It’s hard to believe that Catfish and the Bottlemen only released their debut album The Balcony less than three years ago. In that time, aided by a non-stop touring schedule and a knack for writing catchy, melodic rock tunes, they’ve become one of the UK’s biggest exports.
The Welsh four piece’s Australian roots run strong – the band are named after vocalist Vann McCann’s first childhood musical memory; a Sydney street busker who plays beer bottles strung to a wire. For McCann, though, the Australian connection goes even deeper. “My mum and dad got married in Australia and they had me over there. It’s always been a real 360 when I get off the plane. I’m there for them, on their behalf, so there’s always a buzz in the air when we get to Australia,” he says. The band are preparing to return to Australian stages for the second time this year, as part of Splendour In The Grass.
Catfish and the Bottlemen’s reputation as touring workhorses isn’t one they’ve earned lightly. Besides stopping momentarily to record their second album, 2016’s The Ride, they have been in constant tour mode. When McCann first answers the call to Music Feeds he couldn’t be more excited to chat about the band’s year so far. He rattles off the list of show dates and venue capacities that will take the band all the way until the end of the year, as if they are printed on his hand.
“We have been getting up to everything, this year has been absolute class. We started in Australia then we went to South America, then did six weeks in the US, we just got back to the UK, then we do Russia tomorrow, then we do Liverpool Arena next week, and then we do Finsbury Park in London which is 35,000…” There isn’t a hint of exhaustion in his voice. McCann is someone that very clearly loves what he is doing.
To the outside world, the band’s success may seem almost as if it’s happened overnight, but in reality Catfish and the Bottlemen have been chipping away at their local scene for the better part of the last decade, from playing in car parks and local Battle of the Bands comps, to jumping on any bill they could – the Catfish and the Bottlemen success story isn’t one that has come easily.
“We definitely have been grafting away at it. The reason why this year is so much of a buzz is because these shows that we’re about to play, all these dates that are lined up and where the album is now – we got our first number one with that last one – it exceeded our expectations.
“This is what we were dreaming of when we were sat back in the van when it was broke down on the side of the road years and years ago, just going, ‘Don’t worry about this lads, we won’t even need a van one day, we’re gonna have private jets, we’re gonna have big speed boats picking us up, helicopters, all kinds of stuff. Don’t worry about this van breaking down.’ When we’d be feeling like, ‘What are we gonna do? How are we gonna get there? How are we gonna get home? No one’s gonna notice us.’
“You always hear of these stories where bands are like, ‘We just released this music and it took off overnight.’ Our [success] wasn’t accidental. We really tried to get a deal, we tried to sell out all these venues, and we tried to make big albums and make people fall in love with our band. So it’s a nice feeling to know that it’s very clear that we’ve worked our arses off. We’re very forward about it. We didn’t get handed it, we didn’t get taken up overnight or had loads of money thrown at us or put on every magazine, every billboard. We just release the songs and the people grab it and share it and sing it.”
While their success at home may have been incremental, steadily building across years and years of hard work, their rise overseas has been much quicker. When they toured Australia as part of Falls Festival earlier this year, their sideshows were at Melbourne’s 170 Russell and Sydney’s Enmore Theatre – rooms that fit 1,000 and 1,600 punters respectively. And while the shows took no time to sell out, it’s the venues on their upcoming run, Melbourne’s Festival Hall and Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion – rooms five times the size – that really show this growth.
“Wait to see where it’s going to be in another couple of months,” says McCann. “It just keeps going, the people keep getting more excited and putting us in this position. It’s worldwide now. We are doing 35,000 next week at home, but we’ve been playing in the UK for ten years. It makes you not want to stop. That’s why I know all these dates off the back of my hand
“We’re really fortunate that people get what I’m saying. When I’m writing the songs I sit there and I think, ‘I love this, I reckon the people are gonna love it,’ so it’s nice to know they’re on the same wavelength. It’s a buzz every day. You wake up buzzing.”
More recently, Catfish and the Bottlemen added another show to their Australian run, something a little quainter in Wollongong. But whether they’re playing to a sold-out arena or to 750 fans in the ‘Gong, for McCann every show he gets to play is a bonus.
“People say what’s the highlight or what’s your best show yet, but we played one in Argentina for Lollapalooza to about 30,000 people, then the next night we played to 400 or 500 people in a little bar in Buenos Aires. We did the same in America last year. In New York we played this venue, and after we sold out the biggest room we went back and did the smallest room. It was like two or three thousand to 150 cap and there’s nothing like it.
