- 14 Apr 16
It is four years since the video for Kodaline’s ‘All I Want’ went viral. Since then, the band’s campaign has taken on a military dimension, as they set about conquering one territory after the other. Chased down the streets of Lisbon, fans waiting at the airport in Moscow, and playing to 37,000 fans in their home town of Dublin – clearly, the momentum is gathering pace. So how come they are the most unlikely fuhrers in the history of rock?
“It’s crazy – we were literally there only a month ago! We were in Paris, too.”
It’s just two days after the cowardly terrorist attacks in Brussels, in which 31 innocent people lost their lives. Sitting in the living room of his brand new home in the north Dublin countryside, Kodaline’s Mark Prendergast is still processing the awful news.
“That whole thing is terrifying to us,” the guitarist sighs, shaking his head in disbelief. “When we saw what The Eagles of Death Metal went through, every single touring band just clenched up. Our tour manager knew their tour manager, and people in our crew knew people in theirs.
“It shook the entire world, of course, but when you’re in a touring band and doing exactly what they’re doing. . . like, they went back out on tour and we’re playing exactly the same venues as them. You try and forget about it and just do the best show that you can, but when it happened again in Brussels it’s just fucking scary. But we’re not going to stop touring. Certainly not.”
The twentysomething Dublin quartet have been flying the Kodaline flag internationally almost non-stop for the past twelve months in support of their sophomore album Coming Up For Air. They’re finally about to take some time off the road to concentrate on writing their crucial third album, but – following the Jameson Bow Street Sessions gig in The Academy last week – have agreed to a quick catch-up with Hot Press before their summer blow-out in Marlay Park, where they’ll play to 37,000 people. In the meantime, holidays done, the band will re-submerge themselves in the studio. Frontman Steve Garrigan is currently in the back garden having his photograph taken by Kathrin Baumbach (bassist Jason Boland and drummer Vinny May, Jr have already been and gone), while Mark handles the hosting duties.
It’s a nice gaff, and what makes it even better is that it was paid for with the proceeds of Kodaline’s album sales and touring profits. “It’s where I’ve always wanted to live,” Mark beams. “Steve is about to do exactly the same thing. I’m only here a few months, but it’s pretty nice to have my own space, where I can play music as late as I want all day and not bother anybody.”
It also helps that his new address is conveniently located a few minutes from Dublin Airport. The band have only just flown in from Russia, where they played sold-out dates in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“It was our first time going there and it was pretty bizarre,” Mark recalls. “It was the one country we were going to that I didn’t have a clue what to expect, what sort of people would show up, and so on – but it was an unbelievable experience. They’re incredibly warm and the crowd were amazing.”
It quickly transpired that Kodaline actually have quite a loyal following in Russia. “When we got off the plane, there were fans at the airport – and then they were at the train station and hotel! It was just incredible to meet them all, such nice people.” What kind of crowds were you playing to?
“In Moscow it was around 1,500. St. Petersburg was slightly smaller, around 1,000.” Was there a lot of bling on display at those shows?
“Nah, we never came into contact with that,” he shrugs. “It was the opposite of that, actually. We had girls coming up to us at the airport asking if they could get their friends on the guest-lists because they couldn’t afford tickets. So it was actually quite sad to see that some of our fans couldn’t afford to go. They were outside the venue with their tickets and we let their friends go on the guest-list. We saw some nice cars, though!”
Did the audiences know the words of the songs? “Every single word, yeah!” he laughs. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got much radio play over in Russia, but they still knew every song. It was weird and it was one of the best reactions we’ve got. This year, we’ve gone to a variety of new places for the first time – like the Czech Republic – to do our own show. We did a festival there last time, but this was us headlining a gig. It was great!”
Portugal proved another eye-opener. “Those shows were just incredible because we hadn’t been there before either. We had people telling us ‘Oh, we’ve been listening to you for three years!’ and it’s only now that they got to see us. So it was exciting – and an incredible tour, to an extent that we weren’t expecting. We were assuming that we’d go out and play songs and that was it – but the crowds were crazy in some places!”
The Irish Independent reported that the band was actually chased down the streets of Lisbon by some particularly enthusiastic fans. “Yeah!” he laughs. “Lisbon was insane, because it was the biggest show of the whole tour. We were playing in a venue called The Colosseum. In almost any city, we can just go for a walk, but there were people chasing after us there – which was weird. Fun at the same time! We stopped, of course, we didn’t run away from them. It was really, really bizarre.”
