They’ve featured on Grey’s Anatomy and rubbed shoulders with British politicians and Pixies alike. Gary Barlow is gushing over them on Twitter, while Julian Lennon enjoys photographing their soundchecks. With their debut album ready and several high profile summer festival dates confirmed, a fast-rising Kodaline have certainly come a long way from the earlier “fucking awful” teen incarnation that battled it out on You’re A Star...
An incredibly austere UK budget is about to be announced and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is feeling the heat in a BBC studio. His opposite number, the British Labour Party’s Ed Balls is going for the jugular, telling him pointedly that he’s “destroyed” the economy. And on that bombshell, as producers scramble to move the Andrew Marr Show along... “Four Paddies with guitars!”
Swords quartet Kodaline, seated in a Dublin hotel some weeks later, laugh at the surreal memory of their performance.
“We were told at SXSW that we’d been booked for it,” explains bassist Jason Boland. “We’d never heard of it and when they told us it was a political show, we were like, ‘Why the hell are we going on it?!”
“You take what you’re given,” notes guitarist Mark Prendergast. Undoubtedly big exposure for this band-on-the-rise, it also gave them the rare opportunity to rub shoulders with Osborne himself. Posing in a picture with the guys – it’s not quite Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher quaffing champers, but not a million miles away – he’s all smiles. Did the mask not slip with all that pressure on him?
“He was definitely putting a brave face on,” nods Boland.
“We had breakfast with them afterwards,” Prendergast continues. “It was weird, all the guests were sat at one table. I was like, ‘I do not want to be here anymore!’”
Actress Tamsin Greig (Black Books, Green Wing) was also present, and significantly more up for a laugh.
Softly-spoken singer Stephen Garrigan smiles: “She was hilarious, going, ‘So you’re in a band? Did you have to go to band school for that?’”
His bassist giggles that she was “ripping the piss” out of them: “‘Have you got a band twat?!’”
It does sound like she stole a number of HP’s questions. Do they have a ‘band twat’?
Timekeeper Vinny May lifts his head: “You’re looking at four of them!”
Charmingly self-deprecating as it is, nothing could be further from the truth. In 2013, Kodaline appear to be mere months away from becoming properly massive. As we speak, they’re just waiting for official confirmation that single ‘High Hopes’ has gone in at no. 1 at home and top 20 in the UK (it did!)
Earlier release ‘All I Want’ has become a YouTube smash thanks to a memorable video, they’ve featured on Grey’s Anatomy, and there’s been a BBC Sound of 2013 longlist nod. The sound – Coldplay-style soft rock made to be played to fields of swaying, glowing iPhones – is a formula that has seldom failed before. Kodaline have it down to a tee.
It’s a long way from their early AC/DC-covering and Rory Gallagher/Thin Lizzy-listening days. Their story starts – as you suspect it does with more Irish bands than will admit – as young teens in the Gaeltacht.
“Myself and Mark live about two minutes away from each other,” says Garrigan. “We went to Connemara together and just started jamming. When we got back to Swords and started looking for a drummer, to our convenience Vinny lived just across the way!”
Prendergast grins that “the classic story of the Battle of the Bands” followed. Who were they battling?
“We were only talking about this yesterday – the competition was fucking mental! Even back then you could see from our small thing that the music industry was going to be fucking fierce! There’d be arguments over who had the best amp.”
If you found yourself glued to You’re A Star some five years back, you might just remember some of these faces. Then the cherubic 21 Demands, they came second in the fifth series. It’s not a time they remember too fondly.
“When we look back now, we realise the music was fucking awful!” roars Garrigan.
“We thought it was the tits at the time!” interjects Prendergast.
“All our songs now are about personal experiences,” continues Garrigan. “So we had to live a little. For example, ‘All I Want’ was written about my ex-girlfriend. We hadn’t had any of those life experiences back then.”
So they lived a little, and found new bassist Jason Boland. Prendergast and Boland crossed paths when they worked on Bipolar Empire’s Forbidden Fruit slot last year. At the time, the then-sound engineer’s four-string ability was a secret, so a series of disastrous bass auditions had to be endured before the final line-up took shape.
“We sent people tracks going ‘this is what kind of band we are’”, recalls May. “Then we’d have guys coming in with six-string basses, playing funk and shit!”
Prendergast: “This one guy came in with ridiculously baggy trousers and told us he was only really into hip hop and rap.”
When they finally jammed with Boland on an Etta James tune, the connection, Garrigan says, was instant.
As for the Kodaline name? It does sound like something you’d either take for a headache or something more illicit you’d try at a German rave. The singer reveals the more prosaic truth.
“It doesn’t mean anything. We just wanted to literally ‘create’ a name. Something that had no connotations associated with it. Though now you mention it, I suppose it does sound like a drug! We did come up with names which really meant a lot to us but then you’d look online and 3,000 other bands would have it! Or it’d be a company or something.”
