INTERVIEW: Mark Prendergast from Kodaline!

Rock supergroup Kodaline today release their brand new album One Day At A Time – an emotive and poignant collection of 10 songs that perfectly capture the true essence and spirit of the much loved Irish band.

Featuring the singles Sometimes, Wherever You Are and Saving Grace, the album – with it’s conversational lyrics, stirring melodies and awe-inspiring messages of hope, serves as the follow up to 2018’s Politics Of Living.

To celebrate the records release, we caught up with Mark from the band to talk life in lockdown, the groups creative and recording process, new music and the perks of workin’ 9 to 5…

“I’ll just hope these words will help whoever’s listening, if someone cares to listen in…”

“Making this album has been really good for us!” Mark says as we meet the only way possible in 2020, “virtually” via Zoom! “But when I think back to what it was like working on our first two albums, it really was a bit like being in the same kind of quarantine like state we’re in now!”

Explaining further he adds: “A lot of the studios we worked in back then, were in these nice, but remote, country houses – so we’d pack up our stuff and move there for about six weeks at a time. Our routine was wake up in the mornings at 10am, work right through the day until midnight, and then do the same again; and that would be it seven days a week. You didn’t take breaks, you didn’t go home, you don’t see anybody other than who you were living with, so taking a trip to the corner shop was super, super exciting because it meant you were going out into the real world… even if it was just to Tesco’s! It’s mad to think that’s what we’re all having to living like now!”

Though we both laugh, we can’t help but feel like that must have been a pretty intense way for a group of young lads to live, “I mean I guess it was, but we didn’t really care, we loved it!” Mark muses. “And listen, when you’ve worked hard on something, like we did on those early Kodaline songs, it doesn’t matter how tired you might get sometimes, because there is nothing like that feeling when you hear your song played back for the first time in it’s entirety – it’s the most rewarding thing ever!”

In the beginning: Promotional photographs of the band taken back in 2013

“We’ve learnt a lot since those days, and we’ve grown up a lot too; we realise we run the risk of burning out if we fill our calendar with things every single day, so we just look to find a bit more balance now I think… man, I’m making it sound like we’ve gotten really lazy aren’t I?”

As talk turns from reminiscing of the past, to the current day and the bands fourth studio album, Mark’s love and gratitude for what he gets to do everyday as his job, is evident for all to see…

The day is finally here – your brand new album is officially OUT! What’s the feeling like in the Kodaline camp like right now?

The mood is good! I mean because of the whole nature of how everything is in the world right now, we hadn’t all seen each other in person up until a few days ago. We’ve been putting out live gigs online every week, but we’ve been recording and playing remotely in our own homes and stuff, so it’s been good to come back and all be together in the same room – and honestly, I didn’t realise how much I’d missed that until now! So in a funny way, I’m kind more excited about us being back together than I am about the album coming out (laughs). 

As you say, there’s a lot happening in the world right now – does it feel strange to be putting an album out whilst the whole world is still pretty much in lockdown?

Well, it’s the craziest way to put out an album I’ll say that! But I mean, look you know how it is, it’s intense in the run up to releasing new music and because this is our fourth album, we know the drill! There’s normally this insane round of promo where there’s TV appearances and radio interviews to do, then you’re flying off here, there and everywhere; so your schedule is literally chockablock for about three months! And once you finish promotion, you go straight into touring which is another thing in itself… so this time around, it couldn’t be more different!  

Good different or…

Erm… different (laughs). The pace is a lot slower which I like – now it’s all about Zoom calls, and everything seems to happen between 9am and 3pm, Monday to Friday, so there feels to be a real sense of normality around what we’re doing; it’s been so relaxed and chilled so actually, yeah it’s been great! 

Was there a thought that you might have to postpone or push back the release date?

Do you know what, we did think about pushing it back a bit , but then we thought ‘nah let’s just get it out while people are sat at home staring at their phones.’ And even though it’s a bit of a strange time for everyone, it’s good to have something new to keep us all entertained isn’t it? Some of my favourite bands have put out new music recently, and it’s been great because with no real distractions going on around me, it’s meant I’ve been able to really listen to it and appreciate it. 

The title of the album “One Day At A Time” seems to really reflect the times we’re living in, where people find themselves not knowing what’s going to happen from one day to the next, was this something you were conscious of when naming it?

