‘Any musicians who say they don’t want to be the biggest band are lying’
Irish band Kodaline have been building up an international following and have toured the US five times. Things are coming together for them, writes Mick McDonagh
Steve Garrigan and Mark Prendergast grew up in Swords, County Dublin, and have known each other since childhood. They both attended secondary school at Colaiste Choilm in Swords. They began to share a passion for music and at that stage Vinny May, who also lived in Swords, joined the group.
Their first single called Give Me a Minute made chart history when the single got to No 1 on the Irish Singles Chart, becoming the first independently released download only track to do so.
The group as we know them now was complete in January 2012, when a friend, bass player Jason Boland, from Celbridge, County Kildare, joined them to complete the current line up.
They recently played the Brixton Academy in London where I caught up with drummer Vinny May.
With all the changes in the music industry I asked him if it’s hard to form a band and get started and to get a record deal.
“We formed a small group where we grew up in a place called Swords near Dublin Airport and Steve and Mark had known each other since they were about eight years old and then I met them through skateboarding, when I was about 13 and we all be came good friends.
“I had been playing drums since I was about nine years old and in about 2002 when I was about 13 we formed a band just for fun and just started to play music.
“At first it was just covers with no real purpose just playing music for fun in the garage. Then after we all left school we started taking it a bit more seriously and started to write our own songs.
“The covers we were playing were things like Coldplay, Razorlight and even Springsteen, basically anything we thought people would like or the music we would listen to, like Thin Lizzy, and we played more gigs but nothing that was anything special just a pub or club where we would get maybe a couple of hundred quid.
“We had all left school and had our Leaving Certs and I went to college for a while and then dropped out and we were all in dead end jobs so we thought we would take it more seriously.
“We then spent two years just writing songs and rehearsing and working at it and sending demos to every record company under the sun and then eventually a small publishing house in London called Unique came back to us.
“They had signed The Kaiser Chiefs and Primal Scream and they came over to see us and talked to us. They said ‘Yeah, you have potential but your songs are not there yet.’
“Then over about a year to a year and half we went back and forth playing them songs with them coming to us or us going over to them and them saying ‘Ok but you are not there yet.’ until they suggested that we move over to focus it a bit more.
“So we did and moved over to Brighton then after about three months they said ‘OK, you are ready’ so we came up to London on the train and signed our first publishing and record deal and almost straight away we were in a studio in Worcester to record our first album. “
Through them our records are now licensed to RCA and we are still with Unique for publishing but they have joined forces with Spirit. It was a great start for us as they are our mentors who supported us to do what we believed in.”
Where does the name Kodaline come from?
“When we signed we did not really have a name it was just the three guys me-self Mark and Steve we had been working with an old band name we had when we were teenagers, when we had a bass player who was not with us anymore, so we needed a name.
“It had to be something completely different and new and we were out in London one night and were throwing out ideas and Kodaline was one and it stuck.
“Its twitter handle was free, and the Facebook handle was free, so nobody had it so the name was free and we went with it.
“Names are so subjective though, the band becomes the name it is not the name that makes the band. It does not really matter what you call yourselves.”
An astonishing 60 million people have watched the band’s video or pop promo for All I Want Part One and 25 million people have watched All I Want Part Two, many posting very emotional and positive comments about the story lines.
These videos come as something of a shock when first viewed as they don’t follow the cliché of featuring the band strumming in the interior of a derelict house or on some wasteland looking moody but are carefully crafted interpretations of the songs. Each one has quite dark, challenging and moving undertones, usually with an uplifting dénouement.
Said Vinny: “We have been really fortunate to work with some amazing people and some young and up and coming people. Back in 2012 we were putting out a four track EP and YouTube was a big thing but was really only the start of it and we realised that the music video was so important and to make one that would complement the songs.
“Stevie Russell who was an up and coming guy was introduced to us by a friend and we did not have much money but he had the idea and he made All That I Want (Part One).
“We did not really want to put our faces out there as we wanted the music to speak for itself so that’s why we went with his idea and did a video for each track and then just release them so that people would not be fixated on what we looked like as a band.
“We shy away from all that and the whole celebrity thing. We are just happy playing the music and writing music and just wanted the songs to come through so we wanted to stay out of our videos so we said go for it.
“The first time we saw it was when it was finished and from then he did the High Hopes video and our new video for Brother. He is just such an amazing talented guy. He gets us and we get him so it really works. We wanted to make music videos that told a story and were not about a band just playing on a stage somewhere.”
The videos clearly helped draw them an audience to their live shows and especially to a particularly impressive set at Glastonbury, when a huge crowd drenched in the pouring rain stayed out in the mud to join in the anthemic chorus of the song. It was very emotional, as the elements did nothing to dampen the spirits of the adoring soaked audience.
“Glastonbury has been amazing for us as we have been fortunate to be asked to play it three times, the first time in the John Peel Tent.
“Growing up here in Ireland Glastonbury did not mean so much but in the UK it is such a big deal and we as music fans knew this so when we were asked to play there the first time we were shell shocked but were delighted and grabbed the chance.
“We threw all the stuff in the van and went down there arriving in the middle of the night and camped and were freezing cold and were so ill prepared.
“We had not even taken sleeping bags. We just got up and had a shower then went and played the show and it was just incredible as it was completely rammed and was a real wake up for us as we thought, wow we are doing something right here. We have been asked to play twice since then with better slots and on a better stage each time.”
In 2015 ago they played The Other Stage in torrential rain, which did nothing to dampen the spirits of the massive crowd who were all singing along to their songs.
Do they deliberately write anthemic, festival-friendly songs?
No we just write songs for ourselves. Musicians are selfish really and we just write for us and do what we like then hope people will like it. For us music is a form of therapy.
“If musicians say to you they don’t want to be the biggest band in the world they are lying. We want to be the biggest band in the world. We look up to U2 and we look up to Coldplay and we want to reach those levels – but we are nowhere near that point.
“We are ambitious and we are working hard and all four of us in the band know what we want to achieve and want to do this for the rest of our lives so we don’t really care about working hard at it.
“We have a great crew with a fantastic front of house sound engineer with guys who have been with us for ages so we are a tight team but we have never taken tour support but prefer to support ourselves and not take money from the record company as we would only have to pay it back.
“Our first tour of America we lost money, our second tour lost too, and on our third tour – we broke even.
“Now we are on our fifth tour of America and are at the point where we are making money – not a lot of money, but it’s worth doing and all that is down to the people that we are working with.
“Last time we played in New York we were in a venue with a 5,000 capacity so we have built up an audience.”
“We will play somewhere if it makes sense to fill the gap between say Montréal and Toronto. We won’t just stay in Montreal but will play in some smaller place in between and that works for us. We tour smart I suppose.”
So what does 2018 hold for Kodaline?
“We are just finishing off our third album at the moment, we have released some songs as we always do that on a four track EP from the days of the first album but the official launch of the new album will be in January and then there are lots of Festivals coming up, touring around the UK and Europe and Asia and will be very busy next year.
“Last year in Dublin we played Marley Park which was a great achievement for us as two years before we had supported the Kings Of Leon on that same stage. So it was great to be back as the headliners and it was great to put on our own show and sell it out.
“Our Irish fans are incredible and in England too our fans stick with us through thick and thin. They are awesome.”
For more info visit: www.kodaline.com
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