Catfish & the Bottlemen are a four-piece rock and roll band from Llandudno. Over the last year they have amassed hundreds of gigs, garnered a dedicated following and had major play from XFM as well as BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe.

So far Catfish, comprising of front man Van McCann (vocals and guitar), Billy Bibby (guitar), Benji Blakeway (bass) and Bob Hall (drums) have released two singles since signing for Communion Records, the label that also play host to Ben Howard, Deep Valley & Daughter.

Their explosive and epic pop rock sound has seen the lads from Llandudno play festivals abroad as well as pick up impressive Leeds & Reading slots this early in their career.

Catfish & the Bottlemen’s debut album is planned for a 2014 release.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Van McCann at this year’s X & Y Festival at the O2 Academy in Liverpool where Catfish & the Bottlemen were playing one of the headline slots.


PB: We met for the first time at last year’s X & Y festival. So much has changed since then. Did you expect all of this?

VM: I don’t know really. It feels the same to us because we’re in it. It still feels exactly the same as it did a year ago. I guess we’ve got better as a band, and since meeting you we got a deal but we still feel the same four lads. It’s just the songs are a little bit better than when we met you.

PB: It stands out, but where did your name come from?

VM: It’s a long story. The first two years of my life I lived in Australia, and the first memory of music I had was this guy who used to busk on the Sydney harbour. He used to play wine bottles with different amounts of wine in them and he used to play Christmas songs, and he was called Catfish the Bottleman. So, when I came to naming a band I thought it was quite fitting.

PB: You’ve had a very productive time touring, over 100 gigs and festivals since last year. Has the rock n roll dream been what you expected?

VM: We’ve not felt it yet because we’re still small time. We’re still rocking in one van and sleeping in one hotel room. It’s better than getting a job. It’s better than sitting at home, you know? I love it. It’s not a rock & roll dream yet though. We haven’t got a jet yet. It’s all about the jets.

PB: Llandudno compared to Liverpool isn’t known for rock and roll. Is there a music scene there? Was the band formed out of boredom or reaction?

VM: I don’t know where it came from actually. We were just mucking about in school and we were just good mates. Billy could play guitar and I liked watching him play, and we just started messing about and writing songs. Then I got really serious about it because I’d always loved listening to music. It all came about really quickly. Then we played all summer and got good really fast.

PB: Could you play guitar when you started the band?

VM: No. Billy taught me and our bassist. He taught us all how to play. Then we found Bob later on.

PB: You’re the first indie guitar band to sign to Communion. How did that happen?

VM: Communion came to watch us a lot as did some others but they were really nice to us. Communion are like a big family. It’s run by musicians, and it felt fitting we weren’t going to be told what to do by men in suits.

We got on really well and we liked the fact we were the only band who played rock on their label. I thought it was nice if we fail they fail and vice versa. We followed our gut really.

PB: You’ve had Carl Barat from the Libertines attend your shows and members of the Vaccines. How does that feel?

VM: It’s fine. We’ve never been one of those bands intimidated by people because they’re just people. When Carl came, he booked us for a few shows in London. It just makes you want to play better. The Libertines are one of my favourite bands, so I really wanted him to like us and he did.

The Vaccines came about because we snuck backstage at an Arctic Monkeys gig. Because we were all wearing leather jackets, we just said it and got in. We met them at the side of the stage ,and they said they’d come and see us. We even had a load of drinks with them afterwards.

PB: What inspired you single, ‘Homesick’?

VM: It is just about being away for so long and fighting over the phone. My girlfriend lives in Edinburgh, and I hadn’t seen the lads in a while either because I was mixing the songs.

PB: You worked with Ian Grimble who also produced British Sea Power on it. What did he bring?

VM: He’s really funny. He was like a dad to me. He was really miserable. We’d do a take, and we’d come in and be like, “That was amazing,” and he’d turn around and go “That was fucking shit.” We just got on really well with him.

I don’t fully know what we’re doing with the album yet. We’ve started doing some stuff with another guy, so we don’t know who’ll do the album. We’re going do another in the New Year.

PB: Is that just another session or is that an album?

VM: Just another song.

PB: How do you choose a producer?

VM: We’ve never done it, so you just demo a few songs and see what clicks. I hate being in the studio. I’d rather just go in and sing and get out. I hate being in a room and we’re in there for too long. I’m not really looking forward to recording the album. I like playing live and touring the country.

I didn’t start a band to sell music, and we used to give our music away for free when we met you. I just wanted to make gigs busy and make people dance.

PB: Do you have any news about the album?

VM: We’re doing another single in September, and if that goes well we’ll do the album at the start of the year or late next year but definitely next year. We’ve got loads of songs; it’s just a case of picking the right ones.