Were Portuguese panties getting thrown onto the stage? “We never got that! Not even once – so I’m just putting that out there!” he grins. “We get a lot of fans making artwork for us. They paint pictures of us and they make up collages, amazing mosaics of our lyrics. It’s incredible! Some of it is beautiful and incredibly well done. It’s awesome to get that, and amazing when someone hands you their piece of you and you’re thinking ‘Jesus, this picture looks better than I have ever done in my own life!’”
While the bulk of their heavy touring is over, for the moment at least, Kodaline still have a few festival dates lined-up this summer – most notably Dublin’s Marlay Park on July 8.
“This year is supposed to be a year off completely, but we’ve booked a few festivals around Europe in a few places we haven’t been,” Mark explains. “And we’ve added Marlay Park. From today onwards, though, we have three months off. We’ve a few exciting things coming up, but for the most part it’s just going to be writing new tunes.
“We already have a load of new tunes from the road, but on this album we want to be a lot more focused on it, to pull it together more – as opposed to just recording the songs,” he continues. “We want to find a proper focus for each song and pick a new producer. It’s still in the early stages where we’re just getting the songs ready. We’re going to the studio next week – but that’s just to write and throw ideas out there. We’re not going to start recording the actual album for a while. We want to wait until we’ve got something special.”
Quite recently, as part of the Jameson Bow St Sessions, they played an intimate gig at The Academy in Dublin.
“It was incredible!” he enthuses. “We did The Button Factory when we were coming through because I had worked there before – so I was adamant that we play there. But I love The Academy, we supported Temper Trap there. It was one of our first ever shows. The last time we played there was about three-and-a-half years ago – so it was incredible to go back. There was a great line-up and we only played about an hour set, so it felt like more of a festival. It was bonkers. I love that venue.”
First formed as 21 Demands in their native Swords in 2005 (they changed their moniker to Kodaline in 2011), the band’s ascent has been increasingly rapid in recent years. Their debut, In a Perfect World, was released in 2012 and it’s been full-on for the four Northsiders ever since. Mark acknowledges that they’re still getting their heads around it all.
“It’s mental! When we did the 3Arena. . . it was so insane we had to do it twice this time. The second night at the 3Arena our manager came in and goes ‘Do you want to do Marlay Park?’ and we were like ‘We’re not going to sell it out! We’re not going to get anywhere near it! Especially after just doing this!’”
Despite those initial reservations, they decided to go for it. “There was a lot of toing and froing and we were divided amongst the band whether to do it or not – but we just said ‘Fuck it, let’s try it! People have been behind us this far in the country so let’s see how far we can push it!’
“We’re pretty ambitious. You have to be. It’s still terrifying! It’s nearly sold out now and the fact that there’s going to be that many people in a field to hear our songs – well, it is scary. Our heads still aren’t around it. When we started the band we were like, ‘Imagine if we could play The Olympia?!’ and that was it. We wanted to be a band where people would come to see us play – and then it went crazy for a while. We still get those ‘pinch me’ moments when we play a show.
“Marlay Park is pretty hard to comprehend. I can’t even put it into words. One of the first gigs Steve and I ever went to was The White Stripes in Marlay Park in 2005 or 2006, so the fact that we’re going back. . . like, if you’d told me that at the age of 15, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Will you be spending the next few months in Dublin? “Yeah, pretty much,” he nods. “I’m going away on holidays to New York for a while and visiting a few places in America to see people I’ve met along the way from touring. I want to go back and visit them, not in a touring mindset, and just hang out. But the rest of the time will be spent between Dublin and London, chilling out.”
Given that she and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid are no longer an item, I take it you won’t be going back to Courtney Cox’s house in Los Angeles?
“I don’t think so,” he laughs. “No, I can’t see that happening! Well, you never know! They were lovely to us and it was bizarre because that was another one of those moments like, ‘What are we doing in Courtney Cox’s house?’ but they made it feel good. We didn’t get sucked into the Hollywood bubble as such.”
What has been the biggest moment of the last few years? “Marlay Park will be!” he says. “Probably the biggest moment so far was the Ed Sheeran thing in Croke Park. Even though it was only the first song, it was just total ecstasy! We were only supposed to play one night with him and after the performance he rang me and asked to come back and play again tomorrow. So the next day we came back with Glen Hansard and did ‘The Auld Triangle’ and ‘Molly Malone’.
“We’ve been lucky that we played to big crowds at festivals and we have the big shows at home and occasionally around the world, but I couldn’t take that in, that it was 84,000 people a night! You can’t make out individual faces or sounds. It’s just immense. We were kind of like, ‘Will we get a reception because it’s Ed Sheeran’s crowd?’ but it was bonkers the reaction that we got on stage.”
