Welsh indie rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen are relentlessly making their mark on today’s hotlists. Rolling Stone named Them one of the top ten musicians to catch at March’s SXSW festival in Austin and Rdio listed them as March’s Artist to Watch. Having released their first album The Balcony in September of last year, they entered 2015 with a fresh perspective, thirst for the road and plenty of positive reception. They have since been plastering their name across the east coast and are about to make their way across Europe and the rest of the globe all year. We luckily swiped the group’s charming singer Van McCann for a sweet little chat about how they started out dressing up as ninjas, how he always keeps it real and why he always wants to dream big.
mxdwn: So you got your start playing in parking lots before shows?
Van: That was just something we used to do to keep it exciting. We always tried to use different methods of things to get ourselves noticed. We used to leave festivals a day early and put CDs on people’s windscreens. We’d wait outside arenas in the cold and just give them to people when they were leaving. We used to dress up as ninjas and rev up generators and play at universities. So everyone would be on their lunch break or whatever and we’d just rev up, and everyone would be eating their sandwich and be like “Who the fuck are these ninjas playing rock and roll music?!” We did all kinds of stuff really.
mxdwn: How did you get from there to here?
Van: There to here? Plane. A jet plane from England to America… Just graft hard work, I guess. We just kept banging down doors. We never waited for anything. We never expected anything to be given to us. So, instead of sitting there on our asses doing nothing, we were like let’s get up and let’s get a van. We worked for a year, saved up our own money, bought a van, played every pub in Britain – every place in Britain – and we played every step of the latter. We’ve just done two nights at Brixton Academy which sold out in nine minutes (which is ten thousand people). So, we went from ten people to ten thousand people. Every step of the way, we didn’t think we’d get put on the front of a magazine or on TV and blow up overnight. It was genuine grafted word of mouth. We’re really proud of it. We’re really proud of where we’ve come to.
mxdwn: What drove you through that process?
Van: My dad. Literally, he used to drive us everywhere. We weren’t even old enough to drive, so he drove us everywhere. My dad used to drive us through it both mentally and literally. He was like, “If you’re going to do this, do it properly. Try and take over the world. Make your mum proud. Don’t fret. Don’t be just like these bands who come around, do one album, get drugged up, and disappear. Give people a band to believe in.” You know what I mean? So, him just kind of saying that. I got kicked out of school and he was like, “You’re not going to be a waster. You’ve got your talent and you can do something with your life.” It’s in there. It’s not in your blood, it’s in your heart. It started with that – with my dad just watching me like that in a lovely way.
mxdwn: It seems like you have a pretty clear cut approach now. How did your sound develop? What was your inspiration?
Van: We just that said we were going to be exactly what it says on the tin. Whilst everyone else says to think outside the box, we’re going to stay dead center. We’re so proud that we’re a brain-dead rock and roll group. We’re so simple. It’s simple music. It’s straightforward. I’m never trying to be poetic with the lyrics. I tell it like it is. If I’m missing somebody, I don’t say, “Oh, I miss you baby. I wish I could drive off in the sunset in a Cadillac,” because that doesn’t happen. I’m just like, “I fucking miss you loads. I fancy you loads.” That’s how I write songs. I just talk out loud. We don’t try anything fancy. We just say it how we’re saying it. Say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s the whole approach, nothing fancy, just guitars, drums, long hair – that’s it.
mxdwn: Congratulations on the new album The Balcony. Hearing it at SX was exciting and entertaining. What inspired the album?
Van: Loads of things. Being 16, 17, 18, being from the middle of nowhere, trying to become someone, being horny, having no money, having dreams – you know just everything you do from ages 16 to 18/19. Whatever you were doing at that time, I was probably doing. Do you know what I mean? You were probably trying to chase guys, trying to build a living, trying to move somewhere, trying to get out of the town you grew up in. So, it’s just about escapism, I guess. Small town stories and escapism. I always say they’re like scruffy love songs, like love songs but in a scruffy way. They’re love songs but when you just woke up in the morning.
mxdwn: So you draw all your inspiration from personal experience?
Van: Yeah, because we grew up in such a small town, if you had five mates, you knew everybody’s business because no matter who worked for the door in the bar, somebody would know something about that person. The town was so small. It was just stories you’d pick up along the way and stuff like that. People you meet and girls I’ve been in love with or not in love with or my best mates. Just that kind of thing, just everyday life – real people stuff, normal stuff.
mxdwn: What do you love most about making music?