Do you know, it’s so funny you say that because none of the songs for this record were written post coronavirus or any of that stuff, but the album title was! Steve our lead singer came up with it about a month into being in lockdown at home, and we were all hearing these horror stories on the news weren’t we, about what’s been happening to people, and you know even over the past few weeks with the stuff that’s been going on in America, it’s just crazy isn’t it? So the album title came from that, and I think the more it sinks in, the more sense it makes. 

It’s definitely a positive message and almost a mantra-like statement to put out there, in the hope that people can learn to live, and be present in the moment…

For sure! And I guess that’s where it comes from and… listen, you just said it there, to be present in the moment is one of the hardest things to do, because we all spend so much time worrying about things we’ve said, or dreading the things we may or may not have to do in the future. So it’s good to just say to yourself ‘listen, things are grand in the moment, so let’s just stay here and not worry about tomorrow’.

It’s been so good to come back, and all be together in the same room – honestly, I didn’t realise how much I’d missed that until now!

So what was it like getting back in the studio this time around? With this being your fourth album together as a band, we’re curious to know, do you still follow the same process you did in the beginning, or do you find that you approach things differently with each new record you make?

I would say the process we followed this time around, is probably the closet thing to what we did with the ‘In A Perfect World’ album, which was our first. With that album there was just one producer, and no-one else involved, it was just us and we wrote the whole thing ourselves. And that’s what we decided we wanted to do again this time, because with the last two albums, especially with our third, we really, really put ourselves out there and worked with a bunch of different songwriters and producers – mainly out of curiosity to see what it was like, but also because we needed to evolve our sound and grow as a band, so it was a good thing for us to do at the time. But with this album we felt like… listen, it’s good to leave your comfort zone from time to time, but we all kind of arrived in this place where it was like ‘maybe being back in our comfort zone is actually alright’.

A kind of full circle, back to basics approach then?

Yeah, in many ways it was. I mean it literally was just the four of us, we were at home in Dublin and we kind of just worked Monday to Friday, 9 to 5! That structured routine was really bizarre for us at first, because normally when you’re working on an album it can kind of take over your whole life, but this time around it would hit 5 o’clock on a Friday evening and knowing we’d got the weekends off, our minds just sort of switched off and went completely elsewhere, and we forgot about work for two days. So when we would come back into the studio on a Monday morning we weren’t as snow blind as we used to be, and we’d listen back to everything with fresh ears and be able to tell instantly if the work we’d done the week before was worthwhile, or if it was best not continuing with it and trying something else. We found that we made a call on things a lot quicker this time around because we weren’t as consumed with it 24/7.

Steve, Vinny and Mark in studio earlier this year

That sounds like a much healthy way of working, creating more of a balance between your careers and personal lives…

It was you know. Working those 9 to 5 hours, meant in an evening we had the option to meet up with friends and do normal things with them, which in the past we maybe wouldn’t have always had the chance to do. We’ve grown up a bit since the first album, our lives have changed – two of the guys are married now, and we all have little things going on in our personal lives and things we have to commit to. When you’re younger you give 100% to what your doing, in our case it was the band, and we still give 100% to it now don’t get me wrong, but like I said before, we’ve just found a better balance.

It’s good to leave your comfort zone from time to time, but we all kind of arrived in this place where it was like ‘maybe being back in our comfort zone is actually alright’.

Listening to the album as whole, it really feels like you’ve tapped into the true essence of what Kodaline are all about – captivating songs with heartfelt, conversational lyrics and emotive melodies that effortlessly draw the listener in – was this a deliberate decision?

Oh man, thank you so much! You’re the first person I’ve spoken to that’s heard the album outside of all of us, so that’s amazing to hear! What we tried to do, 100% was what you just said… we sat down at the beginning and we were like ‘okay, what is the essence of Kodaline?’ It’s not going off to LA and working with this producer and that producer, just because some other artist has had a big hit with them, that’s not important to us. What’s important is what the four of us do when we get into a room. We have to talk to one another, and see what each of us is going through – and we have to see what Steve, our main songwriter is feeling, and from there we just get to work.

You say Steve (Garrigan) does the majority of the songwriting, but as a band, is there a pattern or thread you follow when writing together as a group?

