True bloods

Five years ago, as 21 De­mands, they were on You’re a Star – and at the top of the charts. Now, hav­ing changed their name and their mu­sic, Kodaline are on a very dif­fer­ent path, they tell Tony Clay­ton-Lea

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

It isn’t of­ten that a teenage band, fresh­faced, wide-eyed with en­thu­si­asm and naiveté, bunk­ing off school, makes Ir­ish chart his­tory, but that’s ex­actly what Co Dublin quar­tet 21 De­mands did al­most five years ago, when their song Give me a Minute reached the top spot in the Ir­ish charts from sales of down­loads alone.

You’ll be for­given for not remembering the song, but it should be men­tioned that the band were fi­nal­ists on the re­al­ity-based mu­sic show You’re a Star, which it­self made his­tory by be­ing the first tal­ent show in the world to make con­tes­tants’ songs avail­able for down­load prior to the win­ner be­ing an­nounced.

Fast for­ward five years. The win­ner of 2007’s You’re a Star, David O’Connor, is still in the game, al­beit in a low-pro­file way. 21 De­mands, mean­while, have mor­phed into Kodaline, and have in the past 18 months be­come the fo­cus of in­dus­try at­ten­tion: they have signed to RCA; All I Want (from their Septem­ber 2012 de­but re­lease, The Kodaline EP) was cho­sen as BBC Ra­dio 1 DJ Fearne Cot­ton’s Record of the Week; and in De­cem­ber last, they were se­lected for the BBC’s Sound of 2013 list.

All in all, ex­cit­ing times for a bunch of blokes whose idea of a good time five years ago was to throw shapes in and around the Pavil­ions Shop­ping Cen­tre in their home turf of Swords.

“Mark Pren­der­gast, the band’s gui­tarist, and I have known each other since we were eight years old,” says lead singer Steve Gar­ri­gan, who has the right com­bi­na­tion of bur­geon­ing pop-star at­ti­tude and grounded, de­cency. “We’ve al­ways writ­ten and played mu­sic to­gether, but for a long time it was al­ways my­self, Mark and Vinny May, our drum­mer. We got a new band mem­ber, bass player Ja­son Boland, a while back and he’s just the busi­ness.”

No one out­side Ire­land seems aware of the 21 De­mands days, and the band’s biog on their web­site,, makes no men­tion of the re­al­ity show or their involvement in it.

“We ended up not lik­ing the mu­sic we were play­ing,” says Mark, “and so we went away and learned how to write songs. The mu­sic was not the di­rec­tion we wanted to go in. We were go­ing along with it, of course, be­cause it was ‘any ex­cuse to get out of school’.

“That said, in ret­ro­spect, what the tele­vi­sion cir­cus did was that it prepped us, in a way, for the mu­sic in­dus­try. Back in the day, it’d be fair to say that on oc­ca­sion we got swept up in the fuss of be­ing on tele­vi­sion. Now, there’s a more muted ap­proach, and you gen­uinely ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that peo­ple want to talk to you.”

“We were on the show for a cou­ple of months,” says Gar­ri­gan, “So, yes, it was ex­cit­ing. But af­ter You’re a Star, we de­cided the mu­sic we were writ­ing was quite dis­pos­able, and prob­a­bly not very hon­est. I think we just needed to grow up a bit, get some life ex­pe­ri­ence in or­der to dis­cover our­selves, a bit of soul search­ing. So we con­tin­ued to write and play but not so pub­licly. Even­tu­ally, we feel, we found our voice. And that’s Kodaline.”

And how, ex­actly, did they find their voice? Well, says Gar­ri­gan, it took a lot of be­ing

“Af­ter You’re a Star, we de­cided the mu­sic we were writ­ing was quite dis­pos­able, and prob­a­bly not very hon­est”

kicked around by life in gen­eral –“break-ups, bro­ken hearts, dodgy jobs, col­lege cour­ses that didn’t fit in with the mu­sic. Just life, man. So we wrote about th­ese things. We wrote songs ev­ery day, but we didn’t really have a di­rec­tion.”

Even­tu­ally a demo track was heard by highly re­garded UK in­die la­bel, B-Unique.

“They were im­pressed,” ad­mits Gar­ri­gan with a sheep­ish grin. “We went back and forth with them, though, went through some . . .”. Fol­low­ing

that, the band signed with RCA UK, the first re­sults of which sign­ing is their de­but al­bum, In a Per­fect World, to be re­leased at the end of March. “With all the push­ing and pulling, though, we found that you’re only as good as the hon­esty you project in your songs. Af­ter that, it’s up to other peo­ple to make up their minds. You can smell in­sin­cer­ity.”

To date the band is mak­ing the right de­ci­sions, stick­ing with a type of com­mer­cial pop/rock that em­braces wide open cho­ruses, an­themic re­sponses and (pos­si­bly Kodaline’s USP) emo­tional di­rect­ness. You can dis­cern the in­flu­ences: there’s the sound of prime time Ra­dio­head, the reach of Spring­steen, the elec­tronic glitches of LCD Soundsys­tem, the soul stylings of Steve’s voice via the likes of Sam Cooke and Etta James, and melody lines that ref­er­ence The Bea­tles.

The feed­back they re­ceive, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, they say, isn’t go­ing to phase them, which proves how far as a unit they have come from the days of 21 De­mands. “Oh, any­one can say any­thing they want,” says Gar­ri­gan. “As soon as some­one lis­tens to a song they will ei­ther like or dis­like it. It doesn’t really bother us, we’re just happy to ex­press our­selves through mu­sic. Ev­ery band has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion, a dif­fer­ent voice, a dif­fer­ent song­writ­ing tech­nique. With Kodaline, it’s how we play, what we say, and peo­ple can live with that or with­out it.”

So – BBC Sound of 2013? Signed to RCA UK? No pres­sure, then, Steve? “No, not really – hon­estly. We’re glad that we’re on a la­bel that is able to get our mu­sic out to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. Af­ter that, it’s up to the pub­lic to make up their minds. We’re just happy that peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to us.”

Kodaline: tak­ing “a more muted ap­proach”

❙❙❙ Kodaline ap­pear on Other Voices, which will be shown on RTÉ next month. Their de­but al­bum, In a Per­fect World, is out March 29th

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