Steve Garrigan, lead singer and founder of the hard-working band (and old friends of the Irish World), Kodaline, spoke to Michael McDonagh about playing to 23,000 of their ‘friends and neighbours’ at Malahide Castle, touring the world, and, some day, emulating their heroes, fellow Northsiders, U2.
Sitting in the baking London heat it seems hard to believe that when I spoke to Vinny, your drummer, not that long ago I was unable to get to your gig in Brixton because I was snowed in.
“Ha yes that was only recent, just a few months ago. It is crazy.”
In the time since then you have just played Malahide Castle, near where you come from in Swords, in front of more than 20,000 people. How was that? And how was the weather?
“It was great, it was about 22,000 or 23,000. We have done a bigger gig in Dublin that was 40,000 but Malahide was the closest we have ever played to our homes and it was almost beside the houses where we grew up.
“It was mad. Looking out it was a big crowd but there were so many familiar faces, people like old school-friends, and I think I even saw a teacher in the crowd, and neighbours.
“You could imagine some of them shouting ‘turn the music down’, like the days when we would be rehearsing! It was a pretty special moment for us and we had been building up to it. We had been playing shows like festivals in Europe and some in the Middle East and out in Asia but we were all gearing up for this show as it was a hometown show, a homecoming and it was amazing.
“We still have not come down from it, we are still reeling from it as we used to play in Malahide in pubs and you could see the pubs we played in as we were growing up and we even did some of the songs at that show that we would have played in those pubs in Swords and Malahide.
“Then maybe people would have said ‘Shut the hell up and play a cover like Wonderwall’ now here we were just down the road in front of all these people playing our own stuff. It was amazing.
You are always very busy, had you just come back from America?
“We were in America for a while as we were doing some recording over there and writing some stuff but we have an American tour coming up. We are going around Europe first, then America but we have not actually been to America touring for a while.
“We have been back and forth doing different things but I think 2015 was the last tour there.
“This time we will be playing in Irving Plaza in New York, which will be great and it is bigger than where we played last time.
“It seems to be growing slowly but surely and we absolutely live for playing live, and we are lucky, it is the same everywhere.
“It is bizarre, but we can go anywhere and play a show and sometimes we get pleasantly surprised. Like recently we played a festival in Oporto in Portugal and it was just bonkers, the crowd went absolutely insane and we had never been there before.
“It is crazy. Just the other day, only Friday gone, there was a festival in Estonia and we had never been but the band London Grammar pulled out of doing the headline, as the lead singer, or somebody, was ill and we got a call about 12 hours before and somehow made it over and played the festival.
“A lot of our gear and stuff would have been in storage in London so we had to kind of busk it at the last minute and had no in-ear monitors but we kinda just plugged in and played, but it was great. We’d got 12 hours notice but we went down really well to a few thousand people there. It was our first time in Estonia but they seemed really receptive and it was cool.
“That’s the idea, to go and play places so they get to know us and then when we go back we will play bigger venues. With a big European tour coming up we do a lot of festivals in a lot of places, so it is cool that we can go back and do our own shows.
“That’s what we live to do. We love song writing and stuff, but it is totally different to getting out on stage playing. They are two completely different worlds really and we live for playing live.”
Is it hard work building the band and getting an audience in America. You have worked hard at it so are you playing bigger venues now but with no Glastonbury happening this year what big gigs do you have for the summer?
“We did a few festivals this year. We did Trnsmt, in Glasgow, and we did the Isle of Wight festival, which was awesome. With the new album and new songs and the big European tour coming up we are still building it up.
I was at the Isle of Wight Festival on 30 August 1970 when Hendrix played. I was there with folkies Ralph McTell and Pentangle, eighteen years before you were born!
“We have kinda been touring non-stop but we did kind of take it easy a bit in 2017.
“We all moved homes and out of living with our parents. We had toured non-stop for about seven years and then took it easy for a bit for a break to work on the album and do some real-life stuff.
“Like, two of the guys in the band got married. We all did our own thing for a while. We are all, through and through, Northsiders though – and we do love each other like brothers – but, like, we decided to chill a little bit, as we were gigging pretty much every single day, so we wanted a little break from each other…then we all ended up being neighbours.
“We ended up buying places near to each other. I can walk over to Mark’s (place), the guitar player, or to Vinny’s house as we are in the countryside on the Northside of Dublin, but still close”.
You have a new album out, your third and it has been a while since the last one, three years or so, but you have done really well with album sales and video hits. Your first album In A Perfect World has now sold over a million copies and the streaming figures go well into the hundreds of millions, remarkable achievements.
So tell us about the new album and how it differs from your previous albums. Are the songs co writes with Steve Mac and others?
“Yes, it has done amazingly well and we still have to pinch ourselves. We are selling in America, Australia, Switzerland the UK, Ireland and all over the place.
“It has been a while since our second album. We wrote the first album and then toured and then wrote the second album on the road but with this album we decided to open up and try to work with different producers.
