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With 2013 being named as the return of the guitar band, Kodaline have timed their arrival perfectly. A good job too, because the Irish four-piece haven’t got a plan b.
“There are no other ideas. This is it," says lead singer Steve Garrigan, sat in a bar in central London with his other three bandmates. “It may sound cliched but this is all we've ever wanted,” adds guitarist Mark Prendergast.
Steve and Mark, along with bassist Jay Boland and drummer Vinny May Jnr, have had an explosive start off the blocks. In three months, their debut track ‘All I Want’ is approaching almost 100,000 copies sold. Written by Steve about an ex who broke his heart, he explains, “I was with this girl for about two and a half years, who went away on holiday and said 'we'll talk about it when we get back' and she came back with a boyfriend, so it was like 'oh shit', so I wrote about it.”
Most of the song’s success has been due to word of mouth from the video, a beauty and the beast melodrama directed by the upcoming Stevie Russell. The song, coupled with the story of a modern day 'monster' (played by Russell himself) winning over a blonde colleague, has racked up over 1.5 million views online. It was also hand-picked for the Google Zeitgeist ad, which has been watched by an audience of 13 million, bringing with it a solid army of fans.
‘All I Want’ is part of their debut 11-song opus In A Perfect World, out 17th June, which they’ve spent the best part of the last year making, and is an album of honest, melodic, soulful and romantic songs.
If it is as perfect a world as the title says, the foursome will fulfil their collective dream to “write as many albums as possible.”
The lads - most of the line-up have been playing together since they were 15 - declare they’re in it for the long haul. Says Steve: “We’re such a new band but we’re only going to get better. If we have the chance to make another album, it will be so much better than this one.” It’s a bold statement from the frontman but he means it. So hungry, they say they already have enough material for album two.
Getting their thirst from playing in their bedrooms as teenagers in the small Irish town of Swords, before grafting hard on the local band circuit in Dublin, means they already possess a cohesive sound. Even though Steve is the main songwriter, they all play a part in the process. “We all pitch in,” explains Jason. “All the songs are about things that have happened to us.”
Says Steve: “If you have a skeleton in your closet...” (with Mark joining in to finish) “you may as well make it dance.”
And there's a few of those.
No stone is left unturned when it comes to the primary theme of romance and they're not afraid of sounding lovelorn. “We don’t mind being known as a romantic rock band, it’s not something to be ashamed of,” admits Steve. ‘Talk’, for example, penned by Mark, with the lyrics “I’ve been counting the days since you went away”, is another song about a lost love, its mid-section crescendo brilliantly executed.
The band wrote the album in four places – the Irish county of Leitrim, Worcestershire, Yorkshire and Wales - with each location heavily influencing the songs that were penned there.
‘Brand New Day’, for example, written about the dawn of a new beginning, was born by jamming in a field in Leitrim. "It's in the middle of nowhere and the perfect place to be creative” said Mark. "Sometimes it can be hard to recreate a certain time and place as we like to have the right vibe for the song. When we can’t get the vibe, I refuse to sing and we go to the pub,” adds Steve.
Influences are wide-ranging, from the likes of Radiohead, The Beatles and The Strokes to Thin Lizzy, Jackson Brown and Bruce Springsteen all having made their mark on the boys.
Being a band based on a history of friendship means their characteristics are instantly obtainable.
Frontman Steve is the archetypal frontman - deep- thinking, brooding and the "worst for getting up in the morning,” according to his bandmates. “But I never miss anything" he quickly chirps. He may be softly-spoken but he erupts on stage producing a voice astoundingly impressive.
Bassist Jay may strike people as the shy one but he's not - he's sharp, well-read, interesting and what the rest of the band call “the nomad of the group.”
Vinny May Jnr is the one responsible for the thunderous drumming. He is also, according to his bandmates "on the good side of OCD" and "the best-groomed." Mature and balanced, he'd be the one who'd pull them into shape if things went awry.
Guitarist and occasional song-writer Mark is certainly the tallest. At 6ft 6, he's the one you see first, personable and the “most likely to charm the fans.”
Although very different men, their bond is solid and music is king.
"The most important thing as cliche as it fucking is, is the music,” says Steve.
"If you put us in a cave or anywhere, we’re always going to write,” adds Mark. “We write because it’s fun, it’s never crap, if it ever gets like that, you know it’s time to take a break.”
“But we can't see that ever happening,” adds Vinny.
The album In A Perfect World is out 17th June.