Where were you when David Bowie died? “Where was I?” he muses. “I was on tour and our tour manager told me. I had only got into Bowie in the last two years, so it hit me properly. Hunky Dory became one of my favourite albums and I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching his live performances. What an absolute disaster for music. He was an utter genius. It’s funny because I’d only watched a video for ‘Lazarus’, but it was still the biggest shock. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but I think we were on tour. I read recently that there’s going to be the ultimate supergroup now in the afterlife, Lemmy and all the others who’ve died recently – there’s so many.”
Perhaps it’s the fact that Kodaline are about to take some time off the road, but Mark seems blissfully happy at the moment.
“I suppose it’s because of the fact that music is now my living,” he concurs. “That when I sit down and I’m playing the piano during the day when I’m at home, that’s what I do, that’s my job. Then I meet my friends and we record songs and play them live. That’s definitely the most rewarding thing, the fact that I can now call myself a musician. I did it for years, but others didn’t call me a musician. They called me all sorts of other things (laughs)! But it’s nice from going from trying to get jobs here, there and everywhere to where I am now. Same as every musician, really. We’re lucky that we’re now one of the few who got a record deal and people liked us. That’s the most rewarding thing.”
Singer Steve Garrigan enters the room to tell Mark that it’s his turn to go out and pose in front of Kathrin’s lens. A likeable 27-year-old, with sandy blonde hair, he’s in equally relaxed form as his bandmate.
“Yeah, I’m great, thanks!” he smiles. “Home for a few days after a long tour, putting the feet up, chilling out!”
He’s still buzzing from their Russian excursion. “Moscow was incredible! I couldn’t get over the size of the city. It’s just so big! You really see it when you’re flying in. I heard the population is like 12 million, which is pretty scary! The gig was amazing, the fans were incredible, it was cool.”
He’s also still getting his head around the Brussels attacks. “They are absolutely shocking! It makes you scared. Even after the Paris attacks, we were on tour and worried about going to Paris . . . and we’re wary now about going anywhere, really. But I guess all bands are: that’s just the way things are at the moment.” Has touring become a drag in any way or are you enjoying it just as much?
“Ah no, I’m really enjoying it,” he says, nodding enthusiastically. “This tour was our first time going to Portugal and the show was unbelievable! We were playing to 4,000 people and we were told we could have sold the show three or four times over. That show – the gig and the energy of the crowd – it was bonkers! Sometimes it can get a little bit draining, but then we play the show and it makes it all worthwhile again and it’s amazing.”
He’s looking pretty healthy for a man who has just spent the past year on the road. Do Kodaline tend to look after themselves on tour?
“When we first went on tour we didn’t really look after ourselves, partying and whatnot,” he admits. “Over the moon that we could travel and play shows! But over the past year we’ve started to look after ourselves more. We have a guy on tour who’s a personal trainer, so we train with him, and we choose our nights to go out. Give each other space. We’ve all got our own routines, so we do look after ourselves quite well.”
Presumably his better half is also a positive influence on his clean living. Steve is currently dating former TV presenter Diana Bunici, who has just published her first book, a motivational tome entitled The Pursuit of Awesome.
“Yeah, she has,” he smiles proudly. “She spent a lot of time on it. Anytime I was with her I’d just hear all about the book. I would just be off tour and all I’d hear is, ‘Oh, can you read this contribution from such and such?’ But I think she’s just really happy that it’s done now. A lot of hours, a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that book. It’s a real passion project for her and she gets to call herself an author now. I’m incredibly proud of her. I’ve seen how hard it was to get there.”
You’ve previously described Kodaline as living the opposite to the rock’n’roll lifestyle. Is that totally true? “Yeah, in recent times,” he smiles. “We’re very clean cut. As I said, we’ve had a trainer on tour, we have our juices, we do our vocal warm-ups, we do stretches. I’ve recently got into yoga, which I never thought I’d do! So yeah, we’re very clean cut. But we do choose our moments. We’ll have big parties as well, when the time is right.”
There’s must be a lot of temptations when you’re on tour?
“Yeah, they’re everywhere, but that’s something that we’ve learned to stay away from, because it’s not a good road and it’s very easy to fall down. There’s a lot of casualties in the music industry.
“Would you believe that I’ve never had a drink before a show?” he adds, with a smile. “I’m pretty proud of that. When you’re not on form, it’s unfair, because people are paying for tickets and I want to do the best show that I possibly can on the night – and, yeah, it affects my voice so I’d never drink before a show. I’d have a drink if we were playing a show and have a day off the next day. Then I’ll have a few drinks after the show, but that’s the only time really.”
