HORTLY before Kodaline took to the stage at Cork’s Live at the Marquee in June, the father of frontman Steve Garrigan went for a stroll through the crowd. What he saw surprised him. “There was a middle-aged couple, some younger people — all sorts,” recalls Garrigan Jr. “A real mix.”
The singer is addressing the perception that Kodaline are a glorified boy-band, with their fan-base 90 per cent comprised of starry-eyed young woman. He acknowledges squealing teenagers account for a not inconsiderable chunk of their following. However, their support base goes further than that — and is expanding all the time. “We do have a lot of young girls. Generally, it’s mixed. In America there were a lot of lads. It varies and isn’t something we are hung up on.”
It’s a Tuesday afternoon in Berlin and Garrigan is enjoying a rare day off. Since singing to Sony Records in late 2013, Kodaline have toiled incessantly and been rewarded with a steadily upwards trajectory. Their recent second LP Coming Up For Air went top five in the UK and was number one here. When they played Cork’s Spike Island recently for a select audience of 100, the story made the front pages. Kodaline have arrived and, by the looks of things, aren’t going anywhere.
“We’ve been a band for 10 years and lots of hard work has gone into this,” says Garrigan, more humble and grounded than his preening stage presence might suggest. “We’ve sacrificed an awful lot — going to college things like that. During my Leaving Cert doing an exam, going down to Cork for a gig, coming back up to Dublin doing another exam. Everyone in the group has given their everything. It hasn’t always been easy.
“We’ve knocked on so many doors, been told ‘no’ so many times. I remember going around to bars trying to get gigs and being turned down over and over. The person who signed us was also the first person who said ‘no’ to us — five years earlier. We take nothing for granted.”
In their late 20s, Kodaline are in no way starry-eyed. Going into their second album, they understood failure was a distinct possibility. Audiences have never been more fickle. Even after selling out the 14,000- capacity 3Arena, they knew there was every chance their return would be greeted with a collective shrug. That’s how it is for musicians today. As soon as you step away, people move onto the next big thing.
“What you have to bear in mind is that we never expected the first album to do as well as it did,” says Garrigan. “To even have the chance to make a second record is incredible. As long as people listen to our music we’ll keeping writing. The real dream is to still have a career 10 years from now. That’s what we are shooting towards.”
It helps that they have mastered the tricky knack of writing and touring at the same time. “We are always trying out new ideas,” reveals Garrigan. “We never really stop writing. I have a computer set up on tour so that I can jot down ideas. Writing is great fun. Even if I wanted to stop, I don’t think I could.”
The group, from Swords, initially went as 21 Demands. In that incarnation, they placed highly in the 2007 season of the You’re A Star reality TV series, on the back of which they released a number one single, ‘Give Me A Minute’. But the expected break-through never manifested and they soon found themselves back where they begun — broke and without a record deal or fan-base. It was, as the Americans say, a “teachable moment”.
“We were young and naive and had our 15 minutes of fame,” says Garrigan, shaking his head. “We were pushed into the limelight to a very limited degree, had a taste of it — and then it was all taken away from us. That definitely affected us. It taught us that you are entitled to nothing and that you have to work hard. We gigged for about a year and then stopped. We realised we didn’t have any songs. What we needed to do was sit down and work things out. That’s where Kodaline began.”
Their ambition is mingled with a streak of ruthlessness. Having rebooted as Kodaline, Garrigan, guitarist Mark Prendergast and drummer Vinny May decided they required a new bass player. The difficult news was broken to the incumbent and they recruited a replacement. It was tough but, in their opinion, necessary. Among detractors, Kodaline have a reputation as unabashed slush-merchants — yet clearly there is ice-water in their veins.
SET FOR STATESIDE
Those years of toil must feel terribly distant now. In addition to conquering Ireland and the UK, Kodaline are making a dent in the United States, where they regularly headline venues of 2,000 capacity and larger.
“We haven’t had airplay in the States and we haven’t had a hit single,” he says. “The first occasion we went over, we played some shows that were half empty — 80 people, things like that. That didn’t stop us going back. We’ve just been to Detroit and to Columbus, Ohio. Every time we return the shows become bigger. A live band is what we’re best at. We play constantly — any excuse we have. In America it seems to be paying off for us. That was our third tour — bit by bit the crowds are growing.”
In California, they struck up a friendship with, of all people, Friends actress Courteney Cox.
“We were introduced to her through Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol [Cox’s fiance]. We were in her house writing a tune [‘The One’] and we loved it so much we decided to “unfinish” our album and put it on. At the time Courteney mentioned that she’d love to direct the video. We were like, ‘You’re Courteney Cox — sure you can direct our video’. We didn’t really think it would happen — but it did.”
Kodaline play at Indiependence at Deer Farm, Mitchelstown, Co Cork, on Sunday. The album Coming Up For Air is out now