Singer-songwriter Diane Birch took half her lifetime, and traveled across the globe, to get to America, where she literally found her voice and made her remarkable debut, Bible Belt. Though only in her mid-twenties, Birch likes to think of herself as an "old soul," and indeed there is a startling maturity in her singing and a veteran's self-assurance in her writing. Hook-driven songs like "Fools" and "Valentino" offer more than just instant gratification: they're like your new best friends – you'll want to get together with them as frequently as possible. Birch mixes piano-playing virtuosity with easy-going soul, and she can strike an uplifting groove on even the most melancholy tune. Her work bears hints of Laura Nyro (when she was hanging out with LaBelle) and early 70's Karen Carpenter (when she was ruling the charts), while effortlessly incorporating New Orleans second-line rhythms, gospel fervor, doo-wop harmonies, country-blues guitar and classic AM radio-style melodies.
Bible Belt was recorded in New York City and New Orleans with a formidable team of Grammy-winning producers: S-Curve Records founder Steve Greenberg, soul legend Betty Wright and Mike Mangini. Among the players accompanying Birch are guitarist Lenny Kaye of The Patti Smith Group, bassists Adam Blackstone from The Roots, and George Porter of The Meters, acclaimed drummers Stanton Moore of Galactic and Cindy Blackman of Lenny Kravitz fame, saxophonist-about-town Lenny Pickett, and trombonist Tom "Bones" Malone, along with veteran singer Eugene Pitt, lead vocalist of fabled Brooklyn vocal group, the Jive Five.
Birch was born in Michigan, but at a very young age she moved to Zimbabwe with her South African-born parents. Her dad was a conservative pastor who moved his family from continent to continent. So the young Birch migrated with her folks from Zimbabwe to South Africa to Australia, following her father's mission. Throughout her journeys, Birch longed to be back in America, and finally got her wish when her family relocated to Portland, Oregon, when she was 10.
Compared to the average American teenager, Birch was truly exotic, both in terms of where she had resided and in how she had lived – within the confines of a strict religious community that had little interaction with its secular neighbors. She had to be resilient and adaptable, which at times meant seeking refuge in a rich fantasy life, imagining herself as someone living in say, the eighteenth century, conjuring up imaginary friends/muses like Valentino, the subject of one of her songs, an Amadeus like-figure, somewhat more dashing in proportion than the real Mozart. Until she arrived in the States, she'd had scant exposure to the radio or television and little knowledge of popular culture; she'd only listened to classical music, opera and, of course, church hymns.
Birch initially cycled through a serious Goth phase, perfect for an "old soul" trying to define itself. She embraced Goth both musically and sartorially, as musical inspiration and teenage rebellion - listening to the Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, the Cure, even Christian Death; arriving at her father's church in a floor-length black cape and waiting until the rest of the congregation was seated before swanning up the aisle. Her musical education didn't stop there, though: she fell for songs from the twenties, jazz, the Beatles, psychedelic music, and Fleetwood Mac.
Since she was seven, Birch had been studying piano via the learn-by-ear Suzuki Method and had cultivated the ability to replicate a melody upon hearing it. As she explains, "Ever since I was a kid, I have been incredibly fortunate in that I could hear something and then just play it."
When she was old enough to live on her own, Birch moved to L.A., with the notion of becoming a film composer: To make ends meet, she quickly learned a standards repertoire and pursued work as pianist-for-hire, eventually landing regular gigs at the Beverly Hills Hotel and L'Orangerie. Prince once saw her play and invited her out to jam with him and his band at his home – an invitation she duly accepted.
Up until this point, Birch had always seen herself as a pianist and hadn't tried to sing until a friend cajoled her into taking a class. In order to have something to perform there, Birch wrote an original song, which her new classmates immediately loved. So she wrote another for the next class, then another after that; thus she became a genuine singer-songwriter.
Thanks to material she began to post on her MySpace page, Birch heard from a manager based in London and before long was able to relocate there, where she soon had both regular gigs and a major publishing deal. It wasn't long before Birch was on the move again, however, this time to ink a record deal with Steve Greenberg's S Curve Records in New York, where she currently resides.
As for the album title, "The idea of Bible Belt has a layered kind of meaning for me," explains Diane. "Because my dad was a preacher, the very religious upbringing I had made a huge impact on my life, in a very restraining and constricting way. I'm constantly talking about heaven, angels, and forgiveness. I'm hugely inspired by church hymns -- their chord structures, their colors. It was a form of constraint for me as a child but now I see that it has fueled my creative fire."
Over the course of Bible Belt's thirteen songs Diane Birch has served up her own portrait of American music in all its breadth and majesty, touching down on Beale Street, Bourbon Street, Tin Pan Alley, Laurel Canyon, South Philly, Brooklyn street corners and many points in between. Hers is a tour-de-force debut album.