A queue of dedicated, loyal and excited fans forms outside at the main entrance. It’s only just gone 4.30pm and doors don’t open until 7pm. It being mid-November in London it is Baltic outside, so I’m happy to be indoors. I wait inside the doorway of the ‘Stage Door’ entrance for Steve and Mark to finish another interview.
They really are wanted men right now. I needed to know what it is that has brought on such rapid success and how they are adapting to his lifestyle change. Where did Kodaline go so right?
A few minutes later Steve appears in front of me. “What’s the craic?” he greets me. That familiar accent matched with those local words which I haven’t heard in some time warm me from inside-out. “I’m just gonna have a cigarette first if that’s okay with you?” he asks me before we get started. I tell him to take his time, he’s the rock star after all. But there’s something about him that already tells me the fame that is attached with his effortless talent hasn’t at all fazed him.
“We can almost read each other’s minds we know each other so long,” says Steve about Mark as we make our way dressing room four, the one with 'Kodaline' boldly printed on the door. Here, we’re joined by Mark, who in the next room is playfully modelling a luminous green mankini over his clothes with ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ printed on the front for a few friends that are touring with the lads. “You’ll have to wear that for the encore!” one of them jokes. The room is exactly what you would expect of a band which consists of four young men aged 22-26. The fridge contains bottles upon bottles of Becks, soft drinks, cans of Red Bull, and there are bottles of water lying about everywhere.
Kodaline. Where did this name come from? Are they World of Warcraft fans? “That was a fluke! A total coincidence!” laughs Mark. “We actually thought we invented the word,” says Steve, “we thought we’d invented such a cool word, but turned out we didn’t…it took a while for us to decide on it but we liked it a lot more than we didn’t like it, so it just stuck. It was a big moment, choosing the name, it’s weird ‘cos it’s what you’re always gonna be known as no matter what," he adds.
It seemed to be that the day after the band was re-christened that they exploded onto the music scene, but Steve reassures that there was a lot more to it than that. “When we were 21 Demands, we were a different band. We were only like 16 or 17 years old, and really only doing it to get outta school.” They would play in another school down the road from them during hours, “…because that was a girl’s too it was even better!” Steve jokes. Mark adds “When we were 21 Demands we didn’t really know what we were doing, so we just didn’t have great songs.”
Steve continues “…but then we just grew up, we started to live a little, and then that progressed into our songs and we began to write good material…when we built on that, that’s when we could become Kodaline."
The lads had never sat down and made the plan of becoming a band, according to Steve “We were just doing what we loved – making songs. Some were heard, some weren’t, some were liked and some weren’t… but eventually we were making an album, it was awesome.”
Such deep and meaningful lyrics are what you would find if you listened to any one of the tracks on their brutally honest album In A Perfect World.
“All of our songs are about things that have happened to us, the easiest way to get your head around something is to write a song about it,” says Steve, “life experience is absolutely how we’re here, it’s how our music has evolved.”
“After our last two years of touring, our lives have changed dramatically…we’ve met so many people and experienced so much so we are constantly being influenced,” Mark says.
“We were driving through Belgium at 3am when we first heard All I Want on the radio. I was like f**k, that’s really weird! I’ll never forget that moment” - Mark
I see the reality of it all is still hitting home as they explain what it means to them to have such a fan base. Mark tries to convince himself the support they’re receiving isn’t all a dream: “It’s weird…this is our first tour, and they’re singing back every song. It’s an amazing feeling - a crowd singing your song - but it’s just really strange, in a cool way.”
Steve agrees: “Singing them live, it takes on a whole new meaning again, it’s a whole new experience, I mean it’s like people singing back your diary…Every band writes about a break-up, that’s what most songs are about. For me though, they’re not just a song, they’re therapy…At first, when you write a song at home, you don’t really think of the people that are gonna hear them… It’s these people hands down, the people who come to our shows, who listen to our music, without them we just wouldn’t be here on a sold out tour. It’s been a good time so far,” he proudly concludes.
But it hasn’t always been the picture of crowds singing back the lyrics to their songs for the lads. They used to play to “nobody in bars or on the streets” but it’s the courage and belief in themselves they had that got them to where they are today. Mark remembers “One time we gigged to two people in a bar in Cork, two people! It’s called Fred Zeppelin’s, it’s a rock bar. It’s a great bar but it holds about 40 people max and the PA system was massive! It was so bad that when someone went to the toilet, you’d notice, and we’d be like aw!” Steve laughs, “It was really funny I remember this biker dude came to the door and looked us up and down for about ten seconds and just walked off, he wouldn’t come in!”