Van: Getting ripped! No, I’m joking. Playing live. I never got in a band to sell records or win awards or get on magazines or TV or like doing this stuff. This is a bonus to me. People want to speak to me about my songs. That blows me away. So, my favorite part about being in a band is playing live. We want to play football stadiums. We want to throw those big circuses that people used to go see. I never got to see the Stone Roses in Spike Island or Oasis at Knebworth. I got the see the Arctic Monkeys, but there’s not been a band for ten years. The Arctic Monkeys are nearly 30. 16-year-old kids haven’t got 21-year-old or like a young band. When I was 16, I got the Arctic Monkeys and they were only like 20-21, and I was looking up to them like they were my older brothers. Kids who are like me then don’t have that anymore. Nobody’s come out in years and said they want to play football stadiums. Everyone’s just happy being good looking on the fronts of magazines and not really caring about the music, singing about nothing. That’s just the best thing about music for me – just playing stadiums and seeing the way people react to your songs. I’ve had people cry their eyes out telling me the album’s changed their lives and stuff like that. I just wrote those songs in my bedroom messing about and it’s making people happy. That’s the best bit about it.
mxdwn: The live music setting is very exciting and you’ve gotten a good taste of it in the past year. What do you love/hate about tour life?
Van: I hate the way it’s taken everything I loved off me. I loved this girl and I thought she’s the one and I’m going to married and have kids with her; but I’m home one month a year. So, I never see her, and it was killing me that I couldn’t take her out for a drink or take her to dinner and stuff like that. I’ve not spoke to my mom and dad and they’re like my best mates. I’ve not spoken to them in like two months. I don’t even know where they are. When I last spoke to them, they were moving out. So I don’t know where they are. Having all that stuff taken away from you is the hardest part. I’ve got a puppy called Mary and she’s about that big. . She wakes me up every morning and licks my face. She’s the best! We shave her like a lion. So we shave all her body skinny and we keep her head massive. She looks like a lion and her tail’s massive. She loves balloons. She’s mad. Just that. Just missing that. At the same time, I’m 22 and I’ve been around the world 4 times. I’ve been places my dad’s never been and he’s 55 years old. I got a lawyer for the band when I was 18, and he was like, “I didn’t get a lawyer til I was 30! Why’ve you got a lawyer? You’re 18. You don’t need a lawyer.” So, I’m just so lucky to be where I am. Despite losing all that stuff, I could die tomorrow. At least I’ve died doing something I believed in. I hate the way it’s taken everything off me, but I love the way it’s given me everything at the same time. Double-edged sword, but I love it.
mxdwn: Theoretically, alive/dead/fictional/real, who would you love to tour with and why?
Van: The Streets Mike Skinner – they’re my favorite band of all time. You know the way I was saying about how I write songs? That’s because of him. The way he used to write songs when I was a kid, when I would listen to it, it was like my best mate was talking to me. It was so normal. He just never talked shit. When he used to write love songs, it was about him having a spliff with his girlfriend while they sat on the sofa watching television, and that was my life. You know the way Eagles write love songs about driving off into the sunset in Cadillacs, I never had Cadillacs. I had a joint, morning TV and a girl, and that was it. He resonated with me like he was my best mate. Him, I love him. They’re not together anymore, but I just love him to death.
mxdwn: What are your goals for the next year besides touring?
Van: Football stadiums. I want to buy my mom a jacuzzi. I’d love to buy her a jacuzzi. I’d love to send my dad a helicopter. That’d make him laugh. So, I need to write a song good enough to get helicopter lessons. The next album I finished writing. We were not supposed to start writing the next album til April and we finished writing it before this one finished recording. Another album is out there. Everything is ready – the title, artwork. We’re ready to go. We want to work for the next year. Just more work and try and make that one month off two weeks off and just try and shorten it so we’re on the road for the rest of our lives. We want it so bad. The thought of having it taken away from us is too terrifying. We’re just that hungry. We won’t let anybody come near it. We won’t let anyone near us. You’re not taking it away from us. We’re just really passionate about it and just excited. Because we’ve promised people so much, I always said if you invested in this band now, we’re not going to disappear in LA going and sailing on yachts and getting wasted and forgetting why we’re here. We’ll give you a body of work. We’ll play those big gigs I’m talking about. We want to host them gigs and throw them circuses. I just want to prove it to everybody who’s gone out and bought a t-shirt or got a tattoo of us on their arm like mad men. These people believe in us. Christ, if we flop now, they’re stuck with that for life, so we’ve got a responsibility, you know what I mean? I just want to stick to my word. In the next year, I want to stick to my word.
mxdwn: It sounds like you have such an ambitious, motivated attitude and have so much potential. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Van: In my mom’s jacuzzi, jumping out of my dad’s helicopter straight into my mom’s jacuzzi, a rolling bomb out the helicopter side. Five years – football stadiums. Why not?! Five years. 27. I’m 22. So, I’ve got the second album ready. I’ve still got five years/six years before I even have to think about writing a “Sex on Fire” or a “Wonderwall.” So, who knows. Football stadiums, why not? Dream big. Dream as big as you can be so at least you die chasing something. If I wanted to be as big as Bloc Party, then we’d be pretty much done now. Where’s the point in that? Dream big, so football stadiums – five years. I bet you.