You may not know who Catfish & The Bottlemen are yet, but if leader singer Van McCann has anything to do with it, you will be hearing about the indie pop rockers very soon. Since the 22-year-old Llandudno (that’s in Northern Wales) native and his band of Bottlemen released their debut studio album The Balcony last September, they certainly haven’t been shy about their plans to become the ‘biggest band in the world’. Who knows; they’re currently travelling with The Kooks on their first Australian tour and performing headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne, so perhaps they’re on their way.
We spoke to McCann about how great it is to be alive, the overabundance of depressing music in the world, and the plight of being uncool. Just mind the cheesy Australian stereotypes…
Are you ready?
I’m so ready. Wow, nobody’s ever asked me that, ‘are you ready’.
Do you mind if I record this conversation?
No. You’re not the police are you? You’re not the FBI?
Ah, that’s my other job. I’m not on duty. So where are you at the moment?
I’m in my kitchen having a smoke. It’s really early in the morning. I woke up ‘cause you guys are a whole day ahead of us so I have to wake up dead early and do like six of these. But you guys are all like, so positive because it’s always sunny there and you’ve all got surfboards, it’s awesome. I don’t know if that’s clichéd but you know what I mean. You guys have got a great life. I can’t wait to come over and see it.
It’s only a little bit clichéd. I don’t have a surfboard but I do have sunshine so you’re sort of right.
Nah, Australians are just really positive, that’s all I’m trying to say.
This is going to be your first ever visit to Australia with your band, could you maybe describe your sound for people who, for some reason, may not have heard of Catfish and the Bottlemen?
It’s like, erm, yeah – it’s always a hard one that. It’s just really simple, life-affirming, positive rock and roll. It’s kind of like … funny lyrics, and English colloquialisms and just positive, good drumming. We’ve got a really good drummer called Sideshow Bob – he looks like Sideshow Bob off The Simpsons – he’s awesome. But I don’t know…if you come see us live it’s just like straight up rock and roll music. I think I’ve got a good voice, I think our guitar players are really good, bass player’s good. We’re just a really good group who’ve been together a long time. There’s a lot of balls to it live, it’s exciting.
One thing I’ve noticed from interviews and live footage I’ve seen is that you guys seem to have this crazy amount of energy and always seem really optimistic about, well, the future I guess. I’m wondering, at the risk of sounding totally cynical, where does all that energy and optimism come from?
The energy? It’s all the drugs that we take. No I’m joking. I don’t know man, being alive. Being alive is great isn’t it? It’s good to be alive, and you know, all we ever wanted to do when we were kids was be in the biggest band on the planet, so when we’re playing every step of the way – whether its to ten people or ten thousand people – we give it the same.
My best friend who’s our guitar tech, he got run over when he was about 15-16, and he should have died. So you know, being around him every day it’s like, should I have that last biscuit? I could die tomorrow, you know what I mean? Should I fall in love with that girl even though she doesn’t speak a word of English? And it’s like, yeah why not? So everything is just like, give it your best. You know, should we turn this gig up because it’s our last? When we played Letterman I lost my voice for three days after it because I was like, screaming on it. Just like, why not man? You might not ever get another chance to get on the American telly again so go for it. I’m just dead happy to be alive and grateful for the opportunity. People feed off that, you know, people feed off it live. People see we’re having a great time, which we are every single day of our lives. People feed off it.
Well it’s lovely to hear — someone who’s happy to be alive I mean. I feel you don’t get that very often.
Yeah same, and it’s the same with music. You know, everyone is writing a lot of songs about morbid stuff. But with us, we think right inside the box. Actually, this is really good, this should be in the description of our sound: when we went to America someone said ‘Catfish and the Bottlemen are not in America to reinvent the wheel, they’re there to show us how fucking awesome the wheel is.’ Which I thought was pretty cool. Because we’re not good-looking enough or talented enough to make it sound, like, crazy. We’re just very simple rock and roll music with honest lyrics. With, like, genuine soul.
In terms of your lyrics, as you were saying, you’ve said in the past that your band’s goal is to write songs that other people are going to feel happy listening to, and as you’ve said ‘unite people’. Is that something you think has been missing from modern music?
Yeah, totally. For me anyway. Bands that are out today… there are some amazing bands. But I don’t think there has been a band that’s given 16-year-old lads and girls something to latch onto until they’re thirty. You know what I mean? Oasis did and for me, The Streets did it, but there’s not been a band since The Streets. You know, like ‘I’m going to be here, I’m not going to disappear, and I’m going to be present, and I’m going to give you a body of material that you can look in to.’ So we’re like that, we just want to be around. We want to write an album and put it out now, and we want to give people a year and a half and put another one out, and another one out, and another one out – and keep doing it.
I think people get lost in it and forget what they’re there to do. A lot of bands are cooler than us and would say ‘oh yeah we wrote songs for ourselves, and if everyone else gets it and that’s great’ but if that was the case you would stay in your bedroom wouldn’t you? I mean, I totally wrote songs for other people, to become a multi-billionaire and get on the telly so me mum can laugh at us as say ‘why is my son on there he’s an idiot’ – you know what I mean? So yeah, I’m not cool. I’m not anything. I’m just a normal kid who’s trying to buy his mum a Jacuzzi, really.
Well do the songs still have some personal meaning to you or are they more in the hands of other people?
