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Music and style: Carlos lays out the blueprint

“I want to live in that world always, not just when I put my headphones on”

As we all know, music and fashion are two sides of the same coin. But, has rock music become too hesitant to make that toss? How do bands in the current landscape reignite the flame of rebellion and amplified expression?

We recently caught up with the lead guitarist of a band who is challenging the industry’s passivity, carrying the torch of guitar music and its power to provide people with an outlet for expression… We’re talking about Carlos O’Connell from Fontaines DC, one of the most trailblazing bands in the mainstream right now. The emergence of their raw and enigmatic debut album “Dogrel” showcased the band’s urgent and poetic narrative. Since then, they’ve experienced a meteoric rise to superstardom; performing at major festivals worldwide, touring with the Arctic Monkeys, and voted “Best Band in the World” by the NME. Their most recent album, Skinty Fia, is proof that they will continue to build their own destiny, immune to the distillation of today’s rock music. 

Carlos talks us through the importance of style as the ‘infrastructure’ for the music we listen to. Emphasising that guitar music could benefit from taking a page out of hip-hop’s playbook; creating a space where style and music seamlessly intertwine, offering listeners something they can live their life by. Read below as we discuss Carlos’s journey into music, fatherhood, and his mission to construct a new world for the raw spirit of guitar music to thrive in.

When did you first pick up the guitar?
My godmother got me this tiny classical guitar when I was six or something. The first thing I did was put a load of football stickers all over it. Then everyone was like “you’ve wrecked this! This is a classical guitar you don’t cover it in stickers” haha. I took a couple of classical lessons, but I didn’t really enjoy it. It was a bit boring.

What changed?
Well, I stopped those lessons. And it wasn’t until I was ten or eleven, that I picked up the guitar again. I convinced my parents to get me an electric guitar. Then I really got into music and learned a lot of music from my cousin.

Tragically, my cousin passed away when I was 13, he was 23. That made me lock myself away in music. I wrote songs as a way to talk to him. Then everything changed. I like to think that none of it would be there without him, so he’s part of it, which is quite beautiful but also emotional.

Would you say this deepened your emotional connection towards music?
Yeah totally, my emotional connection and how to connect to other people through it. I carry that with me forever now. I kinda wish that he was here to like watch all of this happen, but then it’s like I don’t think there would be all this stuff to watch if he was here. It’s a weird one. I feel like in a way we are doing it together in that sense. It’s not at his expense.

That’s such a beautiful thing. I think it’s also a testament to the power of music to bring people together, even in their absence. How does it feel looking back at the meteoric rise of Fontanies DC?
It’s a bizarre thing, but I feel very established and calm. I’ve got my own family now, my little girl.

Congrats on fatherhood!
Thank you. It’s quite beautiful. We listen to a lot of music together. She’s a big fan of hip-hop, and I’ve deepened my knowledge and appreciation of it since she’s been around.

Any favourites of hers?
She likes the older stuff like WU-tang and Tribe Called Quest. I guess she likes the constant groove and bop of that style.

She knows how to vibe! What inspires you the most?
I think to be engaged with anything and everything, however cheesy that sounds. I feel like that’s the best we can live, and we are guilty of not living that way all the time. It’s easier for everyone to close their eyes or look down at a screen. But that’s no way to live! I care about that more than ever now, because the way I live is the template for the way my girl is going to live.

Presence is such an important thing to have in the world right now.
Yeah, and to acknowledge the cruelty and the cracks of how things are set up in our world. I’m at this point enraged by it now. The only thing we can do is play music and point that in the right direction. We recently collaborated on a project called Ceasefire with Young Fathers and Massive Attack, which raised a quarter of a million in support of Gaza.

That’s amazing!
Everyone needs to point their energy towards a positive action in their lives. No government can impact the way I’m gonna make my music, they can affect my rent going up and I can struggle through that, but the things that matter to me, they can’t put a price on that.

100 per cent. It’s about being connected to what you prioritise and not what systems or politicians want you to prioritise.
Exactly man.