I remind them of the now and how far they’ve come in such a short space of time. Steve, Mark, Vinny and Jason were here at the Empire before but it was a different story for Kodaline then. “We were the support act here pretty much a year ago, so to headline it now, well it’s a legendary venue really isn’t it!” boasts Mark.
And with 25 festivals under their belts, they should be boasting! The lads are still in shock over playing Glastonbury this year, and tell me their story that came with that experience of a lifetime.
Mark begins with “It was awesome, but we did have a terrible first song….it was just a fuck up, a massive f**k up!”
“We were really excited about this gig,” says Steve, “the idea of us - playing Glastonbury was just…I mean, up until that point I’d just always wanted a ticket to go to the festival ‘cos they’re so hard to get hold of. So to play it was a dream, it was pretty amazing. But the PA system wasn’t working. We had our own sound so we could hear, and we were getting really into it (Mark chuckles at the memory) … But I remember looking out at the crowd and everyone was just motionless, they couldn’t hear a thing. They were chanting something, which I thought they were saying ‘OFF!’ but it turns out they were saying ‘UP!’…Our tour manager came running on to the stage and was like ‘Get off!’ ...we were just wandering around the side of the stage like lost puppies, thinking ‘Did we just get booed off because we were terrible?’…but then the system was fixed, so when we did sing, we had 10,000 people singing back to us. It was incredible.”
“We’ve made a lot of f**k ups, but you kinda have to if you wanna get anywhere in this industry”- Mark
“America is a different kettle of fish,” says Mark.
“Kettle of Fish is actually a venue in New York!” laughs Steve.
Being four young lads from Dublin, I wondered if they had to put on a front to fit in over there: “A lot of them are very outspoken and very different to us, we’re so chilled out but we’d never try to match them or be something we’re not, that’s just stupid!” but to my delight, my query is almost dismissed my Steve. “We’re ourselves wherever we are. We were warned going over to America ‘you have to kiss ass over there’ but at the likes of radio stations, we were just ourselves…it’s the only way we can ever gain true fans” says Mark.
“We’ve played in so many venues, there have been so many great ones, particularly one in Amsterdam…there’s something about a balcony that I just love!” Mark nods in agreement with Steve. “And the Beacon Theatre, that’s one of the best venues in the world hands down, a really famous and beautiful place.”
As “epic” as touring The States may be, the boys still love to gig at home in Dublin for many reasons. “We recently went back to mine and Mark’s primary school and sang with the choir for the craic, that was cool, and the older ones knew who we were too which was even better!” Steve does admit however that “It’s great to get home to Swords to see family and friends, but then like after a day literally, I get itchy feet and I’m like ‘Okay now, it’s time to get back out there with the band!’ …That’s what Skype is for!” Their eyes light up as they realise they’re going to play at one of the venues they’ve always dreamed of.
“The O2 Arena Dublin, we’re actually doing it,” says Mark, “that’s not even a childhood dream, it’s more than that. It’s just amazing. It’s a shocker!” he bursts with excitement. “We’ve been driving by that building since we were kids. Any gig we went to - any band, it was there. Now that we’re gonna be headlining that stage is just awesome” says Steve. “And we’ve three nights in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin,” adds Mark. “We get to sleep in our own beds, have Mam’s home cooking, have our clothes washed...” they joke with each other. “Right now, we’re living out of suitcases. So yeah, it’s gonna be great,” says Steve.
Recognition in foreign countries is what the lads are the most grateful for. “We’re recognized walking down the street in some places now outside Ireland which is just mental!” says Steve. The first time they ever heard their song on the radio is a time they will bring to the grave with them. “We were driving through Louvain in Belgium when we heard All I Want on the radio for the first time…it was like 3am, I was like f**k this sh*t just got real! I’ll never forget that moment, it was unreal,” Mark reminisces.
“We’re played sh*t loads on the radio at home, but to hear it in a different country was really cool, that was about a year ago now which is just, weird,” says Steve. 'All I Want', the latest single only released last weekend from the album In A Perfect World, “went viral” last year, the band got a call and they were flown to Holland where the new craze for Kodaline had begun. “It was mad that we were in Holland promoting 'All I Want' before Ireland,” Steve recalls. “And now we have fans in Australia, which is incredible,” says Mark.
As I congratulate them on their UK Music Video Award for Best Rock/Indie Video for 'All I Want', Steve tells me: “We never really hear about those, it’s just like ‘oh yeah you won this, or you won that’ which is still cool but it would be cooler if we knew about it,” he smirks “...but there is one that we know we’ve won, the European Border Breakers 2014, which is in Holland, funnily enough! They love us there!” he laughs, “Adele, The Script, Damien Rice and Mumford and Sons have won it before so that’s pretty awesome.” He then goes on to explain “…but I don’t really know what to expect with it ‘cos we’ve never been to an awards ceremony before.” He looks to his right and Mark concludes with “I’d say it’s just a lot of free drink, and awkward hand-shakes!”