There can be, but I have to say, what we did a lot more of on this album, compared to our previous ones, is talk more and have a lot of conversations about lyrics. So when it came to writing a song together, we weren’t banging our heads together, we never got stuck, we’d put lyrics up on a big screen in the room and we’d have really, really, really, really deep conversations about how we were feeling and what the songs should be about, it was like a therapy session for us, it really was, so that’s amazing that you felt that when listening to the album, because that was kind of our plan, we wanted to make songs that sounded like conversations.

It’s interesting you say that’s where your focus was when making this record in-particular, because it’s always felt like lyrics play a huge part in what really connects people to Kodaline as a band, would you agree with that statement?

Yeah, our lyrics have always been important to us and we’ve never really hidden what a song is about, but when you’re writing in the studio, you don’t really ever think if what you’re doing will have an effect on other people. But when we first started touring and we got to meet the fans, we’d find that some of them had tattoos of our lyrics on their arms, or they’d tell us about particular line in a song that had really meant a lot to them, and it would always catch me off guard as to what lyric or line it would be, and like you said before, it was always the most conversational, direct line that resonated with them the most! They’d say to us ‘that’s just how I feel’ or ‘that really helped me’ and that’s what’s cool about all of this… the songs kind of become as much theirs as they are ours.

As important as lyrics are, without music they are just a beautifully written poem I guess, so how did you approach creating music to accompany the words you’d already written?

We wrote a lot of these songs on the piano or on an acoustic guitar, and let the lyric and the melody be the focus, because at the heart of a any good song is a great lyric and a great melody – those are the two things that carry a song. So once we’d actually written the songs like that, we just had fun for the rest of the year recording and producing them and thinking how the band as a whole was going to sound around what we’d already created. 

It sounds like you had a lot of fun making this album…

We did, we had a lot of fun but as well as being the funnest part of what we do, it can also be the most stressful because if a particular song that you’re working on is proving tricky to write, then it kind of dictates your mood for the rest of the day, or however long it takes to finish it! Yet some songs are just so… ah, it’s hard to describe but it can be so exciting in the studio when you’re working on something that just comes to you so naturally. Like you start out in the morning with literally nothing, then fast forward to you driving home in your car that night and you have this new song, that’s almost come out of nothing and nowhere, but you love it so much, and all of a sudden it’s a part of your life – that’s the best feeling. 

Kodaline – Wherever You Are (Official Music Video)

I want you to think back to last year… you’re in the studio, you’re all working well together, was there a particular moment or song during those sessions, where you all collectively felt ‘right, we’re onto something here, we’ve got the makings of a really great album?’

Yeah, there was I guess and to be honest with you, I’d say it was quite early on. Steve went off on a bit of an explosion at the very, very beginning of last year, he came into the studio and he had ‘Wherever You Are’, ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Saving Grace’ all either completely written or with a chorus and a melody. And right away those songs kind of became our focal point for what we wanted to achieve. Like I remember hearing ‘Wherever You Are’ for the first time and thinking, ‘yeah, we’re onto something here.’

And of all the songs on the album, which are you most excited for people to hear?

Erm… yeah… I mean all of them to be honest with you (laughs). Don’t get me wrong it’s great to release singles, because they are a really good way of giving people a taste of what doing musically and it’s good to get their feedback as we sort of drip feed them different sounds of the album, but there’s nothing like putting a whole body of work out there. ‘Saving Grace’ means so much to us. Steve had the chorus written already when he came into the studio, but we worked on the rest of it together from like January to December! We kept trying to make it work, but it just wouldn’t and it kind of ate us alive because we all really felt like it was the perfect song for Kodaline and we wanted it so badly on the album. BUT if you’re going to make me pick just one (laughs), it would probably be ‘Spend It With You’. We’ve been playing that song all day today, because we’re recording an acoustic version of it, and even though we’d done it about 10 times already, I’m just not bored of it… I can’t wait for people to hear it, but that’s soon followed by the thought “fuck, we can’t really play this at a live gig for anyone for maybe a year now!” 

That was going to be my next question actually – as you said earlier, what normally happens once you’ve released an album, is you head out on the road to tour it!.. that’s not really possible right now though…

Ah tell me about, it almost hurts me! There’s a venue in Dublin called The Olympia Theatre and we were supposed to be doing 8 nights there… I don’t want to brag but we broke the record for selling out the most nights or something like that (laughs)… and that would have been all last week, and let me tell you, it’s been a bit of a bitter pill to swallow that we’ve not been able to do that. I know in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal but… yeah, that was something we were all looking forward to doing.

