True bloods

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

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

It isn’t often that a teenage band, fresh-faced, 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 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 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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