Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Interview @ TGE2013
Sat on Brighton sea front after Catfish and the Bottlemen’s TGE2013 show, frontman Van McCann pushes his clean, long hair from his face revealing his cute freckles and declares nonchalantly, ‘if you can’t get it up, write about it.’ I couldn’t help but giggle at the honesty I evoke in people. He adds, ‘if you can, don’t brag about it,’ making him even more likeable. Sex talk after only a handful of minutes with this boy fresh out of his teenage years?! But wait, lets chat music first.
He carries on with his straight talking, ‘I thought we sounded shit tonight. Did you see me with that mic stand?’ He addresses me like I’m one of his old school mates (which is a relief as I am old enough to be his mother. Just). Actually, I did clock him wrestling with the mic stand and calling it a bastard during the show, but I was too busy admiring his Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) style vocals for it to bother me. I assured him they sounded fantastic. I’d only heard Homesick before I saw the boys live but I had a sneaky feeling they were going to be special. In true crystal ball style I was right. I’m not in the least bit surprised they have been snapped up by Communion Records.
Like losing your virginity, their signing to Communion happened rather quickly and in a bit of a blur. Home to Daughter, Ben Howard and Goyte to name a few, Communion is no small-time affair. CATB went from managing themselves to calling Communion home within 2 weeks. ‘I’m not sure it will ever sink in really. We don’t take anything for granted,’ says Van holding eye contact with me, using the confidence of a man far older. He’s so genuinely excited about his new ‘family’ at Communion that I find my own tail wagging in response.
Let’s clear something up. Yes, CATB are an indie-rock 4 piece, but they are not Welsh; they just happen to live there. That said, they’ve been calling their tour van home for the last 2 years (I marvel at how nice and clean he looks for someone living without access to a daily shower) and have played over 200 gigs. Which goes some way to explain how inspiring they are to watch. Their name (an issue for a Radio 1 presenter who runs past us shouting change your name Van!) is an unusual one. Despite being the frontman, Van isn’t the Catfish, their roady is. He’s the one with the stories apparently, and they write a lot of songs based around him. They all went to school together, roadies n’ all. ‘There are no outsiders in the group. Our label offered us two hotel rooms, but we only need one. We all pile into one bed together!‘ I briefly think about the smell of a hotel room with a large group of teenage boys inhabiting it, and move on to more appropriate topics.
CATB strip things right back to basics. There’s no synths or fancy samples – they don’t need them. Van however tells me they’d have them if they weren’t so skint. They are straight up honest rock and but their live shows are really something special; Van is a born frontman. Energy sparks from their guitars and hits your spine with a rush of pleasure. These are boys who live for their music. You play like an animal, I tell Van. He laughs and shows me his bleeding fingers. ‘I only know 4 chords’. With a voice like that it wouldn’t matter if you had 4 thumbs, I think. You would never be able to guess the 4-chord truth watching Van attack his guitar like a warrior in a battle. ‘I write all the tunes and lyrics and then take it to the lads and they make it sound big.’
Van has a broad Lancashire accent but was actually brewed in Australia in a test tube. Third time lucky and an only child. His folks must have come up with a magic recipe I tell him. Thanks very much, he grins. He says thank you a lot. At least 50 times as numerous people try to steal him from me during my interview. It’s rather charming really, all this politeness and not a sniff of attitude. ‘I’m not fussed about stardom. There are so many bands who clearly do it for the fame and don’t take their sunglasses off indoors. I’m in love with what we do and I would play gigs like this forever.’
It’s good to see Van hasn’t rebelled against his parents. But I guess he hasn’t needed to. They’re music lovers too; he’s named after Van Morrison after all. His parents have supported him every step along a path that I imagine is made of yellow bricks and sticky from spilt booze. His dad even drove the band all the way to Germany just for 2 gigs; it nearly killed him! But I guess if your loins are responsible for brewing up a rock-star son you’d want a piece of the action; even if it’s a struggle to stay up until midnight.
His family are responsible for helping shape the sound of CATB, too. When asking the obligatory ‘influences’ question he immediately names his Granddad who plays the fiddle. ‘He’s about 190 but he’s still rockin’. He’s my kind of hero.’ Bizarrely, one of Van’s favourite lyricists is Mike Skinner (The Streets). ‘I like people that are dead simple. Even though Beast Coast lyrics could have been written by a 10 year old, when she sings them you can feel her heartache and I like that.’ Since he has strong ties to Oz, I ask him if he likes Tame Impala and get called a ‘div’ for having to ask. We have a little sing of Feels Like We Only Go Backwards and I recover some of my kudos points.
‘As soon as I got shit at football I thought it was time to write a few songs.’ Good job he turned his attentions to things other than the curriculum as he was kicked out of school at the age of 15. He likes telling me about the things he’s shit at; shit in bed (what a comedian), shit at reading. ‘You know people see films and murders and stuff in their heads when they read? Well, that doesn’t happen to me so I don’t read.’ Quite remarkable that this young man who doesn’t absorb words from a page is so adept at penning song lyrics.
We talk about Homesick and he how came to write about such emotional stuff even though he’s only a young pup. ‘I went mad for a year. It’s about my girfriend. I’ve never felt anything for a girl before so I guess it’s our deepest song as it’s the most real. We thought it was one of our weaker songs ‘cos it’s quite slow (to start) but we went into the studio with it and the label said that’s it. That’s the single.’
Van says I should come back to their hotel later. There’s 7 boys staying there. I remind him that I am 32, and they are a bunch of teenagers. He smiles cheekily and shrugs ‘well you’ll have plenty of tricks up your sleeve to teach us then.’ While this write up would have been infinitely more juicy (in more ways than one), I stuck to my morals and kept my inner cougar in the cage.
With over 500 songs kickin’ around, there won’t be a shortage of material. Hopefully we’ll see an EP soon. Big things lie ahead for these boys. Their single Homesick is out on June 17th; and the b-side Pacifier is just as huge. Pre-order here. You can catch them on tour around the UK and at The Bar Fly in London on June 3. I PROMISE you will love them.