Kodaline: Irish rockers on verge of breaking America ahead of Belfast Tennent's Vital slot
Irish rockers Kodaline are on the verge of breaking America. Ahead of their Tennent's Vital support slot in Belfast this summer, they tell Barry Egan of their plans for success.
Cue banjos. Cue - perhaps, perhaps not - slightly comic homoerotic overtones. Cue running for the hills, or at least a tour bus. It was like a scene from Deliverance, directed by MTV. Steve Garrigan stepped off the Kodaline tour bus into the gleaming sunlight to get a coffee when he was approached by a local bucko outside a truck stop in the Deep South.
"You guys in a band?"
"Yeah, we're in a band."
"So, what do you sound like?"
"Kind of like Coldplay."
"Kind of like Kings Of Leon."
"Maybe like U2."
Six thousand miles away back in Dublin, Steve is reflecting that he's never met someone before who's actually never heard of U2. That band were to play, however unwittingly, however fleeting, a role on Kodaline's recent sold out tour of America and Canada. On the night of their show in Vancouver, a man arrived at the door of their dressing room with a crate of Champagne and Guinness claiming to be representing U2. Kodaline immediately thought it was a practical joke.
"That was ridiculous!" laughs Steve. Bass player Jason Boland takes up the story: "This guy says, 'U2 have sent you some drinks'." To which all of Kodaline groaned inwardly, 'Yeah, right.' "Then I saw the shiny U2 pass hanging out of his trousers," laughs drummer Vinny May. "They had a show that night in Vancouver too."
Bono's booze long since guzzled, Mark Prendergast, guitarist supremo, says now: "It was an unbelievable gesture. We've never met them or anything." Steve adds: "We didn't even know that they knew who we were. U2 are legendary. We grew up listening to them. We are huge U2 fans."
Like Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam, Kodaline's Steve, Mark, Jason and Vinny are a gang from the Northside of Dublin - a band of brothers with a sound that is starting to captivate global audiences (Steve, in fact, shows me footage on his mobile phone of fans queuing in their droves down the street to get into their gigs in America.) They are four forthrightly funny - even scurrilous, often at their own expense - young men.
They tell their tale of how it all started with mischievous smiles on their faces. "I used to walk home from school with Steve and he used to slag my mam's car," remembers Mark. "She had a really old Ford Ka."
Steve says: "It looked like a Cadbury's Cream Egg! Or just an egg!"
Mark continues: "And every day we got to my house, he'd slag the car. I was like, 'What the hell is going on with this guy?' So we went to the Gaeltacht together."
The first place we went to, we weren't allowed to sing in English," interjects Steve, "So that was really difficult. So we wrote a song in Irish."
"We really started because there was a Battle of the Bands in our school which we were organising," he goes on.
"There were no gigs when we 15, 16. So we decided to hold a Battle of the Bands. Everybody in the school heard and said - 'Hey! We better start a band!' We just stayed together for the love of it. I remember when I was 15 ... actually one of our mates acted as our manager but he was only 15 too. He would get us as many gigs as possible in girls' schools.
"Because he liked girls!", Mark points out.
"So did we," Steve says. "We played in the school hall and it was full of people. And if you won you got a chance to record."
"So we completely fixed the whole thing," jokes Mark.
What was their first performance like?
"It was awful," answers Steve. "I remember we played a talent competition and we lost. It was pretty heartbreaking.
"But at the time we were like 'Why didn't we win?' We did lots and lots of talent competitions and we lost a lot of things. But we were terrible!"
"When you do gigs at that level when you are just starting out," says Mark, "it is such a big event."
Steve says: "Playing in the local community centre is the most important day of your life."
Vinny can remember the group rehearsing at his parents' house every weekend. "Drummers' parents are the most lenient. It's like you already make a lot of noise, so what's a little bit more?"
Steve has grim memories of playing a bar near his home one night. "I remember playing High Hopes, which is our biggest song here, and drunken people coming up to me and shouting at me: 'Wooah, that's crap.' I remember one woman took me aside and said, 'Don't take this personal but you have such a depressing sound - you shouldn't sing.'"
"It was my mam," jokes Mark.
"It was so weird, I was trying to play some of our own songs and people would be shouting for Sweet Home Alabama. But to go from that a couple of years ago to playing big outdoor gigs is absolutely incredible. It's just like a dream come true, I suppose."
The primary reason why this has happened for Kodaline - sold out American tours, a big record deal with Sony, a sublime new album Coming Up For Air, a support slot at Tennent's Vital in Belfast - is because of the integrity of their music. As Steve told Rolling Stone: "It's important to stay true to yourself. Don't waste your life trying to be someone else ... If you have a skeleton in your closet, you may as well make it dance."
Steve learned how to make the skeleton in his closet dance listening obsessively to one song as a young teen. It was by Jackson Browne.
"I grew up on The Pretender. It is a song that has always been around," Steve says quoting the lyric: 'I'm going to be a happy idiot/Caught between the longing for love/And the struggle for the legal tender'.
"Everyone is searching for love and everybody needs money," explains Steve. "So it is such a universal thing. I just love Jackson Browne.
"Mark probably hates Jackson Browne."
The three other members of Kodaline are now all looking at Mark.
"I love The Eagles and I only found out recently that he wrote that massive Eagles' tune Take It Easy," says Mark. "So I have respect for Jackson Browne. He's a great writer. Not that he needs respect from me - he is one of the best writers of all time."
Steve can recall being back in his bedroom as a teenager writing his first song. "Me and Mark ... there was a good two years where we did just nothing. Everybody thought we were wasters.
"We kind of are," laughs Mark. "We're just chancers now - different title."
- Kodaline support The Script at Tennent's Vital, Boucher Road, Belfast, on Sunday, August 30