Vinny May of Kodaline

by Dan MacIntosh

In the midst of a US jaunt that had them playing places like Peoria and Columbus, Kodaline earned their stateside breakthrough with a March 6th performance on American Idol, where Randy Jackson introduced the band to the show's 20 million viewers. Their stirring performance of their song "All I Want" sent Twitter aflutter with love for these Irish lads - four friends from Dublin determined to remain unaffected by their rising renown.

Formed in 2011, the band has released just one album (In a Perfect World, 2013) but has another on the way this summer. Most of their songs are written by lead singer Stephen Garrigan, guitarist Mark Prendergast and drummer Vinny May. Garrigan, who writes the lyrics, bares his soul on emotional tracks like "High Hopes" and "Love Like This," drawing on a gut-wrenching breakup for the latter.

In this conversation with Vinny May, we learned about the band's songwriting process, and found out how their Catholic faith plays into it.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts) Where are you?

Vinny May: I'm in Dublin at the moment.

Songfacts: The songs that you play are very emotional, and your singer tends to describe the songs as being kind of therapeutic.

Vinny: Yeah.

Songfacts: Do you feel the same way when you play those songs? Do you sort of empathize with him or do you work through your own emotions?

Vinny: We empathize with Steve [Garrigan] because we've been friends for years. We were friends before we started playing music, so we've known each other for such a long time. So when Steve was going through breakups and writing some of the songs that are on the album, we were experiencing it with him - we'd have rehearsals or just be hanging out in Mark's [Prendergast] house and we could tell what was going on.

So we kind of went through the breakup, because he was telling us everything. So we were able to empathize with him. Then when he started writing the songs and putting lyrics to that stuff, it all just leads you back to remembering the times when that all went on. So because it happened directly to us, it's going to have this feeling around that time. We remember what Steve went through.

Songfacts: A lot of your songs deal with the struggle to make it. Does it feel different to play these songs now that you've had some success?

Vinny: Not really. We had already thought of ourselves as successful. We're still the same people; we still hang with the same friends when we go home. We haven't really changed that way. Just the same four guys as when we started this thing.

The only thing that's changed is that we get people's different perspectives on the songs. We get to hear how people get through certain situations and how they put their own spin and their meaning on the songs. That keeps it fresh for us.

Songfacts: Now, you're the drummer in the band.

Vinny: I am indeed.

Songfacts: Do you have any songs that you play that are your favorites, that you enjoy the most?

Vinny: There's a few that I like playing the drums which remind me of the time when we were writing the songs; then I go back to the place where it was when we were writing the songs, when we were rehearsing the songs. "All Comes Down" is a great song that I really enjoy playing. And "The Answer" is another fun song that I really like playing - that's not on the album. There's quite a few. It's a great feeling to play songs as your job. So that's pretty cool.

Songfacts: One of the songs on the album, "Love Like This," has almost a folk feel to it. How did that come about?

Vinny: It was when Steve got a mandolin [laughing]. He found an old mandolin and then we just wrote the song. He wrote the chords, and when he played it to us, we rehearsed and we played the song straightaway, so it just felt right. We found it's a song that we really enjoy and we love playing live - it gets a great reaction, so we really wanted to keep it on the album.

We wanted a lot of different sounds on the album, so we made sure the songs weren't too similar. We wanted to put together an album of our favorite songs at the time, so that's what they are.

Songfacts: What is the process of writing songs?

Vinny: It changes, really. Mark and Steve will do a lot of the writing. They write separately and together. And then if we're in a studio or rehearsal, we'll all write together. You can start with just Mark playing a guitar riff or me playing a drum beat. And then we pound out the song for an hour and a half and nothing may ever come of it or we might end up getting a song out of it.

So it kind of changes, it varies. It keeps a form, but it's not just one way of writing a song. It's not just Steve will write a song and that's it. It's a different situation for every song, which keeps it fresh and fun for us.

Songfacts: You're all from Ireland. Is there anything about your band that makes you particularly Irish?

Vinny: [Laughs] Not really, no. We do some bodhrán on some of the songs. But that's just an Irish instrument. But nothing that we think is an Irish sound or that makes us an Irish band. You get influenced by all kinds of bands, like U2 and Thin Lizzy. We don't think about it, but subconsciously they may influence our sound. For us it's just what we like to play.

Songfacts: When I first heard your album, I heard a lot of Coldplay in your sound, maybe because of the way Steve sings. Is that one of your favorite bands?

Vinny: It's a band that we all grew up listening to. Coldplay were a huge band and we all aspired to play our instruments on songs like that. We don't intentionally try to sound like or write a song like a certain band. It ends up subconsciously.

People always compare us to somebody and that's just the way it is. When you're a new band they say you sound a bit like this and sound a bit like that to try and explain what their sound is. So being compared to Coldplay is not a bad thing. We're not intentionally trying to sound like Coldplay, but if that's what happens, then it happens. But it's just music that we grew up with, so it does influence you. They're a pretty awesome band.

Songfacts: I notice a couple of the songs have almost like a spiritual feel to them, particularly the song "Pray," which talks about praying. Are you guys spiritual?

Vinny: We're all from Ireland and that's a Catholic place, but we're not really religious people. We don't go to church every day. That song is just a vehicle, kind of like an expression. Just saying that someone's going to pray for you, and asking if that is something you would do to try to help somebody: say a prayer for them. It's not because we're very spiritual people at all. We're Catholics, but it's got no bearing on our music.

Songfacts: I guess, though, coming from Ireland, you can't get away from religion.

Vinny: Exactly. When you're growing up, you have communion and confirmation when you're in school.

March 11, 2014. Get more at kodaline.com.
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