“I love playing massive gigs, I love playing festivals, then when you bring it back down to those little ones where you’re crashing into each other on stage and you’re getting caught on each other’s wires and falling over, knocking each other’s guitars out of tune because you’re so close. That’s where we honed our trait, that’s where we learnt our recipe,” says McCann.
“We’re just young lads buzzing to be doing what we’re doing and we’ve always said we’re going to do it as well, so it’s nice to come home and go ‘Mum and Dad I told you, didn’t I? I told you I’d be flying to Australia.
“Back in the day we were just little shits having a ciggie out the back and people going, ‘When are you getting a job?’ and we were like, ‘Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine in a few years,’ and now they have to see us on the telly and they’re like, ‘Shit, they weren’t joking.’ ”
Catfish and the Bottlemen are keen to build on the momentum that’s currently fuelling them, so while McCann and the band aren’t ready to stop touring anytime soon, album number three is definitely on the way. “I turned up to management six months ago with the album ready, and the label, everyone. I’ve been saying, I’m ready to go, give me the green light, let’s record. I’d release [an album] every six months like The Beatles used to because they’re the documentaries I grew up watching. You could do it like that and you could really sing live and you could really cut it live. That’s why we wanted to be a band that didn’t need any tricks, didn’t need anything, just us four playing,” says McCann.
“We grew up loving bands. We still peep out our dressing rooms going, ‘Oh my god look, The Strokes are playing tonight, oh look there they are, they’re walking on.’ I’m still very much a music fan, so to be among this and to be flying as well, and to know the next album’s written and we’re gonna come straight back. There will be no disappearing, no ‘Oh here they are, they’re coming back.’ No comebacks, we just carry on,” says McCann.
It’s been just over a year since Catfish and the Bottlemen released The Balcony, and with their intense touring schedule, it’s hard to believe they’d have any full songs written, let alone a whole album waiting to be recorded.
But for McCann, the songwriting is the easy part. It’s finding time to get into the studio that is tricky. “It takes me as long to write them as it does for you to listen to it. I’m not one of those guys who bangs his head against his wall or goes to the fucking desert and grows a beard and takes acid [saying], ‘I found myself, I found a new way,’ there’s none of that going on.”
“When I was a kid, all I wanted from my favourite bands was to hear new songs. Once you get bored of the album – especially if you love a band, you buy the album and for six months you won’t stop playing it. After six months you’re ready, you’re like I want the next one now, I know every word, every drumbeat, I want the next one and I want to see them live again. I don’t know why anybody who does this would stop and take a break unless they have a baby – which is not likely for a while – then you’ve got to go home and be a good parent, haven’t ya? But until that time I’m just going to plough right through.”
Still, even with the news of new music being on the horizon, it seems unlikely Australian fans will get a chance to hear a new tune or two on their upcoming tour. “I wanted to start playing some new stuff but I was only going to do it if we had a chance to start recording. The first time round we played ‘7’ live and there were YouTube versions going up. It’s good because people know the songs straight away, but I think this time I’d rather give people the full version, fully finished, as opposed to little crappy live versions or acoustic versions bopping about, but tell [the fans] when it comes out they’re going to love it if they loved those last two.”
“This is what I’ve always loved about the band. We’ve never tried to write a song that fits the radio or is catchy, we’ve always just tried to write songs that hit you with how it feels and pins you to the back wall, proper gut music, so when it comes on you just have to own up to it.”
For Australian fans who are just as excited to see Catfish and the Bottlemen as McCann is about hitting the stage, you may get a chance to see them another time this year. “I know we were only there a couple of months ago but I’m trying to convince management to get us there before the end of the year again. They said we’ve got to record an album but I reckon I could do that in a week or two.”
Before their (possible) third Australian visit in 2017, Catfish and the Bottlemen will be heading to North America to support Green Day, playing in some of the biggest venues of their career. While they’re only in the support slot this time, McCann is certain it won’t be for long. “Walking into the venues, I used to always say to the boys, just to soundcheck in a stadium, just the idea of music and stadium, those two words together, there’s something about it that gives me goosebumps.
“Just sound checking in places like the Rose Bowl and Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Rose Bowl’s like 90,000 cap, so to be playing shows that big – just to sound check in those venues – it’s a fucking dream for me,” says McCann.
“I’m only 24 so I have no doubt about it, in a couple of years time we’ll be racking those up ourselves.”
Catfish and the Bottlemen play Splendour in The Grass and a handful of headline sideshows next week. Details here.