In 2005, three teenagers gave themselves the name 21 Demands and started playing music, eventually going on to top the Irish Singles Chart with their debut single, 'Give Me A Minute', making it the first independently-released track to do so. Five years later, in the midst of trading their aimless rock beginnings for a sound with more heart, they welcomed a bassist, Jason Boland, and effectively sealed their incarnation into Kodaline.
Vulnerability feels safe with this band, who has built a loyal fanbase on the blueprint of emotional authenticity. Earlier this year, they released 'Saving Grace', a powerful anthem of hope and solidarity that is especially fitting for a time when the world is currently battling the throes of the pandemic. The single comes ahead of a new album, One Day At A Time, which is set to be released on 12 June.
Below, vocalist Steve Garrigan shares about the band's upcoming album, and reflects on the band's journey so far, from falling back in love with old songs to his best memories of their Asia tour last year.
Hi Steve, how are you doing? What have you and the rest of the band been up to while in quarantine?
We haven’t seen each other in person in 2 months and that’s never happened before, I think ever. We’re working on music and doing a lot of livestreaming. I work from here, and we do it all online individually. That’s been a lot of fun, and our fans have liked it. We’re working on new music, keeping busy, trying to stay healthy and positive.
What have you been listening to? What films have you watched?
I watched so many movies. Mainly true story movies, like The Way Back. It’s about an athlete and his basketball coach. It’s quite heavy, it’s a tearjerker. Music, I’ve just been listening to anything and everything. Lots of new music on Spotify's New Music Friday. Old music too, like Bruce Springsteen. Mainly I’ve just been spending my time working on new music here. There’s an endless list of movies.
Have you been baking? Seems like everyone’s doing that lately.
A lot of my friends have baked bread for the first time. I haven’t tried it yet because I’m kinda scared that I might just destroy the kitchen! My baking skills aren’t great, but I suppose you’re right, it’s a good time to try and learn to bake. It’s a good skill to have.
COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on many people’s mental health. How do you cope with the uncertainty of the situation?
I try to keep to a routine as best as I can each day. I try to work out as well, stay healthy, and eat as well as I can. Meditation is great as well. I try to do that each day. I don’t do it every day but if I feel a bit overwhelmed or stressed out with the situation, I find that it really helps.
It's a really weird time, but at the end of the day, everybody’s in the same boat. And everybody probably has good days and bad days because it’s such a strange situation. The world’s at a standstill right now. I also think that using Zoom to talk to friends and family is a really great thing to do, and that kinda helps me as well.
What advice would you give to someone who finds themselves struggling in such times?
If you can, reach out to somebody like family or friends. And if you can’t, there are a lot of things online to help. There are a lot of resources out there to help you calm down and make you see the bigger picture. It’s temporary and things will get better as well. So it’s important to know that. If you’re struggling to stay positive, just know that there are lots of resources out there to help you, but if you can, reach out to friends and family.
The band has been doing livestreams every Friday, with your fans joining in on some songs to form a virtual choir. What’s it like connecting with your fans this way as opposed to real-life interaction at concerts?
We didn't really know how it was gonna turn out. We missed playing live so much, and at our live shows we encourage people who come to watch us to sing along as much as they want. We missed that, so we were trying to figure out a way to kinda do it, but not really, because it’s not the same as a live show. We came up with the idea of asking our fans to sing along to our songs on livestream. You don’t have to be able to sing, but it worked out really well.
It ended up being a couple of hundred people singing together, and it sounded amazing. When you put everyone in a big group, there’s just this massive sound. It turned out to be a bit of an emotional performance as well. The people who were involved were so happy, so it was a great thing to do and we’re planning to do more of that. We do livestreams every Friday so we’re thinking of ideas to get people involved.
I had no idea it was gonna work out the way it did, it could have been terrible. But it worked out well, so we’re gonna do it again.
What are your plans for future livestreams?
We've got guest musicians. We did this one last week—there’s this group called Voices of Service. We found out about them because they were on America’s Got Talent where they sang a song of ours called ‘Brother’, and they’re ex-military. They started this singing group together to help ex-soldiers with PTSD and it’s quite incredible. Their story is amazing.
We never thought we would have the opportunity to meet them or play with them but we reached out to them and asked if they wanted to sing ‘Brother’. It was amazing, their singing was so good, and I was so intimidated that I just kinda decided to not sing.
So we have plans to get some of our musician friends and our fans again in our livestreams. It’s great that we can do that. It’s the power of streaming online, and it’s exciting stuff, we do have lots of ideas.
Speaking of concerts, what are some of the most memorable moments from your time in Asia last year?
It was our first full Asia tour ever. We never had the chance to tour Asia so we didn't know what to expect. But when we got there, there were fans waiting for us, singing all our songs back to us. It turned out to be the best tour we ever had, and we still talk about it to this day.
We were making plans for another Asia tour as well, but obviously because of the coronavirus that’s kind of postponed for now. We can’t wait to go back, I think every show on that tour was pretty much a highlight for us. It was our first time in Bangkok and it blew our minds. The crowd there was so big and they were singing along to every single song. When you go to a city for the first time, you never really know if there's gonna be a big crowd or not. The Bangkok tour was sold out in every place and it was amazing. Even just talking about it now, I genuinely can't wait to get back and play again. Hopefully sooner than later.
Let’s talk about your new music. Your music video for ‘Saving Grace’ is a compilation of footage from fans staying at home. How did it feel watching thousands of videos of people going through their day from all different parts of the world, knowing that they are all connected by your music?