“They are just producing but we did work with writers as well, which was really odd from the start as it was so out of our comfort zone working with Steve Mac, John McDaid and Wayne Hector, who is a top writer who has been around for ages and his back catalogue goes on forever.
“He came over to my house and we just kind of hung out and were messing around on the piano and it was cool. Everybody has a different way of writing and it worked out really well. We scrapped a lot of songs. This co-writing thing, well everybody is doing it now, but most people start off doing it like that in the music industry, but we did it the other way around, as we wrote everything ourselves and then recorded it.
“It was cool that people wanted to work with us. It was really fun to make, but the main difference on this album is the producers that we worked with. Like Steve Mac was cool to work with, just to watch him work as well and we learned a lot from him. There is another guy, Johnny Coffer, who is a bit of a weird kid. Like the laptop is his instrument. We would be there around a piano, or an acoustic guitar, working on a song then all of a sudden he would come up with this hook on his lap top and it was such a different way to work and totally out of our comfort zone and we learned a hell of a lot.
“The main thing that we didn’t want to do was make the same album again -so bringing in these producers, and stuff, was a good choice and there is a single coming out called Head Held High.
“We released a song called Follow Your Fire and one called Shed A Tear and they have done pretty well. That was so different for us, but we deliberately wanted to do something completely different. Some fans might say ‘Where’s the old Kodaline?’ but you have to change.”
On Vevo, Kodaline videos have racked up over 200 million views and the band has sold over a million singles, so have you made videos for this album and are you still using Steve Russell who did the remarkable All I Want?
“Yes, it started off and one of them just went viral and it was done on a shoestring. I had met Steve through a friend and we had kind of decided that we did not want to be in the video ourselves. We wanted to put the music out and see what happens and we kind of shy away from being in there up front in it, so we wanted to put up a kind of short story with each song. To be honest Steve Russell heard All I Want and he came up with this idea and he directed that video, and he also played the monster in it, and it was his vision and it turned out amazing.
“When we all went in to watch the first edit it was so emotional and it was like ‘Oh sh*t! This is really powerful’. And when we put it out people really connected to it and then when we did it again, with High Hopes, it was great and we did it with a few other videos as well. I think he has done about five videos with us now.
“For the new album we have been talking with him back and forth but there is a new guy called James Fitzgerald, who Stevie recommended, who is an up and coming director, and he is a really cool guy as well. For our next video we are going for another short story thing, but Stevie is phenomenal and from the get-go I always thought it is only a matter of time before he gets into movie making.”
When you were playing in a venue in Vancouver, fellow Northsiders U2 surprised you by sending gifts around to your dressing room, as they happened to be playing a stadium there on the same night.
When I talked to Vinny he told me your ambition was to be up there and be as big as bands like U2, how do you think you are doing with that goal? Is your plan to play stadiums in the US as U2 do?
“We grew up listening to U2 and if it weren’t for U2 we wouldn’t be a band. They started in a school on the Northside and did Battle of the Bands, and all that stuff, so looking at them made us realise that it is possible and they influenced us as well.
“I am heavily influenced by Bono and some of their music and we started in a school on the Northside, too.
“We did not even think we were on their radar. I had bought tickets for a Dublin show about three years ago at the 3 Arena and I was with my uncle and my dad and my girlfriend then I got an unlisted call on my mobile and it was from Bono’s PA saying he wanted to meet me backstage, so I said ‘OK, where do we go?’ and we went back. It was surreal and Mat Damon was there, the actor, and I was kind of speechless and did not know what to say and Bono had a whole crowd of random people around him, so it was difficult to talk to him, It was just ‘Hello’ or whatever.
“They really push the boat out with production and are always doing something nobody has done before. Even there they had this incredible screen that you could walk through and Bono walked through it. It was incredible to see, I’d never seen anything like it.
“Another time we were in LA and they happened to be rehearsing there and we were just picking up guitars and stuff from Fender in Burbank and we managed to get in somehow and we were just sitting on a couch and they were just rehearsing and it was just us watching them and Bono was just cracking jokes.
“It was amazing. They showed us new songs and stuff. That was about two years ago and they were so chilled and as soon as we walked out we all thought ‘Wow!! What happened there?! How did we get in?’ and were all speechless.
“We are not going to stop writing songs and we are just going to keep going as we are ambitious, we are a long way off, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. I would not say ‘no’ to be selling out that stadium in Vancouver, ourselves, one day.”
Kodaline have proved by dedicated hard work, and a clear vision, worldwide record sales and concert ticket sales can be achieved. Between now and Christmas they play about forty dates across Europe – from Moscow to Madrid – followed by about twenty dates across America and Canada, finishing in Philadelphia on 8 December.
• Kodaline ‘s new album Politics Of Living will be out next month on Sony Music, their epic, gospel-tinged new single Shed A Tear is out now