You’ve been known for your style off and on stage. Can you elaborate on how you see the connection between music and fashion?
It’s such an important connection. When I got into hip hop it transformed my sense of style, because it’s so connected to it and are aware of its impact. To me now the most inspiring artists are outside of guitar music because they have a deeper understanding of their expression, they’re not scared of looking a certain way, and they’re not scared to say certain things. Whereas most guitar bands nowadays are scared and overly humble. It’s a bit pathetic and feeds into a centrist standpoint. It just keeps you in the same place forever until someone will eventually take advantage because you don’t believe in anything.  Rock and Roll music is a victim of this centrist mentality. You had hip-hop groups for years saying ‘” fuck the police”…now you have guitar bands stopping their shows to thank everyone in the security team for doing their jobs, which feels fake and that the band thinks they’re better then them or some shit.

It’s a shame when considering Rock music’s history of anarchy and true expression.
Yeah man, and I want to revive that fire a bit more. It’s like when someone finds the Sex Pistol’s music, they go get their dad’s old Levis, put some holes through it and they feel part of something.

Fashion plays such a crucial role in offering these powerful forms of expression that people feel drawn to.
Definitely. I’m a big fan of Kendrick. His crown of thorns was covered in white diamonds, and you can interpret that in many ways…but presenting yourself as a savour, such as a Jesus Christ, and wearing that level of drip on your head. It makes people think. He’s taking the crown of thorns and making it something that everyone wants when it’s normally seen as something shameful. There is so much depth he creates through what he’s wearing.

Any specific brands or designers you are into now?
I was enjoying what Gucci was doing a few years ago, taking an inaccessible brand and bringing it to the freaks! I like it when streetwear is lifted away from the ‘scum-baggery’ haha. I was in a pub in Ireland, and there was this sign that said ‘no tracksuits allowed’ I was wearing a full Adidas tracksuit head to toe and I was like ‘fuck that’ and went in to find a chair. How can you decide what customer you want based on an item of clothing? A guy in a suit could come in and be the biggest dickhead in the world, similarly, someone with a tracksuit could come in and be the same.

Yeah, it’s so problematic to attribute beliefs about people in terms of how they dress.
I think that’s why it’s important to break those patterns. What we do as a band is mix, I love both streetwear and wearing suits.

Streetwear’s great because anyone can rock it, and for artists to blend that vibe into their look is huge, especially for the younger crowd.
Yeah totally. When I was doing the art direction for our last album Skinty Fia, I was listening to a lot of hip-hop and I wanted to make a cover that didn’t feel like a guitar band because I didn’t want people to be put off. I’m sorry to say, and I hope no one I know in bands reads this and is offended but…I think guitar music is lame as fuck now! If you’re a kid and you grow up around that, you’ll be allergic to it.

Yeah, it’s also tough for bands trying to do something different not to get lumped in with all the other guitar bands who are following the algorithm, haha.
100 per cent man. I understand why hip-hop is so popular, it’s a whole world, and you can live your life by it. It’s hard to live your life by guitar music nowadays, and the bands and labels are a little bit to blame for that. There’s something to learn from the hip-hop world.

I’ve thought of this analogy right…if you go to see an exhibition and the museum is uninviting then you’re going to miss out on what’s inside of it. So, the museum needs to be part of the art, it needs to be an extension of it.

The style is the architecture, it’s the infrastructure allowing you to listen to the music inside.

How does the style of Skinty Fia become an extension of the music?
I started to embody the cover, the red and yellow….I started dressing using those colours…

It’s world-building.
Yeah! I want to live in the world we are creating, not just when I put my headphones on. I want to be there all the time. It’s so important and its how things make an impact. For example, punk music happened in the way it did because of how it looked. The style creates worlds and tribes for people to become a part of.

It’s been so great chatting with you Carlos! I’m looking forward to seeing the next world Fontaines DC has installed.

Words by Dexter Burningham



Images by Tom Atkin