PB: Is September’s single written?

VM: It’s already done. It was written before ‘Homesick’. I am not sure why we did it back to front. I guess we put it out because it’s so different.

PB: Did you see much of Glastonbury?

VM: I saw the Arctic Monkeys. I think Alex Turner’s the best songwriter on the planet at the moment. It’s weird because we were out drinking with Ben from Mumford & Sons a couple of nights before, so that was strange to see them. I think he was wearing the same jacket! I didn’t think much of Glastonbury.

PB: Would you ever write with other people?

VM: I do it all myself. I can’t do it with other people. I don’t even let the lads see my lyrics. It’s kind of like letting someone see your girlfriend naked. I would if we got big, and Alex Turner wanted to write a tune. It also says to me you can’t write a song though.
Have you heard the Strypes? They’re just playing covers, and I’m like, “Just write your own songs!”… To me it’s One Direction with guitars and suits.

PB: You said part of the reason you signed to Communion was because of creative freedom. Can you give an example of something you just wouldn’t be able to do if you’d have signed with another label?

VM: Well, I remember the Little Comets. The drummer told me they signed to Columbia. They play pots and pans and toilet seats and stuff. When they signed to the label, they took that all away and wanted to make it into generic pop music.

I’ve just known enough bands coming up that have warned us not to sign to a major just yet. Island are interested in us , and maybe we’ll do the album with something bigger. I’m happy being this band, under the radar. I could be this band forever. I’d like to get a bit bigger and sell this place out but I’m happy. We’re aiming for arenas but if ten people said they’d come and see us I’d play to ten people.

PB: We came to see you at the Kazimier the last time you played Liverpool, which was weirdly empty?

VM: Yeah, it was weird, wasn’t it?

PB: Is it weird to go from playing a sold out festival in the Czech Republic to 30 people in the Kazimier?

VM: Yeah, kind of. It’s weird because in Liverpool we sold out the Shipping Forecast, but some nights it’s dry.

PB: How do you deal with that? Do you some nights see the crowd and feel deflated?

VM: No. You still put on the best show you can. We’d played a gig in Dunfermline the other week and there were eight people there, but we still played it like it was Wembley. You’ve always got to shut your eyes and imagine you’re at Glastonbury. Some bands turn up knuckle dragging like “Fuck, nobody’s watching us”, but we’re just privileged to play and not be in Llandudno.

PB: You have just done some tour dates with Glasvegas. How did that come about?

VM: Our agent is their agent, and they got sent a song and said yes. I hadn’t listened to them properly before we went on tour with them, but they got proper into us and watched us every night.

They were inspiring to us because they wear all black, and their singer James Allen sings from his balls! I’ve never heard anyone sing like that before. They are just a great band with a massive sound. They’re one of those bands that just give it their all each night.

PB: What are you listening to at the moment?

VM: Glasvegas, the Heartbreaks, the Little Comets, Broken Hands. They’re like the Doors. Chuggy Rock & Roll. They’re from Kent and I hope they get massive.

PB: Do you ever think in goals?

VM: We just take it as it comes. When we met our manager and our label, we just said, “You tell us where to play and we’ll go play.” We let them set the goals, and then we try and smash them. We didn’t care how many ‘Homesicks’ we sold. We just wanted to make the label happy, but we did sell all the vinyl out which they said hadn’t done before. It’d be nice to do another tour after the next single and sell out some of the places.

PB: Are the lyrics you write always personal?

VM: Not always. Sometimes they’re other people’s experiences, but I sing them as if they were mine. Like our roadie who’s our tour manager, he’s absolutely nuts, I write a lot about him, but pretend it’s me. It’s all about girls and going out. I’d like to write more mythical but I can’t quite do it yet. My favourite writers are people like Stephen Fretwell, for example. They write something and you know exactly what they mean.

I’ve been told I need to write a hit. I thought I was writing hits all along, but, you know, they said they’re not!

PB: Do you know how many songs will be on the album?

VM: Eleven would be nice. We’ve got hundreds though.

PB: Since signing has there been any social networking media restrictions put on you?

VM: They sort everything out and tell us where to go, but we want to keep everything personal. We’d never let anyone use our Twitter. We like going for drinks with everyone afterwards. In Czech we didn’t even know the language and invited everyone back.

PB: You’ve had an Arctic Monkeys-like meteoric rise. They also used social networking to their benefit. Is social networking still good for bands or are the disadvantages?

V: Our drummer deals with all of that. I like to meet people who come to the gigs. I like everything personal and physical. I think it’s great you can record something and someone can hear it in Australia a couple of minutes later. I don’t know. Some bands it works for, and other bands don’t bother and still they get somewhere.

PB: Thank you.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Marie Hazelwood.















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