What do you think will happen with live gigs, shows, festivals, events post COVID 19 – have you as a band dared to even think about what your live shows might look like over the next couple of years?

We just don’t know! And listen, this is not just a problem for us, it’s every single musician on the planet, we’re just fucked! With the 8 dates we had, we’ve moved them till September but to me, even that’s wishful thinking. The situation with COVID 19 in Ireland has got a lot better but I just don’t know if people will be wiling to come out and go to a live show, do you know what I mean? I don’t know about you, but if I go to a coffee shop or somewhere now and someone stands more than a meter close to me, like internally I start to get a little but hot and my mind goes into overtime and I’m thinking ‘please move back a little bit!’ (laughs) So if you’re stood in the middle of a crowd in a theatre, and you’ve got people rubbing up against you and stuff… I just don’t know how that will work and will people be ready to do it? Don’t get me wrong, we’re willing to do it, but that’s kind of selfish on our part because we’d be up on stage away from it all. It’s totally bizarre. So I think what we’ll do is make another album over the next year, and tour after that with two albums worth of new material… that seems like that smartest thing to do right now. 

The band onstage during their set at the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland, 2019

Pretty much everyone nowadays experiences some kind of criticism online, thanks in part to the rise of sites like Twitter and Instagram, as someone in the public eye, how do you feel about hearing other people’s opinions about what you’re doing?

You know what I’m just as fascinated to read what people think, whether it’s positive or negative! You will never be able to impress everybody, so you just have to take it for what it is, that persons opinion. In the past there’s been things we’ve done that maybe some of our hardcore fans haven’t really liked, and when you really listen to what they’re saying, it’s hard to not agree with them sometimes – you have to be open to hearing what people have to say, but just make sure you take it with a pinch of salt! Like someone could tell you’re the greatest thing ever, and then 5 minutes later someone else tells you you’re shit, you’ve just got to realise it means nothing and do you!

Sounds like you have the perfect attitude to survive social media in 2020…

(Laughs) Maybe! With social media I’m pretty good at not really going anywhere near it, so I don’t tend to see much of what’s being said about anything really. Like I’m not particularly private or anything, I just don’t care to go on there and post all the time, I’m just not that bothered by it. But what I will confess to though, is if I’ve had a few drinks on a Saturday night, I will sometimes go onto YouTube and look at the comments (laughs). I don’t do it all the time, but it’s fun when I do. It’s such a great public platform and a brilliant way to talk back to your fans… even if they don’t always believe it’s you!

Oh, if growing up I’d been able to talk directly to a Spice Girl on social media I would have lost my mind…

RIGHT! I absolutely LOVED the Spice Girls growing up! But obviously back then there so no YouTube or social media, so you just had to make do with watching your favourite artists on TV or listening to their cd’s, whereas now you can go online and see what they are up to everyday! If I could go back in time, and see what Mel C was doing, I’d lose it! She was always my favourite, mainly because she could do a back flip and I just thought that was so cool, so if I could see her Twitter account, and be able to reach out to her, I would have been ALL OVER THAT! (laughs)

The Spice Girls and Mel C aside, which artists past or present would say have inspired you most?

Do you know I’m rubbish at answering this question, it always catches me off guard (laughs). I’ve started to listen to a lot of Bob Dylan again lately, and he’s obviously one of the best to ever do it isn’t he? I really like Kendrick Lamar too, he just blows me away and I find that the more I listen to his music, the more I get from it! There’s so many layers to his songs, so when you do go back and listen to one of his albums again, there’s always a new line or hook that just jumps out at you… I think for sure he’s one of the best out there.

You have had an incredible career so far and have achieved so much being a member of Kodaline, what would you say inspires you to keep going and continue to do what you do?

I don’t know if there’s anything specifically that motives me, it’s almost like it’s just something that I have to do. I first started writing music back when I was about 15 years old, and it just became this instant thing that I loved. And I still do (love it) it’s everything to me, it’s discovery, it’s expression and even now it’s still mad for me to think about how all of this stuff has happened, and I get to do what I love everyday. 

One Day At A Time is out NOW and available to download/stream here!

Let us know your thoughts on Kodaline’s brand new album ‘One Day At A Time’ over on Twitter @CelebMix now!

Written by Philip Logan

Twitter & IG: @philip_logan