather than getting caught up in arbitrary emotional nonsense.”

The group speak of their comradely “love” for one another. To hear Irish men, even in their 20s, talk in such terms is a “Not in Kansas” moment and one of the most quietly striking and encouraging aspects of the documentary.

There is also a frank admission from singer Grian Chatten that when he brings a new idea to rehearsal, he is struck down with the compulsion to throw his hands in the air and give up.

“It nearly makes me want to quit every week,” he says. “It gets to the point of, ‘how am I going to share this’? Every time I show [a new idea] to the other guys, there’s a moment . . . I’m in an emotional flux. I have no idea [if they’ll like it or not].”

Sold For Parts begins with the five-piece about to take the stage at Dublin’s Button Factory for a December 2018 gig. From there, we follow Chatten and company through into early 2019 as they recover from that exhausting continental tour and then put the finishing touches to Dogrel, for which they will earn Mercury and Choice Music Prize nominations.

They come across as thoughtful and serious. Whatever else music is to Fontaines DC, it is not a youthful lark. With the exception of Chatten and guitarist Conor Curley they are also exceedingly hairy so that it can be difficult to tell them apart. It’s a problem with which Fontaines themselves may have had to wrestle, huddled in their dark and pokey hired van while criss-crossing Europe.

As anyone who has ever interviewed a band will testify, few things in life are more tedious than musicians holding forth about their “creative process”. We want to know about tellies flung out windows and feuds with other pop stars – not about a singer’s struggle to unshackle the poet within. And yet Chatten is honest about the self-doubt that takes hold every time he comes to rehearsal with a new idea. He offers it up. And then there’s a heartbeat during which he is unsure if he is going to be rejected or accepted.

One of the best things about Sold For Parts is that it refuses to be obsequious. A few talking heads – manager Trevor Dietz, Dogrel’s producer Dan Carey – are trotted out to sing the band’s praises. However, they decline to go overboard with the accolades, as a documentary about other new Irish artists might. Certainly, there is no attempt to frame Fontaines DC as rock’n’roll messiahs sent down from on high to show us the way. The documentary doesn’t insist we love them. We are given space to draw our own conclusions.

Scene by scene, it is true, Sold For Parts isn’t quite primed with melodrama. The rise and fall of Guns N’ Roses this is not. But the film gives an honest account and doesn’t over-reach trying to convince you of its subjects’ genius. It’s soulful, slightly scruffy and over as soon as it has begun – just like Fontaines DC’s music, really.

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