With a new album out today and a viral hit, thanks to X Factor,finds Kodaline in a happy place.
In a few hours, Kodaline will tweet the location of a secret busking gig they are planning for Dublin that afternoon. The concert will take place in a laneway off Grafton Street, beneath a picturesque arrangement of umbrellas suspended on wires (pretty and, if it rains, practical). Fans will scream and snap selfies; Kodaline will make an alleyway in the centre of town feel like a heaving arena.
But for now the chart-topping group are enjoying some pre-concert drinks and thinking about what they’ve left themselves in for. “We busked a few times on Grafton Street,” says the band’s songwriter and guitarist Mark Prendergast, between sips from the jam jar containing his trendy-looking beverage (it’s that kind of bar).
It’s quite difficult. Our music was very quiet. People would just walk past. Or else stop and look at you for 20 seconds. And then they’d move on again
Kodaline are no longer a band at whom people stop and glare for 20 seconds. They’ve become one of the biggest brands in Irish rock — filling venues such as 3Arena and Marlay Park in south Dublin.
They’ve also enjoyed a huge, and seemingly ongoing, viral moment with their ballad ‘All I Want’. It famously soundtracked the “yes” vote campaign in the Marriage Equality Referendum.You may recall it playing over the video of people asking their loved ones to come along and vote in the affirmative with them.
They were reminded of just how thoroughly the song has infused itself into popular culture when they tuned in to X Factor recently to hear one of the contestants performing it.
“It was an amazing story,” says Prendergast. “He was a transgender kid and his voice had only recently gotten low enough to do it.
“The thing is, that song was never a hit. It didn’t chart, didn’t get played loads on radio. But over the past few years it’s popped up in the most unusual places.”
‘All I Want’ appeared on the band’s 2013 debut record In A Perfect World. Five years later the group are about to put out their third album, Politics of Living.
It’s a confident progression — blending their familiar anthemic touches with new, more rhythmic elements. It is what happens when Kodaline get their groove on.
But if Politics of Living sounds like the work of musicians in their prime, the story of the LP is one of angst and struggle. It was originally pencilled in for an early spring release.
Kodaline, however, had the nagging sense they could do better. So they scrapped it and started over. It was a tough decision — but one they’ve never regretted.
“The initial sessions were like every sessions we’ve ever done,” says bassist Jason Boland. “We loved some of the songs and several of them made the final album. But it would have been an entire record that sounded like that. We wanted it to be more different.”
“We have very high standards,” agrees Prendergast. “We wanted it to be the best thing we did. We pushed it back and it’s 10 times better for it. From an artistic perspective, we felt that we just had to do it.”
So they’re happy with the results — but still nervous. “We had some album playbacks across Europe, I was absolutely terrified,” says Prendergast. “It’s when it comes out that you really know how it’s going down. We’ll be keeping an eye on Twitter the day it’s released. That’s when people say what they really think — when it isn’t to your face.”
Kodaline are part of a new generation of Irish bands that have ascended effortlessly to the top of the music scene. In late 2012 they filled Dublin’s mid-scale Button Factory. Eighteen months later they were headlining 3Arena. It was a breathless climb — one which they are still astonished by.
“I remember our record label coming to us saying, ‘Book 3Arena” recalls Prendergast.
We were like, ‘no way’. They said we should take the punt. It was terrifying. I have zero recollection of the gig after walking on stage. You get caught up in the euphoria and it’s over in a flash
Kodaline started as a collaboration between Prendergast and singer Steve Garrigan, a school friend from Swords. They initially went as 21 Demands and in this incarnation finished as runners-up on RTÉ talent series You’re A Star in 2006.
On the back of the show that achieved a number one single with ‘Give Me A Minute’. But their songwriting wasn’t yet at a level where they felt they could sustain themselves long-term as a band. So it was back to the drawing board and, in 2012, they re-emerged as Kodaline. Having signed to Sony they initially relocated to Birmingham — and not because they had a burning desire to live in the English Midlands.
“We were too distracted in Ireland,” says Prendergast. “We had too many mates here. So we got two apartments and a rehearsal space and played every single day.”
They’ve since come home and, despite being an international rock act, have weathered the brunt of the same rental crisis afflicting the rest of their generation. Boland and his wife are living with their in-laws while they save for a house — and consider themselves lucky compared to many of their friends
“You hear David Kitt saying he will have to live abroad. It’s mad,” he says.
“A lot of my friends have really lovely jobs — they are accountants or what have you. And they are struggling in shared accommodation. And unfortunately it is hitting artists first — the people that bring the creative soul to a city.”
“We’re fortunate in that we can survive,” adds Prendergast.
“But how many bands are breaking up because they can’t pay their rent?”
“There’s that Churchill quote,” adds Boland. “During the war it was suggested that they save money by closing the theatres and museums. And Churchill said, ‘if we’re closing the theatres and museums… then what are we fighting for?’”