By all rights, vocalist Steve Garrigan and his childhood buddy, guitarist-keyboardist Mark Prendergast, should have been One Direction-huge teenage idols.
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