Belfast Telegraph

Kodaline: Each gig tells a story

By Edwin Gilson

While fierce winds and driving rain were battering large parts of the UK earlier last week, Ireland’s hottest new musical export, Kodaline, were arriving in America’s Golden State.

Los Angeles was the last port of call on a gruelling US tour that lasted almost a full month. The four-piece travelled from East to West coast, taking in the majority of major Northern states along the way. It’s little wonder then that singer Steve Garrigan, speaking down the line after his band’s live performance on an LA breakfast television programme, sounds somewhat weary.

“It’s been a crazy time, and we’ve been moving around so much that it’s been hard for us to get our bearings at times,” he yawns. “But then again there’s always something going on here; the other day I just left the hotel to get some food, and Arcade Fire were playing a secret show on a rooftop literally a block down the road. There was a miniature helicopter flying around the crowd. It was surreal.”

The band’s hometown of Swords in Dublin has surely never felt further away. It was there that Garrigan met his future bandmates, first guitarist Mark Prendergast, who joined Garrigan in the school choir as a means to “pick up girls”, then drummer Vinny May, and finally bassist Jason Boland.

The singer admitted he was looking forward to returning to his homeland after the LA date, but in reality there’s not much opportunity for rest for Kodaline. Their extensive UK tour starts tonight, and calls in at Belfast’s Limelight on Wednesday. It doesn’t sound like Garrigan and co are ones for putting their feet up anyway.

“The thing is, you go home for a day and see everyone, and it’s all very nice, but then you start getting itchy feet,” the blonde frontman laughs. “Last time I was in Swords I remember sitting in front of the television and thinking: ‘Man, I really want to do something!’”

Nevertheless, Garrigan is full of positivity when talk turns to Dublin’s music scene, and how it has helped his band on their meteoric rise, from early battle of the bands competitions in Swords to securing third place in the UK charts upon the June release of their debut album In a Perfect World.

“Dublin’s great, it’s just a matter of going to the right venues,” he says. “I do a lot of open mic nights there, and I see a lot of great musicians. In terms of opportunity, though, a lot of people leave Ireland to go to Australia, America or England. I love Ireland, but it’s a small country. I think people think that if they go somewhere bigger, their horizons will be broadened.”

When I put it to him that, besides his own band, very few Dublin acts have really made the breakthrough to the mainstream in recent times, he bristles.

“It’s a magical place though, it really is. The people are very open and intrigued by ... everything! It’s very cultural. At Christmas, everyone gathers together to perform; even if they can’t play an instrument they still give it a go.”

Garrigan was regularly reminded of Ireland when in America, as, in his words: “It seems like everyone over here is one-third Irish.” He elaborates: “Obviously America was founded by people from different cultures, and as a result of this a lot of people claim their ancestors were from Cork. Everybody’s from Cork for some reason! Boston seemed very Irish too.”

Garrigan remarks that he had noticed few differences between UK and US crowds, except that Americans “heckle a lot, but in a positive way. They’ll shout ‘I’m having a good time!’ or just ‘Yeah, America!’ That’s pretty bizarre, but it’s cool at the same time.”

According to the frontman, it was “never the plan to become a band, we just went along with it. As has always been the case, though, music is the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing when I go to bed. It’s a twenty four-seven business.”

Garrigan dropped out of college to make Kodaline a full-time priority (“my parents were freaking out, saying: ‘what the f**k are you doing?”’) while also working in a bar: “I have so much respect for barmen now, I really do,” he chuckles. “Because I was absolutely awful at it. I managed to hang on for a while, unconvincingly.”

Having spent two years intensely writing their debut album, Camp Kodaline are naturally delighted with how the record has fared commercially, as In a Perfect World topped the Irish charts.

The critical response, though, painted a more negative picture. Q magazine summed up the album as “entirely meritless”, while the Irish Times awarded it an undesirable two star rating. Music publication DIY’s review was yet more scathing, claiming the record sounded too much like Coldplay and deciding that what Kodaline needed, above all else, was to “grow some balls”.

Garrigan must have been aware of such criticism, but still reacts with palpable dismay when I bring up the issue. “‘Grow some balls’ ... I don’t understand; do they want us to be more adventurous?” he questions sadly, before declaring that such reaction “doesn’t really frustrate me. People change all the time; it’s about growing. That’s what we’re trying to say with our music, that everyone’s on their own path. If someone tells us to ‘grow some balls’, well, I’m going to take that with a pinch of salt. Maybe they need to lose some balls!”

And what of the Coldplay comparison? Are Chris Martin’s soft-rock group an influence on Kodaline’s music?

“There are a lot of influences, but we never deliberately reference anybody,” ponders Garrigan. “It’s very dependent on how we feel at the time. You’re not going to feel sad all the time; that’s just the nature of life, as clichéd as that sounds. You’re going to be happy, you’re going to be sad, you’re going to be thrown a curveball that confuses you and makes you want to sit down at a piano and make sense of it all.”

At the end of our talk, the singer points to a moment at one of Kodaline’s recent gigs that, to his mind, proved it’s all been worth it — the heavy travelling, the mixed reviews, the potentially disorientating rapid rise in profile.

“We were playing a show and a dude got down on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend,” recalls Garrigan, fondly. “He said he was going to use one of our songs for the first dance at the wedding. Each gig tells a story. Incidents like that really make me feel like our music has a purpose, you know?”

Kodaline play The Limelight in Belfast on Wednesday, November 20. For details visit www.limelightbelfast.com

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