Exclusive interview: Catfish and the Bottlemen

Though Catfish and the Bottlemen may seem like another overnight success story, the explosive Welsh four-piece has been toiling away for eight years, forming when they were teenagers in their hometown of Llandudno and playing gigs to anyone who’d listen. Frontman Van McCann, whose confessional lyrics and insatiable indie rock melodies have earned Catfish a die-hard following in the UK, writes candidly about relationships and escaping small town ennui, and says the band’s forthcoming debut album (due in January) is one he’s “dead proud of”. We stole a little time with Van before the band’s gig at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn to talk songwriting, success, their debut EP, Kathleen and the Other Three and having breakfast with his hero, Ewan McGregor.

On the infamous band name.
The first two years of my life I spent travelling around Australia with my mum and dad, sat in the back of a car. One of my earliest memories of listening to music was being sat outside this café and there was a busker there called Catfish the Bottleman and he used to play a fishing line with wine bottles on it. So when it came to a name, I thought it would be an unusual thing to call a band. Since then people have gone over in our shirts and met him and he’s dead flattered. It makes me happy, that. When we play in Australia, I’m going to try and get him to open for us.

On how they formed.
I was in school with Ben, our bass player. Our new guitar player, Bondy, was in a band called Detroit Social Club and our drummer, we met because we lived across the road from each other, but we didn’t know. I rang the guy who was producing our demos at the time asking if he knew any drummers and he kept saying no, but when it came time to find one he was like, ‘oh yeah I actually do’, so I rang him and said ‘do you fancy a jam?’ When I put his address into my sat nav, it took me across the road.

On being a band for eight years and sticking with it.
We’ve been around for ages and there’s been times when it been quite frustrating, when it was literally hand to mouth and we couldn’t afford to live, pretty much, and there were times when we thought we’re going to have this pack this in, not because we want to but because we’re going to fucking die, we don’t have enough money and you wouldn’t eat for a week or whatever. Playing Reading and Leeds Festival [in the UK] this year, to literally thousands of people – like 6000 or something, people spilling out of the tent – was just unreal, and our management were like, ‘if you never do anything again, you’ll always have that’. I couldn’t stop shaking for days and I couldn’t come down off it. I’m still not down off it, really. I was well proud of that gig.

On his love for Ewan McGregor.
Whenever I’d get time off from tour I used to just sit there and watch his films. I think he’s got a face that lights up a room, you know what I mean? I just think he’s mint. His head is on our drum skin and we put him in the video for Kathleen – it’s like a compilation of him laughing, because I just wanted to make a video that cheers people up and makes them go, ‘what the fuck?’ you know? It’s just him laughing his head off and it made me laugh my head off and everyone I showed it to laughed their heads off. He found out about it and at first he was like ‘why are they doing that, do they not like me?’ And then he realized that I love him so he took us out for breakfast this morning. It was surreal. I walked in and he looked back at me over the chair and I imagine it was like if a kid has never met his dad before, meeting their dad after 18 years or something. It was unreal. I just wanted to tell him how much I loved him but at the same time I didn’t want him to be like ‘oh I don’t want to see these creeps again’ [laughs]. I’m dead happy we met him.

On the first thing he ever wrote.
I wrote a poem for a girl called Rebecca, and I still know her and she’s still got that poem. I must have been seven or eight. I was really into chasing girls when I was a kid, and I won her over but then I went on holiday for a week and she kissed my best friend behind my back. Like a kiss on the cheek. So she cheated on me [laughs]. But she was the first person I ever wrote anything for, and then I realized well, this is quite a handy thing to have in your arsenal.

On their EP, Kathleen and the Other Three.
There are four songs on it and I think Homesick is probably my favorite because it’s the first song we put out as this band, really. It was the water tester kind of thing, but it was my least favorite song. We cut a load of demos for the album and I thought it was the worst, but the crowd back home really made that song. When we released it, everyone was singing it back to us and that was the first time we’d ever had that. It came and told me it’s a good enough song, you know what I mean?

On touring the States.
The thing I’ve noticed most about America since being over here is the positivity. If you play in England, people are almost willing you to fail. Over here, they want heroes and they want you to succeed. They want a band to come over and see them grow, like yes! Come on lads! [laughs] When we last played New York, the atmosphere in the crowd was like everyone’s happy and excited and there’s something in the air when you come on stage. People are like, I want this to be fucking good and then if you are good and you impress them, they go ‘fucking hell, that was class!’ as opposed to going ‘oh I thought they’d be shit, but they were alright’. I can’t get over the fact were over here, really. It’s like being 16 again with that same kind of excitement and no expectations.

Kathleen and the Other Three is out now on Communion Records.

Catfish and the Bottlemen photographed exclusively for Milk Made by Mitchell Mclennan. US tour dates are here

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