Kodaline's Vinny May Jr on new album Politics of Living and Belfast HMV in-store performance
Frighteningly popular Swords indiepop combo Kodaline unleash their new album The Politics of Living today. David Roy quizzes drummer Vinny May Jr about navigating the quartet's 'difficult third album'
HI VINNY. Kodaline's third album Politics of Living is released today a year later than originally planned after you decided to re-record some of it. What prompted that decision and how do you feel now that it's finally out there?
It took longer that we'd have liked but I think we made the right move holding off releasing it until we were kind of completely satisfied.
The album was pretty much done about a year ago but we just kind of felt like it wasn't really there – it didn't feel like we were done.
We felt like we needed to take the extra time and properly be 100 per cent happy with it, and now we're at that stage – we've said everything we wanted to say on the record and we're ready to go. We're much more happy with it now.
How much of it was re-done?
We wrote like 60 per cent of the album again from scratch, pretty much. At the time it was pretty daunting and we're very lucky that our record label and publishing company give us a lot of freedom.
This being our third album, we've built up a certain level of trust with them, so they let us do our thing – if we're saying that something isn't right, they trust our instinct.
It was nerve-wracking, but it was the right decision – it took a leap of fate for us to do it but then the record company have subsequently been like, 'yeah, it was the right move' too.
Third albums are generally when bands start to experiment a bit more. Was working with a selection of co-writers for the first time on this record part of that process?
Yeah, we didn't want to make the same record again and we wanted to try new things. We'd worked with one or two people on our second album [2015's Coming Up For Air] but not really to any kind of big extent.
Whereas with this album, we worked with a huge amount of people. We opened ourselves up to working with different songwriters and producers for the first time. That experience was pretty daunting in itself because we're quite insular as a band, so when you're adding different people into that mix you're going to get different results.
But it was the greatest experience, like working with Steve Mac [Ed Sheeran, Westlife, Pink] who's a phenomenal producer and songwriter – when we got the mix back for Follow Your Fire, we were like "f***, this is a big song!". It was kind of 'next level' stuff for us, y'know?
And the same with Johnny Coffer who's worked with Beyonce and Rag 'N' Bone Man – they're big names and there were big expectations to live up to. But we got some really good results.
[Johnny Coffer co-write] Head Held High was one of the very first tracks we wrote for the album, so once we had that and Follow Your Fire, we kind of knew we were going down a different path – but we definitely liked it.
You also worked with Snow Patrol's Johnny McDaid [also a songwriter who's worked with Ed Sheeran and Pink] again on this album – what was his role?
Johnny did one song on our last album [Love Will Set You Free] and since then we've just been really close friends. We've built up this relationship with him and the rest of the Snow Patrol guys and we hang out quite a lot.
So, for this album, Johnny kind of came in as almost an executive producer. He's in there on a lot of the songs and has kind of overseen the whole project from its infancy up until it was finished. He's an incredibly talented person and we're really honoured that he's a part of this record.
Is there a theme running through Politics of Living?
I guess for us it's about relationships: that you have with yourself, in your own being, with our family and friends or people we have encountered, who have come into our lives or left our lives.
But music is so open to interpretation and different songs mean different things to different people. We've had fans come up to us about [previous hits] All I Want or High Hopes and tell us that they were played at their grandad's funeral, or that they were their first dance at their wedding.
That's why we kind of let the music speak for itself rather than going into huge detail about what every song is about, because we want other people to make up their own minds about them.
On the subject of family and friends, you must have had a sizeable guestlist for the huge gig at Malahide Castle last month?
That was a great gig – it's always nice playing a big Dublin show, especially one in Malahide. Like, I went to school in Portmarnock so I used to drive past Malahide Castle every day for 12 or 13 years.
It was great for our friends and family too. Dublin gigs are always mental – you've literally got aunties and uncles coming out of the woodwork that you've never met, looking for tickets.
It was a really nice moment for us and the same for the Custom House Square gig that we played. All of our family were up at that as well – our families our kind of amazing in that they'll travel to any gig in Ireland that we're doing.
We hadn't played Belfast in a while; we'd played Custom House Square two or three years previously, so it was nice to come back up and play it again leading in to this album.
Our first time playing up in Belfast as Kodaline was in McHugh's basement across the way there for maybe 50 people and since then the fans in the north have been incredible to us.
You're back in Belfast today for an acoustic in-store performance to mark the release of the album. How do those kind of intimate moments compare to the huge gigs?
They both have their challenges – there's very little to hide behind when you're sitting in the corner of a shop with 50 or 60 people around you. We do them really stripped back too: I'm playing a cajon [box drum] and then there's like acoustic guitars and keys, plus our four voices.
There's nowhere to hide, but that stuff is amazing because you get an instant reaction from people compared to being up on a stage behind a barrier 10 or 15 feet away from them.
So we love doing the in-stores. We think they're really important to show our fans how much we appreciate them. We wouldn't be where we are now without them.
:: Kodaline will appear at HMV Belfast today at 5.30pm, see HMV.co/Kodaline for full ticketing details. Politics of Living is out now.