As they point out, there’s no other band called Kodaline. You can’t disagree.
It’s a name that will likely be scrawled on school pencil cases across the land for the foreseeable future, but also one that seems to make certain music critics come out in a rash. As with many an anthemic, radio-friendly act, some writers will sigh and tag them as MOR, careerist rock. One early album review in Q magazine was particularly venomous.
“I haven’t read it but I was told it was one dude who’s just really bitter. Like he’s out to get us!” says Garrigan. “Whatever. We just want to put the album out and hopefully reach as many people as possible. Then it’s up to them whether they like it.”
A similarly negative Guardian piece was brought up at a particularly bad time.
“It was just horrible!” Boland winces. “We were told about it just before we went on stage by someone that was interviewing us. ‘Jesus, have you read this yet? It’s really bad!’ When we said we hadn’t, they asked if we wanted to read it then and there. We were like, ‘We’re going onstage in like 10 minutes!’”
Sensibly, they not only let the minority criticism wash off them, they ignore the overwhelming hype and plaudits.
“It’s flattering,” reflects Prendergast. “It’s not like we ignore it or be dicks about it, it’s great. But we can’t let it affect us. Believing in your own hype would be the biggest mistake.”
It could be easily done when you have Gary Barlow tweeting: “Just heard the most amazing song ‘all I want’ byKODALINE #incredible.” They aren’t so calm and collected when talking about the attentions of one even bigger star.
“We’re doing Hard Rock Calling with Kasabian,” whispers Garrigan, as if raising his voice would somehow jinx things. “Bruce Springsteen is playing the Sunday. Now, I worship Bruce Springsteen. Someone sent our songs to his producer Jon Landau and apparently he asked for us to play on his day! Pretty incredible, isn’t it?!”
For such a young band, a remarkable raft of illustrious figures have already had cameos in the Kodaline story. The debut album was completed last December in Studio Two at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Pixies were in Studio One. News to me but, yes, after years of speculation, it seems that they’re working on new material.
“Yeah, we could hear them jamming,” Garrigan says matter-of-factly.
What did it sound like?
“It sounded like Pixies!” laughs Prendergast. “Over breakfast you’d hear the bass and drums rattling. Or you’d walk by them with a cup of tea and just go, ‘Alright, how you doing?’ We met Frank Black properly one night. We were going to see this massive reverb chamber they have at Rockfield and he just walked over to us in a pair of shorts and went, ‘Hey guys, what’s up?!’ Legend.”
Meanwhile, Billy Joel popped up in LA.
“It was really random,” says Garrigan. “I’d walked into a bar...”
And he was in the corner on the piano?
“He was! He was playing ‘Piano Man’! No, he wasn’t... I didn’t notice him at first, then I clocked that it was Billy Joel. I just walked up to him and we ended up having a good talk about music and life. It was pretty cool and very strange.”
As if that’s not enough, a Beatle kid is a fan.
“We met John Lennon’s son Julian in LA, too. We all got chatting to him but Mark’s been messaging him and stuff since.”
“He came to our New York show,” Prendergast explains. “We were doing the soundcheck and he was there taking photographs of us! So bizarre.”
It’s little wonder that America holds such massive appeal for them. They know it’s the holy grail for every band and incredibly hard to break, but they’ve vowed to “give it a shot.”
If they ever manage to master the logistics of touring, they’re in with a chance. When disaster does strike on the road, inevitably new guy Boland is the one who suffers. Most recently a missing passport meant they had to ditch the ‘never leave a man behind’ edict and wave goodbye to him in New York.
“It’s just that the flights were too expensive to all change!” counters Garrigan. “We were like, ‘We gotta go man!’ Our tour manager told us we had to have two passports from then on because he doesn’t want it happening again.”
The bassist also once missed a ferry to Manchester. You imagine that these are mishaps they’ll iron out. The album In A Perfect World arrives this summer and they hope it is but the first LP of many. If they get some time with The Boss, they’ll bend his ear. The New Jersey rocker’s longevity is something they want to emulate.
“A lot of artists just stop when they get to that stage,” says the wide-eyed Garrigan. “Or they become nostalgic. Whereas his stuff is still relevant. And he’s jumping around doing back-flips at the age of 62!”
Boland laughs: “We’d be happy just crawling around the stage by then!”
Unless he’s left behind one too many times and finally erupts, causing an irreversible schism in the group.
“Maybe we’ll just leave him somewhere really far away,” his bandmates counter. “So it’s like, ‘Er... we actually can’t get him back! He’s gone!’ We can see him getting stuck in
Boland puts on a faux solemn expression: “You all laugh now.”
And they do.
In A Perfect World is out on June 7. Kodaline play Longitude, Dublin on July 20 and Indiependence, Michelstown on August 2. See hotpress.com for an exclusive live session.
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