Steve recently did an online interview with Bressie on the subject of mental health, in which he confessed to suffering anxiety and panic attacks in his early twenties. Is that something he still struggles with?
“It’s something I’ve dealt with for years, since I was about 19, and I’m 27 now,” he admits. “I’ve got a handle on it. Funnily enough, it’s never happened on tour. I think just playing music and performing is a good way for me to tackle these things; it keeps me at ease and keeps me chilled out because it’s what I love doing. I’ve got a good handle on it now and it’s not a problem anymore.”
Does it inform his songwriting in any way?
“Yeah, it definitely does,” he nods.
“There’s a lot of songs that I’ve written about anxiety from my point of view, but my songs are always open to interpretation.”
Speaking of songs, has he written many new ones on the road?
“We’ve got a good batch of songs now and there’s definitely some in there that will be going on the third album. But we’re going to spend time on this next one. We recorded the last one really, really quickly, in eight weeks. We’re going to get a batch of about 20/30 songs and choose our favourite ones.”
Do Kodaline road-test them on tour?
“Occasionally we’ve been known to test a couple of songs on the road,” he shrugs. “We haven’t done that on this tour, but occasionally we do. It’s the best way to test a song, to play it live to see the crowd reaction to hearing a song for the first time. Not everyone is going to like it – but there’s always a few.”
Has he any idea what the next album is going to be about? “Well, we take each song as individual so I couldn’t really say. I don’t want to give anything away at the same time (laughs)!” Does he have any interest in Irish politics?
“Not particularly. When we’re on the road we’re in our own little bubble. I didn’t get to vote in the election as we were on tour.” He’s looking forward to playing Marlay Park.
“We’re so excited about it,” he says. “Thirty-seven thousand people at our own show! We’re nervous but excited about it at the same time. It’s surreal. Anytime we play a show in Dublin, even the last 3Arena show, it just takes us back to where we came from. I remember playing in bars and there would be five people heckling – and that would be it.
“I remember one time I was playing in a bar and some woman come up and said, ‘Would you play some happy songs for feck’s sake?’ And then she got drunker and came up after and she began burning the ear off me, saying I should give up singing. That was in a bar in Swords. So to go from that to playing a massive gig in Marlay Park is just surreal. Anytime we play a gig in Dublin, it’s very nostalgic and makes everything worthwhile.”
Are Irish audiences tougher than international ones?
“We’ve been very lucky. Every time we come back to Dublin to play a show, it’s just been unbelievable. When Irish crowds are on your side it’s great, and we’ve been very lucky to have those dedicated fans. They’re the best audience in the world.”
Of course a band’s career develops in increments. But there are key triggers too that enable an artist to move on to the next level. What would Steve Garrigan say has been Kodaline’s biggest break to date?
“I’d say it was different everywhere,” he says. “In Ireland, I would go with ‘High Hopes’. That song just grew legs and took on a life of its own. The first big thing that ever happened to us, though, was our song ‘All I Want’, and the video that went with it, going viral. Since then it’s just gone from strength to strength. . . and that was four years ago. It’s been four solid years. We’ve had a lot of lucky breaks, but at the same time we’ve worked incredibly hard.”
Are they all still as driven now as they were at the start?
“If we were still a band in 10 years time, playing bigger venues around the world, that would be the ultimate goal. If we were able to do this for the rest of our lives. It’s such a fickle industry, and bands come and go, so we’re very wary of that. Every album and every song we do, we do everything in our power to do it as best as we can. I think we’re still learning as well: every show we do, we learn something new.”
When U2 are off the road, Bono has spoken about the fact that at about 8pm, he feels like standing up on the kitchen table and singing! Does Steve find himself getting a bit antsy around showtime each night? “Not really,” he laughs. “Actually, I suppose you do get a big adrenaline rush from touring and being onstage. Sleeping hours-wise, I’m in tour mode which is going to bed at 3 or 4am. We just keep ourselves busy doing normal stuff like cutting the grass and cleaning up and going to the gym and getting the groceries. That’s what we all try to do when we’re off tour: get back into normality as much as we can.”
Speaking of normality, he’s just bought a house... “Yeah, I just bought a house, but I haven’t moved in yet. It’s just outside of Swords.”
Is Steve Garrigan a homebird at heart?
“Oh, a total homebird, yeah!” he chuckles. “It’s funny, because before we started touring, the first thing that I wanted to do was get out of the country. Now that I’ve travelled all over the world and seen all these countries, I can’t see myself living anywhere but Swords!”