At that, Vinny appears in the door with a digital camera and the faces on the two Dubs’ faces drop. Movember, the month formerly known as November, is a moustache growing charity event held during November each year that raises funds and awareness for men’s health.
“No! Mine’s terrible!” Steve shouts out, and Vinny replies with a stern: “You have to get in a photo man, you can’t get in the first and not the second!”
“I know but I’ll do something stupid like use a Sharpie or something,” says Steve. Mark explains: “We’re all doing Movember, for Prostate Cancer Research, but see how good Vinny’s is already like…” they laugh.
“What’s funny is that it was Vinny’s idea to do Movember, and he’s already completed it… (laughs) he comes in and is like ‘Come on, guys we gotta take the photo!’ and I’m just like ermmm think I’m still kinda working on this one here Vinny…” Steve mocks.
“We’re doing Movember now, during our biggest tour, so we’re gonna look like thicks” they all laugh.
It dawns on Vinny that he’s interrupted an interview. “Sorry for interrupting!” he says.
So Mark sarcastically replies: “You’re so f**kin’ rude man. And you’re still here. Get out!” Laughing, Vinny says: “Right so I’ll catch ya after then!”
"Yeah, you can try,” Steve jokingly responds. All jokes aside, he says pity-fully: “We’re trying, we’re trying hard!”
“I love the challenge of taking an original song, and making it my own” - Steve
"The first CD I bought was an Elvis Presley CD," Steve says. "I was like seven…I don’t know why I bought it, I suppose I listened to what my parents listened to…everyone else was listening to The Backstreet Boys, or Aqua Barbie Girl,” he laughs. “I was unique,” he boasts sarcastically.
“But I don’t remember the last time I bought a CD, which is kinda sad, I love records! With iTunes and all that now, people buy songs rather than albums…that part of the industry is definitely dying. The industry has completely changed because of it, people can pick and choose their songs now and what they want to listen to, whether that’s a good or a bad thing for us, it is the way it is, and we just have to deal with it.”
Mark remembers the first CD he bought without a second thought: “5ive, just the album 5ive. That was a f**kin’ great album!” He says how he used to sing along, he knew all the lyrics.
“At a lot of our smaller shows, we can make out individual voices singing along it’s great…there are some good singers out there!” says Mark. “In Boson, there was an opera singer singing 'All I Want' right in front of us, and because opera is so loud they don’t need microphones, she was so loud and really getting into it, that had to be one of the funniest moments on the whole tour so far!” says Steve.
Kodaline are no strangers to doing cover songs, as you will find them covering the likes of Daft Punk, Macklemore, Taylor Swift -- even if that was for “a complete pisstake”- and their beautiful rendition of Disclosure’s ‘Latch’ on BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge and elsewhere on YouTube.
“I love the challenge of taking an original song, and making it my own,” Steve admits. “If you want to do a good cover, you have to do something that isn’t like us at all” says Mark.
Steve recalls: “We did one in France before, a Daft Punk mash-up, it was live TV but I messed up…I forgot the lyrics to the song and it took two minutes for me to hear it and actually get where I was supposed to be. My mind just went completely blank. I think it was the first time in my entire life I actually forgot how to sing.” Mark laughs, “It happened again today at sound check, but it’s never happened on tour at our shows, thankfully!” At that, Steve frantically looks for some wood to touch, “Don’t curse it!”
The band have come such a long way since starting out as 21 Demands back in 2005, from busking to an album release, and from festivals to touring many European countries and the US, they should have no regrets.
“We’ve made a lot of f**k ups but you kinda have to if you wanna get anywhere in this industry. Although, I do think I’ll look back on the photos of this moustache and think it was a bad idea!” Mark jokes.
On a proud end note, Steve says: “We’re here now, and hopefully have a long way to go…I hope we keep making mistakes, ‘cos the best things have always come out of them in the end! But we’re pretty happy with the road we’ve taken so far, I just hope it doesn’t come to a dead end any time soon.”
Some words of advice from Steve himself are that if you want to make it into the industry, you just have to “gig, gig and gig as much as you can. Whether that’s busking on the street, in bars or whatever you can do (even if it is to two people Mark jokes)…the most important thing is to focus on your songs and song writing…nothing comes easy, you have to work for it.”Kodaline play The Olympia Theatre, November 21--23 and the O2 on March 16, 2014. Tickets are available here