Kodaline lead singer Steve Garrigan tells David Hennessy about his struggle with anxiety and depression, why the band owe so much to Dolores O’Riordan and the Cranberries and about how the band were shocked and saddened when a 17-year-old fan collapsed at one of their shows and later died.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2013 with their debut album In A Perfect World which boasted hits like All I Want and High Hopes, Kodaline have established themselves as one of Ireland’s best bands.
From the beginning, there was a buzz around the four-piece from Dublin with revered industry figures like Fearne Cotton and Alex James saying they were one to watch. Soon their tracks were picked up by shows and films like Grey’s Anatomy and The Fault in our Stars.
Their sophomore album Coming Up for Air, featuring tracks like Honest and Ready, would further cement their position while their last album Politics of Living, which had Brother, a powerful ballad accompanied by a heartbreaking video, was released in 2018. All three albums have topped the Irish chart and done well around the world.
We caught up with lead singer Steve Garrigan just as the band have released their latest single Wherever You Are and are preparing to release their fourth album.
Steve told The Irish World: “The reaction has been pretty awesome. To be honest any time we release something we’re always pretty nervous because you can’t impress everybody and you never really know how people are going to react but for the most part, everybody’s been very positive and it’s been awesome.”
Wherever You Are has struck a chord with its message about missing loved ones: “I tend to write songs and we tend to write songs from personal places. There are a lot of messages on line that we see from fans saying, ‘Thank you. This song means a lot to me, I’m in a long distance relationship’.
“That keeps coming up and funnily enough I actually wrote it about the difficulties of never seeing my girlfriend. We do tour non-stop.”
By producing it themselves, something they have never done before, the band have taken on extra responsibility and a greater challenge for their forthcoming album: “At the moment the album feels about finished. We have a collection of songs that we’re really, really proud of and that we can stand behind and be confident about so we’re very excited to just release this. We’re nervous and excited about its release, more excited I would say.”
Steve has opened up about his battle with anxiety and panic attacks and reveals that, despite its uplifting chorus, the song High Hopes came from a hopeless place: “I’ve spoken openly about anxiety and depression. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve always had pretty bad anxiety and there was a stage where I had really bad depression as well. With cognitive behavioural therapy and talking about it with friends and family, I learned to get a handle on it but back when I was a teenager, nobody talked about it so I kept it quiet. Because I kept quiet about it I went through years of being miserable to be honest but that was just the way it was back then especially in Ireland, the kind of ‘suck it up and everything will be grand’ type of attitude.
“But it’s great to see that the whole attitude around mental health has come full circle, everybody seems to be open about it and a lot more can be done but we’ll take any opportunity as a band to help out with mental health charities.”
You might not expect to hear a lead singer of a successful band speaking about mental health issues but this shows anybody can be affected: “It doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody at any time. One in four people will have a mental health issue at some point in their lives and that’s a known statistic so that’s a big, big, big percentage of people. It doesn’t really matter who you are. I think it’s pretty important to talk about it and be aware of how you’re feeling, how you’re dealing with stress and stuff like that.”
The Irish World remarks that lately even tough guys like Tyson Fury and Kilkenny hurler Eoin Larkin have been unafraid to open up about mental health: “People coming out and talking about it who are kind of in the limelight one way or another can only have a positive impact on younger people who are feeling lost and alone and have nowhere to turn seeing sports people and people in the limelight talking about it is a really, really positive thing. It can only have a positive impact.
“Some of our songs have come from places of anxiety and depression. The biggest one was one of our early songs High Hopes. I had had my first panic attack and I didn’t know what it was and I kind of sat down to try and make sense in my own head what I was going through when I wrote that song. That’s kind of the power of music. That came from a struggle I was going through with anxiety at the time.”
At last year’s Electric Picnic, Kodaline were joined onstage by The Cranberries guitarist Noel for a poignant performance of Zombie dedicated to the Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan who passed away in London just over two years ago. Steve explains that the band feel very thankful to The Cranberries as the Limerick band gave Kodaline their first stadium gigs as their support band back in 2012.
“It was pretty crazy. I mean I remember feeling like a teenager again,” Steve says of that Electric Picnic performance.
“We’re very grateful to Noel, Dolores and the rest of The Cranberries for giving us the opportunity to support them. That was the first big kind of tour that we ever did. We went from rehearsing in a little prefab that we had to playing these arenas around France absolutely shitting ourselves. It was a real sink or swim moment but we got through it and it was a big moment for us as a live band so we’re very grateful to the Cranberries and to be able to invite Noel onstage and dedicate a performance to Dolores, it’s very hard to put into words.
“You know in Zombie when it kicks in with the heavy guitar? When that kicked in onstage, I remember just getting shivers and then just zoning out for a bit and forgetting where I was and feeling like I was 15 years old again in a jam room with the guys trying to make noise and then seeing this massive crowd in front of us and singing along.
“It was definitely a highlight for us and the fact that we were able to do that and have Noel with us and dedicate it to Dolores is awesome. I’m a little bit lost for words. I can’t describe it. It was awesome. It’s one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.