It was an idea that we just came up with. I know a lot of musicians are doing it now as well. We had a different idea for a video and we couldn't do that, so we sent out the song to fans from all over the world and got them to send us a video of them doing something.
I think 500 fans ended up in the video, as far as I’m aware. It caught me off guard. I didn’t know how it was gonna turn out but the results actually just made me cry like a baby. I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend and I got really excited. More or less, straight away, I just started crying, but it was good tears.
Looking at it it shows you that the whole situation we’re in now is global. Everyone's doing the same thing: staying inside, and keeping their distance. It’s a very powerful video, and I’m glad that we did it, and the song really suits the video as well. It’s about being strong and staying together and being there for each other. The fans have said that they really like it. I hope that more people see it, and more people like it, and that it makes them smile.
There are lots of moments captured in the video that really amplify the beauty of ordinary things. What are some ordinary things you are grateful for right now?
My dog, he’s right here. Good food, friends, family. Just hanging out. So many. Music. Pajamas!
I took a look through the tracklist of your upcoming album, One Day At A Time. The whole thing feels like a story from the song titles and the way the tracks have been arranged. Can you walk me through what this story might be?
Each song is its own story, if you tie it all together. Yeah, it’s a really good question. To be honest when we went into making this album we didn’t think of making an overall story, we kinda treated each song individually. But if there’s one thing to tie all our songs together, it’s the message of overcoming and staying strong and staying positive. I think that runs through a lot of our old songs as well.
There’s a song about a friend of ours who passed away years ago and we’re just remembering him. It’s called ‘Evening’. The last track in the end is about moving on, and forgiving yourself and others. There’s a song called ‘Spend It With You’ that I’m really excited about. It's a fictional story we made up, which we don't usually do because we try to take songs from our personal lives. But this is just a fake story: if the world was ending, what would you do? The answer is - I’d spend it with you. So it’s like a love story at the end of the world but it’s a classic song as well, with the melody and all. It feels like an old 1950s song for some reason.
Overall the album is just kind of about relationships but not just relationships with your partner, it’s about relationships with everybody, your family, your friends. There’s a song called ‘Care’ which is about having massive arguments with your best mate, but it’ll be fine and that you’ll work it out.
Each song tells its own story. All the songs are about the relationships you have, life, and staying strong.
What would you say was the hardest song to write?
'Saving Grace’, probably. That was a chorus I had for ages, and for whatever reason I couldn’t finish it. I took it to the guys and we ended up writing 10 different verses, and there were different arrangements for it. We tried a lot of different things and it took a long time to finish. When we eventually finished it, we looked at each other like, this is really powerful. This is great. There were a few times we thought it was done but I didn't think it was finished. Everybody was divided so that took a long time. It’s a weird journey for a song to be finished.
You recorded everything in Dublin this time. You mentioned in an interview that you used to not like Dublin, until you started touring and eventually circled around back to your hometown. Do you experience that with some of your songs too?
Yeah, I suppose when you play a song live in front of a crowd, it completely changes it, depending on the crowd and how they’re reacting - are they singing along? Are they bored?
We did a song with Kygo a couple years ago. I liked the sound and I don’t know if the guys liked it, but we did our own version of it and the more we played it live, the more we loved it, so we made a Kodaline version of it.
On these livestreams, we’re playing a lot of old songs - some of them we’ve never played live because we thought they'd never go down well. It’s been a lot of fun, I'm falling in love with a lot of the old songs we have. There are certain songs that we did on our EP - they were released, but as b-sides and a lot of people have never heard of them. But some big fans are asking for these songs, and even playing them myself, I'm learning to love them and it's really cool. There's a song called ‘Take Control’ that we've never played live. We did that on our livestream last week.
But then again if we’re playing the same songs every night, it can be like, I dont wanna play these songs. So you know, you can learn to love songs but you can also learn to - not hate - but not like songs because you've played them so much. When we play live, we play all the time, and every single show is different. Sometimes a certain song is amazing, but sometimes it doesn't work. It depends on the show and the crowd. I'm constantly falling in and out of love with a lot of our songs.
In that case, would you consider playing some of these old songs you mentioned the next time you perform live?
Absolutely. I'd say this whole experience for us is going to build a new live show, where we incorporate different songs and even songs that we never would have thought of putting in.
We used to do this cover of Sam Cooke’s song - he’s this incredible soul singer, he's known as one of the greatest voices ever. We used to play live and do acapella. We did that last week and I forgot how much I loved playing that song. I can't remember when we stopped playing it. We’re doing songs we haven't done in a long time, and even songs we've never played before. Hopefully sooner rather than later, we get to play a live show and play these songs we've never played before. It's really exciting for all of us.
Aside from performing live, what are you looking forward to once lockdown measures are lifted?
Seeing my mum and dad, my family, my friends. Giving my friends a hug. Going outside more. That’s the main thing. Family, friends, going outside, and a pint at the local pool would be amazing. They're all closed. The cinema as well would be amazing. Hanging out with everyone properly.
Do you have a specific cause you'd want to promote? Tell us why you believe in this organization and how we can help.
As a band, we have quite a few. Off the top of my head, I was an ambassador for an Irish charity called Walk in My Shoes. It promotes mental health, and they have lots of resources online for anxiety and depression. It's a great charity and website for anybody who's going through a tough time. It's close to my heart. We also tried to raise money for the frontline workers in Ireland, Vinny's very passionate about that.
For Walk in My Shoes, you can donate through their website. It's a great cause and I've suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, so I understand the power of what they're offering people. I would appreciate it if you could check that out, and if you can donate anything, that'd be great. If you can't, that's fine too.
Stream Kodaline's new album, One Day At A Time, here: