One Year and Counting
CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN IN NEW YORK, JULY 2015. PHOTOS: RAF STAHELIN. GROOMING: WESLEY O’MEARA AT HONEY ARTISTS USING AG HAIR CARE. SITTINGS EDITOR: JESSI JACQ.
Eight years ago, Catfish and The Bottlemen, a rock band from Llandudno, Wales, was struggling to be noticed, literally throwing demos at their favorite musicians from the crowd during shows. But as they began booking gigs, rarely saying no to any live show, and armed themselves with catchy guitar riffs that could easily be placed in an Inbetweeners episode and realistic lyrics about life as a wide-eyed teenager on a constant quest for alcohol and sex, the Welsh quartet gained an audience. Slowly but surely they earned their current reputation as one of the U.K.’s best live acts, and now that reputation is seeping into the U.S.
With their debut record The Balcony (Island Records), Van McCann, Benji Blakeway, Johnny Bond, and Bob Hall present a collection of songs that date back to the band’s inception, filled with guitar solos and loud choruses. As of this week, The Balcony has spent a full year on the Official Albums Chart Top 100 in the U.K., and tomorrow marks the start of the band’s largest headlining American tour, which will bring Catfish and the Bottlemen (a name taken from an Australian street musician, Catfish and the Bottleman) to Terminal 5 in October.
Before the tour, we caught up with the band’s co-founders, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Van McCann and bassist Benji Blakeway, over the phone.
STEVEN EDELSTONE: You once told The Independent that you love doing interviews because you used to have to beg for them. Has the novelty worn off now that you’ve done a lot of press and been on magazine covers?
VAN MCCANN: It’s always been a bit of a novelty. We realize that the music side of the press is very serious stuff, but when it comes to trivial questions, we go off. The stuff that gets written about us in interviews is our own, so anybody who finds it funny is in on the joke and anybody who gets mad at us is clearly taking things too seriously. We just love playing music and touring around the world, and doing interviews is the price you pay for that. When you’re in school or in any type of job, you have to please people on the other end, so it’s the exact same but on a bigger scale now.
EDELSTONE: You guys have been together as band since 2007. How long ago did you write the songs that are on The Balcony?
BENJI BLAKEWAY: Some of them go back six or seven years at least, even if they were just ideas. We wrote “Tyrants” when we were about 14. The album was written over a period of six or seven years and while bits of each song has brand new parts from the studio, the majority of it has been floating around.
MCCANN: We’ve written loads of songs that didn’t make it on this album. We’ve got enough ideas for five albums!
EDELSTONE: Do you still identify with these songs that you wrote so long ago?
MCCANN: Yeah, definitely. When we came to record the album, I refreshed all of the lyrics. I’ve been with these buds when I was in school and left school. All of the stories and all of the circumstances and events are still going on. We’re still in that chapter of our lives.
EDELSTONE: Do you prepare for festivals, like Glastonbury and Bonnaroo, both of which you played this summer, differently than normal venue shows?
MCCANN: No, not really. Whether you’re playing a show for 10 people or 10,000, you’ve got to put the same show on—either you’re faking it or your not, regardless of how many people are there.
BLAKEWAY: Obviously, the bigger the crowd, the taller you feel. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking at.
EDELSTONE: Van, you had food poisoning before Glastonbury. How’d you make it through?
MCCANN: I can’t give you an exact figure for how many times, but I was vomiting for two days straight and then Bondy [Jonny Bond] got it that Monday. We had no sleep and the shakes, like you do when you’ve had a night out. I was thinking, “Let’s just get through this.” We just had a few smokes and sat down and listened to music. Then it started raining and it was piling down on us. It was kind of a bit of fresh air. We used to play in a beer garden not far from where we are from and we got used to getting pissed on by rain.
EDELSTONE: Is food poisoning the biggest setback you’ve had before a show?
BLAKEWAY: We were supposed to be playing in Germany and they forgot to get my bass off the plane!
EDELSTONE: There’s a trend of bands touring for years before releasing their debut records, like yourselves—Haim and Wolf Alice also come to mind. What did you learn from the smaller, poorly attended shows? And how do those thing apply to the shows you’re playing now?
MCCANN: We’re still doing it in some places, recently in Australia and Japan for example. I think there’s a level of discipline that you get from playing small shows for so long. If you can go eight years without a record deal, with no money, and only playing to sometimes one person a night, then surely another eight years can’t hurt! [laughs] We had these ideas instilled in us that we wanted to be in a band like Oasis or the Stereophonics, these bands who would get in the back of vans and go on tour and earn their foundation. We try to say yes to everything. When we were younger, we’d try to take every single opportunity. We just want our music to be in every person’s lives. It’s real music that’s about real people, real stories, and relatable stuff.
EDELSTONE: At Governors Ball last year, you were the first band on stage. In an interview, you said that you still “think it’s crazy that you could just write a song in your bedroom and the next minute, that song is good enough to fly you across the world.” Do you think you still have that mentality?
MCCANN: Yeah, it’s really funny because we always say that we probably do the rock star thing wrong. We’re just normal lads that think this is all fucking hilarious. I’m still very much an Arctic Monkeys fan and when they walk past me, I leave my shades on and try to act cool, but I’m really thinking, “You fucking legend! You wrote ‘Cornerstone!'”
BLAKEWAY: We’re very happy to be out of those beer gardens—we love those days, but that was our day job. We feel like we’ve been promoted now and our fans are proud of us.
EDELSTONE: Not that long ago, you were handing out demos at your favorite bands’ shows. There’s a story of you handing one to Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and him rejecting you. At Glastonbury, someone threw you a demo onstage and you said that you’d listen to it. Did you?
MCCANN: I’ve got it in my bag right now! I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, because since Glastonbury everyone’s throwing them at me, but I’ve kept them all. It feels good to repay the favor, though. We threw one at the Kooks and went on tour with them seven years later. Frightened Rabbit took one too. We used to do all kinds of stuff. We snuck into Jools Holland’s sound check hoping to get on the show by giving someone a CD. We’d go in and go, “They’re the new Strokes,” put the album on the desk, and walk out. And they’d go, “This is fucking rubbish!” [laughs] We’re from the middle of nowhere, so we thought that once you got a train ticket to London, you got a record deal.
EDELSTONE: How do you feel like the continually growing recognition has impacted you, the writing process, or the music?
MCCANN: At the moment, we’re quite young and we’re not famous enough to get stopped on the street. The whole concept of coming to America is just an enjoyment. Just as Messi loves playing football and probably kicked his ball against the wall about a 100,000 more times than any other kid, we’ve done the same thing. We’re genuinely trying to make a career out of this and not just making a quick buck and being rock stars for a day. We’re here for the long haul. We’re very excited for our album and we couldn’t be more confident about it. The people around us—our record label, our management, our producer, our friends—everyone is overwhelmed by it, which makes us so proud. I’m just very excited to see what comes next. There’s a lot of bands who are out there partying with celebrities and trying to reach that same kind of status, but you’ve got to have the music and the songs. You can’t show up with nice coats and your teeth done; you have to write the songs first.
FOR MORE ON CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.