Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Van McCann on ‘Cocoon’ + Not Being a ‘Rockstar’
Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of this year's big breakout bands. After releasing their debut album, The Balcony, in September, they've proved they are a major band to watch out for this year.
Composed of guitarist and singer Van McCann (22 years old), guitarist Johnny "Bondy" Bond (25), bassist Benji Blakeway (25) and drummer Bob Hall (21), these rockers out of Chester, England, have been working at their craft since McCann and Blakeway started the group when they were only 14 and 17, respectively. However, with the joining of Bond and Hall, the group worked hard and played as much as it could -- which ended up being every night of the week.
"When we were kids, we were playing covers from Monday to Friday at small clubs where we were living," McCann tells us, "and that's how we used to get our money from the barman so we could go and play our own songs on the weekends."
Since seeing Catfish and the Bottlemen at last year's Governors Ball, we've become big fans of the British quartet, so needless to say, we were more than pleased to chat with McCann about the band's success, why he doesn't see himself as a rockstar and the stories behind songs like "Cocoon" and "Rango." Check out our exclusive interview below:
From the beginning, how did the band start?
I grew up with Benji, our bass player. He was the year above me in school, and we would play soccer together when we were kids. We started a band just because we wanted to make one. None of us really knew how to really play. [Benji] didn't even have a bass guitar. He had to learn on the electric guitar or a box with strings because we didn't really have guitars, you know what I mean? And then [our drummer] Bob used to live nearby. Then Bondy joined a year ago. He was part of this band called the Detroit Social Club and he was my favorite guitar player when I was a kid in school. And then his band finished, and we needed a guitarist for our band, so he joined.
The first time I saw Catfish and the Bottlemen was at last year's Governors Ball. How were guys feeling before that performance?
Amazing. We were just humbled to be over here. Not many bands get to come over here, especially from our backgrounds. We never had the opportunity to come over here to blow everyone away. But, we play a show the same no matter where it is, and we're the happiest people we can ever be and so honored to be here and the fact that New Yorkers came out to see me and my boys. We try to smash it every night.
After seeing the band play live last year and then listening to The Balcony, there's a bit of a difference between how the two sound. Was that something you guys did on purpose?
I think that was a producer thing. The producer that we got for our debut album [Jim Abbiss], he produced for Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian's early albums, and it was important when he came in that he kept us young. We needed to sound like 20 year olds. We're like two years ahead of ourselves -- we're just striving to play football stadiums. We want to play football stadiums, and every day we're working on getting our sound to get bigger and bigger, so it doesn't stop. And Jim coming in, he held us back a little bit and made sure that it's a marathon not a sprint. He gave us enough to go on so we can go further with our next stuff. So on the album, we held back a little bit. But when we're live, we play bigger. And then the next album will sound bigger and then live that will sound even bigger. We're just trying to get massive, you know what I mean, until we can fill a stadium.
So let's talk about "Cocoon." Although you guys are a rock band, the lyrics for this song are very sweet. What's the story behind the track?
I actually wrote this tune in New York when I came to the city for the first time to write some songs. And I kind of already had been writing a few and been doing a few things, but then this one came along. And I thought, "Man, this is f---ing good. I'm gonna keep this one." It's a tune about, whether it's your best friend or your dad or your missus or anything, as long as you got someone else with you or you've got a direction, it doesn't matter if people try to get at you. As long as I've got you and you've got me and we love each other, then that's sweet. We don't need anything in life. It's about whatever you want, whenever you want and being positive, especially when people are trying to get you down. Be happy, and that's it!
Are there any other songs on the record that were really memorable for you to work on?
Because it was fresh in my memory, we did a song called "Rango." It's about my girlfriend when I was a kid, 14 or 15. I wrote it to try and get her back, and she just thought it was garbage. Then when it got on the radio [in the U.K.], she was flattered by it and asked if she wanted to get back together. And I was like, "No way. Not now." The reason I'm saying this is because we just moved out of our practice room where we grew up and were writing our album. And we literally have just been moving stuff because we've all moved out now, but the first ever song we ever wrote in that room, the day we moved in, was "Rango." It's a song that we open live with, and it's on the album. When we were 15 and moving into that room, we didn't foresee all this. But there you go. That's the story about "Rango."
Who are you guys inspired by, especially when you all were figuring out the band's sound?
I grew up with and love the Streets. They're an English grime band and are all about the lyrics and beats. I love them and worship them, and I'm big on lyrics. That's what drives my music. I just love the beats and the words. So I always wanted to make you feel the way the Strokes made you feel, like the sun was always f---ing out. Then I wanted to make the sound as big as Oasis like the balls and voice, like Liam's [Gallagher] with a wall of noise from the band behind him. And I wanted to be down to earth with the lyrics like the Streets. I wanted it to be like Kasabian, life-affirming, normal, real music by real lads. We just all wanted to bring something to the music industry that we felt like we were waiting for ourselves. We were wondering where the life was in these bands? Where's the youth? Where's the energy and drive? We just sat there waiting for the opportunity so we're really hungry for it but are still excited by it.
The band started when you were in your early teens, and you've talked about how hard you guys have worked to make this all work. Do you ever feel like you missed out on typical "teenage" experiences?
To me, it's still just something we're working on. I'm not a rockstar or artist. You know when musicians say, "I'm an artist. I'm like this, and I'm like that" -- I'm not like that. I'm still a soccer player on my league [in England] and still play on the weekends. I'm just a football player who can sing and have an alright voice, you know? We are doing something normal, you know what I mean? We've been in the back of a van and playing shows since we were 14. The other night, when I was at home in Chester, in the north of England, I went for a drink at a bar that was empty. Then before you know it, the bar was full of our fans. Somebody told them we were in there, and I just bought everyone a round of drinks. We just had a full-on night out. And they were like, "I can't believe you're just out here with us." I'm like, "Well, why not? We're just like everyone else."
I just wanted to sing and write my lyrics. It just so happens that people over in America like our music, and I got this big shiny gold disc in my kitchen, which I'm very proud of. We're really privileged to get that stuff. It's just a perk. We just wanted to sing songs -- whether it was for 10 people or 10,000. The drive was always football stadiums, be as big as we possibly can be. We do what we want to do. We choose who we speak to or what TV shows we want to play on or what magazines we want to associate with. What we do is driven by our love for it, not our desire to get rich or famous. It's a real band. We're just excited, love. We're really just excited to be in the position we're in!