No totally, that’s the thing, I guess it’s not a problem and I always say that I’d like to be able to do it. But I like the way our songs sound and I like the way I can write songs. The only way I can write songs is through stories, whether it’s about me mate and I see it through my point of view or it’s about me. I can’t make stuff up like John Lennon could, or Paul McCartney could, just about things. I mean this new stuff I’ve been writing is less about people in a small town, and more about life. Like, you know how I was telling you about my best friend? We figured out I love songs about being in love, you know, songs about girls and songs about doing things for other people. But he likes songs about life, like Oasis songs about getting out of a fit and all that stuff. So my new stuff is really about trying to get inside his head, and be more about life and travelling. You know, more like a pick-me-up.
You said you never wanted to find success being on the radio, you wanted to get your name out there through relentless gigging, travelling, interacting with different people, sort of without the media go-between. What was it about that method that felt more authentic or genuine?
What the English press are doing with all the ‘they look like they’re from the sixties’, you know, we used to just get branded like ‘out of fashion’ – which they’ve done a million times. And I know it! We’re the first people that will tell you that, you know what I mean? We’re not trying to do anything special, we’re just trying to make music. Do the same old thing. Which is what rock and roll music is, that’s what bands are here to do. The [Arctic] Monkeys were good because they sounded like The Strokes and The Strokes were good because they sounded like the Velvet Underground, and Oasis were good because they sounded like The Beatles. That’s what it is about bands… you know, sixteen year old kids won’t remember what Oasis sounded like, a few of them won’t. So we need to be that band who introduced them. Like my older cousin is the one that got me into Oasis, then I got them into the Arctic Monkeys. You kind of just pass them around to each other. Everything we do it’s for other people. And as much as we’re enjoying it… you know the first song I on our album, I hated it and wanted to throw it away. But then my best friend loved it, and I thought well if it makes me best mate happy I like it! So that’s what it’s all about, just having a good time really.
The reason why we did the gigging thing is because we wanted people to go out and buy the album after they’ve seen us live and gone ‘these are good, I want their album, these are quality, these guys can sing, these guys can play’. You know, we used to rehearse like, nine hours a day every day. So for years straight we wrote three hours worth of material before we had even gotten a record deal. We were just kids like ‘we’re going to take over the world man’ and then the record labels were like ‘if you’re going to take over the world you need three hours worth of material’, and we’re like ‘we’ve got that!’ and they were like ‘what?! You’re only 18, how have you got 150 songs?’ and we’re like ‘’cause we gonna take over the world, we told you!’ So it’s all just a good laugh, you know what I mean?
Yeah, I mean I think there’s a bit of confusion that’s maybe perpetuated by music publications, that music is all about being serious and being cool and innovative. So I guess maybe people can get caught up in that kind of idea and forget that what a band like you guys is doing is maybe just as important.
It’s hilarious the stuff that they write because it’s like, they need whatever they need to make their magazine sell. So yeah it is so serious. It’s just music. We just make music for people who like our music and I think it’s hilarious when people don’t like it and they get fuming. We love that. You know some bands if they get some negative criticism they get so offended by it. Once some guy was fuming at us, like ‘get these bands back to England’ you know, ‘get off our turf’ and stuff and I was like ‘Shut up mate’. If you don’t like it just shut up. But it’s music man it gets everybody excited, that’s what music is.
In Australia you guys are supporting The Kooks, but you’ve also managed to secure headline shows in both Sydney and Melbourne. How does that feel? Considering you guys haven’t even been here yet to tour?
I’ve always wanted to come, since I was a kid. Yeah, and our band name – there’s a busker in Australia called the Cat the Bottleman, which is where our band name is from. For the first two years of my life I was over in Australia with my dad so like, it’s like a full 360. I can ring me dad and go ‘dad, guess where I am?’ and he’ll be like ‘where are you’ and I’ll be like ‘Australia’ and he’ll be like ‘WHAT?’
I heard that you were going to try and get the original Cat the Bottleman to open one of your Australian shows. Have you managed to secure him yet?
Er, we were going to wait until we were there. We were going to suss it out first before we speak to him. It would be a bit weird if there was like twenty people there and we got him on before us then they were like ‘who’s this guy?’ You know what I mean? So we’ll probably do it once we’ve sold out somewhere big so it’s a bit more of a case. But we’re definitely going to go chat him up and see him while we’re there.
I was thinking about how you kind of stole his stage name…
A lot of people have been out in our t-shirts and have told him about it and apparently that’s how he buzzed it. And he sent me a video of himself thanking me and congratulating on how I’m doing so well. He sent me an email and I still haven’t watched it all yet, I mean I had a quick chance to see it in America when I was on the move. But he sent me a video of himself saying where he got his band name and apparently, it comes back to when he was busking in Ireland, which is where all my family are from. Like all my granddads and stuff, so it’s like a big 360 apparently.
We don’t have much time so I guess my last question will be: what are you expecting or hoping to find when you come to Australia? You’re not allowed to say spiders or snakes.
Erm, surfboards and sunshine obviously? No we’re not really excited to see anything. Just dead excited to do the gigs and dead excited to see what the crowds are like, and meet new people. We’re not excited to see anything, just to play our songs.
Catfish & the Bottlemen will play at Melbourne’s Hi-Fi on Sunday January 25th. Their remaining shows with The Kooks are tonight at The Riverstage in Brisbane, and tomorrow at Melbourne’s Sydney Myer Music Bowl.