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26th Sep 2019

‘I was ashamed of it’ Kodaline’s Steve Garrigan on anxiety, mental health, and learning to speak out

Jade Hayden


“I didn’t talk about it because I was ashamed of it.”

Kodaline’s ‘High Hopes’ was first released over six years ago.

Frontman Steve Garrigan wrote it when he was just 19 – and despite its distinctly uplifting chorus, it’s a song about his own struggle with mental health.

“I had these verses that were super low, and they were all about anxiety,” he says. “It came from a sad place.”

“But then it has this really positive chorus. If I wasn’t suffering from anxiety I wouldn’t have written that song.”

Garrigan had been struggling with his mental health for about five years before he managed to take some steps to control it.

Before that he says, he “didn’t really deal with it.”

“I just kind of didn’t talk about it,” he says. “I knew that I was having panic attacks and that I had anxiety [but] I didn’t talk about it because I was ashamed of it.”

“But than as soon as I started talking about it, my mates were like ‘Ah yeah that happened to me before’ and I started improving. It can be really really tough, you feel so alone – but it is OK to talk.”

Garrigan was recently announced as ambassador for Walk In My Shoes, an awareness campaign to promote positive mental health and well-being.

Established by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, the initiative is now in its sixth year, but its aim remains the same: to encourage those struggling to talk.

As part of the campaign the Kodaline frontman, alongside girlfriend and author Diana Bunici, will be hosting a radio slot on WIMS FM to contribute to the necessary conversation around mental health and young people.

“I know now more than ever people do talk about [mental health],” he says, “but I think there’s probably more people out there who still aren’t talking about it, and they are genuinely in a bad place.”

Garrigan says that people often see celebrities and those with large platforms as removed from mental health issues, when in reality “… there’s influencers out there with hundreds of thousands of followers and they’re probably going through shit as well.”

“It’s not just one kind of person,” he says. “It’s everybody.”

He points to the music industry and the particularly “bizarre” influence it can – and does – have on performers’ mental and physical health.

Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell come to mind as he considers those the industry has lost in recent years.

The passing of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan hit him particularly hard he says, due to the personal connection he had with her. She and the rest of the band had given Kodaline their big break years before when they toured together around France.

“We literally had never played to more than 20 people,” he recalls, “and then the next week we’re playing arenas supporting The Cranberries.”

“When we found out that [Dolores] had passed away it was crazy. Because from what we had seen as a band, she was fine. She was Dolores O’Riordan. We didn’t see anything else.”

Garrigan says he doesn’t know if it’s the lifestyle associated with the industry, or the fact that a lot of musicians might keep what’s going on inside to themselves.

“From my point of view I’m very lucky to have the guys [in Kodaline] because we’ve known each other since we were eight-years-old,” he says.

“We know each other inside out. We support each other.

“If someone is going through something bad, we’re there at the end of the day. And first thing in the morning, and every second of every day, actually.”

Talking helps, but so does working.

For as long as he can remember, Garrigan has experienced being on stage as a form of therapy. Singing, he says, and writing music both have the same effect.

“Performing is just escapism, I love it” he says. “It’s just a way of venting. Getting your anger out, getting anything out, doing it through music, which is awesome to do.

“So when I’m pissed off, instead of starting an argument or something, I can just do that.”

He points to Billie Eilish’s ‘when the party’s over’ as one of those songs; a track that you can listen to over and over again when you when you might not be in the best headspace.

“It’s kind of over-played now,” he says. “But when I first heard that I was like, ‘Who is that and what is that?’ It’s just awesome. It has that emotion.”

Fans of Kodaline have said the same about the band’s own work too.

According to Gerrigan, a lot of their songs tend to have a “positive, stay strong element to them” – something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans, many of whom have reached out to the band to say that their music has helped them through a particularly bad period.

“I don’t really know what to say to them usually,” he says.

“There’s not much that I can say, I’m not a therapist. You can only really assure them that there are organisations out there that can help – and that they’re not alone.

“A lot of people are going through tough times. It’s cliche but stay strong and hang in there. I think if that comes from someone like me or one of the guys in the band, and they’re fans of us, they’ll listen to it.”

And although Garrigan might be busy with Walk In My Shoes, he’s also been spending quite a bit of time in the studio – as well as preparing for Kodaline’s upcoming international tours.

“We’re making our fourth album and it’ll be out probably some time next year,” he says. “Maybe in March.

“I’ve already got some of the main songs and the singles lined up (…) and the album’s about halfway done.

“We’re producing it all ourselves too, it’s really exciting.”

Walk In My Shoes FM will broadcast live from Monday October 7 to Friday October 11. You can find out more about the initiative here.