Kodaline: Busking their way back from reality

In a past life, Kodaline were talent show favourites. Now they're starting again – playing the music they love. Gillian Orr joins a tour that could end in the big time

On a busy shopping street in Boston, rising Irish quartet Kodaline are proving quite the attraction. They have decided to busk in every city they visit on the American tour they've been on for the past three weeks. A crowd gathers; some even sing along, proving they must be making a bit of an impression Stateside (it's their third time here so far this year).

“Ten dollars!” exclaims lead singer Steve Garrigan looking into his cap when they finish up. “Enough for a pack of smokes.” One of their crew has gone over to a couple of attractive girls who are sitting watching to invite them to the show that evening. The band wander over and make shy conversation.

Garrigan and his bandmates – guitarist Mark Prendergast, drummer Vinny May and bassist Jay Boland – are clearly enjoying the perks of being in a hotly tipped band. Later that day, they talk enthusiastically about everything they've done on the trip so far and the fact that it's the longest they've ever been on a bus together.

“The thing is we live together anyway so we don't really have any secrets,” says Garrigan. “We've been in a band for so long that we know everything about each other,” agrees Prendergast. They all grew up in the same town, Swords near Dublin. “It's a really fast-growing town but we just wanted to get out of there,” says Garrigan. “There's a song on the album called 'Brand New Day' and it's about wanting to make a life outside of your home town. Not because you don't like it but just because it's not healthy to see and do the same thing your whole life. Each to their own but I think new experiences are good.” They now share two apartments in the same complex in Birmingham.

It's a good thing they can spend time without getting on one another's nerves; they'll be spending most of the summer together as they tour in support of their debut album, In a Perfect World, which comes out later this month. They will also be playing a slew of festival dates, including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and a support slot for Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park Calling (“I worship Bruce Springsteen so I won't be responsible for my actions,” laughs Garrigan). Their soulful music has been compared to everyone from Coldplay to Mumford & Sons, and saw them shortlisted for the BBC Sound of 2013 poll. Their videos for “All I Want” and “High Hopes” have had millions of plays on YouTube.

All now in their early twenties, three-quarters of the band have been playing together since they were 15 years old (Boland, a friend of theirs, was recruited last year after impressing them with his bass skills. “And we thought he was cute,” jokes May). But it's not the band's first taste of fame. As teenagers Garrigan, Prendergast and May entered an Irish X-Factor style music competition called You're A Star under the name of 21 Demands. While they didn't win, they did well enough to score a deal with Universal and even topped the Irish singles chart in 2007 with their song “Give Me A Minute” (“Shite,” according to May). It's something they no longer wish to be associated with and visibly wince when I bring it up.

“If you look back at when you were 17, you cringe at some of the things you said or did,” says Garrigan. “Last night we actually were listening to some of the songs we made when we were teenagers and it's pretty terrible stuff. There was just no soul. We were incapable of expressing ourselves because we were so young. But we don't regret doing the show because it's made us who we are today.” What's their view of reality shows now? “If you want to write your own songs and say something then it's not really the right move to make,” continues Garrigan. “We were writing our own songs back then but they were childish. It just took a bit of soul-searching and growing up, and dropping out of college and getting jobs to make us better. Ex-girlfriends screwing you over. Just a bit of living, really.” Garrigan writes most of the music but insists they all contribute. “It's intensely personal stuff,” he says. “It's like opening your diary and passing it around for judging. 'All I Want' is basically a letter to my ex-girlfriend. Every song has its own story. 'High Hopes' was written just after I dropped out of college and had no direction whatsoever. Everything was going badly but I tried to stay positive. It's all based on experience.”

While 21 Demands didn't work out, the band kept on making music. “We didn't have a plan but we kept writing because we love it,” says Garrigan. “I have to write everyday. I have to do it.”

It was only after they put out an EP last September that the band believed success might happen again. “There was such a great reaction to it online and we couldn't believe it really. It was so unexpected,” recalls Prendergast.

At a show at London's Scala, one reviewer commented that the crowd swayed together and held each other during the melancholic anthems. What is it about their music that people connect with? “I hope they feel something!” says Garrigan. “The way I see it is that our music might come across as sad when you first listen to it but it's also hopeful. Or at least I think it is.”

Their videos are also attracting a lot of attention. In the one for their new single “Love Like This”, Garrigan is repeatedly slapped in the face by a bunch of girls. Does this happen much in real life? “Once or twice,” he smirks. With his boyband looks, Garrigan in particular gets a lot of attention online and seems to have a growing army of fans. Is he enjoying the newfound attention? “I'm honestly really bad with girls. Really bad,” he says.

I tell him that it's for the best if he is planning on a long career. “Yeah,” he laughs. “You're probably right. And believe me we're in it for the long haul.”

Kodaline's debut album, 'In A Perfect World', is released on 17 June. The single “Love Like This” is out tomorrow (kodaline.com)

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