“If it wasn’t for the Cranberries giving us that show, I don’t know if we would be where we are today. It was a lovely way to remember Dolores.
“The Cranberries were and are still iconic. Their songs are timeless and they’ll stand the test of time. Even Zombie, that song was released in the 90s, there were 16 year olds up on people’s shoulders and every single person there was singing that song. Young and old, and it was mainly a young crowd, but they were all singing and that song was released in the 90s. That just proves how brilliant their songs are, they’re amazing.”
The band were affected by their own tragedy when in 2016, a 17-year-old fan Ciara Lawlor from Kilkenny, collapsed and later died from an undiagnosed heart condition when the band played Marley Park. Steve remembers coming off stage on a high only to be brought crashing down to earth by the devastating news that a young girl had lost her life by coming to see them play.
“That was our biggest headline show that we ever played and we were all just kind of on cloud nine and full of energy. After the show we came offstage and we were just high fiving each other and whatever and then a short while later our tour manager came in and said, ‘I wasn’t going to tell you but I kind of feel it’s the right thing to do…’
“He told us that a girl in the crowd passed away. We found out her name was Ciara, she was from Kilkenny. We kind of just stopped. It knocked us sideways. We didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t much that we could do.”
The track Angel, which is on the Politics of Living album, would become the band’s tribute to Ciara: “A few days later we got into the studio, we wrote a song and sent it to the family to say, ‘Our hearts go out to them, that if there’s anything we can do, there isn’t much we can do but just we’re here’.
“But the best thing we could have done really was write a song. They were blown away by the song and we weren’t going to put it out or release it or anything.
“We didn’t want to talk about the whole thing for a good while. Anybody who asked us questions about it, we would avoid it but her mam and her family really wanted the song on the album. They wanted us to remember her and keep the memory of her alive in some way so we put the song on the album.
“Last year actually at a Dublin show we played that song and we had her picture up on the screen, a montage of her life and stuff, and it was dedicated to her family who were in the audience.
“It’s really, really sad and things like that kind of just happen and it’s really shit but her family are amazing, very strong and we’ve kept very close with them.
“They’re always welcome at any show and all that. It’s just a very sad thing to happen. She was there to have a good time and sing along with her friends and stuff and just out of the blue something like that happens. It puts a lot of things in perspective.”
Kodaline have come a long way since they were on You’re A Star in 2006 under the moniker, 21 Demands. Last year the band did a huge tour of Asia when just how popular they were out there took the band by surprise: “It really was surreal. Honestly before we went over, we didn’t really know what to expect. We were like, ‘Will people even turn up? Do they know who we are?’ And every show was sold out, one sold out in 30 seconds or something crazy like that. There were fans waiting at the airport. It was mad, it really caught us off guard.”
When the band were taking off, Steve told the audience at a packed London show how good it was to play to such a crowd, saying that they had done gigs with four people in the audience, anecdotally adding that two of them were from the support band.
“To be honest I still have to pinch myself sometimes. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I’m doing, to be a musician and songwriter and to just do that for a living. We all are, in the band, very, very grateful because it is difficult. It’s not an easy industry to get into and for whatever reason we stuck at it and we were always extremely passionate about music and writing songs. We worked very hard but I think we also had that bit of luck that everybody needs.
“I mean to hear people singing back our songs is a feeling that I still can’t put into words. It’s an amazing feeling to know that we’ve written songs that people listen to all the time and people love. Some are happy songs, some are sad songs but our biggest song All I Want has helped a lot of people in different ways. We get a lot of stories from our fans and to know that is amazing and just encourages us to keep writing and keep touring.”
Wherever the band goes in the world, they run into the Irish abroad: “There’s something amazing about being Irish. Even outside the band if I’m just travelling around or on a holiday or something and I run into somebody who’s Irish and they know nothing about the band, you kind of have that instant connection whereas in other cultures, they’re quite closed off. If they meet somebody who’s from the same country, they won’t care but when an Irish person meets another Irish person on the other side of the world, it’s like, ‘Oh my Gosh, you’re from Ireland. Wow, Jesus, that’s amazing’. And you’re best buds all of a sudden but it’s great.
“You can spot an Irish person a million miles away. We get a lot of Irish people coming up to us around the world and we have a lot of cousins of cousins of cousins coming out of the woodwork and being like, ‘I’m your cousin, your grandma had a dog who once was adopted by somebody else’ and all that stuff.
“Especially from my generation, a lot of Irish people left to get jobs, a lot of friends we had back in school have moved abroad but we’re lucky because we tour so much we get to see them in different countries and catch up with them and all that which is really great that we’re able to do that. There’s Irish everywhere.”
Does Steve think he or his bandmates may have also had to leave recession time Ireland if they did not have the band? “Well, funnily we did leave. We went to Birmingham and then we lived in Brighton but it’s not far. I think we’re all home birds. If we didn’t have the band, maybe because I remember there was a time when it was very difficult to get jobs and that’s why a lot of friends moved abroad, particularly to Australia.
“I don’t know. Maybe if we didn’t have the band….”
Wherever You Are by Kodaline is out now and a new album is coming soon. kodaline.com/