The Dublin natives were only 15 when their fledgling outfit, 21 Demands, appeared on Ireland’s reality show “You’re A Star,” finished second in the contest, then watched their single “Give Me A Minute” rocket to No. 1 — the first time an indie Celtic combo had achieved such a triumph.
Their momentum seemed unstoppable. But then, it squealed to a halt. Turns out the kids weren’t interested in fame.
“All these people came calling, and I just didn’t know why,” Garrigan says today, a full decade on, still stunned that he and his chum had the courage to suspend their hit-bound trajectory in favor of college, composing more complex folk-rock anthems, and testing them out with often-drunken crowds in a local wine bar.
Only recently did they resurface as the sleek new Kodaline, whose anthemic debut disc, “In A Perfect World,” recently topped the Irish charts. Garrigan and Prendergast — with bassist Jason Boland and drummer Vinny May — hit San Francisco this week.
Why did Garrigan draw his brakes? “We wanted to make music that really meant something — at least to us,” says the huge fan of Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. “So Mark and I were just writing music for ourselves, music that made us happy. And we just kept working until we got it right.”
A turning point was the composition of “High Hopes,” a Coldplay-quiescent ballad that doubles as a self-empowering pep talk, with the chorus “I’ve got high hopes / It takes me back to where we started / High hopes, when you let go, go out and start again.” That’s when he knew he had something, and the floodgates opened for other tracks such as “One Day,” “All I Want” and “Brand New Day.”
The trouble was, by the time Garrigan figured out his Gaelic-tinged Kodaline sound, record companies were no longer interested in him. One by one, labels listened to his earnest new approach, shrugged and walked away. The B-Unique imprint expressed interest and arranged an in-studio summit meeting with renowned producer Steve Harris.
“But I was painfully shy, and just too shy to sing for him that day,” Garrigan recalls. “And he actually told us to f--- off and kicked us out of the studio. And I wouldn’t see him again for two years.”
That’s when Harris finally agreed to produce “Perfect World” for the RCA-distributed B-Unique. And Garrigan has zero demands, not 21.
“I mean, I actually made a record! And put it out!” he marvels. “And that, in itself, is almost enough for me. I still can’t believe it.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.slimspresents.com